Food-online.com was formed in early 1995 to fuel the growth of
the on-line grocery shopping industry. The company provides grocery
retailers and food manufacturers with a cost-effective method
of incorporating on-line shopping into their operations while
also providing consumers with a more convenient way to shop. In
March, 1996, food-online.com delivered the first web-based grocery
shopping service for grocery retailer Groceries to Go to
support warehouse-based order fulfillment centers. With the addition
of Bread & Circus in the Fall of 1996, food-online.com
now serves two Boston area grocery retailers and plans to serve
more in the near future.
Christopher Martin, president of food-online.com, wanted to build
a commercial web site that would allow supermarkets to sell groceries
on the web. He approached database programming specialist Mauricio
Korbman with a the idea and together they formed foods-online.com.
Korbman, vice-president of research and development, was able
to build a fully operational on-line grocery shopping site in
less than 6 months, using Delphi and WebHub. This combination
provided the necessary framework for building the advanced database-driven
applications required by this sophisticated web site.
Food-online.com designed and built an interactive, database-driven
web site with several key functions in mind. These functions would
provide the foundation for a system that could support many grocery
retailers and provide quality services to their customers. Foods-online.com
wanted a system that could:
With these fundamental requirements in mind, Korbman built an interactive web site that provides customers with a simple, efficient method for selling and purchasing groceries. The food-online.com site was built to respond quickly and thoroughly to the requests of its users.
Using Borland's Delphi and WebHub's powerful web application development (WAD) framework, Korbman was able to solve all of the primary challenges of building the sophisticated site his company had envisioned.
The food-online.com site currently runs three different web applications. It is designed to provide comprehensive interaction for:
Shoppers can look for groceries, place orders and pay for their purchases. Because of WebHub's comprehensive surfer-tracking capabilities, the same web application can run for either store. When shoppers first visit the site, they are asked to choose a supermarket. They are then given an identity based on that choice. This identity remains with the shopper throughout the interactive session and determines the content and graphic appearance of all subsequent pages.
Once inside a market, the shopping application handles most of the general search requests and order placement. During the session, a shopper will encounter items that have ìSitelets.î These sitelets are essentially smaller sites within the site that provide detailed information about the product, including pictures, ingredients and nutritional values of the item. When shoppers finish searching on the sitelet, they can return to the supermarket and either request additional information about the manufacturer of the item in the sitelet or return to the original shopping session.
The administration application that runs on the site operates from a store-side system and allows retailers to manage all interactions with their customers. Retailers can update product availability, adjust prices and handle all areas of order fulfillment on-line. This application allows someone with limited computer skills to perform important tasks for the interactive sale and to make instant adjustments to time-critical information.
When shoppers click on a sitelet and opens a new web application,
all of the selections they have already made remain with them
for the entire length of the session, no matter how many pages
are viewed or applications run. Managing state, or ìsaving
stateî is the application's ability to remember and restore
previously entered data. This insures a continuous, logical, and
non-repetitive interaction between the surfer and the site.
Saving state is an extremely difficult challenge to overcome using traditional web development techniques. For web developers building interactive sites, it is absolutely critical, particularly for electronic exchange sites such as food-online.com. WebHub has a built-in tracking component that handles this essential task automatically.
The food-online.com web site is very different from most sites because it uses dynamically generated pages. Instead of static graphics and text, food-online.com is made up of a collection of pages that are generated on the fly in response to a shopper's input or request. Dynamic pages make database-driven web applications highly efficient, enabling each shopper to have a unique experience of the site based on the choices he or she makes during the session. The
component-based architecture of WebHub has simplified dynamic page generation by performing a variety of tasks including graphics on the fly, displaying tables and queries as HTML, sending automated confirmation e-mails for quick order processing, and allowing for efficient electronic commerce exchange. The
food-online.com site has many dynamic features that simplify shopping. Two examples include:
Designed to accommodate today's busy lifestyle, the shopping list template feature allows customers to save a template of their order so that during future visits, they can simply retrieve their customized list, make changes or additions to it, and then place an order without having to go through the store again to find the items.
This feature allows customers to select meals from a restaurant-style
menu. The system then automatically generates a grocery list of
the ingredients necessary to make the meal. For example, a person
could select Chicken Caccitore, and immediately his or her shopping
cart will be filled with all the items needed to prepare dinner
These features are examples of high level interaction made possible by WebHub components and Delphi.
The food-online.com system represents today's most innovative
use of the World Wide Web. Its use of advanced technology, specifically
its deployment of database-driven web applications, demonstrates
the future of web interaction and commerce. Using the world's
most powerful programming language and web application development
environment, Mauricio Korbman sees no limitation to what can be
done on the web:
We've been able to accomplish everything we've thought about doing for this site. With WebHub and Delphi, we've built a web site with the same processing capacity as a personal computer. We could not have done this with any other tool.
|Windows NT 4.0 (for development)
Windows NT 3.51 (for production)
|Web Server||Microsoft IIS 2.0|
|Database||Microsoft SQL Server 6.5|
|Hardware||Compaq Proline 5133 (for production)
Compaq Proline 6150 (for the DB server)
|Tools||WebHub, by HREF Tools Corp.
Delphi 2.0, by Borland