Revamped GSA Advantage eases e-commerce

The General Services Administration's Federal Supply Service last month unveiled a new and improved version of its World Wide Web shopping site, GSA Advantage, which will enable federal buyers to perform more accurate searches, build a purchasing history and track all purchases.

The site (www.fss.gsa.gov/cgi-bin/advwel) went live after months of planning. GSA began planning in March, when it signed a contract with Computer Technology Associates Inc. (CTA), the company that designed the original GSA Advantage site.

The new site also comes just two months after GSA announced the closing of all its remaining supply depots and customer supply centers across the country in favor of moving all its customers to the Web, where most seemed to have been going already, officials said in July.

The new Web site is a distinct improvement over the old one. GSA and CTA redesigned the back-end system and the user interface, offering many changes all at once.

On the surface, the new look is more attractive and intuitive than the old, more text-based version. A basic description of the site is offered for new users in the middle of the home page with plenty of white space to keep it from becoming cluttered. News, general ordering information and specials - which now includes a reminder to get calendars for 2000 - are available through organized graphical links.

Most noticeably, important features are highlighted in red boxes to separate them from the rest of the information on the page. This includes the customer log-in, the choice of customer tools and the Browse/Search feature. Each of these sections also has a link in the form of a question mark that brings users to the GSA Advantage help page.

There also is a pull-down menu at the bottom of the home page for users who want to browse GSA Advantage by "store." The default is the computer and communications store, but all of the other stores, offering products ranging from furniture to scientific equipment, also are available.

When users go past the front page, they can access some improvements GSA made to the back end of the site.

For people who just want to browse, all searching can be done before logging in to the site. The new Browse/Search feature enables users to search by keywords. This brings up every product available through GSA Advantage that includes that keyword.

The advanced search feature enables users get much more specific. Users can search one or more of five fields - including product name, manufacturer name and contractor name - by keyword or by phrase, displaying 25 to 100 results at a time. The results can be sorted by any or all of the five fields. Results also can be limited to certain types of products, such as products from small businesses, recycled products or products from Federal Prison Industries Inc., also known as Unicor, the Justice Department's work training program for prison inmates.

This brings a more exact result, but is most helpful to those who know exactly what they are looking for.Other advanced features also are available without users needing to log in. A quick ordering feature provides an order form for users who know all of the information about the products they want. Federal standard requisition and issue procedure ordering still is available for buyers using the system. And as long as they have their cart or requisition number, federal buyers can retrieve a "parked" cart, check the status of their requisition or report a problem with their orders.

Once they log in, users also can access their order status and history. In addition, they can reorder products without having to worry about losing the information needed for the order form or having to search for the information again.

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