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ColdFusion: Article

Ensuring CF As an E-Commerce Platform

How ColdFusion developers can prove that they are the e-commerce solution

At the company I work for, we are in the process of looking for e-commerce solutions to offer our clients - solutions developed and/or implemented in technologies other than ColdFusion. We are looking for other platforms due to the need or drive to go to the next level of stability and scalability, and to add new customization features.

The code I walked into when I started my current job was based on a very hashed-up old version of AbleCommerce. Most of my first two years was spent cleaning up code. As a department, we spent a lot of time and energy just trying to improve our current platform so we could start adding features. After awhile, it became frustrating to fix and clean up the current code and database, instead of adding all the new features, such as segmentation and personalization, that we wanted.

We researched companies that were national e-commerce solution providers. In this article, I want to show that we do not need another platform to be able to add more features, scalability, and stability; and that ColdFusion is more than capable of meeting all our needs. To do this, we need to improve the quality of our work as a community, and to better prove and demonstrate why ColdFusion is a very solid e-commerce solution.

As different technologies are introduced, or used for developing e-commerce solutions, there is a certain pattern of adaptation to move from technologies such as ColdFusion to those that are perceived as equivalent or better such as Java, .NET, ASP, or even PHP. I know from personal experience that some companies adopt new technologies not because they're the best solution, but merely because they're the newest trend or fad.

I have also seen coders not take the time or patience to really master their craft. When that happens, it makes all of us look bad - as if we are low quality, low technology, barely above HTML coders.

This article is about how we can maintain ColdFusion's hold on the market, reclaim ground recently lost to Java and .NET, improve our reputation, and improve our quality.

Improving the Quality of Work As ColdFusion Developers
Improving the quality of code they write should be the number one goal of all developers, but because so many ColdFusion developers are self-taught, as I am, it takes us more time to improve the quality of our code. As a result, we often turn in projects that meet the business requirements, but do not reach the higher quality of good solid CF coding.

Solid CF Coding Standards
Establishing standards is very important to the ease and stability of working together. The following enable someone else to pick up your code, and be able to reasonably determine logic flow, etc.

  • Full documentation of code
  • Clear and concise comments
  • Indenting to improve readability of code
  • Using SQL statements that are precise and built for scalability
  • Clear project management process, to help release correct applications
  • Naming conventions for variables, files, and folders that make sense to you and your fellow workers
My biggest tip, though, is thorough planning, because so many times a great application is released but is missing something, or what we thought the client wanted in the end has nothing to do with the work requested. Plan your work, follow or create a project management process, and do everything in your power to help prevent communication errors.

Improving the Reputation of ColdFusion E-commerce Sites
I believe we need to take pride in the good work that is being done on ColdFusion e-commerce sites, or even regular ColdFusion sites. Not just if it looks beautiful, but to show how using ColdFusion has improved conversion rates, sales, profitability, stability, and customer life cycles.

As ColdFusion developers who work on e-commerce sites, we have to not only think in CF, but we must learn to understand the business of e-commerce.

There are many aspects to an e-commerce application, such as:

  • Credit card validations and authentication
  • Inventory status updates
  • Integration between fulfillment software and Web site database
  • Shipping confirmations
  • Login/registration forms
  • Shopping carts
  • Check-out-process development/design
  • Content management systems
  • Personalization and segmentation of users
  • Site search for products, categories, content, etc.
  • Search engine optimization
To develop the best applications, we must be up-to- date, not just on code, but on e-commerce best practices, trends, and news as well.

