eCommerce for Digital Downloads - Finding a Platform
I started looking into ecommerce solutions a while back, and wrote about my initial research in an earlier article about ecommerce systems for digital downloads, in which I discussed a few systems I have run across.
So far, I have not found the ideal system. All of them have something that is not quite right, often very not right.
Zen cart, OScommerce and the like could work pretty well, but they are designed for a complicated store with physical products, and this sort of system is not really ideal for digital downloads in my opinion. I felt that it would take a tremendous amount of work to learn the system well enough to get the template and buying process to work the way I want it to. I already know a fair bit about WordPress and Drupal, and want to build on that.
Drupal has two options, and a third on the way. Neither e-commerce, nor Quickfile really have a properly thought-through buying process that is ideal for the buyer. E-commerce really would be good with some streamlining, and probably I will roll up my sleeves and do just that eventually. Mean while, it has a very long list of unresolved bugs which makes me leery about investing time and energy into adopting and deploying it. Ubercart looks very promising. Handling digital downloads is on their to-do list, but it does not sound like a priority for the development team, unfortunately. I suspect it will be pretty good though, when it does become available.
The best (least worst) I have found so far is wp shopping cart for WordPress. It has some problems too, as I will explain, but it 1) works and 2) is possible to provide a pretty good buying process for visitors (with a fair bit of work). It did not work the last time I tried it, but they have fixed a few things since then.
My plan is to start with wp shopping cart for WordPress , then determine if my digital download store concept works, or more to the point, how it works and how to optimize everything from the product selection to marketing to make the on line store really successful. At some point, I will deploy a new platform, probably Drupal-based. At that point it will be worth putting in considerable effort to rework the software to provide an excellent buying experience to visitors.
Customizing WP Shopping Cart
WP Shopping Cart is functional, but fairly ugly out of the box. The trick is to do extensive work on the CSS for both the WordPress theme, and for the shopping cart system. For example, rather than just having links for various functions such as visiting the store or proceeding to the check-out, why not make them look more prominent and more like buttons? I gave various buttons a height, width, background colour and border to suit the prominence I wished to bestow upon them.
Some elements are very hard to specify with CSS, necessitating some code hacks to add classes to some elements. I was able to circumvent much of this by applying additional class tags within the language files.
In the end, I got a system that looks pretty good. (It’s not completely ready, so I am not linking to it from here, not yet anyhow). I have discovered some major technical stumbling blocks with WP Shopping Cart however.
The biggest problem is that the system does not fully automate the buying process. Even though it is a digital download, it will still require my intervention in some cases. When this becomes too time consuming and troublesome, I will certainly switch to another system, but it will be good enough to get started.
Another shortcoming is that if the user has any trouble with the download, there is no way to give them access to the download page.
I have discovered that by looking up the session id in the database, I can provide a link to the buyer’s download page in a very manual, back-end sort of way. If I get many questions about this, I will provide further details on how to go about this.
They system I am setting up is close to ready. More posts to come on this subject.