Setting up an online store for your web site has got to be one of the trickiest things that you can undertake. Issues relating to dealing with people's money, tracking orders, product fulfillment as well as maintaining a good trading reputation are all paramount concerns.
Thankfully there are online solutions available that offer shopping cart functionality that you can simply link your product pages to for either a minimal charge or, with some, for free. One of the easiest to use and most versatile is Mal's e-commerce. The brain child of Mal Stewart, the site offers both free and subscription based shopping cart services that will allow you to get selling online quickly and securely.
To get trading you will need;
The Mal's free account will collect the payment data and save it allowing you to process the orders manually later whereas the premium account seamlessly integrates with a number of existing payment processors allowing you to automate the whole process.
On signing up for an account you will receive an e-mail outlining your account settings and details on how you can access the secure administration part of the Mal's web site. From this page (figure 1.1) you can maintain your account details, view the orders that have come in from buyers, and alter the cart options available to your store (using the Cart set-up link). It's worth spending some time reading through the extensive documentation on the site in regard to setting up costs for shipping units, tax, affiliate programs, language settings as well as the visual side of the shopping cart and options for changing the logo, colours, fonts etc.
Figure 1.1 - The Mal's account administration home page.
Using the actions
The Mal's action suite contains the following eight individual actions;
- Mal's Buy Button
Use this action to add simple 'buy now' buttons to your shopping pages.
- Mal's Buy Form Setup
Either sketch this action around all of the form items that make up a single product order or attach it to a parent object (a table or a page for example) and it will group the items together and define them ready for Mal's.
- Mal's Buy Image Link
With similar functionality to the Mal's Buy Button action this action allows you to set up 'buy now' buttons based on images.
- Mal's Buy Text Link
Create a simple text link that users can click on to add the product to the shopping cart.
- Mal's Multiprice Select
For product forms with different prices for different options (a wool coat may be $100.00 but the leather version may cost $150.00 for example) the Mal's Multiprice Select action can add the correct code to achieve quite complex buying options.
- Mal's Quantity Field/Checkbox/Radio
Again for form based product pages this action allows you to easily set up all of the required attributes associated with quantity fields, checkboxes and radio buttons.
- Mal's Review Cart Image Link
Much like the Mal's Buy Image Link action this can be applied to an existing image that will allow your site visitors to review the contents of their shopping cart.
- Mal's Review Cart Text Link
This action allows you to easily set up text based links to allow your site visitors to review the contents of their shopping cart.
Although much of setting up an online store with Mal's and the actions is covered in our demonstration store (and in the example Freeway file that ships with the actions) we'll spend a bit of time here explaining the functions available in one of the actions. Most of the actions in the suite share a common core functionality and simply allow you to apply this in different situations. Here we will be looking at the Mal's Buy Form Setup action.
An example action
The Enabled check box () is something that you will find in a lot of these actions as it allows action code to be disabled without needing to be removed from the item which would, in turn, lose any of the user settings applied to it. It allows users to quickly add and remove action functionality very quickly and easily.
Below the Enabled check box are the main controls for the action starting with the Link info section.
The Server address pop-up menu () allows you to select the server at Mal's that your shopping cart is located on. To date there are six servers that process orders with each dealing with transactions specifically for users with user IDs within a certain range. By splitting the load like this you can be assured that things won't grind to a halt if everyone goes shopping at the same time. Simply select from the menu the name of the server you were given when you signed up with Mal's and which should be outlined in your welcome e-mail. If the name of the server is missing from the list then simply select 'Other...' at which point a new text field will appear below this menu allowing you to either type or paste the address of the server into it.
Most of the time, I suspect, the Target menu () will go unused. It allows you, however, to open the Mal's shopping cart page up in a defined location, be it a frame or a window. Select from the standard _parent, _top, _blank and _self options, or none at all (which is the same as _self). The 'Other...' option allows you to define the name of the target the page should be opened into by entering it's name in the 'Other target' text field (). If the target is available the page will be loaded into it or, if unavailable, a new browser window will be created and given this name.
