Hot 100 New Additions…

I found another 5 sites today that I feel are deserving of an entry into the osCommerce Hot 100 – taking the total number of exceptional osCommerce sites upto 50. Surely there are 50 more to complete the Top 100 ??

The 5 added today are, in no particular order:

I particularly like The Mozilla Store!

As of right now, the Top 5 osCommerce Stores are as follows:

  1. Assault Shirt 7.1/10
  2. Punk Baby Clothes 6.1/10
  3. Oh Cheri! 5.8/10
  4. Vital Skin Care 5.2/10
  5. Xavier Master Cheese Refiner 5.2/10

Got a site that you think can make it onto the Top 100 list? Submit it!

So long as it has something “different” that takes it away from being standard osCommerce, it’ll be added.

Currency as Flags, not Dropdown Menu

Darryl has sent in a very interesting situation and it’s one that I completely agree with;

Hi, I’d like to get rid of the currencies menu and instead have flags which relate to the currency, so Dollars would get a USA flag, Euros would get the euro flag and so on. Is this easy to do?

Well, it is simple to do! All that needs to be done is a quick change to the currencies page in your admin section, a change to the currencies class and a change to the currencies infobox code. I got all this done in about 5 minutes!

Here’s a video showing the new system in action;

I have written about this before on one of my other blogs – here’s what I had to say;

Some people like to use images. If that’s you, then that’s fine. Why not use images as an indicator of CURRENCY. After all, a USA Flag would be considered US Dollars. A French flag would use Euros’s and so on. I have no doubt that some countries probably have more than 1 legal currency, but this is (to me) not the same problem as with LANGUAGE…

Here’s some more reading;

My Code

Once I have tested my code on MS2 and RC, I will upload it to the official osCommerce Contributions area. I’ll post the link here once I do that.

Horrible or Awesome #4 – The Checkout Process

Who needs a quick checkout? People love clicking through 8 pages of forms they have to fill in before buying stuff. Better yet, add in a couple more pages and hoodwink the customer just when they think they are finally through!

Sure, you need the customer’s age, gender, and the name of their first born son to sell them your hand painted dishrags. Make it as hard as you can for the customer to actually complete a sale and pay you money because that’s how you can tell if a customer is truly dedicated (or if they love pain).

Have you ever been to a website and realised that they want you to give over more details than you are prepared to part with?  Sure, a site needs your delivery address and payment details – but anything more than this?  No.   Quite often, I make it a mission to NOT shop at osCommerce stores as I know the checkout process is so crap.  As a shop owner, have a think about that!

There are numerous industry studies and reports that say shorter, fewer page checkouts improve conversion rates. I personally think the ideal is a two or three page checkout- Enter your stuff, confirm, you’re done.

There is a long and still active thread (after 5 years!!!) on the official osCommerce Forum with many code hints, tips, and tricks. 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.

So, my idea for a simplified checkout would be as follows;

  1. Change the in-your-face “Account” functionality.  Who wants to set up an “account” when they are only going to buy from your shop one time.  Change the wording to “Your profile” or “Your details”.
  2. Show the shipping cost (even if it’s an estimate) BEFORE the Account Creation.  So obvious and yet almost ALL osCommerce stores FAIL BADLY at this.
  3. Redirect to “account set up” rather than “login”.  Known to increase conversion rates substantially.
  4. Remove Passwords from “account set up”.  Have a tickbox that says “remember my details for next time”.  If they tick it, send a randomly created password by email.
  5. Get rid the welcoming email.  They already know that they are shopping at your store – why tell then again?
  6. Get rid the useless checkout pages, like “create account success” and “checkout success”.  What the heck is the use of “checkout success” anyway?  The product notifications don’t work!  If you have to have it, make it useful.  How about an UPSELL, or a miling list signup?  Or maybe a special offer discount code for their next purchase!  Come on, THINK ABOUT IT.
  7. Merge multiple pages.  Merge the shipping and billing page.  Marge that into the customer details page.

The point of this post is to get YOU, the shop owner, to think like a CUSTOMER.  Make shopping at your site as painless as possible.  By cutting down on crap, you won’t hurt your sales, but you might just increase them.

