ShopZone 3.0: Appealing and Affordable

SAN MATEO (05/01/2000) - For small to midsize companies, developing an effective e-commerce presence can involve prohibitive financial and technical constraints. ShopZone Pro 3.0 from Breakthrough Software Inc. facilitates e-commerce on a tight budget while delivering the building blocks for CRM (customer relationship management), order processing, and supply-side management.

ShopZone Pro 3.0 offers Web site and catalog development capabilities, a one-click storefront setup, and several new features, including catalog thumbnail images and improved rules support for shipping and tax-table integration. The most compelling improvement is security strengthened by the encrypting stored credit card data. With reports on the rise of hackers stealing credit card data, this feature will bolster your customers' confidence.

ShopZone Pro possesses neither the most robust transaction and development environments nor enterprise-level integration capabilities. But starting at $995 for one store, it's a good solution for small to midsize businesses with limited budgets and skill sets.

Although ShopZone Pro is a more formidable tool than competitors' low-end offerings, such as Stumpworld Systems Online Merchant Gold, it falls short of the bar set by several comparable, and less expensive, solutions, including Drumbeat 2000 E-commerce or Miva Merchant, particularly in areas of extensibility and direct shipper integration.

ShopZone sets up quickly, automatically installing both the development and server environment necessary to make use of Breakthrough's proprietary scripting language, WinC. WinC is used extensively to communicate with the ODBC-compliant dBase datastore that maintains catalog, user, and order information. If you're not hosting your site, full deployment necessitates hiring an ISP that runs the ShopZone environment.

I began building my test site by selecting a look and feel from the design-style library. I found most of the templates to be uninspired, but you can develop custom styles.

When it came to adding pages to the Web site, I was very impressed with the product's single-click store setup. The entire HTML page framework for my store was dropped into place, from secure administrative access to shopping-cart checkout pages, without requiring hand coding or HTML knowledge.

ShopZone Pro offers great bells and whistles for enhancing a basic Web site. I quickly added search capabilities and discussion groups, set up custom tax tables and shipping information, built customer profiles, and developed forms.

Also impressive is the capability of routing data from customer feedback forms directly to the internal database and to any e-mailbox, making it possible for ShopZone Pro to integrate into automated business processes.

Although it cannot connect live to an existing catalog, ShopZone Pro provides development capabilities that let you import existing catalog records or build one from scratch. The catalog interface could benefit from a more intuitive hand-entry system. Nevertheless, its features for inventory tracking and automatic stock-replenishment notifications will go a long way toward improving the supply side of the e-commerce equationIn addition, I liked being able to administer all of my store features from the Web-based interface. Order inspection, catalog modification, and customer-profile and discussion-group management can all be done remotely.

But as a Web interface construction kit, ShopZone Pro falls short, lacking the facilities to directly develop Java, ASP (application service provider), DHTML (dynamic HTML), or multimedia enhancements standard in many development packages. Also, I was disappointed to find that changing the underlying style sheet on a developed site overwrote many page customizations, including custom text and page footers.

With time-saving features such as auto-generation of image thumbnails, browserless WYSIWYG site previewing, and easy management of catalog and user data, ShopZone Pro 3.0 can help speed development of an entry-level, stand-alone e-commerce initiative at a price every business can afford.

James R. Borck (james.borck@industrialart.com) appears frequently in InfoWorld and is director of IS at Industrial Art & Science, in Connecticut.

THE BOTTOM LINE: GOOD

ShopZone Pro 3.0

Business Case: This Web storefront-development tool requires a minimal investment of time and resources to deploy a small-scale ecommerce initiative.

Technology Case: ODBC-compliant connectivity allows you to import existing catalogs and customer data. The WinC proprietary scripting language necessitates using a ShopZone-ready ISP or hosting in-house. Its inability to attach to live data suits it to a start-up.

Pros:

+ Encrypts stored data

+ Quick deployment

+ Easy database management and customization+ InexpensiveCons:

- Windows-only development

- Rudimentary style templates

- Internal datastore only

Cost: Starts at $995 for one store; developer edition: $1,695 for three storesPlatform(s): Windows 98, Windows NT 4.0Breakthrough Software Inc., San Jose, California; (408) 321-9300; www.btsw.com

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