Our goal in this course is to help you create your own successful online store using free open source web building tools.
This course, Create Your Own Online Store, is a continuation of one of our previous courses, Create Your Own Interactive Website. These two courses are part of our 10 course series on Open Source solutions for sharing knowledge.
The over-riding goal of all ten of these courses is to revolutionize the way websites are built by introducing you to a new generation of free open source web building tools. In Create Your Own Interactive Website, we covered the essential steps in building a Joomla website. In this course, we will briefly review those steps and then cover in detail how to use another related free tool called, Phoca Cart to add Ecommerce inventory management and shopping cart to your Joomla website. Open source means the source code, or software, is free and can be shared by anyone with anyone for any purpose. Open source is like a library...free and open knowledge shared with the community for the common good. No patents, no hassles, no barriers, no limits!
What about just hiring a consultant to build your online store website for you?
The traditional system for commercial businesses has been to hire a staff of consultants to build and run their websites. This system of farming out your website to computer programmers works well for larger corporations that have the funds to hire a full time technology staff. But it does not work well for small business owners and organizations who cannot afford to hire consultants. Even the simplest of changes to your online store requires hiring a consultant familiar with computer programming for a fee of hundreds to thousands of dollars. If you want to send your customers a newsletter, that is another thousand dollars per year. If you want to set up a virtual shopping cart, that is another thousand dollars. If you want to promote a new line of products or a new set of services, that is another thousand dollars. Even after spending thousands of dollars, business owners are left with a website they cannot control and cannot use to grow their business.
Join the Online Revolution!
There is an online revolution occurring in the world today. Businesses are increasingly selling their products and services online. Educational organizations are teaching courses online. Social organizations are building their communities online. Authors are selling their books online. Families are shopping online. The sharing of knowledge and ideas is increasingly occurring online. It has been estimated that more than one billion people now use the internet on a regular basis with total sales soon to exceed one trillion dollars! If you want your business to succeed, it is time to join this revolution.
There is another online revolution occurring at the same time. Web 1.0 brought the internet to the entire world. But folks could only look at websites. They could not interact with them. Web 2.0 allowed folks to interact with websites by clicking on buttons and filling out forms. But you still needed to learn computer programming if you want to have full control over your own website. With our books and courses, we are introducing Web 3.0 – full control over the appearance, content and function of your website without computer programming – simply by clicking on a series of buttons! With our books and courses, you will be able to build your own modern business website to bring in new customers now and expand to accommodate growth in the future. In the following pages, we will review how to add several important tools to your business website.
40 Reasons to Choose Phoca Cart for your Online Store
In an earlier course, we explained the benefits of Joomla over other web building platforms. Joomla is not only the world’s most powerful web building platform, it is also one of the easiest to learn. You can build a fully functional interactive website in just a few hours just by clicking on buttons – no need to learn complex computer programming. In this course, we will show you how to add Phoca Cart, a free open source shopping cart and online store, to your Joomla website. Phoca Cart is a revolutionary new way to build an online store - providing powerful customized product page creation tools that use to cost thousands of dollars - for absolutely no charge!
While it does take some time to learn how to set up and run a Phoca Cart store, these are just a few of Phoca Cart’s many features:
#1 The world’s most advanced Open Source online store building system… combining the innovations of Phoca Cart with the power of the Joomla Content Management System (and Joomla’s thousands of free extensions). Open Source means not only that it is free, but that you can adjust the code without fear of patent violations. Open source is like a library...free and open knowledge shared with the community for the common good. No patents, no hassles, no barriers, no limits!
#3 Full control over your own data and your own future… Creating your own online store means no vendor or developer lock in. You retain complete control over every aspect of your online business and have the ability to change any aspect of your online store at any time. Unlike expensive options such as Spotify or Wix, you retain complete control over your business and business database. Our goal is to help you learn how to control the content, appearance and function of your business website so you can have greater control over the success of your online business.