Most of this post is courtesy of my good friend Jason over at JC Commerce.

Discount Vouchers for MS2 + Installation Service

All, I just found enough time to test out an install of the DC GV Contribution for RC1 and RC2, but onto MS2-060817.  It installed very well, and so I can now say that if you FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS closely, you should be able to get your MS2 up and running with DC GV within less than half an hour.

If you have a very modified version of osCommerce, it might take you much longer!

I can offer an installation service if anyone is interested.  The charge for this will be $50 – if I cannot install it and get it working as per the instructions, you will get a FULL REFUND, no questions asked.  If you are interested, please send me an email, my email address is up there ^

I also can now offer this service for RC1, RC2 and RC2a, whether or not you have contributions installed.

Forgotten Your Admin Password? Shock, Horror!

Early releases of osCommerce didn’t have any protection for the Admin area – it was up to the Shop Owner to protect the Admin folder using .htaccess…easy enough in most hosts Control Panels. And easy enough to reset if you forgot the Password…

Jon sent in an interesting dilemma;

When I set up oscommerce the install asked me for a admin username and password, when I came back to the site a week later to do some work I cannot remember the Password that i used. Can you help?

RC (recent) releases of osCommerce include an inbuilt password – so the installation procedure asks for a Username and Password. If you forget your Password, it’s impossible to get it back, as it is entered into the MySQL Database encrypted.

BUT…it is easy to get around, so long as you have access to PHP My Admin (which is standard on just about every host that I know of!). Here’s what you need to do.

1. Open up PHP My Admin, and EMPTY the Administrators Table totally.

2. Go to your Shop Admin, and the login page will now ask you to set up a NEW admin username and password. It will show this text “No administrators exist in the database table. Please fill in the following information to create the first administrator. (A manual login is still required after this step)“. Obviously, you should follow this instruction!

3. You can now log in using your new username and password.

Easy as 123. Here’s a video I made of me doing exactly these steps;

Hot 100 News and Views

The osCommerce Hot 100 idea has taken off pretty well.  It started with just 42 sites on the list, and I know there are many more great sites – I can’t find them all so if you know of any outstanding osC sites, please submit them using the orange “Add Url” button.

Yesterday, I made a post at the official osCommerce forum with a link to the Hot 100 list – I meant it as a fun way for people to see great sites and to vote them up/down.  Lots of visitors came by and voted, and a few people submitted their websites to the list.  I authorised some and deleted others that had been submitted (I see no point in adding sites that have nothing outstanding about them – if I did that, it’d be a never ending task to keep the list updated).

Anyway, one of the people who submitted a site (which I did not authorise) then started sulking and posting personal abuse at me in the forum thread (called me a c**t even!).  I won’t divulge his URL as that’d be unfair for me to out this person as he might well lose potential customers due to his outbursts – suffice to say that his site is standard osCommerce with a few contributions and a new colour scheme – noting wrong with that – but it would add no value to the Hot 100 list in my opinion.

In the end, I asked a Moderator to delete the thread due to this persons abuse.  There’s no place for that.  It was supposed to be a bit of fun, and this person basically acted like a complete idiot.

I also had 1 shop owner ask to be removed from the list, of course, this is no problem to do so.

Introducing the osCommerce HOT 100

I’ve been working on coding up a new twist on the “Lives Stores” area of the official osCommerce site.  I went through lots of shops over the past few days, trying to find those that have something exceptional about them.

So far, I am at 42 Stores which (in my opinion) show some skill with regards to the look/theme.  I’m going to call it the osCommerce HOT 100 – hoping eventually to reach 100 outstanding osCommerce sites.

Not only will a list of sites give us all something to look at, it will also help other sites to become better.  Anyway, I would like to introduce the osCommerce HOT 100.

If YOUR site is listed, well done!  You are one of the best looking osCommerce Stores out there.   If you know an exceptional osCommerce site that should be on the list, click the Orange “Add URL” button and input the URL and Shop Name (Anchor Text).  It will then get added to a list which I will then go through and authorise.

