May 15, 2007

e-Start Your Web Store with Zen Cart, Book Review.

John Patrick writes "Many people have turned to Zen Cart™, a powerful, open source e-commerce platform that is filled with features that most commercial programs don’t offer.  It’s actually the most popular dedicated shopping cart offered on sourceforge.  With a sourceforge rank of 90 as of the writing of this article, Zen Cart™ has been downloaded 685,437 times.  This is no small number considering that Zen Cart™ was ported over from osCommerce a few years ago.  A search for the term “shopping cart” on www.sourceforge.com will find that Zen Cart™ has been downloaded just over 90,000 times more than its ancestor.

One of the most asked questions in the active community forum on www.zencart.com is “Where’s the Manual?”  A few months ago e-Start Your Web Store with Zen Cart™ by Goh Koon Hoek was published and shot to the top of the weekly bestsellers list on www.lulu.com.  The manual has held the weekly top selling position for over 10 weeks and is the 4 th most selling book of all time on www.lulu.com.  Lulu has been selling books since 2002, so that’s saying something.

In 2006 the Zen Cart™ team met with Goh Koon Hoek, via email.  He asked the team if they would review the book he had written about the program.  “It took about a year to write the book, and of course the Team reviewed the book for accuracy and finally approved the book for publication.”  Said Goh Koon Hoek.   Hoek felt that Zen Cart™ was in need of the coveted manual and spent about a year writing it before asking the Zen Cart™ team to review it.  He is currently working on update pdfs  as an addendum to the manual. e -Start is written in a step-by-step manner, with numerous screen shots.  Anyone who reads this book will learn to use the latest version (1.3.7) of Zen Cart™ to:

  • Set up an online store on your local machine for testing and familiarizing yourself with the software.
  • Use an assortment of marketing tools and techniques to attract and retain customers.
  • Set up online and offline payment options to make purchases easier for customers.
  • Set up multiple shipping options to meet the delivery demands of customers.
  • Install additional language packs and define multiple currencies to cater to customers from different parts of the world.
  • Do much, much, more.

Web site designers will like this book because it will help them to easily expand into the shopping cart design and hosting industry. e-Start Your Web Store with Zen Cart™ will help designers by:

  • Helping them understand the Template Override System is one of the key points of this book
  • Realize the e-commerce system, and what information they need to work with merchants
  • Decreasing customer training time by giving the book to new clients

Merchants will like e-start because it will show you how to quickly set up a web store and start selling online.  Many started using Zen Cart™ because of its active community, and the robust features offered by Zen Cart™, but once they got into setting up the cart, they found the same problems that many carts suffer from.  One thing that e-commerce merchants don’t plan on is the learning curve. Not just having to learn how to install an e-commerce site but how to run an ecommerce site.

  • Setting up attributes,
  • tax zones,
  • International shipping fees,
  • connecting to merchant accounts,
  • Inventory Control,
  • Online Customer Service,
  • Setting up ez-pages, defining special pages,
  • And a whole plethora of other things to learn,

e-Start Your Web Store with Zen Cart™ is like having arrows at every intersection of a maze pointing the way out of obscurity.

People that have bought the book have left comments on www.Lulu.com.

“I wish I had purchased this book sooner than I did. Only having it for weeks now has been saving me a lot of headaches. A must have for any Zen Cart™ owner/maintainer....” Mitchell Baker

“I also wish I had purchased this book sooner. Just briefly flipping through it the day I got it, I was able to resolve several issues that had been giving me trouble with my cart. I made back the money I spent on the book the first day in my time alone!” Anonymous

“This book is great. Not only is the book great, the man who wrote the book is great. He is a part of the Zen Cart™ community and works hard to update the book if there are any errors and works with people who have bought the book, to make it better. KH, thank you for all your hard work.” Shaun.

The down side of the book. 

Well, yes there are a couple of down sides, but nothing really tragic.  Lulu.com only prints to order, and it takes a week for lulu.com to print and bind the book.  Then they ship it and if you’re like me, you want it to ship ground because the manual is thick and weighs about 2 lbs. So the time between ordering and delivery is going to take about eight to twelve days depending on distance it has to be shipped. No, there is not a digital version available.

Another side of Zen Cart™ is the ezpages. Kim Elliot, a member of the Zen Cart™ team often talks about how Zen Cart™ is more than a powerful shopping cart. When I asked Kim to explain how Zen Cart™ can be used as informational site she replied, “You can take Zen Cart™ and turn off the cart functions completely. Leave nothing except the ezpages, the define pages and create an informational site. If you were to add in the news and information manager, an add-on by a contributor that goes by dreamscape, then you can also use it as a blog (with a tiny bit of modification).” Now in fairness the book is about setting up a shopping cart, not a CMS.

Another downside is that the manual doesn’t really cover template design. Many Zenners (That’s what users of Zen Cart™ call themselves ) feel that there should have been more on template customization and design.  for instance, which div controls the side boxes, or when I decrease the width of the page my side boxes are blown out.  Most template problems are based on the understanding of C.S.S. and not necessarily a problem with Zen Cart™.  

As a form of a disclaimer, I am a Zenner. I use the program for my bird feeder store, www.birdoasis.com, where I sell backyard birding supples. Zen Cart™ works so well that within weeks we were taking orders all over America and Cananda. E-Start your web store with Zen Cart™ helped me with customizing, optimizing and setting up my store so that I can sell online with ease."

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