Tuesday, July 8, 2014

e-Commerce Migrations

I've been using Zen cart for my e-commerce solution since I started offering product for sale online at Fiber Rhythm Craft & Design.
Since the business was new and I had more time than money to spend, it was a great solution for me. Over the years since I started (almost 7 years now! wow!) I've upgraded multiple times, and implemented other folks' mods countless times. I even developed my own mod that I used for downloadable knitting patterns (later replaced with a filter mod + read-only-attributes). It's been a great outlet for the geek-me that needs hands-on-keyboard problem solving.

Every couple of years-- usually when an upgrade is needed-- I've taken a quick look at alternative open source and fee options. Really looking for one that needs the least effort during an upgrade, which means fewer mods required to accomplish all I think is needed for the online store these days.

Up until this year, I've always opted for the inertia option (as in it is more work to migrate than to stay and upgrade).  This year (since I am now retired from IBM and working full-time on Fiber Rhythm and spring-summer are slow months for the knitting biz), I think I may actually make the move.

In the running are Prestashop and OpenCart.  I've spent some time on each of them and it has really pointed out to me how feature rich the open source ecommerce options are in their base, un-moded versions-- especially those that "grew up" more recently. But it also is pointing out how there are some features that I take for granted that are not part of these solutions-- in their un-moded state. So, mods will be required for any of them, but how many and at what cost? (e.g. PrestaShop seems to have much higher $ requirements for mods)

I found that even through poring over the documentation (many thanks to all those brave souls that have posted their advice and youtube videos!)  it is very difficult to understand which features actually exist in the core of the open source offering and which are not.  Some of this is due to semantics--product attributes become product options, options and values don't always mean the same thing, not to mention how do you keep track of stock-- which can lead you to think the system will act the way you expect it to when it doesn't.

What is an online merchant to do?  How do you make the decision?  Well, while many hire this work out to others, I enjoy this kind of work and so am embarking on completing the migration myself.

I've decided to work through the migration to both Prestahop and OpenCart as far as I can go to replicate at a minimum the basic features that I have already implemented in Zen Cart-- as long as the expense is not too great.

I like the idea of finding out which features and look&feel that my customers like best. I believe that hosting multiple online stores to shop from-- each with a slightly different approach-- will be very interesting and informative. One advantage of doing this myself is that I can write some code to keep the various stores in synch, as I will, through the process of migration,, become very familiar with the databases of each open source ecommerce solution I use.

As I work through the many steps required to migrate, I'll document the experience here and work to produce information that I hope will prove useful to other online merchants who face the same kinds of issues.

So... watch this space  !!
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