eCommerce experiment: Zen Cart
I want to learn about ecommerce, and have decided to bring you on my journey.
To make the fist step as easy as possible, I will use PayPal only, and make some digital downloads available for sale. This simplifies the mechanics of my ecommerce system, so I can work on the ins and outs, before implementing a much more sophisticated e-commerce operation.
You might think the first step is to have something to sell. That is a good first step, but actually, I don’t - not yet anyhow. I have some ebooks I plan to write, but for me, I will be more motivated to write them if I know I have a way to sell them. For others, the motivation to work out how to sell something may only come with something to sell. In that case, I hope you find this series of articles useful.
Note that I will not be writing these articles on a schedule, but on an ad-hock basis, as I discover things that I think are worth sharing. Feel free to share too - feel free to add your comments (at the bottom of the article).
According to Wikipedia, a digital download applies to music (and software as well). The article needs more work - a digital download could be a whole lot more than that, including an audio book, an electronic book, a video, Flash, photographs, clip-art, you name it - if it can be turned into a digital file, it can become a digital download. If it has value, you can charge for it. If you market it well, and get enough visitors, you will surely sell some.
If you can collect money over the internet, then you can sell stuff on the internet, so this seems like a good place to start. Of course you could accept cheques through the mail, but this slow, awkward, and un-internet-like.
The easiest way to accept payments that I know of is PayPal. It is easy to apply for, easy to set up, well know (and therefore trusted), and allows shoppers to pay with a credit card.
Other payment systems exist, but I am talking about the easiest and quickest way to get started.
You can use PayPal to take orders too. This makes it very easy to get started, but there is a catch - PayPal does not offer a mechanism for selling digital downloads. If you want to get started with physical products, items that you will mail to your customers, PayPal is a great way to get started, to test the market without building complicated systems. You can either use their system to set up a “shopping cart” (allowing your website visitors to select several times, then pay for them all at once), or individual “buy now” buttons that allow visitors to order a single item at the click of a button. Either way, PayPal will send you an email with the order details (what they ordered, their name, address etc.), which you can then use to mail them the items they purchased from your store.
You could use this for digital products, but internet shoppers expect to be download a digital product immediately upon paying. If they have to wait for you to receive the order email, then email them the file (or a link to the file), they will be disappointed.
Digital Download Mechanism
Digital downloads are a great way to get started with an on-line store. ebooks, music, or digital photographs are examples of great digital products. If someone wants to download your MP3 song, they will expect immediate results, so PayPal on its own isn’t going to cut it.
Since this blog (and others, including my travel information website) run on WordPress, the natural choice is to find a plug in for WordPress that can handle ecommerce.
WordPress Shopping Cart
The only one I was able to find, wp-shopping-cart, looks good, and operates in a fairly nice way. It suffers from a fatal flaw - it doesn’t work! Well, I shouldn’t be quite so categorical about it - it didn’t work on my test system, when I discovered an article by Chris Garrett saying that wp-shopping-card didn’t work for him either, I decided not to waste my time trying to fix it. Eventually, I want to get big. Really big. So while I want to start with the smallest and easiest steps just to get going quickly, I am not prepared to fiddle with a system that is neither easy to get started with nor a long-term solution.
If you envision your full ecommerce solution consisting of WordPress and an integrated shopping cart, you should look into wp-shopping-cart some more, it does look like it is worth the trouble to make it work if you want to stick to WordPress.
Drupal Shopping Cart
I investigated ecommerce with Drupal enough to discover at least two solutions for integrating ecommerce into this very capable content management system.
The full-featured system is E-Commerce. I have not played with it yet (when I do, I will write about it), but I do know that buyers must have an account on your Drupal system to shop. This may or may not work for you.
Another system, perfect for digital products, is Quickfile. Again, I have not yet tried this out, but it allows for purchase of digital products without needing an account on your Drupal installation.
Zen Cart is a stand alone ecommerce system, with good reviews from a number of sources. I am just trying a test installation of it now. I will have more to say about it after I’ve tried it out for a bit.
Do you have recommendations or suggestions on how to implement ecommerce? Feel free to share, leave a comment!