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eCommerce: Age of "Virtual Window Shopping"

eCommerce is a reality. Organizations worldwide, ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies, are successfully transacting business on the web. The advantages of electronic commerce are clear. Barriers imposed by geography and time-zones are erased. Buyers and sellers interact via the internet seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. Potential customers get instantaneous answers to their questions via web sites and FAQs, and make instantaneous purchase decisions while the information is fresh in their minds. This model is so engaging that eCommerce is expected to grow by 300% in the next two years. IDC predicts by the year 2000 that 46 million people will be buying products on-line and eCommerce will grow to $333 billion by 2002.

The foundation of eCommerce is the hardware and software used to run your site. Tenon and Pacific Coast have joined together to create a secure commerce foundation that is not only easy to set up and use, but one that provides high-performance, industrial-strength web delivery. The recommended secure commerce platform is a G3 Power Macintosh with WebTen and WebCatalog.

Although the Macintosh is typically touted as a friendly home computer, it can be a solid business platform as well. All current Macintosh models based on the G3 chip can easily handle a secure web commerce site. Apple's new G3 machines have been shown to be twice as fast as Intel's Pentium IIs. This G3 performance, coupled with WebTen's ability to sustain over 1000 hits/second, gives you the foundation you need to support multiple, secure web-based storefronts. Moreover, the cost of setting up and maintaining a Macintosh secure commerce server is so far below the cost on other platforms, businesses are able to rapidly increase sales by spending money on marketing, rather than on web site maintenance. Likewise, web service providers can direct their energy and resources toward growing their business, rather than on systems administration.

Secure pages are an important part of a secure commerce web site. Savvy internet surfers want to make sure that the site with which they're doing business is safe and protected by encryption. The infrastructure for secure internet transactions includes Secure Sockets Layer (SSL3) and digital IDs. The SSL standard enables secure transactions over the web and is required to provide a secure environment for eCommerce. WebTen incorporates SSL3 to encrypt web server transactions. The secure sockets layer included in WebTen encrypts data between the web server and the browser.

Each secure storefront is associated with a particular storefront name, for example, www.YourStoreFront.com. Associated with this web address (or URL) is an internet address, for example, WebTen has the capability of handling any number of web addresses, each with their own unique internet or IP address. This enables web service providers to accommodate multiple clients, giving each client their own private SSL "virtual host".

Each SSL virtual host requires a server certificate with a unique digital ID. A server certificate is issued by a Certificate Authority or CA. The CA is considered a 'trusted higher authority' who ensures the identity of the server. In a typical commercial virtual host set up, each virtual host would have its own unique server certificate. WebTen can support an unlimited number of virtual hosts, each with their own IP address and private SSL server certificate. If you want to create multiple storefronts on a single server, you'll appreciate this ability to handle multiple SSL certificates. WebTen also has the flexibility to support virtual hosts all sharing the same IP address and sharing a common SSL certificate, so, if desired, related storefronts can share a single certificate.

Applying for and receiving a certificate is part of the WebTen SSL setup. There are two popular Certificate Authorities, Verisign and Thawte . Verisign has already issued over 750,000 certificates for authenticating users on web sites. This is a strong indicator of how popular SSL on the internet has become.

When accessing an SSL server through Netscape or Internet Explorer, the key or lock icon in the browser will 'close' or come together. This tells your customer that the transaction they are about to initiate is secure. Additionally, 'http' in the URL is replaced with 'https'. Since SSL encrypts all data transferred between the server and browser, it should only be used for pages that collect sensitive information, such as pages where customers enter their credit card account information. This way pages that do not carry sensitive information will not suffer any performance degradation imposed by encryption and decryption algorithms.

Ideally you want to be able to interact with as many browsers as possible. WebTen supports HTTP/1.1. HTTP/1.1 has many new features that enhance web operations, such as persistent connections and built-in support for byte serving of pdf documents. WebTen's Apache HTTP/1.1 implementation is backward compatible with browsers that only support HTTP/1.0 or 0.9, making it the only Macintosh-based web server that supports this level of browser compatibility.

An attractive, flexible "shopping cart" capability is a necessity. In addition to security and browser compatibility, you want to make sure that your customers can submit their information and buy your products without a problem. You want customers not only to buy your products, but to return to your storefront for subsequent purchases. Eighty percent of cyber-shoppers visit several sites before making a purchase. Often a visitor will decide to buy your products, or come back a second time, only if they enjoyed using your site. Storefront software needs to be highly configurable -- able to handle simple sites with a single product, and complex sites with hundreds of thousands of products. Your storefront must be fast. Customers will lose interest if they are constantly waiting for a simple catalog search to finish.

Your G3/WebTen secure foundation requires a well-constructed, high-performance commerce package. WebCatalog provides the speed and stability needed in so critical a piece of software. WebCatalog not only has the eye-popping speed necessary to handle many shoppers searching through thousands of products at once, but also has important features that will make your storefront competitive: integrated email notification; complex calculation capability; form handling; and conditional operations. All features that help you be successful.

With your success will come expansion of your business. An important question to ask at the onset is "If I am successful can I expand and open up more stores?" Expansion can often lead to large, unexpected costs. If you're not careful, Web storefront software can be like a Trojan Horse. When establishing a site, licensing is often more important than the cost of the software. Software that limits the number of shoppers or charges additional fees to set up more than one storefront on a single server can exact an ongoing toll that goes far beyond your initial purchase price. In addition, you'll want to make sure that your software can be extended to perform automated on-line transactions. WebCatalog supports an unlimited number of storefronts on a single computer, in conjunction with various on-line credit card processing services, to support credit card verification.

Automated on-line transactions are supported by WebCatalog. If you want to automate the entire sales process, you'll enjoy using the automated payment verification capabilities of WebCatalog. The first step is to set up a relationship with a financial institution and establish a credit card merchant account. (You may already have such an account for your off-line business.) WebCatalog can be configured to work in conjunction with MacAuthorize to authorize purchases through your existing merchant account, or to use on-line authorization services such as the Internet Billing Company (http://www.ibill.com).

WebCatalog sends email notification of all purchases to people inside of your organization as well as to the customer. Products that require traditional shipping are accommodated by sending emails to the shipping department. For electronic delivery of products, WebCatalog can create a temporary downloadable file from a secure stockroom folder.

Think secure commerce. WebTen & WebCatalog are the ideal combination for secure commerce. WebTen is the fastest Macintosh web server on the market. WebCatalog is the most complete storefront solution on the Mac market. Don't be afraid to experiment. Look at other storefront sites and talk to their Webmasters. A site can be deceiving -- a lot of work is often required to create a simple, enjoyable experience. Even though you may have a particular vision for your web site, look at the way other people do things. Both Tenon and Pacific Coast will be happy to help you with your secure commerce needs. If you're looking for a turnkey secure commerce solution, contact us and we'll be happy to help you configure your storefront. On the other hand, WebTen and WebCatalog are so intuitive that you might just want to purchase the components and create your own site. Whether we simply advise you or provide full-scale engineering support, we look forward to working with you and to helping you grow your on-line business.

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