Until the advent of the World Wide Web, selling goods and services has traditionally meant securing physical space or creating
a mail order catalog, hiring salespeople and managers, investing in point-of-sale equipment and supplies, and, of course, advertising -
all to operate just ONE location for typically no more than twelve hours a day.
Storefronts on the Internet
With Internet access to the World Wide Web, all of this has changed. Large and small companies alike have seized the opportunity
created by the Web and developed what are known as Web stores - sites where products and services are available to be bought and
sold - worldwide, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Getting started requires very little capital investment, virtually no
physical space requirements and minimal human intervention. Indeed, a level playing field for companies of all sizes has been
While it may seem simple, creating a Web store presents its own set of unique challenges. First, the site itself has to be created.
From there, a Webmaster must continuously maintain the site, inputting changes and updates. Further, the product offering needs to be
kept current (statistics, pricing, information on availability) and orders need to be fulfilled. And finally - create it and they will come? Not
exactly. You must get the word out. Advertising is still necessary, even with a Web store.
But, for this discussion, let's say you have created a magnificent site - complete with nice graphics and text touting your company's
products. You've registered with all of the necessary search engines and have even done some advertising external to the Web. Once
visitors land on your site, how do they tell you, "Hey, I want to buy that nice blue gadget, so here's my credit card number and
here's where to ship it"? This is where a shopping cart completes the picture.
What is a Shopping Cart?
In general terms, an Internet shopping cart (sometimes referred to as a virtual shopping cart) is a software program that, when
integrated into your Web store, enables customers to choose one or more items from the Web store, specify particular options that
might be available and then purchase those items collectively in just a few steps - all online.
PDG Software, Inc. is an example of a popular e-commerce shopping cart software application.
Of course, if you are already familiar with the general operation of a virtual shopping cart - you might consider the aforementioned
an overly simplified explanation. The shopping cart needs to be able to obtain product descriptions and inventories, and store orders
and customer information. All administration is performed via the simple-to-navigate Web based administration area, eliminating the need
for database experience/knowledge from the end-user. PDG Commerce connects to popular commercial database
packages, such as Microsoft Access, SQL Server, and MySQL, to store and retrieve data.
Just as you might choose grocery items from several different aisles at your local supermarket, a visitor to your Web site can navigate
through the site, choosing items which may appear on different pages from one another. Continuing this analogy, as you walk down
different aisles in the supermarket, items are placed in a shopping cart, which serves as a "basket" for those items until you are ready
to check out. Similarly, shopping cart software keeps track of the chosen items as a customer navigates through your Web store.
A Checkout Counter
Once the customer is finished shopping, the shopping cart summarizes the items and facilitates the checkout process - allowing
him to pay for all items at once - just like the checkout counter at your local supermarket. It totals the cost of the items placed in the
"basket", applies the necessary discounts or coupons, calculates sales tax, and adds shipping costs according to the shipment
method specified by the customer (i.e.
USPS, or your own custom calculations.). Fields are provided to input 'ship to' addresses and payment information. To fully
automate this process, PDG Commerce can communicate directly with real-time Internet payment services such as USA ePay, VeriSign, PayPal, and others to provide real-time authorization of credit cards and checks
during the checkout process.
Of course, the analogy above assumes that the customer can rely on the shopping cart's "permanence" - that is, once items
are placed in the cart, they remain there as the customer navigates from page to page until the customer is ready to check out. What's more,
if the customer leaves the Web store without checking out, the items remain in the cart and are still there upon their return. PDG's products
operate on this very notion of permanence.
As is the case with real-life shopping carts, virtual shopping carts exist in many different varieties. Some are very sophisticated technically,
and have a professional appearance about them, while others are very simple to use. Unfortunately, these attributes do not always co-exist
within the same product. PDG Commerce, however, has the flexibility to meet the needs of
virtually every type of Internet storefront - and at an affordable price. They are fully customizable from the creation and
customization of HTML template files used to create the storefront right down to the type of navigation buttons you choose to use. This helps
create a seamless connection between the main body of your Web site and the e-commerce software itself.
How do Shopping Carts Work
Just as there are many different types of virtual shopping carts on the market today, the ways in which these carts function also differ.
Some work by using simple data collection forms and passing the information through the URL of the Web store. Others work by storing
the customer's shopping cart in a database on the Web store's server. Further still, many work by using "cookies" - small pieces
of information sent by a Web store's server to a customer's Web browser - so that it can be read back from that browser. Each method in
and of itself has its advantages and disadvantages.
While relatively easy to implement, passing the information through the URL of the Web store involves using form variables in the URL and
a listening CGI component on the Web store side. This method by itself can be messy, as URLs can get cluttered and unorganized.
Storing the customer's shopping cart in a database on the server allows Web store owners to see the existing shopping carts at any
time, before or after purchase. This information can be valuable, allowing Web store administrators to gauge future product needs - based
on the contents of shopping carts belonging to customers who, for whatever reason, did not complete the checkout process on their last
visit, but may intend to complete the process at a later date.
When using cookies, a virtual shopping cart can be stored in the customer's Web browser, instead of on the server - eliminating any
database maintenance that is necessary when using the above option - and thus also eliminating any potential functionality issues.
PDG Commerce uses a combination of all three methods and capitalizes on the strengths of each method to deliver robust and flexible Internet