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Lessons in e-commerce: Installing Zen Cart Part 1 - Mike Wilson
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Lessons in e-commerce: Installing Zen Cart Part 1

I’ve wanted my own online storefront for quite some time now. Plimus pages work well, but resellers remove billing and product control from the vendor and charge exorbitant fees to do so, but they have some powerful options such as license key generation and detailed reporting. A PayPal button is cheaper, but isn’t integrated and you need to do your own invoicing. Google Checkout is incredibly cost effective but like PayPal isn’t integrated and being new, is less supported.

I wanted a solution to this dilemma – to be able to offer my customers a choice of products

I want to offer our customers a choice of products, the ability to purchase more than one product at a time, offer cross promotions and keep control of the sale, offering a choice of checkout methods (passing the invoice/total amount due electronically to the payment processor for payment), but keeping the process clean and efficient. We have multiple products available, but not in an obvious online store on our website.

I knew I wanted a shopping cart. I either had to code one by hand from scratch, or use one of the open source solutions out there. There are literally hundreds to choose from, so which one? I was looking for a cart which offers easy management for cross promotions, discount coupons and track advertising conversion rates and calculate affiliate payments.

The daddy of the free open source shopping card is osCommerce. And this daddy has two children, "Zen Cart" and "CREloaded". Open source software suits me, as a software developer I know that I am on hand to investigate and fix any technical issues with the code. For non-technical readers looking for a business solution – I would highly recommend looking for a paid or hosted shopping site. Free open source software is not officially supported, and there is no support if you need help or if anything goes wrong.

Both CREloaded and Zen Cart contain all the features of osCommerce (and the default CREloaded template looks like osCommerce.

Both CREloaded and Zen Cart offer a management interface for setting up your online shop. CREloaded by default contains an affiliate tracking module so that you can pay affiliates for sales that they make through tracking a click from their site to yours. Both CREloaded and Zen Cart have free and paid-for modules for the advanced handling of affiliates, as well as plug-in modules for almost any online shopping feature imaginable. Zen Car and CREloaded are themselves "addons" for osCommerce.

Open source software is not officially supported, so it’s important that if I can’t resolve an issue directly, that I can turn to the community for support. A quick Google search on "CREloaded" returns 757,000 results, whereas "Zen Cart" returns almost double. Anecdotally, there appear to be more addon modules for Zen Cart than CREloaded, and more forum and newsgroup activity on Zen Cart than CREloaded. However, both are based on osCommerce and can do more or less the same functions and have the same system requirements (PHP 4.0, MySQL 3.5). You should go with the one that feels best for you.

The installation of ZenCart is as per any other PHP/MySQL application. First you need to set up your MySQL database and then provide suitable credentials during the installation process. Speaking of which, the installation process only requires that you upload files to your server and go to the URL of your store. No file permissions needed changing, (the default CHMOD 755 property on all files and folder applies). No files needed changing.

So far so good, more in part 2 🙂

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Acoustic tabs 25th March 2008, 10:03 am

    All these platforms are great! Unfortunately, it only starts with a good platform, the online store work only begins there. The rest is promotion, right?

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