#4 Flexible and fully customizable template framework... gives you precise control of the appearance and layout of your online store. Astroid is a website building system that makes it possible to create any kind of Web Page Layout without any knowledge of HTML, CSS or PHP. Just click on buttons and in minutes, you can have a fully responsive layout with as many rows and columns for products as you want. Here is a link to the Phoca Cart Demo store using the free Astroid template: https://www.phoca.cz/phocacartdemo/astroid/
#5 Infinitely expandable...Add as many products as you want, from as many manufacturers as you want, and place them in as many categories as you want. Common categories include downloadable virtual products, books, videos, clothing, services, subscription memberships and anything else you can think of. Everything, including product images stay nicely organized into sortable tables. While most online stores turn into an ugly mess over time, Joomla and Phoca Cart organize products and images into easy to understand tables organized by categories to help you keep track of thousands of products, product images and web pages.
#6: Infinitely adaptable...With each product, you have the ability to assign prices, tax rules, currencies, short and long descriptions, normal and thumbnail images, and minimum, maximum and current stock levels. You can also add attributes to any group of products such as sizes and colors for clothing. Here is an example of a Phoca Cart product with both size and color options:
You can even include different images so that when a new color is selected for a product, the matching image is displayed:
#7 Custom Product Tags and Labels... Create your own custom product tags and labels, such as Our Favorites, Super Deal, Holiday Special and On Sale – or whatever you want!
#8 Products can be organized by categories, brands or custom tags...
You can assign products not only by descriptive categories, but also by brands and/or tag categories. For example, you can display a page for all Sale Items or all Holiday Special items.
#9 Optional Detailed Product Information Section
You can help your customers better understand the benefits of your most unique and important products by creating a Longer Description, List of Features, Product YouTube video, Specifications, Reviews and Related Products all of which will appear in a Tabbed section below the Product on the Product page. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a promotional video for each of your product is worth a million words!
#10 Easy to use Mega Menu Builder… Allows you to show Products in Categories from a Full Width Drop Down Menu. Mega menus are the best way to help customers understand the structure of your online store when you have lots of categories and products or services to offer. Here is an example of the Phoca Cart Mega Menu on their Astroid template DEMO site:
#11 Free Customizable Product Slideshow… Display featured products with titles, descriptions, links and Read More buttons!
#12 Product Questions Button
An Ask Questions button displayed next to products makes it easier for your customers to email you questions they may have about a product they are considering purchasing.
#13 Category and Product Page Custom Layout Plugins
If you want to create a Category and/or Page Layout that is different than the default settings, perhaps with different spacing or fonts or button colors, in the past, you would need to create a copy of your Shop template and add a custom CSS file. Custom Layout Plugins simplify this process by placing your custom CSS in a Phoca Cart plugin that you simply install and then select in Options, Display. These custom plugins can then be added to any other shop stores you create. It is like creating your own shop templates – but without the hassle of creating an entire template!
#14 Option to Display All Products on your Shop Home Page
While the default Home page layout consists of a Featured Products Slideshow followed by a Welcome Article and a Grid Display of Product Categories, shops with only a few products can choose to simply display all of their products directly on their Shop Home Page.
#15 Integration with Invisible Captcha
No more forcing customers to read words in images or solve difficult problems just to place an order or ask a question. All they need to do is check the box “I am a human.”
#16 Edit in Place
This time-saving feature allows you to quickly update prices of all products in a simple Products table rather than being forced to open each product page one at a time.
#17 Automatic Image Resizing… Upload just the product image and Phoca Cart automatically creates all needed thumbnail images.
#18 Customer Wish Lists… Your customers can add their favorite products to a Wish List for future purchase.
#19 Product Comparison Tool… Customers can do side by side comparison of selected products.
#20 Customer Review and Rating System… Your customers can review and/or rate their purchased products.
#21 Product Search Function…. Customers can search for products by product category, product name or product brand.
#22 Flexible Discount options… You can offer customers discounts on individual products or on their entire purchase.
#23 Virtual Product Selling System… allows you to sell virtual products such as Ebooks and Programs in addition to physical products such as shirts and hats.
#24 Free integrated email newsletter tool… with several options to send customers newsletters about their purchases and coming sales.
#25 Complete Order Tracking System with automatic billing and a complete history of the status of each order…so that you (and your customer) can tell what is happening with any given order with just the click of a button. Optional automatic confirmation emails keep your customers informed at every point of the process, from the time the product is ordered to the time it is shipped. Invoices and receipts can be attached to emails as custom PDF documents.
#26 Full inventory control and tracking tied to vendor and customer orders. Phoca Cart automatically reduced the inventory each time a product is sold. You can even automatically notify customers when a product is back in stock.
