SoftSlate Commerce Not Hard to Love

SoftSlate Commerce includes source code with the license, so you can customize this full-featured cart application yourself, or the company can do it for you.
If you've always wanted to "source" your e-commerce solution, for the price of a subscription that begins at $495, SoftSlate Commerce gives you the complete source code that may be thoroughly customized and extended to your liking and business needs. And you're free to use SoftSlate until you want to upgrade it.

SoftSlate offers a powerful and fully functional Java-based [define] shopping cart and intuitive administrative control system. It integrates with leading payment gateways, tracks inventory and manages customer accounts. It's an e-commerce solution for businesses that have the technical know-how and where-with-all to work with code. And if you don't have in-house expertise, you can rely on the company to develop it for you.

Shipping and Payments in Version 2.2
SoftSlate's latest version 2.2 offers new features to support and integrate with UPS and FedEx. The online tools allow you to define shipping rules by weight, quantity and price and designate the shipping methods that are allowed or disallowed for specific items and configure and apply shipping discounts.

Additional payment options support Google Checkout and various flavors of PayPal. You can now import products, categories, attributes and options through comma- and tab-delimited files. And a new export feature lets you select a range of dates and fields and export them so they may be applied and analyzed in other programs.

Key Cart Characteristics
The full-featured shopping cart system lets customers quickly browse for products. It lets you list products with descriptions, images, inventory levels, pricing and available discounts and apply any number of custom fields. It's particularly easy for customers to select options such as materials and sizes.


SoftSlate Commerce Cart
Creative Checkout: Full-featured cart contains lots of customizable options.
(Click for larger image.)

You can also emphasize a "featured product" on the front page. To assist with site navigation, "breadcrumbing" features display parent categories at the top of the page and allow customers to click and be taken to previous screens. A convenience, shoppers can add multiple items to their carts at once and define different quantities, options and attributes. SoftSlate also displays the contents of a shopper's cart as he browses the online store.

Address and payment forms may be combined into a single checkout screen and the program can display a confirmation screen as customers complete their orders. Once a sale is complete, the system e-mails invoices to both the shopper and administrator.

The system also supports virtual, downloadable products such as software, pictures and music. When a client completes the order of a virtual product, links appear in the customer's account area so he may download the purchased files.

For payment processing, SoftSlate Commerce integrates with PayPal Direct Payment (Website Payments Pro) US and UK, PayPal Express Checkout US and UK, PayPal Payflow Pro (formerly Verisign Payflow Pro), PayPal Payflow Link, Authorize.net and Google Checkout.

Attention Administrators
The Web-based administrator gives you control over adding, editing and deleting products. It handles categories, attributes, SKUs, discounts and options, and manages customer information including addresses, as well as orders, payments and more.


SoftSlate Commerce
Streamlined Set Up: The administration screen offers clear options for configuring the settings of the shopping site.
(Click for larger image.)

When you first log-in, the main screen displays the number of orders and products for the past day, seven days, 30 days and all time. The left side of the screen offers clear options to configure the settings, which includes the display, store information, security, inventory and more.

Settings often appear with simple "yes" and "no" options that are easy to select and alter. For example, under "inventory" you are greeted with options such as: "track inventory (yes/no)," "deny purchase when out of stock (yes/no)" and more. If you're not sure what an option means, a helpful button on the upper-right portion of the screen serves explanations.

Security, Inventory Control and Discounts
Security settings let you not only store passwords but customer credit card information, and you can apply your choice of one-way or two-way encryption. Businesses can set up an unlimited number of administrator logins and passwords and assign each one some 40 built-in rules.

Comprehensive inventory tracking features let you manage products. You designate whether inventory is reduced when users add items to their carts or when they check out. The system also sends e-mail notifications when stocks fall to certain levels that you designate.

Thorough discounting features let you apply percentage and quantity discounts as well as coupons. You define which customers are eligible for discounts, when discounts start and expire, which products and combinations of discounts apply at a time and the number of times a discount can be used. Useful cross selling features let you define any number of related products to promote extra sales.

SoftSlate Commerce is specifically designed to be customized and extended. All of the application's business and data access objects have Java interfaces that may be replaced with classes of your own. SoftSlate Commerce relies on the Apache Struts application framework and has been tested with Apache Tomcat 5.0 and 5.5. It also supports MySQL [define], PostgreSQL, MS Sequel Server and Oracle out-of-the-box.

Kicking the Tires
If you want to evaluate the shopping cart, SoftSlate offers links to real sites that rely on its technology and lets you browse through a demonstration store. You can try out the administration features through another interactive demo.

While SoftSlate calls its fee a "subscription," you receive source code and a license to use Softslate, and host the solution yourself. It's almost like a one-time fee with unlimited use, which could be cost effective in the long run. According to the pricing plan, the only time you have to pay for SoftSlate again is if you want to upgrade to a "major" new version.

Our press contact told us that a major upgrade would be a numerical one, say 2.x to 3.0. If recent history is any indication, past upgrades from 2.0 to 2.1 and 2.2 were free to subscribers. The company line at this point is that "a major upgrade would consist of a reworking of the underlying technologies."

SoftSlate offers a viable option for building an online store that gives you the use of its source code. Even if your business lacks the means to work with source code, SoftSlate offers services to help you build your store. If you want to consider SoftSlate, be sure to check out its demos.

SoftSlate Commerce Standard Edition, priced at $495, includes the entire source code and a license to use SoftSlate Commerce on one production server, one staging server and an unlimited number of development servers. You can purchase higher-priced versions that add support for installation, training and trouble shooting. There are also upgrades to install SoftSlate on more than one production server.

Wayne N. Kawamoto is a regular contributor to ECommerce-Guide.com.

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