Remember that your site needs to have something exceptional about it’s appearance in order to make the list!

So, come on guys – vote for the HOTTEST of the osCommerce HOT 100!

Horrible or Awesome #3 – Optimise Your Images

Optimizing your images in Photoshop or another image editing program takes time – your valuable time. Just leaving them huge and making the customer download 3MB of images for each page in your site takes time too – the pesky customer’s time.

Everybody knows customers love to wait to buy your products. Play a game! See how big you can make your images, see how long your load time suffers, and then see how your conversion rates fare!

Challenge yourself to approach dialup speeds over your cable modem using your stellar layered uncompressed image design – I’m sure your customers will love it.

Do you optimise your images as much as possible?  Doing so will make your site look better and make your customers shopping experience better.  Read on…

There are many image editing programs out there, and I can’t cover each and every one. However, the process for all of them is roughly 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 (usually images with fewer colours) 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.

This post is courtesy of my good friend Jason over at JC Commerce.

MySQL Server DOWN – oh no!

In the official osCommerce Forum I got into bit of a conversation with a Store Owner, part of the conversation was all about what happens if your MySQL server goes down whilst the webserver is still up and running.

For those who don’t know, MySQL runs on it’s own little server as part of the overall web server.  So it is possible for one to be down whilst the other is functioning OK…

OK, so, in a standard osCommerce shop, what will happen is that a message will be displayed, like this:

Unable to connect to database server!

Which isn’t so great for anything – after all, it is your CUSTOMERS who will see this!  So, my idea was to make this message a little better for you and your customers.

Open up the file /includes/application_top.php and find

tep_db_connect() or die(‘Unable to connect to database server!’);

This line of code is simply saying “Connect to the Database OR kill the connection and show the “unable to…” message.  We are going to change this line of code to;

@tep_db_connect() or header(“Location: busted.html”);

Now we are saying “Connect to the Database OR redirect to a page called busted.html”.  Easy, eh?  Notice that we also put an “at” (@) sign in front of tep_db_connect – this is important as we wish to make sure we suppress any other error messages.

Save the /includes/application_top.php file and upload it to your server to replace the old one (which you might like to backup first!).

The next step is to make a new HTML page called “busted.html”.  On this page you can have anything you like – maybe an error message, maybe a “contact us by phone” message – maybe something else entirely!

However, there is one VERY IMPORTANT CAVEAT – the “busted.html” page MUST NOT connect to your database!  As your database server is down, it would be completely pointless to do so.

Of course, the page can be .php if you wish and it doesn’t have to be called “busted.html” – it can be called anything you like.  Just make sure that the name fo the file and the “Location” line of code match exactly!

You could send yourself an error message by email, or you could even send a signal to the server to restart the SQL server (this would be for very advanced users who have control of their own server).  For most of us, a simple HTML page will suffice.

Why 404 redirect won’t work in this case

If your SQL server is down, pages are still presented by the webserver, so they do not 404 (error out) and redirect.  What this means is that you could go to;  site.com/product_info.php?products_id=123 and see “Unable to Connect” – this is NOT a 404 and so it won’t redirect to an error page.   Does this make sense?

Make A Comment, Ask A Question

When you are making a comment (on this blog) or asking a question (by email), please follow these “rules”;

  1. Be polite. 
    Goes without saying.
  2. Ask your question (or make your comment) usefully. 
    Ask your question giving as much detail as you can, if it would help to show a URL, please do so.  If you give me nothing to work with, I cannot answer you!
  3. Use a real email address
    This is mainly for Blog Comments – if you use an email address which doesn’t exist, eg “dontspamme@spam.com” I will not set your comment live and you will not get an answer.  You be fair, and I’ll be fair.
  4. Realise that time is money
    I take exception to people thinking that they somehow own MY time.  So, don’t expect to get me on “messenger”, you need to wait for an answer.  If you email, realise that I usually don’t email back – I put your question(s) and my answer(s) on this Blog.

Follow these rules and I’ll do my best to help you out.  If you bypass these, I simply won’t bother.

Thanks!
Gary