#27 Fully configurable tax assignment for different tax structures and tax regions. Prices can include or exclude tax.
#28 Fully configurable shipping options Ability to offer customers a variety of ways to have the product shipped to them including USPS, UPS, FedEx with shipping prices ranging from free to price by weight, size, quantity, etc.
#29 Unlimited customer and vendor groups. You can display different products and prices depending on the customer group viewing the web page. Each customer can control their own optional user account. Ideal for club membership websites or websites selling products from many different vendors. However, customers also have the option of buying products without setting up an account.
#30 Phoca Cart supports nearly all popular credit card processing gateways including Stripe and PayPal. Phoca Cart even has the ability to submit items for payment using a unique Point of Sale system. This means you can use the same point of sale system for selling goods online and in your retail store – greatly simplifying your bookkeeping system.
Watch this brief video to see how Phoca Cart POS works:
#31 Ideal for international stores. Phoca Cart works with dozens of currencies and dozens of languages.
#32 Built on secure open source Joomla Framework making it much more secure than other options such as Wordpress. Hackers love to attack online store websites. While Joomla is very secure out of the box, we show you how to add free tools to block nearly every kind of hacking attack.
#33 Integrates with many other Joomla free web building tools such as free forum tools, free slideshow and video display tools. There are more than one hundred free add on tools to customize a Phoca Cart store. We will show you how to get and use many of these tools in this course.
#34 Mobile adaptable... The templates we recommend, called Astroid, automatically create a mobile version of your website for shoppers looking at your online store from their mobile phones.
#35 Phoca Cart works with the Joomla Access Control System... making it easy to allow different staff groups to have access to different areas in the front or back end of your website. This makes it ideal for businesses that have multiple branches. This also makes it ideal for setting up a multi-vendor marketplace where several small businesses can share the same central online storefront.
#36 Free Friendly Customizable Form Creation Tool… Use custom forms to improve your interaction with your customers.
#37 Easy to install and configure. Both Joomla and Phoca Cart can be installed in a matter of minutes. No coding skills are required.
#38 Lots of ways to get help. Both Joomla and Phoca Cart offer free friendly online forums where you can ask questions about technical issues.
#39 Web based admin portal means no special apps need to be installed on your computer. You have complete control over the entire process and can configure your store from any computer with internet access.
#40 Joomla combined with Phoca Cart is the best foundation for your online store.
No other online store building tool at any price offers this combination of freedom, functionality, and versatility. Amazingly Phoca Cart is free! All you have to invest is the time it takes to learn how to use it.
Phoca Cart does have one big drawback. While it is easy to set up, it can be extremely complex to manage as your online business grows. Either you or a member of your staff will need to invest many hours learning all of the powerful functions included with Joomla and Phoca Cart. While not essential, it is very helpful to learn basic coding skills like HTML and CSS. Many business owners spend many years building their online store. With Joomla and Phoca Cart, you are building your online store on a solid and secure foundation.
Another drawback of Phoca Cart and Joomla is that the documentation and tutorials for both were written primarily by computer programmers. Sadly, many important and basic steps are glossed over while less important details are given too much space.
Our hope is to provide you with a more user friendly introduction to Joomla and Phoca Cart. If you are new to web building, you might want to take our prior course, Create Your Own Interactive Website, before taking this online business course. Our first course covered the following 10 subjects:
To read the articles associated with our first course, visit that course’s website: https://createyourowninteractivewebsite.com./
You can build a fully functional interactive website in just a few hours just by clicking on buttons – no need to learn complex computer programming.
Past, Present and Future of Ecommerce
When I made my first posts to the Internet, in about 1990, there were no online stores. In fact, using the Internet for commercial reasons was illegal. The Internet was pretty much the domain of educational organizations such as colleges and Universities – who used the Internet to share ideas and documents in plain text over phone lines. I recall the first time I saw an HTML formatted page – and shortly thereafter – the first image posted to the Internet in 1991.
Also in 1991, the National Science Foundation lifted its restriction on commercial use of the Internet. That same year, Al Gore sponsored a bill which provided $600 million in public funds to build the Information Superhighway. A few months later, the World Wide Web was opened to the public. But even though online stores were now legal, it did not make sense for stores to go to all the trouble of building an online store or even an online catalog website – because almost no one was using the Internet other than a few college instructors like me.
