April 12, 2002 -- We have shopping on the brain this week, so our favorite resources from our Resources and Downloads directories are: ShopFactory Developer and StoreExplorer. They both are aimed at automating the process of giving potential customers a positive online experience.
ShopFactory Developer is a visual toolkit for building stores on the Web. Its creators, 3D3.COM, say that you need "no Internet programming skills" to make and maintain professional e-commerce sites for other businesses using its point-and-click interface. Real programmers creating online shops will probably find it of interest as a point of comparison.
It offers over 200 pre-designed "ShopTheme" templates that can be tweaked to suit many design needs. 3D3.COM says: "The Developer Tutorial which comes with ShopFactory Developer explains how the templates work, and how you can modify them to achieve the look you need beyond point-and-click, or how to create your own ShopTheme; for example to create a new shop which matches the look of an existing website. [Our own] website has been created and is being maintained with ShopFactory Developer."
The product offers an integrated publishing tool to keep track of what has been published already and "keep publishing times to a minimum". It's e-commerce features support product and pricing information, searches, payments, tax compliance, shipping, stock control, internationalization, and more.
ShopFactory Developer ships as a single-user license for $US699 (Euro 793.71). "If your clients want to maintain or edit a shop you created themselves, they must register a Professional or Light version, depending on the shop," according to the company. "We will pay you a commission for each customer you refer to us."
Continuing on our spree, we come to Store Explorer, a Java-based tool for creating shopping interfaces. The point of interest here is that the maker of the product, Cycle 23, has implemented its own set of class libraries similar to the Java Foundation Classes, which it naturally calls Explorer Classes -- and which "are considerably smaller and faster than JFC, thus allowing Explorer-based applications to display consistent, high-quality visuals across computing platforms while remaining small enough to be easily downloaded by casual Internet clients." Noteworthy. (They even offer e-commerce programmers a Developer Center to learn more about their way of doing things.)
"Store Explorer is a client-side solution, which means it runs entirely on the shopper's computer," the company's site explains. "This ensures a smoothly integrated experience with many features that are normally impossible to achieve with standard HTML."
Store Explorer is written in Java 1.0.3, so while it may be a little slow (even at 110Kb), it will run on all major browsers across most all platforms.
A word of caution from the company: "On its own, Store Explorer does not collect any personally identifiable information, nor does it collect information that is any more invasive than a typical e-commerce site. It does, however, present the information in a way that makes it useful to the merchant in real-time -- which is where some shoppers might become uncomfortable. Cycle 23 strongly recommends that merchants who use the live customer-service feature respect their customers' privacy wishes and immediately 'back off' if a customer asks to be left alone."
Cycle 23 offers an online demo of its product via an actual adopter of the technology. (In this case, the customer is Frederick's of Hollywood -- an interesting choice, to say the least.) You will need to contact the company to get licensing details for Store Explorer, which involves "a long-term partnership between Cycle 23 and the merchant." Hmmm.
So if shopping apps are your thing, you may want to check out what these merchants to the merchants are doing. E-commerce is all about competition.
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