Miscellaneous Shopper Features
Various retail Web sites offer additional features that are not generally considered to be part of the core features that retail Web sites must provide. Such additional features include:
- Auctions. While some Web sites might use auctions as their main selling paradigm, other retail Web sites might use auctions, perhaps only occasionally, to draw additional attention to their site, or to accelerate the sale of otherwise poorly selling products.
- Product reviews. Allowing shoppers to post reviews of products that are available for purchase on the site can be an effective sales tool. Shoppers tend to trust the opinions of other shoppers, presuming that they have less to gain from making positive remarks about a product. Note, however, that whenever a Web site allows its users to post information, care must be taken to monitor that information for obscenities and so on. One effective way for this to be done is to provide a link through which other users can lodge complaints about particular postings.
- Gift certificates. Many retail Web sites can benefit by offering a mechanism for their shoppers to purchase gift certificates. The recipient of the gift certificate, generally notified by e-mail, is invited to visit the site and apply the value of the gift certificate to a purchase of their choice.
In general, Commerce Server does not provide out-of-the-box solutions for the types of specialized features mentioned here. Auction functionality is a partial exception. The Commerce Server 2002 SDK includes an Auction object and code that demonstrates its use. There are too many possibilities, with new such features being conceived and implemented constantly. Instead, Commerce Server provides a framework through which the various aspects of a new feature can be implemented.
For example, consider the case of gift certificates. To properly integrate gift certificate functionality into a retail Web site that uses Commerce Server, several different implementation tasks are required, as follows:
- Data. In order to offer a gift certificate, certain data needs to be gathered and stored. In addition to the normal shopper information such as name, e-mail address, billing address, credit card number, and so on, information about the gift certificate recipient, the amount of the gift certificate, and a unique code through which the gift certificate can be spent need to be stored. Business managers and developers need to work together to define a database schema to represent this information, and then developers need to create the corresponding database tables, and so on. The tools provided with the database, most likely SQL Server in this case, should be used for this work.
- Objects. One of the main reasons for developing custom objects for new functionality is to hide the internal details of the database schema, and to create an interface that is more intuitive with respect to the functionality being added. If a GiftCertificate object is developed, it might have properties such as, for example, RecipientName, RecipientEmail, OriginalGiftAmount, and RemainingGiftAmount, and methods such as Spend and SendReminder.
- User interfaces. One of the ways in which new features can be more or less integrated into a Commerce Server site concerns the degree to which new, compatible user interfaces are developed to support the new features. Gift certificate functionality must include some way for business managers to manage outstanding gift certificates. Because business managers are likely to be familiar with the Business Desk, the best approach is to create a new Business Desk module specifically designed for working with gift certificates.
The initial page of the new module would probably display a list of outstanding gift certificates, and provide a way to sort and search within those certificates. For example, a business manager should be able to search for all gift certificates older than a specified date (perhaps so that a reminder e-mail can be sent to the recipient). Choosing a particular gift certificate and displaying all of the information about it is another likely behavior that mirrors how the existing Business Desk modules are designed. This would allow business managers to, for example, track down information about a particular gift certificate when the recipient makes an inquiry about it (such as when they have lost the gift certificate ID).
With respect to site administrators and the user interfaces that they use, the gift certificate database should be added to the Commerce Server site as a custom resource. This would allow it to be managed through the Commerce Server Manager and deployed using the Commerce Server Site Packager.
Commerce Server includes extensive documentation that describes how to add new Business Desk modules and custom resources to a site.
- Web site. Most new Web site features involve developing new pages for the Web site, though in some circumstances the new features might be integrated into existing pages. Regardless of the architecture of the retail Web site, whether it is based on the Commerce Server 2000 Retail Solution Site, the Commerce Server 2002 International Retail Site, or some other architecture, it makes sense to gain a thorough understanding of that architecture so that new pages can be added in a complimentary manner.