By Kim Wimpsett
StoreFront is an affordable way to create a dynamic, database-driven e-commerce site or to add e-commerce functionality to your existing Web site. At $279, the software helps you set up a complete online store: a product catalog, a shopping cart, transaction processing, and more. It also includes options for managing your orders and marketing your products. But developers allergic to Microsoft beware: you must have Microsoft FrontPage to use StoreFront. By Kim Wimpsett
StoreFront is an affordable way to create a dynamic, database-driven e-commerce site or to add e-commerce functionality to your existing Web site. At $279, the software helps you set up a complete online store: a product catalog, a shopping cart, transaction processing, and more. It also includes options for managing your orders and marketing your products. But developers allergic to Microsoft beware: you must have Microsoft FrontPage to use StoreFront.
Building the store
StoreFront is a plug-in to FrontPage, so you will need to install the latter program and develop your store with Personal Web Server installed. When you upload your site, your NT or 2000 Web server must be running Internet Information Server 3 with Active Server Pages activated. After installing StoreFront, you can access its e-commerce menus from a toolbar that's automatically added to FrontPage.
Setting up a new store is fairly easy, although you can get a bit lost during the process if you're not careful. First, click the Web Creation Wizard button, and StoreFront automatically creates the site files, a Data Source Name, and a database connection for you. You then define the business rules for your site's operation; these include tax settings, payment options, shipping charges, and so on. To access these settings, you click Configure StoreFront Web. Then click Connect in order to set up your database. (The standard edition supports only SQL or Access.) Next, click Web Manager when the Store Builder Options dialog box pops up.
Unfortunately, instead of numbered, step-by-step instructions, creating your e-commerce site consists mainly of filling out options in a series of tabbed dialog boxes. Even if this setup isn't daunting, it's still easy to miss some crucial steps when presented with all of them at once. Overall, a step-by-step wizard that guides you through this process or an in-line help option would make building a store easier.
You can easily change the look of your entire site. Much like FrontPage's themes, StoreFront's Design tab lets you customize the themes of the store. Because your store's pages are dynamically generated with ASP, these themes allow you to modify the design of the entire site without knowing the language (though ASP developers can further extend the customization).
When you're filling out the options, you'll see that StoreFront has thought of pretty much everything. Under Order Processing, for instance, you can choose to receive orders via e-mail or enable online processing through more than a dozen payment-processing services. Options are built in for accepting credit cards, electronic checks, purchase orders, and a few other payment options. You can also automate shipping rates and sales tax calculations as well as send order confirmations by e-mail. StoreFront supports SSL, so all of your transactions will be secure.
Building the catalog
To add products to your catalog, you must create a record in the database before product pages can be created. The input fields for adding products are pretty self-explanatory and include Name, Description, Price, and so on. You can have an unlimited number of products in your store and display both a thumbnail and a larger image for each product. Even better, StoreFront automatically creates a search engine for you so that users can search by keyword, manufacturer, vendor, price, or sales items.
All in all, StoreFront is an economical way to add a store to your site or to create a new e-commerce site. If you're using FrontPage already, it's one of the best e-commerce add-ons available, especially once you get the hang of its feature-packed dialog boxes. However, if you plan to buy FrontPage 2002, you might want to try the three month free trial of the bCentral Commerce Manager Add-In.