Ecommerce Spot

Harald Ponce de Leon of osCommerce

An interview with Harald Ponce de Leon of osCommerce

Harald Ponce de Leon, the leader of the osCommerce project/shopping cart was gracious enough to answer a few questions. He has some great insights on how to build a better shop - read the thoughts of the man behind what is possibly the single most popular shopping cart available today.

Tell us about yourself
Hi! My name is Harald Ponce de Leon and am a very mutli-cultural person. I was born in Lima (Peru), lived my life in Sydney (Australia), and have been living in Germany for the past 7 years now.

I am the project founder and leader of the osCommerce project, which was formerly known as The Exchange Project, and started working on it towards the end of 1999, and made the first project release in March 2000.

The first project release was made as an example resource study to attract collaboration with others to see where it could go from there. From here on in, the project quickly grew from an example resource study of how an online shopping system works, to a fully functional online shopping cart solution.

Today, 5 years later, the project has attracted a community of over 62,000 store owners, developers, designers, and enthusiasts, with over 2,700 community contributions made that extends the already rich projects feature base, and was renamed to osCommerce in 2001 to strengthen the awareness of the project in the community and marketplace.

What is the most important thing someone thinking about setting up an online shop should consider?
I think the most important issue a store owner has to decide on is which solution should be used to base their online store on. The next important issue is where the online store is to be located.

Some questions that should be looked at are:

  • Does the solution come along with a hosting package?
  • Can this hosting package be upgraded? (for example, from a shared hosting server to a dedicated hosting server) Does this hosting package have to be used?
  • Who owns the online store?
  • Are you free to move your online store to another hosting provider?
  • Can I install the online store on my personal computer? (for example, backup and testing purposes)
This does not only affect the start-up phase to which the solution should meet the store owners requirements, but also the future of where the online store is to be taken, and how it can be adapted to the growing customer base to meet the needs of current and potential customers.

What do you think is the most common cause of failure of an online shop? How should people avoid that?
There can be a lot of reasons for failure, which one has to learn from, and will focus on two basic issues that not enough thought of is put into at times.

I find it important to have a good description available of the products available for purchase, along with good photo images of the product. This is the primary means of showing potential customers what is available for sale, and when the product description pages do not deliver the content that is expected, a sale will definitely happen on someone elses store.

I also find it important to provide as much information about the store as possible, from how the business operates, who is involved, where it is located, and who to contact for questions and issues. Without this information available on the store, the presence is not taken seriously and will lead to sale losses.

What trends do you see happening in small to medium business ecommerce stores in the next few years?
I think collaboration is on the rise thanks to web services and RSS syndications. The big business ecommerce sites are already starting to offer web services to the general public, but are however focused on displaying their products on your store, and not the other way around.

Having a collaborative network of stores showing one another's products can be beneficial to the small to medium business ecommerce sites, where the customer base can grow with the increase of product assortments.

What one thing do you think most shop owners should do more of?
One of the basic areas that can be improved is on is the packaging and shipping of products. Everyone I know tends to open their packaged boxes as soon as they receive it due to the patience involved with the shipping time. I think the feeling involved is greatly inbalanced with surprisement, with more of a "I hope it's not damaged" feel towards opening the package.

This can be changed to a more positive note by adding a little surprise to the package, for example sweets and candy, a thank you card, or some merchandise products.

Such bonuses will always increase the chances of the customer returning back to the store when they need to order more products.

Who do you see as the primary audience for your software?
A majority of our audience would be developers, however more and more store owners with no programming experiences are active on our community support forum channels, aiding those in need of help as they were once helped, and even contributing new features they have worked on to the community.

This is the success of the project, with an easy to use and Open Source based solution, with a great community behind it taking it a step further in every possible way.

Why should shop owners choose osCommerce over the competition?
Due to our roots, we do not consider ourselves to be in competition with others. We are working on the project to provide a solution that can easily be worked on to meet ones own requirements, as it is impossible to provide one static solution that tries to meet everyone's requirements.

This is possible due to the osCommerce project being released under a Free Software / Open Source license, and allows everyone to "look under the hood" of their own online store, and to share their experiences with our community which has been the success of the project.

The osCommerce community has been growing continually since the project started, and welcome you to take a look, to participate, and to have a great time with us!

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