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Fair Trade Webstores


This essay does not describe an existing computer program, just one that should exist. This essay is about a suggested student project in Java programming. This essay gives a rough overview of how it might work. I have no source, object, specifications, file layouts or anything else useful to implementing this project. Everything I have prepared to help you is right here.

This project outline is not like the artificial, tidy little problems you are spoon-fed in school, when all the facts you need are included, nothing extraneous is mentioned, the answer is fully specified, along with hints to nudge you toward a single expected canonical solution. This project is much more like the real world of messy problems where it is up to you to fully the define the end point, or a series of ever more difficult versions of this project and research the information yourself to solve them.

Everything I have to say to help you with this project is written below. I am not prepared to help you implement it; or give you any additional materials. I have too many other projects of my own.

Though I am a programmer by profession, I don’t do people’s homework for them. That just robs them of an education.

You have my full permission to implement this project in any way you please and to keep all the profits from your endeavour.

Please do not email me about this project without reading the disclaimer above.


This project is designed to sell fair trade products such as coffee, chocolate, cocoa and tea on the Internet and in home businesses and in small storefronts.

You can think of it as a specialised affiliate program or a specialiased shopping cart program.

How It Works

There are four classes of participants:
  1. People who maintain little websites selling fair trade products. They don’t need to know anything about HTML or FTP to do this. The webstore part of their site is automatically generated and maintained for them. They don’t even necessarily have to have a website of their own…
  2. Suppliers. People who roast the coffee or package it in imaginative ways and ship it.
  3. People with home businesses who hold Tupperware parties to sell fair trade products to their friends. They place orders over the Internet at various webstores.
  4. People with small storefront businesses. They place orders over the Internet at various webstores.
Some people may participate in more than one way, perhaps all four.

The Shopping Cart

To build a website, you simply select the products you want to sell, ticking them off a list. You can add you own commentary and images and some limited ability to select the colourscheme and theme of the automatically generated website. You decide how much markup you want on each product you offer.

The webstore is completely vanilla. It would not need Servlet, JSP (Java Server Pages) or PHP (Pre-Hypertext Processor) hosting. The shopping cart would be handled by a central server and distributed use of Java Applets, Java Web Start and perhaps a touch of JavaScript.

When customer use a unified electronic shopping cart, creating an order that may be satisfied by many different suppliers.

The customer pays by credit card or PayPal.

The money is split three ways:

  1. Mostly to the suppliers.
  2. A variable commission to the owner of the webstore. The webstore owner sets whatever markup he wants, just like a regular storefront. If he sets it too high, people won’t buy products from his webstore. The commission can also vary depending on quantity.
  3. A variable commission to the supplier of the computer services that makes this all happen and who collects and distributes the money. The commission would not include hosting a website, just the automatic creation of it. Hosting would be a separate flat fee.
Somebody may be both a supplier and have a website. He then pays himself a commission for sales of his own products and also the commission to the computer service provider.

The Pieces of Software

What software needs to be written? This is a project that is nicely suited to be written by a team, each member taking on one piece of the overall task.


The ideas could be developed in phases. Each phase could be a useful product in itself.
  1. Simple Applet that collects information about a single purchase, sends it encrypted to a server, which then relays it still encrypted to the vendor by Java Web Start or email. The vendor then processes the order as if it were a mail or phone order credit card. The server is not involved in handling the money. It just relays messages. Unsigned Applets may not talk to the central server, but signed ones can. The scheme would have to be implemented with a combination of unsigned Applets to display prices in the reader’s home currency as per CurrCon, signed Applets to make purchases when the user clicks a buy button and Java Web Start to communicate with vendors. The server does not keep any information about customers on file. The vendor describes a product to the server and the server show the vendor the HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) to embed to sell that product. The server keeps no records of the server’s products. This scheme could be sold on a gas tank basis for perhaps $0.10 a transaction.
  2. Shopping cart that lets the customer select several items before making the purchase. All items must be purchased from the website owner. The server is not involved in handling the money. It just relays encrypted messages to the vendor. The server keeps a database of the vendor’s products giving price, base currency and description.
  3. Shopping cart that automatically computes shipping and handling based on the location of the customer and the combined weights of the items. All items must be purchased from the website owner. The server is not involved in handling the money. It just relays messages. The server keeps a database of the vendor’s products giving price, base currency, description, handling fee and weight. The server also keeps a database of shipping rules based on weight and location.
  4. Fair Trade scheme where you can offer products from many vendors for sale on your website. There is a common electronic link to the credit card companies and monthly cheques to all vendors.

Making It Real

It won’t work unless you can get suppliers to sign up. You will likely have to do all the work for them, starting with their published price lists, perhaps not even officially having their permission. They just start getting orders.

You also have to get people to create websites. You use existing websites to automatically explain the plan and sign up more websites. Signing up is free. The user might even create the website with a random sampling of products, or ones chosen from nearby suppliers so it takes almost no work to set up.

Getting the right to accept credit cards over the Internet requires some major juice. You have to put up a large bond or have the backing of a big company. To start, you would probably have to use PayPal to avoid this problem.

Using a phased approach lets you build on experience and start with very low operating cost, low liability, low technology and low capital.

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