This was never my intention. So, without further introduction, here is the…
How to Make an Awesome osCommerce Site:
And by awesome, I mean "Totally Sweet"
1. Refresh the Stock Layout.
Ok guys, nobody says you have to go buck wild with the layout, change the layouts of the columns and headers, and try to switch osC over to a pure CSS XHTML Valid masterpiece. However, I think everyone will agree that the osCommerce stock blue-gray color info boxes just don’t work with every product. So what can you do?
Edit the Stylesheet! It's called stylesheet.css, and its right in your catalog root folder. The cool thing is, you can change colors just by replacing their hex code (like #FFFFFF) with a word like "blue" if you don't know color hex codes! This is the most drop dead simple way of getting away from stock without design changes. Change your colors! Please!
Want to change it even more but don't know how? Download and install a Template System contribution.
There will be purists who will say “Template systems are bad” and “Template systems break compatibility with future versions” and “Template systems are the devil”. It does not matter- pound for pound, a template system like STS or BTS is going to improve the visual layout of your store and make it more pleasing to the customers eyes if you have little or no design or php experience. What both of these systems do is give you just one page to edit plain HTML in, and it “skins” the entire osC site.
There are two main ones out there:
BTS contribution: http://www.oscommerce.com/community/contri...ystem+structure
STS contribution: http://www.oscommerce.com/community/contri...ystem+structure
The great thing about the template systems is that there are numerous free templates that other community members have made available in the contributions section. Just search the contributions for “template” and I am sure you will find them.
Changing the stock buttons is another quick and easy way to update the look of your cart. In the contributions section there is a variable cornucopia of free button sets that community members have uploaded for your use. Just check the “Image Contributions” section for button sets.
Another option is to purchase a commercial template, but for this forum we will stick to what’s free and available on this site in the contribution section.
2. Add a thumbnail contribution
Thumbnail contributions are the bee’s knees. They rock, and you are going to love them. They improve load times, they make your images look better, and a site with thumbnails projects an overall more professional appearance to the customer than one with browser-resized images.
There are quite a few thumbnail contributions out there. Some allow you to upload small, medium and large pictures, some allow additional product images to go along with your main image, and some automatically resize large images into multiple sizes using image libraries like GD, GD2, and ImageMagick installed on your server (contact your host). The point is, you can get an image contribution that will work with your hosting plan even if you don’t have the advanced image library features.
A couple I have checked out and liked (I am sure there are more):
Allows multiple images, multiple file sizes, optional automatic resize using php libraries.
On the Fly Auto Thumbnailer: http://www.oscommerce.com/community/contri...,auto+thumbnail
Simple, automatic thumbnail generation for your single product image. Not as much cool added stuff like multiple images, but easier to install. Requires GD2 or ImageMagick libraries to function.
3. Optimize your Images in Photoshop
There are many image editing programs out there, and I can’t cover each and every one. However, the process is the same. You need to either “Save for Web” in Photoshop or “Export > JPEG/GIF Optimizer” in Paint Shop Pro. What this does is allow you to compress your images in quality and color depth so that they download quicker. Quicker loading images means happier customers that spend more time looking at your products and not waiting for the page to load. Happier customers mean more sales and higher conversion rates.
You will find that some images save smaller in GIF (ones with fewer colors, and smaller image sizes) and some save smaller in JPEG (photos, product images, larger images, headers). Play around, and try to find the best mix of quality and size.
Remember: To pop the page up in less than 8 seconds on 56k, you need to have less than 30k of images. This is probably impossible with an ecommerce site, but it gives you a measuring stick of how long your images are going to take to load.
4. Smooth out the Checkout Process
There are numerous industry studies and reports that say shorter, fewer page checkouts improve conversion rates. I personally think the ideal is a two page checkout- Enter your stuff, confirm, you’re done.
There is a long and active thread on this forum with many code hints, tips, and tricks on the forums here. It covers checkout, account creation, making the customer log in, etc. It’s a great read, and I would say a requirement for anyone wanting to run an osC shop.
5. Do some market research and find a USP.
For the uninitiated, a USP is a Unique Selling Proposition. In layman’s terms, it’s what makes your website special for the customer. It’s why customers would buy from you instead of the big guys, and it’s probably the single most important thing for your sales.
You may want to make a website that sells computer parts, but you have to understand that there are 50,000 companies selling computer parts. What is going to set your site apart? Great shipping deals? Lower prices? Advanced configurations? Whatever it is, you need to do your market research, find out what your USP is going to be, and implement it successfully to make money.
I deal with the “Business” side of ecommerce more than the technical aspect, and my company sells hundreds of thousands of dollars of product a year online. Trust me; this is the most important item on this list.
