PHP has grown into an all encompassing language which is now the preferred choice for developing web based projects including many popular content management systems, database configuration front-ends and even e-commerce applications which can be configured to run out of the box. One such open source project is oscommerce which is an Open Source based online shop e-commerce solution that is available for free under the GNU General Public License. It features a rich set of out-of-the-box online shopping cart functionality that allows store owners to setup, run, and maintain their online stores with minimum effort and with no costs, fees, or limitations involved.
osCommerce has attracted the largest community for an e-commerce solution that consists of over 99,900 store owners and developers worldwide with add-ons being contributed on a daily basis. To date there are over 3,400 add-ons available that have been created by the community to extend the features of an osCommerce online store.
So it is no wonder that entire books have been written explaining the configuration aspects of oscommerce. One book which I found really interesting is "Building Online Stores with Oscommerce : Professional Edition" authored by David Mercer and brought out by Packt Publishing. This book is divided into 12 chapters spanning over 370 pages and aims to give the reader a firm introduction to setting up an online e-commerce store using Oscommerce.
The book is aimed more at people running business who have limited knowledge of web based technologies rather than the hard core techie. And going by this principle, the author starts the narration by giving a fly-by overview of e-commerce. Usually people who run businesses may not be as conversant about the different aspects of technology. This chapter gives a peep into the process of designing an ecommerce site from scratch. The author explains in simple terms the various issues that need to be sorted out like the business requirements, meeting the business related needs, deciding how functional ones site need to be and also the development, testing and debugging of the site.
To run Oscommerce on ones machine, one need to first install and configure three software packages - them being Apache web server, PHP and MySQL database. The second chapter of this easily read book walks the readers through setting up these software packages as well as installing Oscommerce. This chapter is replete with screen shots of the steps which makes it much more easier for the average person to follow what is being explained.
From here the author dives into giving the reader an insight into the underlying technology used in Oscommerce. Here the uninitiated in computers get to know the HTML tags, PHP tags, snippets of code in Oscommerce which interact with the Mysql database, the oscommerce directory structure and so on. This chapter does not cover these topics in depth rather the author explains these things on a need to know basis.
Chapter 4 titled "Basic Configuration" is an important chapter in the sense that it explains the various configuration parameters of Oscommerce. Here one is introduced to the well designed and easy to use administration panel of oscommerce. This is the place where one has to enter the business details, details of the products that are to be showcased, customer details, configure the stock and more.
The primary job of an online store is to tout the products to potential customers. So once the oscommerce suite has been installed and configured, the next step is to add the products one intends to sell online. The next chapter titled "Managing Data" explains how to add, remove and update business related information in the database. The finer nuances of grouping data like creating a catalog, categories, setting product attributes which aim on increasing the aesthetics of the products and keeping track of customers are explained in this chapter. For example the author explains how to import data from an excel spreadsheet into oscommerce using the module Easy Populate which comes in handy when one is faced with entering details of products running into 1000s.
The 6th chapter titled "Customization" is a large one and walks the reader through ways in which one can customize the online store. And truly so an online store should be unique to attract customers. This chapter explains which section of code should be modified to get the desired results.
PayPal - the online payment option is one of the most popular and offered by many online businesses. The 7th chapter titled "Taxes payments and shipping" lists the steps needed to integrate PayPal into oscommerce so that the customers can be offered the choice of paying via PayPal. Various payment options like credit card payments and other alternative forms of payments are also pursued. The power of oscommerce is in its modular architecture. Here this power is amply evident when the author explains the use of two modules - credit card module and psigate module - in Oscommerce.
Chapter 8 titled "Securing your store" goes into security aspects of the online store and one gets to know about SSL and database security. This chapter is very important in the sense that only if secure payment options are included will the customer pay for the products online.
The next three chapters are rather advanced and deals with explaining for example, how to integrate gift vouchers and promotional codes, including an RSS feed as well as various tips and tricks that one can use to fine tune oscommerce to accomplish an out of the ordinary task as well as deployment and database maintenance.
The final chapter titled "Building your Business" gives further tips into attracting customers to ones newly formed oscommerce store. This includes marketing, research, advertising as well as making money through displaying advertisements on the site.
Oscommerce is a very popular e-commerce suite which is used by tens of thousands of business houses. And as I said earlier, this book is more attuned to people who are new to technology and who wish to setup an oscommerce store to do business online. This book will not only aid one to set up oscommerce with ease but also bring one up to date with the latest technologies used in the project. All in all a very useful book for any one interested in doing business online by setting up an e-commerce store.
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