I have been working on a site for a jewellers for the last while. I decided to go with OScommerce as the ecommerce engine. The reason for that was that it was recommended to me by several people. I decided to check it out. I was delighted when I saw that it was w3c standards compliant, so I dived right in.
About OScommerce Version 2.3.1
OScommerce V2.3.1 is an open source online shopping solution. Open source software is developed by a network of developers in an open community. Therefore it is free. That means I can charge less to my clients than if I buy a shopping cart solution or have to develop it from scratch myself.
OScommerce runs on PHP and mysql – which themselves have tons of online support available.
OScommerce comes with an impressive feature set which you can look through here. It seems like they have everything covered. I particularly liked things like unlimited products and multi-currency support (although I since found out that exchange rates are only automatic if the US dollar is your primary currency).
Working with OScommerce 2.3.1 (let the review begin)
Installation was straightforward and there is plenty of online help if you get stuck. It’s not as easy as wordpress, but it is not as hard as a multisite wordpress install.
This is where things get a little less rosy. Unless you want to use OScommerce as it is then you are going to have to make some modifications. It will work perfectly well as it is and you can upload your store logo etc, it’s just that I have yet to meet anybody that wants their shop to look like anybody elses.
OScommerce is not a theme based platform. There are people out there selling “themes” but these all go further than just some changes to the CSS.
Any modifications will affect future updates! This is because just about every mod requires changes to more than one file.
There are thousands of modifications available though. Be warned. A lot of modifications require you to upload files, overwriting the ones that were there before. If you have made modifications already you may well find yourself overwriting some of those. The upshot of that would be at best stopping your original modifications from working, and at worst breaking your whole site. Backup, backup, backup!
It’s a nightmare. To do something simple like adding a page requires changes to 3 pages (or maybe 4 I forget). Once you get used to the file structure it’s not as bad, but you can forget about putting in a page called something.php and just linking to it. It will not work. The side menus are module based. This is great in that you can position and reposition individual modules like the shopping cart and product categories easily from the admin. It is not so great when it comes to adding to a module (extra pages for example) or creating a new module (box).
SEO is a foreign concept to OScommerce. I made the stupid assumption that because they had gone to the effort of making the site standards compliant (markup, but not CSS) that they had also put some effort into SEO. This is absolutely not the case. Problems with the SEO include:
- Multiple pages with the same meta title (the store name). Products and categories have separate page titles but all the other pages default to the shop name. I confess that I got frustrated trying to work out the structure to change this and resorted to a switch statement in the header to change the page title of the other pages based on the url of the page. God help me when it comes to doing mod-rewrites of the urls!
- Links to index.php. This is one of my pet hates. Why link to www.whateversite.com/index.php when www.whateversite.com is perfectly acceptable and removes a duplicate page issue. A quick mod-rewrite sorted out that.
- Canonical URLS. that sort of goes with the above. Again sorted with a mod-rewrite.
- Search Engine Friendly URL’s. There is an option in the admin to display search engine friendly urls. The trouble is that the solution is worse than the problem. The original url to a product could be http://www.eternityjewellery.ie/product_info.php?cPath=24_39&products_id=42. Turning on Search Engine Friendly URL’s makes this http://www.eternityjewellery.ie/product_info.php/cPath/24_39/products_id/42. What the advantage of that is supposed to be I don’t know. There is no product name in there (in this case an eternity ring). Worse than that it appears to add 4 folder levels to the url. The further away from the home page a page is (sub folders) the less important it is. Needless to say I have turned that off.
- There is no description meta tag.
- There is no built in sitemap (although there are mods available).
- There is no auto update to google et al when a new product is added.
Another issue I have is that there is no visual editor when putting in product information. If you want to put in a list with your product then you have to code it. No problem to me, but not nice for a client who doesn’t know html from abba. Frankly that is a bit embarrassing.
There are SEO mods available, but you will need to install these first, before other mods since making an OScommerce site truly SEO friendly is not a simple task. I decided not to because they mostly include stuff that is outdated or not necessary. I’ll do it myself.
Things I don’t like about OScommerce v2.3.1
- OScommerce allows you to add attributes or options to a product. they were clearly thinking of options like available in red or blue. This part of the admin is a disgrace. Each attribute has to be added in separately. With the Jewellery shop I was working with they had things like ring sizes. There were 52 different ring sizes. To individually add 52 options to each ring would take a long time and leave me with royally P***ed off clients. I spent a day making some modifications to this page including allowing multiple selection of attributes for a product and re-ordering the lists. They were ordered by id number from the database. I changed it to be ordered alphabetically or I would never be able to find anything! A search function would have been nice here too. What you end up with is pages and pages of options and then more pages of which options are assigned to which products. Oh, and similarly named products are a problem there too. You can input a code for each product, but that code did not show up in the attributes page. So two “Eternity Ring”s with different ring sizes available would get very confusing. I had to modify that to show the product code too. While I was at it I modified the breadcrumb trail navigation too.
- Shipping. There are lots of shipping methods available. Combining them is not so easy. My client wanted free delivery on orders over x amount, but only in Ireland. This was achievable only by setting up two different shipping methods, one by price and the other by weight. I further had to limit the price method to only come into effect in Ireland. The documentation was skimpy and shipping took a full half day to sort out. Part of the process of setting up shipping was to input the country code of every country in the list, along with the shipping price by weight. Having a maximum of 255 characters per line in the inputs meant that I had to split one segment of countries into 4 (at the 255 character mark). A headache!
- Shipping part 2. If you work in lbs, then weights are not a problem. For those of us who are metric it is not so straight forward. The database is set to two decimal places. So if you use kilos then you only get two decimal places of grams. This is a problem on light goods like earrings for example. You can change the db to reflect 3 decimal places or you can just measure everything in grams. After trying both I went for weighing in grams. OScommerce allows you to specify maximum weights for packages and increases overall package weight by a percentage after that to compensate your shipping charges. From Ireland, even if it actually worked it would be inaccurate and useless. I turned that off and just put in prices for larger weights in my main shipping section.
- No wishlist. I didn’t mind that so much, but my client would have liked one. The only mod I could find for 2.3.1 to do this was on sale for $850 (which rather goes against the spirit of open-source).
Would I use OScommerce again?
Yes I would. Now that I know my way around it, it is not a bad piece of software. It is not nice to work with but it does what you want it to do at the end of the day, so it gets a reluctant thumbs up from me. I only say reluctant because for a time I felt it was ruining my life!