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osCommerce Webmaster's Guide to Selling Online

osCommerce Webmaster's Guide to Selling Online

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osCommerce Webmaster's Guide to Selling Online

884 Seiten
7 Stunden
Dec 30, 2007


Packed with expert advice and practical examples of effective store design and report creation to help you make better decisions, formulate more effective strategies, and measure your success. This book is for anyone administering an osCommerce site, including webmasters, content managers, store owners, and marketing managers, who do not need to understand PHP or MySQL to benefit from this book. The tips and techniques described in this book can be applied to any small, medium sized e-commerce site. This is not an implementation guide; developers implementing osCommerce-based e-commerce sites would benefit from reading Deep Inside osCommerce: The Cookbook.
Dec 30, 2007

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osCommerce Webmaster's Guide to Selling Online - Vadym Gurevych

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Although we have taken every care to ensure the accuracy of our contents, mistakes do happen. If you find a mistake in one of our books—maybe a mistake in text or code—we would be grateful if you would report this to us. By doing this you can save other readers from frustration, and help to improve subsequent versions of this book. If you find any errata, report them by visiting, selecting your book, clicking on the Submit Errata link, and entering the details of your errata. Once your errata are verified, your submission will be accepted and the errata added to the list of existing errata. The existing errata can be viewed by selecting your title from


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Chapter 1. Increasing Profits and Sales with osCommerce

I was thinking about how to start this book. There's definitely going to be a lot to tell, explain, and discuss in the further chapters, but the first one was not that obvious. So what to start it with?

Probably from: Why are you reading this book right now?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau News (dated May 18, 2006):

The Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce announced today that the estimate of U.S. retail e-commerce sales for the first quarter of 2006…was $25.2 billion, an increase of 7 % from the fourth quarter of 2005.

This of course happens not only in the US, but also in the UK, Europe, Russia, East, Japan, Asia, Australia—literally in every place where access to the Internet has been made easy by the governmental and commercial organizations, and where there are online payment methods in use.

Selling goods and services online is in most of the cases easier and cheaper than running a brick and mortar store or mail catalog business. Of course, this doesn't work for everyone, but most small, medium, and large businesses already benefit from using e-commerce for online sales. Some businesses go 100% online, some use e-commerce supplementary to their main business. And of course a well-thought-of business idea, competitive products or services, and strong organization are the primary keys to success, as with any traditional business.

This book is first of all dedicated to the businesses that use osCommerce or osCommerce-based e-commerce solutions to drive their online sales. It is dedicated to business owners, general managers, and e-commerce and marketing managers. It will be useful to web developers and web designers who create osCommerce solutions. Knowing how to make the most of an osCommerce-based online business is a benefit not only to the business itself, but literally to everybody who's involved as supplier, developer, or consultant.

osCommerce is suitable for small, medium, and large businesses. According to, there are over 11,000 online stores, and these are only the ones registered in the Live Stores directory. For just one of the examples that prove that the e-commerce solution is really great for businesses of any size, look at the Google Store website, which is based on osCommerce. Self-employed online merchants, family businesses, small businesses, retailers of almost any size, manufacturers and distributors—they power their online businesses with osCommerce.

Why osCommerce?

Having now worked with osCommerce for more than five years, while interacting with many companies and individuals, I have never found a person who wished to switch to another solution once they had an osCommerce-based online business. Instead, I've seen quite a number of people who'd like to move to osCommerce from other, custom made or publicly available online store solutions.

It's very easy to start selling online using osCommerce. Its standard installation already contains all the features and facilities to build an online store and start online sales.

For end customers, it is easy to browse and search for products, use the shopping cart, personal account with previous order history, checkout with several shipping and payment methods, and all this in multiple languages.

For Shop Administrators and online merchants, it has first of all a manageable product catalog with a tree of categories and products, a tool for customer and order management, and sales reports—among other things.

But the real key to the success of osCommerce lies in it being an Open Source solution, and in a community of more than 100,000 members who have developed more than 3,500 useful contributions (add-ons). Taking compatibility issues aside, an osCommerce store owner can add credit modules, features, images add-ons, informational boxes, additional languages, order total modules, payment and shipping modules, reports, templates/themes, and other contributions to an osCommerce-based website. More members join and more contributions get submitted daily.

Besides the standard version of osCommerce developed by its team, there exist alternative versions. Some are free, while some need to be paid for. Alternative versions usually contain a number of contributions already pre-installed, so that the store owner gets an even more featured solution for online business.

What is the Book About?

Being familiar with osCommerce and most probably already using it for your business you (business owner, marketing manager, e-commerce manager, web master) would like to learn how to increase online sales, how to increase profits and minimize expenses, how to improve your online business.

This book gives you tips and tricks from which you will gain maximum possible mileage for your osCommerce installation. This book has a plenty of advice and explains approaches based on the real-life experiences of osCommerce store owners and osCommerce developers. Every piece of advice in this book can be applicable or not applicable to a particular business—and the final decision should always be made by the business owner or online store manager.