Following are some of my favorite e-commerce resources:

  • Internet Retailer: This is one of my regular visits each day, because it shows new trends in retail. What new technologies, tools, and methodologies are Internet retailers adopting? In addition, they have a very good print magazine, with a free subscription offer if you work in the e-commerce industry. www.internetretailer.com
  • WebmasterWorld: The number one source for news on Google, Yahoo, and Inktomi, this is the place to learn and master search engine optimization. They also have industry representatives so you can ask questions. There are also forums on Web design, usability, and e-commerce. This is a very big community site, and it's all professionals. www.webmasterworld.com
  • A-Clue.com: This is a regular e-commerce newsletter written by Dana Blankenhorn, a well-known business journalist, with good insights. www.a-clue.com
  • Business 2.0: A very good subscription-based online newspaper, it's also a solid print magazine, with news in the field of online business, aka e-commerce. www.business2.com/b2/
  • eRetailNews: This is another good news source, plus they have a yearly report called the "Best of eRetail"; a very good read, to learn best practices and proven methods of improving profitability. www.eretailnews.com/
  • MarketingSherpa: A very well-run e-commerce/retail research organization, they offer free articles, that after 10 days become pay-per-view. But they are run using ColdFusion! www.marketingsherpa.com/
  • Retail Forward: Another very professional e-commerce/retail research organization, they will e-mail the latest retail news to you daily. eretail.retailforward.com
E-Commerce Books
I have read a lot of e-commerce books, and the following is my selection of the best. If you have any recommendations, feel free to comment. Let me explain a little bit about my collection. I am somewhat of an old school coder/developer, editing code in a text editor, always trying to improve my code quality and planning skills. In addition, being a craftsman to me means understanding more about who you are creating applications for - customers.

As a self-taught developer, I have learned to collect books by high-quality authors who also have a lot of common sense. Think about it, what good is an application if none of the end users can use it or understand it? What good is an application if it doesn't meet all their needs? That's why it's important to understand, to grasp the whole picture, and communicate, plan well, and innovate. Part of my philosophy is that being a great e-commerce coder takes more than just mastering your syntax.

Here are my top choices of books on e-commerce, Web development, and usability:

  • Customer-Centered Design, by Kreta Chandler and Karen Hyatt: How to design for the customers rather than for the company. I bought this book because it shows how the new trend of e-commerce development is really about satisfying our customers and improving their experience. One of the reasons is that sometimes corporate policy or opinion can indicate design/development, rather than understanding or querying customer needs.

    We cannot merely guess our customer needs, but if we want to improve reputation and sales for the long term, we must create applications that fit the end users' needs. The e-commerce trend now is identifying and fulfilling the customer's needs, so as to improve the overall customer life cycle.

  • Homepage Usability by Jakob Nielsen: This book is one of the classics of design/development, because usability guru, Jakob Nielsen, of www.useit.com, looks at 50 top sites, e-commerce and not. He gives clear definitions of what makes Web pages more usable for customers/visitors, and includes screen shots of each major site, to provide step-by-step diagnosis, usability hotspots, and issues. Usability is not a trend; it's about making sites usable for the end user.
  • E-Business to Go - Insider Secrets by G. Liam Thompson: G. Liam Thompson is one of the industry's earliest patriarchs, the e-business expert that the other e-business experts call when they want the straight story - or the bottom line. Thompson is also one of the few award-winning e-business developers who hasn't let it go to his head, and we like that about him, too. He is a longtime contributor to trade journals, print magazines, and online resources.
  • The Dot.Bomb Survival Guide by Sean Carton and Christopher Locke: This is a story of success, failure, and the happenings of the dot-com explosion, from burning success to implosive failure stories. For all of us who were either victims or bystanders, this is a great book to make sure we really learned from the lessons of the dot-com era.
If we want to have the industry recognize ColdFusion as the premier solution for developing e-commerce sites, we must prove our viability by:
  1. Adapting and sticking to solid coding standards
  2. Planning each project thoroughly
  3. Becoming knowledgeable about the e-commerce/online retail industry
  4. Awarding and recognizing top CF e-commerce sites
Only then will the industry wake up to realize that ColdFusion dominates e-commerce!

      More Stories By Craig Rosenblum

      Craig M. Rosenblum is a Certified ColdFusion Developer, working for Rockler Companies, Inc, where he specializes in developing applications for e-commerce.

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