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E-Store on the Web : Let's Go Shopping!

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Published on: Monday 26th July 1999 By: Pankaj Kamthan


E-Commerce on the Internet has various prospects, one of them being selling over the Web. To enable your customers to view your products (or services) and place orders, you need to place those in an electronic store (e-store) accessible over the Web.

An e-store operates as follows: It consists of a product catalog (where the online customers select what they want to order), a program (such as a shopping cart, where product selections are collected), transaction security (credit authorization and other payment schemes), and processing (taxes, shipping, inventory, and so on). All of these components, when combined and working in coherence, give the store a personality and the customers a feeling of true shopping experience.

Tools of the Trade

There are a wide variety of software programs with varying functionality that can help you build an e-store. Whether you are a small business looking to sell globally, or a company that is already doing world-wide business, the right store software can make all the difference.

Choosing an E-Store Software

One of the most critical decision for a company to engage in e-commerce is determining which e-store software to deploy. There are various choices in e-store software, each with their own advantages and limitations:

A Shopping Cart Classification

At the heart of an e-store is a shopping cart. It is an appropriate metaphor of the familiar shopping cart used in a supermarket due to the type of convenience and control it offers people for shopping in the real world. People push shopping carts through the aisles, pick and choose the items needed and ignore those that are not. They add and remove items from the carts almost without much effort or thought. A shopping cart program is an effort to translate the convenience and control over purchasing in the real world to which people are so accustomed, to the (electronic world of the) Web. It is essentially an (complex) extension of a simple order form. A simple order form is generally limited in the amount of interactivity it gives to the customer, and allows only a limited number of products and options.

There are several different types of shopping carts possible, each with their own advantages and limitations:

The question, therefore, you will have to ask yourself is: Do I need a e-store software which is equipped with a shopping cart? For a small number of products with few options, a full-fledged shopping cart is not necessary. In such as case, a customized single page with an ordering form that can be connected to a "form-to-mail"-type CGI script, may be sufficient. If you have a large number of products with various options, it may be inconvenient and even unrealistic to include them all in a single page. In such a case, it is preferable to display the products over a sequence of pages, which would include a navigation system for customers to move around, select items they need (and remove items they do not need), and once done, will be able to checkout. This would require state persistence from page to page, and thus an actual shopping cart.

It is recommended that you choose the e-store software based on the shopping cart approach it uses.

We will now discuss an e-store software, PerlShop, which has many of the advantages of the three categories mentioned above.


PerlShop is a shopping cart program written in Perl is extremely customizable and offers a variety of features.

Advantages of PerlShop

Advantages of PerlShop can be seen in the features that it offers:


PerlShop is AdverwareTM. The only requirement to use PerlShop is to display the "Powered by PerlShop" logo

PerlShop Logo

on the main page of your catalog, with a link back to the PerlShop home page, and also keep the logo on all PerlShop generated pages. There is no other cost.

PerlShop requires Perl 5, and access to running CGI scripts on the Web server. PerlShop has currently been tested under UNIX running the Apache server, and under Windows running the O'Reilly's WebSite server. We will restrict ourselves to Apache for the sake of this discussion.

Obtaining and Installation

You can download PerlShop from here. It comes with a script PerlShop.cgi, a user manual, and a demo. Simply copy the script to your cgi-bin directory and mark it as executable, create a few directories and change their permissions, then just modify the script to customize it for your server address and business procedures. You can refer to the manual for details of installation, which have been given in a step-by-step and methodical manner. Few crucial points to note are:

Creating the Catalog Pages

PerlShop uses a special catalog page format. The order of the HTML tags is very important. Every PerlShop HTML tag must be on a line by itself and the "ITEM_CODE" tag must be the last tag before the closing </FORM> tag. If any of the optional tags related to weight, taxing system, or options exist, then they must appear before both the item ID and item price tags. An example of a single item selection form is shown below:

<IMPUT TYPE=SUBMIT NAME=Submit value="Submit">
<INPUT TYPE=HIDDEN NAME=ITEM_NAME VALUE="The General Theory of Relativity">The General Theory of Relativity $123.45 <BR>
<INPUT TYPE=HIDDEN NAME=some_name value=catalog_page1.html>
Quantity:<INPUT TYPE=TEXT SIZE=3 MaxLength=3 NAME=QTY VALUE="1">

It is therefore not recommended to use HTML editors such as FrontPage 98 which often insert their own tags and/or do not necessarily preserve the order of HTML tags. If the catalog will eventually lie on a UNIX server (and for portability reasons), it is also not recommended to use editors such as Windows Notepad/Wordpad which do not understand UNIX text format. with these scripts. Instead, you could use the Emacs editor with the HTML mode, PFE or other editor that understands UNIX text format.

A demonstration store is available.


PerlShop as distributed includes several security features, but these must be augmented by external programs for real security.

Payment Methods

You can give your customers the ability to complete the ordering process by receiving verification that their payment has been accepted (or rejected) within moments of placing the order. In order to provide this feature, you can apply to either First Virtual, or Versanet (SecureOrder) for a merchant account. Modifying the PerlShop script to enable either payment option is fairly straightforward.

First Virtual Logo Versanet Secure Order Logo

Limitations of PerlShop

Content is $

Setting up an e-store is a major step in the direction of e-commerce. However, it is not a magic bullet that will automatically lead to a successful business. As an example, glitzy graphics on a Web site may impress customers but do not necessarily guarantee sales. According to the GVU Center's 10th WWW User Survey (October 1998), quality is the most desirable feature in E-Commerce that the users look for (Figure 1)

Figure 1

Figure 1.

and (lack of it) is the major reason for people not purchasing (Figure 2).

Figure 2

Figure 2.

Ultimately, a store must entice potential customers to make a purchase. To a large extent, Web sites hosting e-stores can accomplish this with a well-planned design, both in terms of content as well as presentation. Here are some guidelines:


Businesses can engage in e-commerce by setting up Web sites with e-stores. Determining which software to deploy for that purpose is a critical decision for a company; Packages such as PerlShop offer an inexpensive and powerful solution. Web sites which incorporate these e-stores need to be well-planned and designed to succeed in this competitive arena.


Related items

E-Commerce on the WWW : A Matter of Trust

E-Commerce on the WWW : Prospects and Concerns

E-Payment on the WWW : An Introduction to Merchant Accounts

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