Online Store & Website

Online Store & Website: What they share in common and how they differ

Drawing a parallel with statements in Math & Logic, one might, quite correctly say: All online stores are websites, but all websites are not (online) stores! Amazon, is an excellent example of an online store. You can be expected to know a lot about it if you shop online.

But the CNN website is quite different or for that matter Wikipedia, BBC, the IEEE and so on !! What’s the difference ? I think we all know the difference at the back of our minds, when we replay our memories of visiting these sites … Well, let me spell out briefly, what they share in common and in what respects they differ.

1. What’s common

a) Both online stores and websites must have ‘domain’ names. A domain is a name on the Internet that uniquely identifies a website. When deployed and running, all the files that make up your website will be hosted’ by a public computer on the Internet called a ‘web host’ and the name associated with the root (or topmost level) directory that contains your website’s files will also be the domain name.

For example, amazon.com’ is a domain name. It uniquely identifies Amazon on the Internet. The directory ‘amazon.com’ on the computer hosting it, will contain the components of the website, in a ‘tree-structured’ form. There will be one sub-directory under directory ‘amazon.com’ for each of the site’s ‘pages’ e.g. amazon.com/home is the mandatory ‘home’ directory of the site and will usually contain the file ‘index.html’ or ‘index.htm’ (the very first page of your website).

The ‘Books’ department, will, very likely be organized under a sub-directory, amazon.com/Books. Similar would be the case for each other department – there would be one sub-directory each for ‘Movies, Music & Video Games’, for ‘Mobiles & Tablets’ and so on.

You have to BUY a domain name from an authorized domain name registrar like, for e.g. GoDaddy, eNom Tucows. If you operate an online store, your domain name will necessarily have the extension ‘.com’ (or commercial). Websites, in general i.e. excluding online stores for a moment, represent a big variety of entities businesses (for-profit & not-for-profit), companies, educational/ research institutions, banks/ financial institutions, government and so on. They may, therefore use names with other extensions (but not .com) such as ‘.org’ (for organization), ‘.int’ (for international organization), ‘.edu’ (for educational institution) etc.

b) Both online stores and websites are built using HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) code and / or embedded applications (apps) and modules written in web languages such as Javascript, PHP, Perl, Python etc.. The ‘meta tags’ differ. In the case of online stores, a lot of info for identifying products will be present.

c) Today, quite a large part of website access occurs via mobile phones and mobile devices and hence, regardless of whether you own an online store or a website, responsive design is gaining importance as a invaluable feature. What this means is that your site will be capable of being displayed correctly on screens of any size, with little or no change – it will appear equally well on a desktop screen, on a tablet or even a smart phone!

2. What’s different

In the section above, we saw what is common to both online stores and to websites. Now, let’s examine the differences. The primary difference between the two is the ‘content’. Second most important, online stores want to sell products, so attractive advertising can be expected at an online store. Thirdly, online stores are distinguished by the ubiquitous ‘cart’.

a) The objectives of online stores and general websites are different and it is this aspect that accounts for the differences. Showing off their inventory of goods, whenever possible, and attempting to make quoted prices appear ‘the lowest’ is a sure objective of any online store!

To this end, most online stores use a database (usually MySQL, because it’s free) containing pictures and details of every product on sale, keywords (for searching) and loads of other analytic info. Database performance is of critical importance, because you need to retrieve and show details of a product to a customer as fast as possible. A sloppy product database would be a sure recipe for disaster.

In the case of a general website, one may not need to use a database at all. The content is quite often, fixed and only a few changes may be made in an entire year! But, then, the quality of the content may have to be something that sets it apart, quite unlike the product descriptions in an online store.

b) Online stores indulge in a lot of advertising by means of ‘banners’ and advertising ‘links’. This happens not only at the store’s site but also at targeted locations all over the Internet. Ordinary websites have little or no need of this.

c) All online stores share one distinguishing feature – the ubiquitous ‘shopping cart’. All you buy must appear in the cart. When you are ready to checkout, you submit your cart to the ‘Billing’ page and hey presto! you are electronically charged in seconds and your purchase is confirmed.

The shopping cart, in fact, is an international symbol of electronic commerce (or e-commerce) and there is a lot of background activity that happens when you get your cart billed – you don’t need this at all if you have an ordinary website.

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