By Andrew Mottershead http://www.mindstream.co.uk
If you have product to sell online you may be wondering how to setup shop without spending too much of the green stuff. There are many off-the-shelf software products out there or you can have a web developer create one from scratch. However, this costs.
One way around this initial outlay is to base your website on one of the open source offerings. Open source software is distributed with the source code freely available for alteration and customization. Using an open source shopping cart as the engine behind your site gives you a thoroughly tested foundation that can get your store online in days rather than weeks.
Most of these offerings are based on a LAMP (Linux, Apache, mySQL, PHP) foundation which again cuts the costs since you’re likely to be running your site from a web server which has no costly Windows licensing attached. They are free to download and can be set up in a couple of hours by anyone who can follow the instructions provided – however a little knowledge can be helpful.
osCommerce is the king of open source shopping carts. It is an online shop e-commerce solution that offers a wide range of out-of-the-box features that allows online stores to be setup fairly quickly with ease, and is available for free as an Open Source based solution released under the GNU General Public License.
It is the engine behind thousands of online stores around the world.
osCommerce is easy to setup and maintain, but also makes it possible for store administrators to present their stores to their customers with their own unique requirements.
There is a large and active community where members help one another out and participate in development issues reflecting upon the current state of the project. osCommerce is a feature- packed system which can scale from a few products to thousands of products.
Additional modules can be added to the basic store, offering additional features.
ZenCart is based on osCommerce but has now developed into a completely different beast. It’s easy to use, navigating through your merchandise is simple, and the program provides several “Spotlight” lists in addition to the traditional category to product links.
Once a product is added to the shopping cart, secure checkout is a simple 3-step process. After providing the billing information, your customer chooses the shipping method. (multiple shipping methods, including real-time internet shipping quotes are built-in). There is support for lots of payments gateways so you should have no problem taking payments.
For more info visit http://www.zencart.com
Another of the staple open source cart systems out there is phpShop. This system is feature-rich and allows you to get up and running quickly. With many of the features of the osCommerce-based carts it has its own flavor which is easy to use and allows you to set up your store in no time.
For more info check out http://www.phpshop.org or, if you run the Mambo content management system, you may wish to check out http://www.mambo-phpshop.net which allows you to integrate phpShop with this CMS.
myMarket is a basic php-based ecommerce system. Not as well supported as the ones above but worthwhile for a basic store.
For more info see http://mymarket.sourceforge.net/
Once you have the basic install of any of these carts setup on your server, you’ll soon want to customize the look and feel of your store. You can do this, but I’d advise you to contact a good developer who will be able to “skin” the site for you without headaches. There are many out there – just do a “Google” to find one. You can also visit sites which offer pre-designed templates which you can customize to suit your needs.
So, if you’re thinking about setting up shop – it’s well worth having a look at open source. Open source options can reduce your costs and they look good which is more than can be said about many of the shopping cart applications available. Also.. they’re free!
Andrew Mottershead is a freelance web developer, internet consultant and ecommerce specialist. He works from his home in Pembrokeshire, West Wales, UK surrounded by cats, horses and PC’s. Andrew offers “skinning” of open source carts as one of his services. For more info visit http://www.mindstream.co.uk.