Electronic Commerce Services

So. You're interested in a little more detail. That's good. This page is still under development (as are most of our pages) so if you have any questions at all, please ask them by emailing us with whatever concerns you have. We will certainly answer; we will also try to change the page to make things a little clearer.

That said, what kind of details are we going to write about? Well, first, let's get some words straight. In the process of an order, there are three people involved: the customer, the merchant and the supplier. The customer is pretty obvious. The merchant is the person or company who maintains the Web presence (i.e. the catalog pages) and who takes payment for the order. And the supplier is the person or company who actually ships product. In many cases, the merchant and the supplier will be one and the same, but not always, especially in business-to-business commerce.

A customer first meets our ecomm by looking at a catalog page. A catalog page is simply an HTML page, located anywhere at all on the Web. The catalog page contains an order form which has an action something like "http://www.vivtek.com/joesgrill/add-order", a number of input fields for quantities, and a submit button. In that action URL, the "joesgrill" part is the tag of the merchant to whom the order is going. When the form is submitted, some item or items are added to the customer's current order (shopping cart) at Joe's Grill.

All subsequent work with that order will happen at the Vivtek site; Joe's Grill simply has catalog pages. However, Joe's site could, of course, put the order into a frame, so that the customer would never see www.vivtek.com at all. All the pages used in the order server are customizable by the merchant, so that the look of all ecommerce can be integrated into the look of the merchant's site. If you want more customization than we currently provide, we can do that. One of the benefits of subscribing to our service instead of buying an out-of-box solution is that the original coders of the software are working with you. And it really is cheaper.

Anyway, once something has been added to the current order, the order summary form appears. This page lists the items currently in the shopping cart, and provides a place for the customer to enter contact information (or to sign on if returning), payment information, and shipping information if the product or products being sold require shipping. At this point, the customer can place the order or shop further and place the order later.

Once the customer is ready to check out, they click on the "Check out" button. The order server checks all the information entered and presents a summary of the order, which details the total amount due, how the customer wants to pay, where the shipment should go, and so forth.

At this point also, if payment should be by credit card and the number isn't known, a field will appear for entry. For this reason, the summary page is presented via SSL, in other words, it is encrypted coming and going so that no-one can read the credit card information while it is in transit over the Internet. This is fairly straightforward, but many ISPs charge an additional fee for SSL services, and in this case it all takes place on our server, not the merchant's.

Once everything is OK, the customer clicks on the confirmation button, and the order is officially placed.

Order placement sends a summary email to the customer and to the merchant. If the merchant is using CyberCash and the customer is paying by credit card, then the transaction is performed on CyberCash and the results checked. If there is a problem, the customer is alerted and has a chance either to go ahead and let the merchant resolve the difficulty, or offer some other form of payment. If payment clears, then the supplier is also notified (if the supplier and the merchant are the same email address, then only one email gets sent.) Otherwise, the supplier won't be notified until the merchant officially clears payment by hand.

As a part of the confirmation email, the customer gets a URL which links to the status screen for the order. On the order status screen, you can see whether the order, or some items, have been shipped, and if the supplier has entered tracking information, then you can see that there, too. If payment has yet to clear, that is also indicated. And of course, the customer also gets a customer service page from which contact information can be changed, payment and shipping preferences entered or changed, order history can be investigated, and so forth.

Now the customer has placed an order, the ball is in the merchant's court. An email is sent to the merchant to inform them of the order. (We can integrate with your existing systems more completely, but email is the default notification and it's easy to understand.) The email contains a list of the items ordered, warns the merchant if payment hasn't been cleared automatically, and includes a link to the merchant's order summary. The summary shows the order and contains links to the customer's information, an email link to the customer, and transaction information if payment has cleared.

If payment hasn't cleared, then the merchant needs to take care of it. This can mean several things. If the customer wants to mail payment, then the merchant will clear the payment when it arrives. If the merchant isn't using CyberCash to clear credit cards, then that can be done manually and the payment marked as cleared. One way or another, the supplier isn't notified of the order until payment has cleared.

The merchant has access to a complete list of orders online, a list of all customers who have placed orders online, and can optionally set up accounts so that selected customers may place orders which will automatically be cleared (up to an optional credit limit). In the case of accounts, the merchant then invoices on whatever basis works for merchant and customer. As far as the commerce platform is concerned, it's all done.

The merchant can also maintain basic information online (such as mailing address for payments and the email address that order notifications should go to.) And at some point we want to include online catalog management functionality. We're still working on that; so far setup has been easy enough that we haven't really had a real need for online management.

Once payment has cleared, it is up to the supplier to complete the order. Again, the supplier may be the merchant, but for the purposes of setup and configuration we separate the two functions, and there are many cases where the online merchant will distribute products for several suppliers.

The supplier receives an email when an order is ready to fulfill. (As mentioned above, we can integrate with your existing systems if necessary, but email is the default notification and is easy to understand.) The email contains a list of items provided by that supplier (a given merchant may represent multiple suppliers and so a given order may contain items from several suppliers. Each supplier sees only their own items.) It also shows the shipping address and contains a link to the order summary for the supplier.

The order summary page for each supplier is a very important page, because it is here that shipping information is entered. For each line item, the supplier can mark the item shipped on a particular date, with a particular shipper and tracking number. The tracking numbers will be made available to the customer automatically, which can save you a lot of trouble! And when each item is marked as shipped, the customer is notified. The order also has a link to the customer's email on it, so that if any further information is required, it is easy to obtain.

The supplier also has access to a number of services besides this, including a list of orders still to be marked as shipped, the ability to change contact information online, and some catalog management functionality.

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