WPDFD Issue #21 - December 31, 1969

E-commerce is a technology, not a design discipline - so what is an article on e-commerce doing on WPDFD? Frankly, most of my e-commerce buying transactions have been a disaster so far - partly due to flaky technology, but more often, just bad design. The main problems encountered are poor navigation, cryptic icons and general lack of logical flow. Put it down to a 'bad shopping experience'.

The information that follows is fairly brief insofar as features of each cart goes, but will hopefully offer some assistance in determining whether it meets your criteria. PERLSHOP URL: http://www.arpanet.com/perlshop/ COST: Free PerlShop appears to be a good cart for anyone with a relatively small number of products to sell, but if you've got more than 100 or so products, it's probably not the right solution.

The shopping metaphor

Let's look first at the online shopping metaphor: You go into a store and pick up a basket. You walk round the store and put whatever you need into the basket. You take the basket to the checkout and pay for your purchases. There's nothing difficult about that. Here's another metaphor as used by some of the catalog stores: You go into the store and find a catalog and order slip.

Hierarchy of information

The other problem is the amount of unnecessary information on the screen. In good interface design, superfluous information should be hidden or at least depreciated in emphasis by 'greying-out'. It is not necessary, or desirable, to offer every option at every step. It might make things easier for the designer to have a constant navbar on every page, but the word 'design' suggests that the object of the exercise is to make things easier for the user.

That's a lot of responsibility for a Web page designer, after all, in the real world there are specialist store designers, specialist window display artists and sales assistants that are trained to persuade. The fact is that some companies are losing customers, revenue and credibility through badly implemented online ordering systems. In a recent study by Bizrate.com , three quarters of all respondents said that they would not return to a merchant's site if they experienced problems on the first visit.

Summary

This is where I'm supposed to say that I've come to a conclusion, right? Well, I wish I could, but I can't. Quikstore comes close, especially when you consider value for money and a comparison against other products in its price range, but for my needs, it's not quite there yet. Maybe once the Web-based interface is finally ready, I'll change my tune. In the meantime, though, I'm still on the lookout for that elusive 'perfect' cart.

Earlier this year, I found myself in desperate need of a shopping cart. With so many on the market, it should have been an easy task, right?! Wrong.! It's been one of the biggest challenges I've faced in my life as a Web consultant, next only to my quest for browser compatibility in site design. (Don't laugh -- I can dream, can't I?)

Where to start

Before you start, take some time to determine what your shopping cart needs are. It will help you immensely in narrowing the available choices! In my case, I had some fairly specific requirements, such as:- The need for a reasonably priced CGI solution in which the pages could be customized to match an existing site design. Database-driven technology, with the ability to create product pages 'on-the-fly.' Ability to add new products easily.