ISSUE 504: The high-tech office- June
ecBuilder offers an affordable and simple way
for smaller firms to cash in on e-commerce
By now, I suspect that most readers, or at
least their employers, have a Web site. While Web sites are valuable,
they are in most cases a digital brochure, not directly contributing to
the bottom line.
Up to now, it's been a big jump for companies to make
the transition from using the Web to talk about their business to
actually taking orders and making sales online. It's a transition that
most smaller businesses -- for good reason -- have been hesitant to
Setting up a site for so-called e-commerce adds
dramatically to its complexity and cost. And there is no guarantee that
it will result in enough increased sales to make the whole project
A recent report by Connecticut-based Gartner Group
based on data from 20 mid- to large-sized businesses, concluded that
creating a new e-commerce site costs an average of US $1 million and
takes about five months to get up and running. And to get a site that
sets you apart from the competition costs anywhere from US$5 million to
With well-known e-commerce sites such as Amazon.com
still unprofitable, that's money that is hard for
many of us to justify
Vancouver's Multiactive Software (www.multiactive.com)
ecBuilder product promises to "bring e-commerce to small business." In
fact, they go on to promise that users can "get their business online
in under an hour." All with software that costs about $150 for the
standard version and $750 for the professional edition.
Because ecBuilder uses wizards and templates, it
really is relatively simple to set up a site that can accept and
process online orders, as well as offer customers a place to leave
ecBuilder can't provide everything that you'll find on
a multimillion-dollar Web site. But most businesses don't need all that
and may find ecBuilder an affordable and, perhaps equally important,
accessible way to get themselves selling on the Web.
The software works well and it's possible to create a
site without needing to know anything about the underlying HTML code
that makes all Web pages work.
A typical site starts off with an information page
with room for a company's profile, address and logo. The templates make
it easy to choose a range of designs and colour schemes.
From there, it's on to building a catalogue and to
breaking it up into sections or departments, just as in a physical
store. You can also add text descriptions and graphics for the
products. (Unfortunately, the program doesn't let you import this
information into typical database formats.)
Assuming that your business already has an account
with a financial institution for processing credit card information,
the next step is to create a page for orders and product in-
quiries. Tax and shipping information can also be added along with
payment options such as credit cards, COD and money orders. There are
even graphics for a range of credit cards.
Built-in security ensures that credit card information
is encoded by a secure socket layer, which provides protection for
shoppers and merchants alike.
Assuming that you've already got a Web site hosted by
an Internet Service Provider, ecBuilder will easily upload its files
right to your address. It also automatically submits information about
your new site to up to eight popular search engines, such as Yahoo!
The entry-level version is limited to a 10-page site,
compared to a maximum of 100 pages with the Pro version. While both
include 30 templates and 18 colour schemes, users of the basic version
can only use one of the five data templates at a time.
ecBuilder was named the Best Internet Commerce
Software at the 1999 Spring Symposium of the Software &
Information Industry Association, beating out heavy hitters
including Microsoft, Adobe Systems and Net
Perceptions, the technology used by Amazon.com. Earlier this month,
Multiactive received an award for Excellence in Product Innovation from
the B.C. Technology Industries Association.
Demo versions of both the entry-level and Pro versions
of the software are available from the company's Web site. *
In issue 503 we congratulated the wrong
prize-winner. Eugene Radvenis, a Vancouver animator
specializing in Architecture with his animation of Liberty Street,
an urban entertainment centre proposed for Langley, won the grand prize
for the computer animation category in the Viz Image and
Animation contest. Congratulations, Eugene. *