The first commercial website, books.com, made the first online transaction in August, 1994. I remember 1994 very well as I and some of my students and staff spent several months building another one of the very first online stores. It was really more of a catalog of our products. If a customer wanted to buy something, they still needed to give us a call and we would process their payment and mail it to them.
The reason I had a front row seat to the beginning of Ecommerce was that I owned a store located less than one mile from Microsoft in Redmond Washington. Many of my loyal customers were Microsoft employees. In addition, I taught courses at Bellevue College – which was the closest college to Microsoft. Many of students were Microsoft employees.
These computer programmers were also my friends. They asked me if they could build an online version of our store as a Demonstration Project for a new program they were making at Microsoft. The program eventually became Front Page. But in 1994, it was just a series of HTML forms.
In July 1995, another online store called Amazon.com started just months after my own online store. Amazon was also located in Bellevue within a couple of miles of my store and a couple of miles of Bellevue College where I helped train some of Amazon’s earliest employees. Here is the 1995 Amazon Home page:
Over the next few years, it seemed like the entire US moved online. I helped numerous businesses create an online presence. Only a few of these businesses actually sold products online. Mainly, they just displayed products and listed their Store Hours and Phone number.
I remember when Dreamweaver came out. Then Wordpress. And finally in 2005, my favorite Content Management System Joomla was born. I remember making my first mobile store website in 2010. By 2014, the Internet passed 3 billion users.
US Ecommerce sales have grown steadily, as a percent of total retail sales, with online sales now accounting for about 16% of total sales. This is double what it was just 5 years ago. And this is only the beginning.
The Good (Phoca Cart), the Bad (Woo Commerce) and the Ugly (Shopify)
The past 5 years have seen rapid change in the development of online stores. PHP, the primary computer language used to build online stores and control their databases, has seen massive improvements in security and function. However, this coding change has made older business websites completely obsolete and required that online store owners invest many hours in updating their websites.
Joomla also has seen massive improvement. Joomla 2.5 was retired in 2015 and replaced by Joomla 3 – which in the past 5 years has seen 23 revisions. The Joomla 4 project was started in 2017. After over 4 years of development, it is likely that Joomla 4 will be released in 2021. A pathway has been created for Joomla 3 website owners to update their website to Joomla 4 just by clicking on a couple of buttons.
While there are 36 shopping carts in the Joomla Extension Directory, Phoca Cart is by far the most complete Ecommerce Website building tool in the Joomla Toolkit. Phoca Cart was started in 2014 and was added to the Joomla Extensions Directory in October 2017. Since then, Phoca Cart has undergone extremely rapid development with many new features added every few months. The Github page for this project lists a total of 78 new releases since 2014. That is more than 10 new releases every year! https://github.com/PhocaCz/PhocaCart/releases
But while PHP, Joomla and Phoca Cart have undergone major rapid improvements, other popular shopping cart options have gotten much worse. Development of Joomla’s previously most complete shopping cart, called VirtueMart has slowed down to a crawl. Wordpress and its most popular shopping cart, Woo Commerce, have become a Hacker Heaven. I have written extensively about Wordpress security problems which you can read at this link: https://createyourowninteractivewebsite.com/3-security/3-1-what-is-real-website-security
The problems with Wordpress are structural and ongoing. In January, 2020, thousands of Wordpress business websites were hacked using a weakness in a PayPal form plugin. Hackers took over these sites and directed users to other pages filled with malware to download. Hackers even set up a fake version of the Wordpress Plugins Directory which would download fake Wordpress Plugins filled with malware – allowing the hackers to take over even more Wordpress websites.
As yet another example of how insecure Wordpress is, here is a September 6, 2020 article describing an attack on “millions of Wordpress sites”:
Hackers upload a malicious image file through a Wordpress plugin called File Manager. The image file then executes hidden code allowing the hacker to completely take over infected Wordpress websites. Even if your Woo Commerce site is not hacked, all Wordpress business websites wind up becoming a disorganized mess over time due to Wordpress missing important essential features such as Image Category Management, Menu Item Type Management and User Access Control Levels.