So, what are the main goals that we try to achieve with every business?

Increase profits.

Which means for online businesses: increasing of online sales, and decreasing all operational, advertising, marketing and sales costs.

Profits First

OK, now we have come to the point where we want to increase profits. But first before increasing them, it would be useful to know how to calculate profit. Is the online business profitable or not?

Your accountant would probably have an answer to that question, but let us see how it's possible to calculate and monitor profits in an easier way.

So what does profit consist of? First of all, we will need to determine a period of time for which we will calculate the profit. It can be a month, a quarter, a year, or maybe a week or even a day. Then, we will need to find out the total turnover generated by the website during this period. A little trick here is that some of your offline (phone, shop) sales will be actually generated by the website. In order to properly track the online business's profits, you will need to have a referral tracking system in place. It will be enough to ask the customer before taking a phone order, where they heard about you. If the answer is your website—here we have another sale generated online. And so, we write down the turnover for that period of time.

Now the less pleasant part—expenses. Here we need to firstly determine the cost of products sold for the given period of time. If you buy products and your suppliers change price as time goes by, it will make perfect sense to store the product costs from the suppliers in each order placed by your customers, so that you can see the actual profit level for any period in the past.

Then come the taxes. You may have taxable and non-taxable goods in the product catalog. Also, not all your customers pay tax, so the calculations here have to be very accurate to find out proper figures.

Then comes delivery and handling charges, which actually depend on the goods you sell; but many online businesses tend to consider the handling fee to be equal for every product or order.


We should clearly understand the difference between the Actual Shipping Charges (i.e. the expenses paid to deliver the goods to the customers) and Customer's Shipping Charges (i.e. the amount charged to the customer in addition to the order amount to cover the delivery charges). We will deduct Actual Shipping and Handling Charges to find the profits.

One more very important line in the calculations is the advertising expenses. While sometimes it's not possible to know the exact amount spent on a certain advertising campaign per given period, it's always possible to find out an approximate amount. For example, finding an approximate daily expenditure for a certain advertising campaign and multiplying it by the number of days in the period you're calculating the profits for. Of course, we should be aware if multiple advertising campaigns were running at that time, and calculate all advertising expenses.

We should continue with deducting operational costs like service and labor expenses, which would consist of the costs of updating the website, running the office, the warehouse, the call center, paying the employees, etc. It makes sense to take an average service and labor cost of running the business for the same period and split it into two parts correspondingly to how much turnover has been generated by online and offline parts of the business.

Online Turnover

+ Offline Turnover (referred from the website)

- Product Costs

- Taxes

- Shipping Fees

- Handling Fees

- Advertising Expenses

- Service Expenses

- Labor Expenses

= Online Profits

So for each given period of time, approximate actual profits generated by your online store would consist of Online Turnover plus a Part of the Offline Turnover generated through the websites less Product Costs, less Taxes, less Actual Shipping and Handling Fees, less Advertising Expenses, and less Service and Labor expenses.

OK, we have all those nice figures, we know how to find approximate online profits—what should we do next? We will learn how to monitor profitability of the business on daily/weekly bases. Its very important to be able to see the dynamics of how the profit level changes daily or weekly, as this is the only way to make business decisions based on facts rather than on gut feeling.

We will play with an electronic spreadsheet and draw up a table there. MS Excel or Open Office Calc will do well. Let's put in the following columns:

Date (or number of the week)

Number of new customer registrations

Number of orders placed

Online Turnover plus the part of the Offline Turnover generated through the website

Product Costs


Actual Shipping and Handling Fees

Advertising Expenses

Service and Labor Expenses


Profit versus Online Turnover (in %)


By filling in the table daily or weekly, we will not only see the profits changing as time goes by we will also see, for example, how the turnover changes—and most importantly—how the relation between Profit and Turnover changes with time. Obviously, the higher the profit percentage of the Turnover, the better optimized the business model is.

Sometimes you will find that even though the turnover has increased, the profit has stayed the same—which means you're doing more work for actually the same amount of money.

Sometimes you will find that even though both the turnover and profits have increased, the figures in the last column (relation between Profit and Turnover) have worsened—this means that the business model needs optimizing as operational costs have grown too fast (and too much!) as compared to the profit.

This table, if filled in regularly, will also give a good idea of how the advertising expenses affect profits. And, assuming all major website updates and improvements are put into the Comments field, they will give an idea of how this or that feature, change, upgrade may have affected the online turnover and profit.

The Strategy to Profit

Now we know how to calculate turnover, calculate profit, and see the dynamics of profit change with time. We can now concentrate on what this book is about—reviewing various possible ways to increase profit.

There are several strategies applicable to an online business, and we will cover them all in further chapters. They are:

Increasing the number of visitors to your website

Increasing the conversion rate of visitors to customers

Increasing the amount of average orders

Increasing the number of repeat customers

Decreasing operational costs (advertising, handling and processing, service fees, etc.)


