Building an Online Retail Store – Update 2

I’ve been looking at what extensions I’ll need for my online store. A good SEO module is unavoidable, as I need SEO-friendly urls for product links and easy access to meta data, as well as the ability to generate it. I’ve found just the extension I need that does all this, so I’ll be purchasing it soon. The second extension I’ll be getting is for improved search functionality. Auto-complete suggestions, much like google has when typing in a search, is pretty useful for product searching, and this is what the second extension will do. After that, any further extensions will be optional, but I feel these two are absolutely essential for any modern online store.

I’ve reinstalled the store on a new domain, so I’ll just use the current one for database testing/breaking. I’m making regular backups, as although I haven’t broken anything (yet), anything I do break may be irreversible. I’ll be using my test store for product importing until I’ve perfected my import system.

I’ve added Paypal as a payment option to the store, and I’m considering whether to also use Paypal as a Credit Card Processor, or to install a separate payment system to handle Credit Cards, such as SagePay. The latter would incur a small monthly cost, whereas Paypal charge you fees, so the sensible option would be to use Paypal to begin with to keep overheads to a minimum, and then consider switching to a system that charges monthly when the costs of doing so are less than the fees Paypal charge for Credit Card Processing.

I’ve enabled CloudFlare on my online store, which means part of the website will be stored “in the cloud”. Basically what this means is that CloudFlare stores a cache of the pages of the store, and shares some of the bandwidth load. This, theoretically, results in better load times and it should definitely result in reduced bandwidth. My only reservation with it so far is that if I make any changes to the site, in order to see those changes, I have to manually submit the page url to CloudFlare so it flushes its cache of the page.

You essentially have two copies of the website. Your copy, and the copy on CloudFlare’s servers. It’s not a good idea to have it enabled when you’re making a lot of changes to your website. You can force CloudFlare to re-cache your entire website, but this is slow, and will eat up your bandwidth. For now, I’m going to disable it, and re-enable it before the website launches. Overall I think the benefits are worth its use, especially when my web hosting provider includes CloudFlare with my hosting package at no additional cost, so I may as well take advantage of it, if only to reduce my monthly bandwidth usage.

I’ve also set up a completely new store theme. It’s clean, and very easy to navigate. I’ll spend some time tweaking the layout after I’ve imported all the products, which is what I’m currently working on.

OpenCart, unfortunately, doesn’t natively provide an extension for the bulk importing of products, and the free extension I tried seems to be broken in version 2.0.1.1 of OpenCart. This leaves me with two options; buy an extension, and hope it’s flexible enough to map all the product specifications and images, or write my own script in PHP to import the products in bulk. I’m of the opinion that the latter would be the best approach, as although it may initially take longer to have a workable solution, it will allow a much greater deal of flexibility in future, should I need to add more products. In the long run, that is what will be most beneficial.

I’m currently working on obtaining all the product images for the products I’ll be listing in my online store. I’ll be selling PC components, fans, computer cables, CPU coolers, mice, keyboards, and products of that nature. Before I can work on the main product importer script, I have to obtain high quality images for all the products, which I’ve written a separate script for. The process of obtaining the images will be in two stages;

1) Run the script to find and download the product images, putting these links in the product feed file for use later in the script for importing products into the website
2) Downloading all these images in bulk from those links

I’ve already written code to accomplish step 2 as well.

As you can see, writing scripts on the fly to accomplish tasks that would otherwise take considerably longer or be prohibitively expensive on a small budget is extremely advantageous. Of course, not every problem is best solved by writing a script, so one must always consider the time, the cost and reward of doing so.

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