A Case Analysis

A web site is like an iceburg: the most interesting (and often, dangerous!) parts of the web site sit below the waterline, waiting to either make or break the user’s experience.

When we started working on the web site for Hollins Certificates, the goal was to make a web site which resembled the old web site that was developed by the owner of the site back in the 1980’s, but use back-end technology which allows orders to be taken online, to streamline fulfillment of over 4,000 separate SKUs, and to simplify the maintenance and updating of the web site.

We started from the original data kept by the previous owner, who maintained a text-formatted list of products by name, by product ID, and existing photos of products, and massaged the list into a SQL database table.

We then built, all in Java, without using pre-existing libraries, a custom sign-in and password recovery system, along with a custom shopping cart system that tracks the contents of an individual’s shopping cart and wish list. All of this is stored in Java. We then integrated against the Square API and PayPal API using JSON to handle credit card transactions.

(Note: Credit card transactions and other sensitive data must be handled with extreme care, since the worst thing that can happen to your business is a data breach which causes credit card information to be spilled across the Internet. Ideally if you are storing credit card information you must store that data in a separate database, and put policies and procedures in place which strictly control access to the data in that database. We solve the problem by never handling the credit card data; the SquareUp API allows the credit card fields in our order page to be inserted using an iFrame; this means we never see the credit card data, and rely on SquareUp to deal with the problem. PayPal inserts its own iFrame page during the order process as well.)

But it doesn’t end there. We also handle fulfillment by using custom form pages, and creating a separate MacOS app which can be used to manage orders–to print order fulfillment pages complete with the address of the person placing the order. The paper we use has a label included, so once the order on the page is filled, the label can be detached and applied to the box or envelop. We also sort the SKUs on the order fulfillment page so the products can be rapidly found amongst the 4,000 different folders containing 4,000 different collectable stock certificates.

This process helps save time and increases the accuracy of filling orders.

Our system also handles refunds; sometimes a product is not in stock, and it is important to properly credit a credit card order the appropriate amount when that happens. We hook into the Square and PayPal APIs to handle order refunds.

The Hollins Certificates web site looks very simple; a holdover from the 1980’s. And this was a deliberate decision, given the audience of the web site generally are older retailers who were used to the last web site and who are using older equipment to access the web. The site is designed to load quickly, present the information users want, to quickly place orders, but to also view magnified details of each certificate where available.

But the back end is a different story, employing the latest client-server technology for back-end access and order fulfillment.

If you are interested in a custom e-commerce solution which ties directly into your fulfillment processes, or want help figuring out how to streamline your fulfillment to maximize your profitability, please contact us. We’re always happy to help.

Image source and credit.

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