Custom Order Form
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A custom order form can be a very effective tool for any business taking orders by e-mail. A Custom Order Form is one that has the customers contact information and past order history pre-entered on a form that can be stored on the customer's own computer. By doing so, they have your order form on their desktop, keeping your contact information right in front of the customer in an easy-to-use form. This article is a bit of history on the form and how it works.
Most websites use some sort of traditional CGI forms (Common Gateway Interface) for customers to contact them from that website. This type of form has been used on websites for years and sends the contents of the form by regular e-mail. Due to its e-mail transmission, however, it is not secure for sending credit card information along with the order and and has not been a popular choice for customers.
I have found that many of my existing customers actually liked to use this form. Since they already had an account with the company they could just fill out a simple CGI form and send in orders, which could be processed, shipped and billed. All we had to do was to include a form field for the customer to include their PO number, eliminating the need to include sensitive payment information.
This process gave me the idea for a custom order form.
Many customers were ordering the same items over and over again. I picked one customer that would usually e-mail in his orders. I made a form that had his contact information already typed in to the respective fields. This included his name, address and contact information for billing and shipping locations. I then added the items that he ordered from us on a regular basis and some blank form fields for him to add new items. I used absolute URL's to our website so that the pictures on the form would not have to be saved on his computer, the form would pull the pictures into it right from my website. I didn't put prices on this form so that it wouldn't have to be updated as often, but I easily could have included those as well. We would, instead, send an e-mail conformation with prices for every order.
I e-mailed this form to the customer and asked him to save it to his desktop and to try it out. The end result was that he loved my form because it was so easy for him to use. He would open the form, type in his PO number, just enter the quantities of the items that he wanted and click "SEND". We would receive his e-mail order enter it into our system, send him back a confirming e-mail, ship his order and send him a bill.
I couldn't believe that for the little effort it took to make this form, the customer would keep MY ORDER FORM on his computer desktop. How likely do you think it was for him to order from one of my competitors?
I showed this form to my salesmen and they loved the idea. When they visited their customers they took their individual customers form with them on a disk and would drag it right onto the customer's desktop and show them how easy it was to use.
I soon began getting many customer requests for custom order forms and had built up quite a list when the Spammers almost ruined everything. They had started hijacking the old style form-to-mail scripts and using them to send their garbage over other companies' e-mail servers. This was a problem for two reasons - it created more Spam and it could get the victim company into trouble because it looks like they were sending the Spam. Luckily, formmail scripts have become much more restrictive and to this day most won't let you send mail from anywhere but your own server. Unfortunately, my forms were on my customer's desktops not my server so they no longer worked.
My first solution was to place all of the forms on my website and to use a login and password to let the customers see only their form. This solution defeated my primary goal of having my order form right in front of the customer on their desktop for easy ordering.
Finally I found a script that worked, but was still secure. It works because the "send to" part of the script is located in the software itself and not anywhere in the form where Spammers can change it. Now my Custom Order Form works securely and is a valuable tool once again.
About The Author...
Jim Lillicotch is a website designer and marketing expert based in Pittsburgh, PA. Jim is the owner of Lillicotch.com. He has worked as a Website Designer and SEO for over 10 years. His passion is helping people start or improve their own sites. He can be reached through his website Lillicotch.com