For those of you who have been following this how to column for a while, it has tried to explain in simple terms how to do mostly web site-related tasks. From setting up a simple web site, to installing a magazine site, to a blog, this column has covered it all. Now, in the last installment by this author, you can learn what to do to set up an online store in about an hour.
For previous web development projects, this column has always recommended Drupal, and in setting up an online store it is no different. Drupal is a very flexible and powerful content management system, and it has a set of modules put together in an install profile called Ubercart. Ubercart is designed to be the best online store possible. From their web site, "Ubercart is an open source e-commerce solution fully integrated with the leading open source content management system, Drupal, winner in two categories of the Packt Publishing 2008 Open Source CMS Awards. This is a killer combination for anyone looking to build a community around a product, sell access to premium content, offer paid file downloads, and much more, all while maintaining a seamless connection to your users."
If that sounds exciting, then what you should do is to install Drupal like we have done before in previous How Tos. Ubercart is based on the Drupal content management system, so you can simply lay it over a fresh Drupal install. So download the latest version of Drupal, unzip it, and upload it to your server as you may have done before. After navigating to the install page and completing installation, you are ready to begin an Ubercart installation.
Ubercart is really a collection of modules that take care of all of the functions of an online store. But these modules require other, more basic modules to be effective. These are Token, CCK, FileField, ImageAPI, ImageCache, ImageField, Thickbox, Google Analytics, and Views. It is recommended to install each one of those, one by one, and turn on the specific options that you prefer. As a reminder, you can simply upload them to your Drupal web site in the /sites/all/modules directory, and then navigate to the administration menu that turns on modules. You check each one and then are able to tweak the settings of them.
After installing the required support modules, you can use the same procedure to install the core Ubercart modules. Those are Cart, Conditional Actions, Order, Product, and Store. Just download the latest zip file from the Ubercart web site, and do the same thing you did before with other modules. The core Ubercart modules will set you up with the ability to create products, display them with Buy links, have a shopping cart where all the items a customer wishes to purchase are gathered together, and process payment. After installing these modules, you should tweak your Drupal settings to be more e-commerce friendly. For instance, the default Drupal behavior is to ask for email confirmation before allowing a new account to work. This is not very friendly for paying customers, however, so it is better to turn that requirement off. Also, you must enable Clean URLs for image support, as Ubercart cannot show images otherwise.
Now, one of the best parts about Ubercart is the optional modules. Ubercart is an extremely modular and customizable application for any type of e-commerce, and it handles almost every option that you can imagine, especially when it comes to online payment. It can interface with every type of online payment service that is available, from the ever-popular PayPal to less well-known services like QuantumGateway and Beanstream.com. You can download additional support modules on the Ubercart web site, and when new services start up and catch the eye of the Ubercart team, they code a new interface as fast as possible. It really shows the power of collaborative, open-source development to have new code so quickly.
After uploading and installing every module, you practically have a working Ubercart site without any tweaks. But anyone who is interested in some tweaking has a whole lot of options to play with. Ubercart has a ton of settings that you can use to control everything from the display style of the shopping cart to checkout settings, customizable orders and payments, stocks, tax, shipping estimation, and everything else you would ever need to open up an online store. Going through each of the optional modules is too difficult for this guide, but the options are there for the adventurous in reading.
After finishing customizing the online store, you should be ready to add some products. Adding products is pretty straightforward in Ubercart. All you have to do is go to the Content section of your web site, in the same way that you create everything on a Drupal site, and select Product. After that you can fill in a series of forms that will be different based on which modules you have installed for your site. Do you want to sell downloads of files You can do that. Do you want to sell matching scarves, hats, and gloves separately but also as a set You can do that as well. All you have to do is to turn on the appropriate modules, and fill in the form with the information.
In order to accept payment for your products, you have to set up an account with one or more online payment processing centers. Each one of them has its own arcane rules and regulations, so it is best to research the best one for you. Many people are satisfied with the reigning giant, PayPal, but other options are in fierce competition, so you should be able to find a deal that's good for your particular circumstances and geographic location.
After that, you're on your own, happily joining the ranks of those doing business online. Good hunting to you, and may your hand-crafted knickknacks bring someone a load of joy!