The next section, Buy info, contains all of the remaining information about the store and the products themselves.
The User ID field () should contain your Mal's account ID number that you were given when you first signed up for the account. This is the only way that the server has of knowing which shopping cart to add the products to so make sure it is correct. Ideally you should copy and paste this from your welcome e-mail. Once a user ID has been entered in one action all of the other subsequently applied actions will use this value by default.
Product name () contains the descriptive text that your users will see in the main shopping cart window for each product. Ideally this should be short, to the point and descriptive of the item in question. If you later add further options for the product, such as colours or sizes, these will be appended to the end of this description in the cart window.
The Price field () contains the unit price for the item without any currency signs. The currency to be used in the cart is defined by a setting in the cart administration page on the Mal's web site (see below).
The remainder of the controls in the action are all optional so if you are in a hurry to can skip these and still have a functioning shopping cart. However we would strongly recommend that you spend the extra time working with these features as they will not only make your store easier for visitors to use but add important features that will help protect your site from malicious use. To enable these features use the Optional info checkbox ().
If you wish to add multiple items to the shopping cart for each click (maybe you would like to offer 3 items for the price of 2) then you can do so by specifying the number in the Quantity field (). By default the system will add a single item to the shopping cart each time the item is clicked unless another value is specified either here or in another quantity field in your form.
The Return to text field (), when specified, allows the shopping cart to return the user directly back to the page they last viewed. You will need to specify the address of either the current page or a page that you wish the user should return to (maybe an offers page) as an absolute URL. For example;
If the product is a physical item that needs to be shipped or posted then you will need to specify how much the user has to pay for this. Once again this is handled by the secure administration section of the Mal's web site. These codes can then be entered into the action using the Shipping units entry field ().
The Language pop-up menu () allows you to specify the language the user will see the shopping cart page displayed in including both European and US English.
The Currency ID field () allows you to specify the currency the user will see in the shopping cart. These options can be set up in the secure administration section of the Mal's web site.
If your goods are subject to tax then you can specify the percentage to charge for each product by entering a figure in the Tax field ().
Link verification () is a very powerful part of the Mal's shopping cart and is also a feature built into these actions. To prevent users from manually altering the code that makes up your shopping pages each product is marked with a special encoded identification number that denotes the product, any additional extras and the price. If the shopping cart receives an order where the information in the link or button does not match this identification number then the item order is refused.
To have the actions encode the product links for you automatically you must first have the Link verification checkbox () switched on and a valid hash code entered into the Key code text area ().
At the top of this page you will find a warning about how turning link verification on can mean a lot of extra work as all of your links will need to be encoded and that the code has to be exactly correct for the store to accept any orders. Although this is quite true for everyone else because we will be using the actions we can rest in the knowledge that the actions will be doing all of this hard work for us automatically.
Figure 1.2 - Enabling link verification
Figure 1.3 - Getting the key (or hash) code
Here we want to click on the 'Hash secret on it's own' option. After entering your password and clicking on the 'Get validator' button a new window will open with a single line of text in it containing your hash key code.
It should look something like this;
Hash Secret key for 1234567: 0ff541245d58fg54f7c2d3cf444cd9974c2
Save this file for later reference and keep it safe as you will need it while working with this store.
Enter this code (the part between the ": " and the end of the line) in the Key code text entry field in the action () and press return. The action will now automatically encode the links generated for this item without further intervention.
Adding the actions to your pages:
For a brief overview of how to use the actions please see our demonstration store.
To use these actions you will need one of the following versions of Freeway;
- Freeway Pro 3.5, 4, 5, 5.5, 6 or 7
- Freeway Express version 4, 5, 5.5 or 6
Setting up an online store is serious business and requires a certain level of input, support and testing. Although every effort has been made in the creation and extensive testing of these actions their sale, and use, is done so under the terms of our limited liability agreement (see below). Here at FreewayActions.com we support all of the actions we create and supply, with priority given to registered users, however we do stress that users should be comfortable with their online store's security before the site is given the green light.
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