By now, most companies are trying to figure out how to enter the electronic-commerce world, but not all have the financial means and human resources to do so. For companies with a limited budget and skill set, the beta version of StumpWorld Systems' Online Merchant Gold (OLM-Gold), Version 2.0, promises an entry-level alternative for developing and implementing an e-commerce presence.
With no server-side programming or HTML design skills required, companies can use OLM-Gold and its fill-in-the-blanks interface to generate a catalog-based Web site replete with real-time transaction processing capabilities.
Unfortunately, many features scheduled to become available in the final February release were not yet testable in the beta that I evaluated. Features such as Pretty Good Privacy-encrypted e-mail for secure delivery, a reporting facility, and customizable tax definitions were all unavailable in this often-buggy beta.
Furthermore, the software lacks several important features, such as supply-chain management and accounting system integration, which large-scale e-commerce initiatives demand. In fact, it fails to offer even the most rudimentary capabilities suitable for ongoing inventory tracking or back-end database support.
However, if you're looking for a quick and effortless way to organize an online catalog with customizable options and real-time credit card processing, OLM-Gold is an out-of-the-box solution that provides hooks to several partnered vendors, making it easy to design, publish, and launch a profitable e-commerce site.
The beta version of the software that I tested was easy to set up, and administering and re-merchandising my sample catalog was equally effortless.
However, despite the fact that OLM-Gold allows you to customize your site layout to extend the supplied templates, its limited previewing capabilities require custom-crafted sites to be uploaded to a staging server to view development.
OLM-Gold supplies catalog development tools based on a Borland Database Engine that stores and delivers product images, details, and pricing information. Its interface was easy to comprehend and made catalog setup a snap. Added perks to this interface included the easy implementation of a full text search against your product catalog.
I was impressed with OLM-Gold's capabilities for organizing and updating the catalog. I was able to organize my catalog by product line through a tree-view interface that made it easy to add, delete, and edit items, in addition to building unique "sale" areas that featured product specials.
Although OLM-Gold offers a number of customizable options for shipping and handling, I was disappointed by its lack of a facility to connect tracking and rate information for major shipping companies, such as United Parcel Service or Federal Express. In the absence of such integration, all shipping data must be entered and continually updated manually.
Once set up, however, OLM-Gold made easy work of publishing my site to any Unix-based server capable of running Perl CGI scripts. The setup data, which was previously supplied, automatically generated meta tags used by search engines that crawl and catalog your site.
OLM-Gold's offering falls short of enterprise-worthy consideration, as it lacks features for true electronic-business integration, such as inventory management. But it is well-suited to companies that want to peddle abbreviated catalogs on the Web with a minimal up-front investment in cost and skills.
James R. Borck (james.borck @industrialart.com) is a regular contributor to InfoWorld and the IS director at Industrial Art & Science, in Connecticut.
THE BOTTOM LINE: BETA
Online Merchant Gold 2.0, beta
Summary: This easy-to-use toolset requires no programming or design expertise to quickly customize a Web site for transacting catalog-based business.
Business Case: Smaller companies will benefit from the low initial investment required, but OLM-Gold offers limited capabilities, which will hamper return on investment.
+ Near-turnkey integration with transaction-processing vendors+ Suitable for those with limited skill setCons:
- No inventory tracking capability
- No supply-chain management or accounting integration- Manual entry of shipping data requiredCost: $199.95Platform(s): Development: Microsoft Windows 95/98; Windows NT 4.0 and later.
Server: Unix (all flavors) or Linux with CGI access and support for Perl, Version 5.0 or laterShipping: February 2000Stumpworld Systems Inc., Allston, Mass.; (617) 787-6900; www.bluestone.com