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Getting started with osCommerce

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The scene: You're interested in selling online. You've got a domainname, you've got webhosting, you've got a website. You've also got a business, and it has products for sale. You want to hook all this together and build an online shop. You've done some research, you know you need some "cart software", and so you've installed osCommerce onto your hosting account.

Now what? Here's a list of things you should do next. Note, this is a guide only, if your store is complex, or if you're more interested in running your business than installing e-commerce applications, we recommend you engage a web developer to do this work.

  1. Connect to the control panel and login. The first time you do this, you'll set up an Administrator account, which is used to configure the rest of the shop. Explore the control panel. There's no need to configure anything right now - just get an idea of what you can do with it.

  2. Connect to the shop and explore it. It comes with some demo products - maybe add some to your cart, remove some, go to the checkout. Again, you're not configuring anything right now, you're just getting a feel for how it works.

  3. Take a look at the documentation. Go through a few online tutorials. Have a read of the community forums. Explore other shops based on osCommerce. Even YouTube has clips on osCommerce!

  4. Create a test product. Open two browser windows, one of them shows your control panel, the other shows your shop. Once you make a product with the control panel, flick to the other browser window and refresh it, the new product you made should be visible. Using the control panel, change the price or product description. Refresh your other browser window, the changes you made should instantly appear.

  5. Now, the tricky stuff. Start thinking about your payment service provider. This is the company that processes the credit card numbers your customers will supply. Do you already have a card processing facility provided by your bank? Does your bank provide card processing services? Have you been trading for three years or more? Does osCommerce support for payment providers include support for the provider you would like to use? You'll want to call your bank and see if they can help - then you'll want to get on the web, and compare the bank's offerings with the likes of Paypal, Protx, Worldpay and so on. Don't forget to check the fees - some providers offer cheap or free accounts, but then charge a high transaction fee - others charge a monthly rate and a low transaction fee. Your transaction volume may also be a factor.

  6. Select your payment provider, and sign up.

  7. Configure osCommerce to use your payment provider. Make any other changes to the osCommerce configuration as needed - for example, ensure to set the admin email address correctly, change the text on the information pages to suit your business, etc.

  8. Populate the database with your own products, with descriptions and prices ready for sale (these are not test products, these are the products your users will see when they visit your shop).

  9. Test thoroughly - in particular, do some test purchases. Set the price of an item to 1p and buy it. Go through the purchase process completely, including entering a real credit card number into the payment page, and actually purchasing the item. If you cannot then see a deduction of 1p on your credit card statement, you know something is not working (this information may take several days to appear on your statement, however).

  10. You're ready! Set the price of your test product back to its real price, and link to your shop from the rest of your site. This done, your shop will be live, and open for business.

Good luck with your online store!

Q: I installed the shop, does this mean it's instantly visible to the world?
A: No - until you link to it, there's no way for the rest-of-world to know that it's there.

Q: I don't like the appearance of the default install, how can I change it?
A: Free templates are available on the web. Also, the CSS is easy enough to edit, this lets you change the colours, fonts, font sizes etc. You might also be interested in our customisation service. We can give osCommerce the look-and-feel of your existing website, if you have one - or we can make it look like your design, if you're making a new site.

Q: What's so great about osCommerce, anyway?
A: It's open source - hence the name. "Open source" means that you can change it to suit yourself - if you need to add a feature, you can! You can also change a feature, or remove it entirely - you have full access to the complete source code, which is written in PHP, one of the world's most popular programming languages. You might not be a PHP whiz - but there are possibly millions of PHP developers out there who would be able to help you in that case. Many have already - there are thousands of free add-ons for osCommerce. We have ourselves leveraged this ability to change any part of osCommerce to create our reskinning service. osCommerce gives you the power to adapt your online shop to suit your business - this is simply not possible with a closed-source solution.

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