6. Gosh darn it, add an SSL certificate.
It does not matter if you plan on using Paypal, Authorize.net, or some other provider. Your site is going to be collecting personal identifiable information in the form of shipping addresses, phone numbers, and customer names. You need an SSL certificate. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
SSL certificates vary in price from $20-$400 a year. Make sure you get a minimum 128 bit security certificate- the rest of the price variation is in name brand recognition of the certificate issuer. I personally think that Geotrust is the best balance of value for price, but there are many others much cheaper and more expensive. Do your research, and buy the one that would make YOU must comfortable as a consumer.
Its easy to forget to add these- You spend 10 weeks tweaking your sites visuals, two months adding products, and you just want to launch that puppy and let it fly. However, these are the documents that people are going to read when deciding if they want to give you their email address or their credit card number.
Statistics show that while more and more people are buying online, an increasing number of them are even more wary about privacy policies, if they can return an item, and what making a purchase consents them to.
Do your customers a favor and put these policies in place, even if it’s only to cover your own butt. That way if there ever is a problem at least you have a published, established policy you can point the customer to and not come off like you are trying to pull the wool over their eyes and take advantage of them.
8. Get descriptive with your products.
Tell all about your products. Tell what they are made of, how they fit (Loose? Tight?), what colors they come in, who is their intended user group, what they do, how they do it, why the customer wants to buy it.
In a brick-and-mortar store, customers can read the box. They can pick up the item and hold it in their hands, check out all the angles, and try it on. On your website, they can’t. This is why a comprehensive product description is a must.
Not only is a customer going to base their purchasing decision off your description (or lack thereof), search engines are going to index your site and position your listings based on the quality of your content. Now which site do you think is going to get the better listing for a given product- The one that says “Boot” or the one that has two paragraphs about an awesome mid-thigh leather boot with rhinestones, fit and quality of the materials, and care instructions?
9. Skip Rich-Media files.
Flash, Java, and all that other “stuff that moves” has no place on a productive website. Adding a flash intro only adds another layer of “junk” between the customer and the product info page where the action happens. Flash headers only make low bandwidth connections slower to your site. Java image switchers literally crash half the browsers on the planet, and moving junk all over your site makes it look like some AOL homepage.
Look at your 10 favorite shopping sites online. Count how many moving, annoying things they have blinking and flashing and scrolling around. Now look at yours. You might want to reassess if that neat Flash header with the annoying SWOOOOSH! Noise every time a page is loaded is really worth it.
10. Post your address and phone number on the site
Just because people shop online does not mean they don’t want to know who they are dealing with. Make sure you post an address (even if it’s just a PO box- its better than nothing) and a phone number where people can call and at least leave you a message. This is all about customer service, and this is what turns single customers into repeat customers and word-of-mouth advocates of your site (that’s the best advertising money CAN’T buy).
Think about getting an 800 number. 800 numbers go a long way toward establishing yourself as a legitimate business. There are some very affordable plans, and if you can’t answer it all day make sure it has some sort of voice mail or machine attached to it. Call your customers back when they call. They will appreciate the personal service.
Invest in some nice company mailing labels for your packages- It build brand recognition, makes you look more professional, and lets the customer know that you are a real company that can be trusted.
11. Remove that counter thing from the bottom of osCommerce
There is not a single successful ecommerce site that broadcasts the number of visitors to their site. Yes, statistics are a powerful tool, and you should always install some sort of statistics package like AWStats (search Google) or similar on your web server. However, counters visible on your website will only show a) your customers how little traffic you are getting and B) your competitors how big of a threat you are.
From a technical standpoint- The osCommerce counter is a “Requests” counter, and does not count visitors anyway. It counts requests created by the includes and database calls in your store, so this number will never be accurate for any statistical purpose.
12. Change your page titles
We all know osCommerce rocks- That’s why we use it! However, leaving it your page title on your Custom Hand Painted Dishrag store is not the best business move. The easiest way to change your page title is to edit the /includes/languages/English/English.php file. The better alternative is to check the contributions section and download one of the awesome meta-tag controller contributions that allow you to have custom page titles on every page, improving the SEO aspect of your site. One of the template systems even has this built in.
13. Stay away from all sorts of cheesy logos
There are about a bazillion little “certified” logos you can put on your site. There are logos from your payment processor, there are logos from eBay, and there are third party logos from about a million companies hawking everything from “Hacker Safe” to “Billy Bob’s Best Site of this Week” award.
The fact is, the only logos you need to display on your site is your SSL certificate logo, maybe credit card logos for what cards you accept, and that’s it. All that other stuff is just clutter- nobody reads that junk, and it just makes your site look bad.
Edited by Chance, 02 November 2005 - 08:31 PM.