I have personally helped countless hacked Wordpress and Woo Commerce business website owners replace their hacked Wordpress sites with much more secure Joomla websites. But Wordpress has given free open source website building tools such a bad name that many businesses owners have gone from one extremely bad option (Wordpress) to the opposite extremely bad option – a very expensive business website building tool called Shopify.
How Expensive is Shopify?
When you are starting a new online store, the first few years are the hardest because it takes time to build up a loyal customer base. During these first tough years, every dollar counts. Shopify claims to offer a “starter” plan that only costs $30 per month. But in fact, there are tons of hidden additional costs involved in starting and running a Shopify store. So let’s see how much Shopify really costs.
Shopify claims to offer three plans running from $29 per month to $299 per month. There is also a more hidden plan called Shopify Plus which starts at $2,000 per month and goes up from there – obviously for larger businesses. But for $2,000 per month you also get one-on-one tech support. Plus if you want a Point of Sale System to combine online and in-person sales into one platform that is another $90 per month.
Then there is the cost of Shopify apps. One online survey indicated that the average Shopify Store Owner pays $100 or more per month for additional apps not included in the basic package. Here are just some of the common apps that charge monthly fees: Backups $30, Product Reviews $30, Bulk Product Edit $20, Custom Theme, $20, Custom Fields $20, Product Filter and Search $20. Shipment Tracker $30. Dropified Drop Shipments start at $50 per month.
Plus Shopify takes a percent of your sales (in addition to your normal payment gateway fees):
So let’s say you run a typical in-store and online business doing about $100,000 per month combined from both sources. It may sound like you are making a lot of money and can afford whatever Shopify is charging. But after paying for the Products, Staff, Accounting, Insurance and Promotion, you will be lucky to make a net profit of 5%. So on your $100,000 in sales, you might make only $5,000 in actual profit. And if Shopify is taking a 5% cut on all of the purchases, then your profit margin drops down to zero and soon you are out of business! So much for the $30 per month plan.
There are similar hidden costs for most other shopping carts. For example, Magento claims to be free. But if you need support, the Enterprise Edition is more than $2,000 per month or $24,000 per year.
Compare this to Phoca Cart which gives you many more features and costs almost nothing. $10 per month covers both domain name and hosting. The Joomla Foundation is free. Phoca Cart is free. Nearly all of the Joomla and Phoca Cart apps are free. The Point of Sale System is software is free. Your total is really just $10 to $20 per month. No hidden fees. No annual fees. No licensing fees. Plus you get a website that is much more secure than Spotify thanks to open source auditing of the code. And you control your database and your data – not Spotify.
What will the Future of Ecommerce Websites Be?
Sadly, due to a lack of research of most online store owners into the drawbacks of Woo Commerce and Shopify, the Ecommerce world is now burdened with millions of hacked Wordpress Woo Commerce websites and hundreds of thousands of very expensive Shopify sites. The result will be that most of these online store startups will fail – leaving online customers with Mega Giant Monopolies like Amazon as their only choice. The ongoing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few billionaires will continue unchecked.
Our goal is to change the direction of Ecommerce – and create a better future for small business owners by showing them that there is a third way. You do not have to choose between an insecure Woo Commerce site or a over-priced Shopify site. If you are willing to put in some time and effort, you can have an online store that is both inexpensive and extremely secure. The future of Ecommerce is in your hands.
Overview of this course... Create Your Own Online Store
In this second course, we will show you how to add Phoca Cart, a free open source shopping cart and online store, to your Joomla website. Phoca Cart is one of the world’s most advanced online store building tools.
These are the 9 topics we cover in this course, Create Your Own Online Store:
This course begins with a “Quick Start” review of the first five chapters of our first course. We will show you how to build a solid foundation for your Joomla website and get it up and running in just 60 minutes!
In the rest of this course, we cover how to create an online store with Phoca Cart - a free online shopping cart. After setting up Phoca Cart, we add a free and extremely flexible template system that allows you to create any store layout you want. We then explain how to create Product categories and add products. We then set up the Order Management System, and review shop payment and shipping methods. We conclude the course by outlining shop accounting and promotion tools.
If you have any questions on any topic covered in this course, feel free to post a question on our forum. Our intention in this book, on our website and in our course is to give you the tools you need to build your own successful online business.
Are you ready to take your online business to the next level? Let’s get started! The first step in building a Phoca Cart store is building your Joomla foundation. That is the topic of the next section.