Developing dynamic e-commerce sites can prove to be a daunting task, so the job is often delegated to high-cost, hard-to-find Web development specialists and can take weeks to complete.
Another approach cuts down on time and eliminates the need for specialists. Smith Micro Software Inc.’s updated WebCatalog 4.0 is an e-commerce site-building solution that midsize companies (70-80 employees) can use to rapidly deploy new Web sites. Its ease of use will allow any business to quickly begin selling via the Internet, without investing excessive time and money.
As businesses everywhere are learning, an e-commerce channel of distribution enables them to reduce the costs associated with selling and accelerates getting products to market. WebCatalog enables the selling of products and helps build better customer relationships. For example, companies can track customer likes and dislikes online and alter future product offerings to target specified requests.
Anyone with basic browser skills can produce a functional site with WebCatalog, and those with elementary HTML knowledge can customize WebCatalog’s supplied starter templates — new to Version 4.0. Furthermore, programmers developing larger sites may use its WebDNA scripting language to add advanced functionality.
Higher-priced offerings, such as Broadvision One-To-One Enterprise or Documentum 4i eBusiness Edition, offer personalization features that Version 4.0 doesn’t perform. But given what WebCatalog does provide for $3,495, it’s a very good solution with extensive functions, such as automated credit card processing and WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) capabilities.
I tested WebCatalog using Windows 2000 Advanced Server and Microsoft Internet Information Server 5.0 as my Web server. From setup, through site administration, and to deployment, everything ran smoothly. By completing a few Web forms, collectively called StoreBuilder, I defined my store’s look, added products, and managed order features such as tax rates.
Although you won’t find handholding wizards, each StoreBuilder step is arranged in order, so it’s nearly impossible to go wrong.
The bulk of the setup time will be spent manually adding products to the Web store. This step isn’t difficult; the data entry form covers almost every detail.
Although the StoreBuilder form approach is great for beginners, advanced users will likely want to customize their site’s look and add features with the product’s WebDNA scripting language. With the scripting language, I was able to write database searches and embed free WebDNA components, such as pop-up product descriptions, in pages designed with Macromedia Dreamweaver.
When testing my finished e-commerce site, navigation and functionality met my expectations. For instance, built-in indexing allowed me to easily search for products.
One element that I would like to see in the default configuration is a way for customers to personalize the site to view the status of their order. The only thing WebCatalog 4.0 permits is changing billing information.
Still, those are relatively small blemishes. Overall, WebCatalog 4.0 does a fine job getting an e-commerce site up and running with minimal fuss and expense. And with its scripting functions, continual enhancements are simple functions. WebCatalog stands out as a very good choice for midsize businesses needing quick e-commerce deployment without using valuable IT resources.
Mike Heck (firstname.lastname@example.org) spends his days building Web and intranet sites for Unisys.
THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD
Business Case: This solution for building e-commerce sites enables novice Web users to quickly create and administer online stores directly from a browser. Midsize companies with scarce IT resources can deploy storefronts quickly and cheaply.
Technology Case: WebCatalog 4.0’s high-speed database is optimized to deliver DHTML (Dynamic HTML) pages and permit live updates to an e-commerce store. Any page on the site can be automatically WAP-enabled, making your site instantly available to users of small portable devices.
+ Predesigned page layouts
+ Internal database plus standard SQL connections
+ Unlimited Web stores with one license
+ Integrated order management
+ Automatic site indexing
– No site personalization for visitors
Platform(s): Windows 95/98/2000, Windows NT, Mac OS, Solaris 2.6, Red Hat Linux 6.0 or 6.1, Cobalt RaQ3i
Smith Micro Software Inc., San Diego; (800) 477-1543; http://www.smithmicro.
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Prices listed are in US currency.