In this chapter, we have seen a brief introduction to osCommerce, and learned how to calculate and monitor profits. We have reviewed at least one simple and straightforward method to see profit figures changing with time, and have briefly touched several business strategies that become possible with osCommerce. We will review them in more detail in further chapters of this book.

We didn't talk about how to select products for online sales, why osCommerce is the e-commerce solution of our choice, and what to do with a pet dog when it misbehaves—because this book is dedicated to those merchants who already trade online or are planning to start online trading in the nearest time, and have already chosen osCommerce as the online store solution; also, we have no idea about the latter!

This book is based on over five years of the author's continuous experience building online businesses with osCommerce. All approaches and techniques described here and further are proven to have worked well for over 600 successful osCommerce-based online businesses all around the Globe in development or improvement of which the author took active part as osCommerce developer, but mostly as project manager or online business consultant.

Chapter 2. Advertising an Online Store

Why does my website or product need to be advertised?; if you ask yourself such a question—this chapter will most probably not answer it. Only a few, if any, websites and products are so unique that the customers will run off their feet to find a path to their web pages and place orders online. Because of the most serious competition ever, in almost every market niche, attracting visitors to your website becomes an essential task to gear the business up.

What can be Advertised?

This in fact, depends on your advertising and marketing strategy. One can say at least three types of advertisement may attract more visitors to your website.

First, the website itself can be advertised. Potential visitors should be given descriptive and attractive information about the website, and about products and services they can get there.

Secondly, new and unique products can be advertised. This will stimulate potential visitors' interest in products and services available from your website.

Finally, the advertisement may contain information about discounted prices and special offers on the products available from other online and offline stores. It will explain the benefits of buying those well known products and services from your online store.

How to Advertise

There are plenty of ways to give potential customers more information about your business, your products, and your services. From online banners and TV commercials to drawings on somebody's scalp and billboards in downtown. From short printed ads in the evening newspaper to painted vehicles and product and brand placement in blockbusters.

In this chapter, we will consider several very effective ways to advertise an online store on the Internet. An effective way to advertise is one that brings as much profit as possible i.e. one that is considerably less expensive than the turnover generated by the attracted customers; one that brings profit.

Tracking Efficiency of the Advertising Efforts

We will call an advertising campaign: all advertising efforts related to promoting either the entire business, or some products and services, or some special prices and offers to prospective customers in a certain period of time, using one or several advertising approaches.

For each ad campaign, it should be relatively easy to determine its cost by adding up all the costs of all the involved advertising efforts.

Now, how do we calculate the generated turnover? It is possible to use special tracking codes in each ad. Your prospective customers will be asked to either enter it on your website during the ordering process, or tell your sales representative when placing an order on phone.

Of course, entering the tracking code should be made beneficial to your customers as well. For example, by entering the tracking (reference) code, the customer may automatically become a participant in a lottery, where the prize is either one of the products available in your online store, or one of the popular products or services from your partner businesses that your customers may be interested in.

Tracking codes can also give customers certain discounts on the orders they place or provide them with free shipping service. It is possible to use an osCommerce contribution called Credit Class and Gift Voucher to implement proper tracking codes functionality.

By knowing the expenses and the generated turnover, it's really easy to see how effective this or that ad campaign is. Actually, we should always compare advertising expenses and generated profit! For example, a successful ad campaign would bring twice as much profit as it costs. Obviously, if profit only covers advertising costs you should re-consider either the ad campaign, or maybe even the entire business model.

Advertising in Search Engines

Advertising in search engines is probably the most effective way to promote your entire website, products, and services online, if you sell well known products and services. Nowadays, prospective customers search for such goods in search engines by entering keywords and key phrases, and search engines bring up the list of websites that best correspond to the entered terms.

How do search engines know about such sites? First of all, they use special crawling bots—special software that crawls through as many websites as possible and collects information directly from the web pages. This data then gets indexed, and is later used by the search engines to determine if the website will appear in search results in response to the customer's search request. Secondly, many search engines support online directories of websites, and allow a new website to be submitted into the corresponding part of such directory.

Some of the top search engines where a store owner may want to register their websites are Google, Yahoo!, Live Search (MSN), AOL, Lycos, and Ask. Since many search engines use the open directory, submitting an online store into the corresponding category on will help the search engines to find out about your website. Of course, if there is an opportunity to put a link to the online store on another (quite popular) website, this may speed up things as search engines will most probably spot out the link and spider through the pages of the online store sooner.

Search results that are displayed to customers usually contain the link to the website or one if its pages, site or page title, and description either extracted from the web page by the search engine automatically—or specified by the webmaster on submission of the website to the search engine's directory.

In the following screenshot, Page title is marked with 1, and page description with 2.

Editing page description tags (META tags) is really easy in the default installation of osCommerce. The most direct method is not so advanced as it should be, and basically requires manually editing each page script where you'd like to place proper META tags and page titles.

For example, to edit the description of the online store, the webmaster may want to edit the index.php file, which is located in the root folder of the installed osCommerce website. The webmaster would find the following

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