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Closing the Deal with ECML

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In an effort to streamline costs, my employer (Midrange Computing) recently standardized on a travel agency. I had a relationship with the individuals at my old travel agency, but for the purpose of saving money, I was willing to work with this new group. So, I jumped over to my new travel agency’s Web site and started to fill out my personal information. I failed. I kept getting entry errors for various reasons, such as not filling out required fields—fields for which I had no immediate answer or that weren’t appropriate in my situation. In frustration, I phoned the travel company and told them that I was not “smart enough” to fill out their form. But if it weren’t my company’s policy to use this travel agency, it would have lost my business.

Anyone who has filled out merchant forms has felt the same frustration. The problem with these order forms is that there is no standard for exchanging information between a consumer and a merchant. You always seem to be filling out the same information. A recent study by Forrester showed 66 percent of online shopping carts are abandoned prior to the customer completing a purchase—apparently my frustration is shared. Vendors don’t like losing these sales, so they are all wondering, “Isn’t there a better way?” Now there is.

ECML, a Language for E-commerce

The Electronic Commerce Modeling Language (ECML) is a universal, open standard for defining payment and order information in HTML input forms (www.ecml.org). The ECML standard is extremely easy to adhere to, and the benefits of doing so can be far- reaching. Consider the following HTML input tag for the first name of the “ship to” entry of an input form before the tag is modified to the ECML standard:

Now, look at the same tag after it is modified to the ECML standard:

ame=”Ecom_ShipTo_Postal_Name_First” size=20>

The ECML specification has standard names and minimum lengths for approximately 50 e-commerce fields that contain information on shipping, billing, receipt,

payment card, and order identification. As both a developer of e-commerce sites and a Web shopper, I stand to benefit from the standard.

So how do e-commerce hosts and Web shoppers benefit from what looks like nothing more than a simple naming convention? When a consumer visits a page that contains an ECML order form, ECML-aware digital wallets (e-wallets) automatically fill in the form. Three examples of EMCL-aware e-wallet products are Gator.com’s Gator, Amazon.com’s 1-Click, and Microsoft’s Passport. These digital wallet products are easy to install and use. With Gator, for instance, the shopper downloads the e-wallet software from the Gator home page (www. gator.com) and fills in the information for name, address, phone number, and credit card. When the shopper visits an ECML e-commerce site, the billing information is automatically filled in by clicking on the wallet. When the ordering process is this easy, the likelihood of a completed order is increased. For this reason, I expect that the adoption of ECML by e-commerce hosts and the adoption of digital wallets by consumers will be mainstream within a year.

Who’s Behind ECML?

The ECML specification was created with the collaborative effort of various companies, including American Express, Visa, MasterCard, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, and IBM. Obviously, these companies are in the process of converting the forms on their e-commerce sites to the ECML standards. Among the other companies that have adopted ECML are Dell, healthshop.com, and Compaq.

The remaining issue regarding ECML and digital is personal information privacy. As a shopper makes orders using a digital wallet, that wallet’s software can easily store that demographic information. Most digital wallet vendors have some sort of a guarantee that your demographics will not be sold. Gator.com, for instance, is a licensee of the TRUSTe Privacy Program (see the Licensee Validation Page at www.truste.org/validate/3366). What this TRUSTe certification means is that Gator.com agrees to inform shoppers about what organizations collect the information; who will share the information; how the information will be used; what choices are available to the shopper regarding collection, use, and distribution of the information; what security procedures are in place to protect the loss, misuse, or alteration of the information; and how the shopper can correct any inaccuracies in the information.

The Shopping Experience

The ECML specification is now only in its first version. As ECML evolves, it is expected to support many extended features: travel and entertainment, affinity, frequent flyer, customer loyalty programs, business-to-business, and package tracking information. For an e-commerce site to be successful, shopping there must be a positive experience. We consumers don’t have the patience to fill out all those forms; if vendors want our business, they are going to have to improve the ordering process. Adherence to the ECML standard and the availability of digital wallets help make online shopping easier.

References and Related Materials

• ECML Home Page: www.ecml.org
• Gator Home Page: www.gator.com
• TRUSTe Licensee Validation Page: www.truste.org/validate/3366

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Don Denoncourt

Don Denoncourt is a freelance consultant. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


MC Press books written by Don Denoncourt available now on the MC Press Bookstore.

Java Application Strategies for iSeries and AS/400 Java Application Strategies for iSeries and AS/400
Explore the realities of using Java to develop real-world OS/400 applications.
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