Setting up your Product Database

Before you can start selling products through your online store, you will need to load your list of products into your new shopping cart.

  • If you already have a product list, it is possible to streamline the process: BNT Solutions can upload your product list for you into your new web store.
  • If you do not already have such a list, the shopping cart software includes an administrative interface that you can use to create the list from scratch - directly within the shopping cart. Of course, once it's there you are done.

This article discusses the process of uploading an existing product list into a shopping cart. The procedure involved is somewhat generic - there may be some need to make minor adjustments from one shopping cart software package to another - but, fundamentally, if you follow the suggestions below the amount of work required will be minimized and the results will contain few (if any) errors.

Remember that this is not necessary if you do not already have a product list. The reason is that all shopping cart software packages are sophisticated enough to provide an interface that you can use to manually add new products. Therefore, rather than creating a product list which you then upload into the shopping cart - you might as well just use the shopping cart interface to create the initial product list directly in the shopping cart itself.

Once you have a product list, as described below, you will need to verify the information on that list and correct any errors. After that, you will only need to update the information in the list: Add new products and update any changed pricing and product information. You should never need to create a new product list again. This is because it will always be possible to export the list you have for future purposes.

In fact, if your company is already established, you probably already use an accounting system such as Intuit Quick Books or Sage Simply Accounting. In such software packages you already have much of the information you need. Therefore, your first step will be to export that data into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. This spreadsheet will then form the basis of the Product Upload process. This process will effectively copy your product information into your new web site.

The most common question that is asked at this point is: Can I synchronize the product information in my accounting package with the product information in my shopping cart. The short answer is: Yes, in principal you can. The longer answer is that the software for the particular accounting system and shopping cart may not be available. However, it should be possible to find a reasonable way to get the job done.

There are basically two steps that need to be taken:

  • Collect basic product information
  • Collect product photos

Many people start with the product images because it seems like the harder step - but this can result in some problems near the end of the process.

BNT Solutions suggests that you start, therefore, with your accounting system. Most office accounting systems are now able to export a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet containing a list of products. This is often the best way to start. Find an existing report of all products and generate a spreadsheet from it. The columns (fields) that you will need are listed in the table below. Note that the exact columns that you will need depend on your shopping cart software. The columns listed in the table below should be useful in the majority of shopping carts.

Product Images

Probably the hardest part of getting the web store started is preparing the images. The vast majority of software packages will require at least a thumbnail photo of each product and a larger, more detailed photo.

In practice you can cut the size of the job in half if you can get close-up photos of each product. A close-up can be automatically reduced to thumbnail size. Once you have all the close-up shots in a directory or directory tree, a small program can be used to make the thumbnails automatically.

It is very important that the photos are properly associated with their corresponding product information. Once each photo file is ready, you should name it in a reliable manner. One good way to do this is to use the SKU number as the main part of the file name.

If you have a great many products it also helps to put the photos into subdirectories within the main image directory. The names of the subdirectories, in most cases, will then be the product category names.

Once each file is properly named, you can put the file reference in the FULL image column of your spreadsheet. Again, if the image is a close-up photo, there is no need to prepare the thumbnail as they can be generated automatically once all the photos are done. However, if the image contains a great deal of background with the product itself occupying a small portion of the overall image size, it will be necessary to crop the image manually and save the result as a thumbnail. Otherwise, the thumbnail will not display the product properly.

Historically, the biggest problem that we see at BNT Solutions is that the product images arrive without useful names. For example a digital camera is used to take four hundred product shots that are each assigned a sequential number - but there is no information linking the product information to the photos. For most people this is a no-brainer: If you are in the car business, for example, you know everything there is to know about a car when you see the photo of it. However, here at BNT Solutions we don't know your business - so we are completely lost when we try to match your product data with a huge directory full of photos.

Display Options

Most shopping cart software packages are relatively flexible in terms of how they display the products. You can display any category of products in any way you like. And, if you need to do so, you can display each product category in a different way.

For example: If you have a large number of products in a specific product category that are almost identical to each other, you can present them in an array - five rows of five columns or something like that.

You might also have a single product in a category of its own that requires a special presentation. 

For these categories or products, you should document the different presentations that you will need. Assign a name to each presentation and put that name into a Template column that you should add to your spreadsheet. You can then indicate a default template for the majority of your products and specify different templates for the products and categories that require a different presentation.

Product Upload Columns

To streamline the process of loading your existing product information into your new shopping cart, you will want to create a simple spreadsheet with the columns listed below. For your convenience, a sample spreadsheet has been created for you; you can download it here

Column/Field Name

Description

Category (Parent/Item) Most shopping carts support the ability to group products by Category and Sub Category. For example: You might have a category called Products and another called Services. Within Products you might have Communications and within Communications you might have VOIP. Therefore, for a wireless handset that handles Voice Over IP calls, the Item Category is VOIP and the Parent Category is Communications.
SKU Each product must have a unique reference code that can be used to identify it. If you already have a product list in your accounting system, you can use the code from your accounting system and the SKU. If you do not already have a code for your products, you will need to assign one.
Price (net) Most shopping carts have different price and discount fields that you may need to use. You must, however, provide a Net Price for your product (the selling price that the shopping cart must know about.)
Product Name A name for your product, such as "Acme Widgets Wireless Handset M123"
Short Description A short introduction to the product. The shopping cart will display this text on pages where many products are displayed simultaneously. You are allowed to insert basic HTML codes such as <b> and <i> into this description
Long Description A full page description of the product. This field can contain a full HTML web page and can make use of any valid HTML codes to display images and link to other pages.
Qty in Stock Number of units in stock. Leave this field blank if you do not carry stock in your store or if you do not want the shopping cart to keep track of stock.
Stock Available Date The earliest date at which customers can begin to place orders for this item. Leave this field blank if you do not want the system to use this information. Alternatively, you can put the date you first received stock on this item. However, if you do not expect to be able to sell this item before a specific date, enter that date here.
Stock Availability Enter a code which will be used to indicate to the customers how long they should expect to wait if you need to order stock. In the VirtueMart shopping cart this code is the name of a graphical file which is shown with the product. For example, 24h indicates that you will need 24 hours before you can ship an order for this product. You can use any codes that you like in this field or leave the field blank if you do not want to use this feature.
Full / Large image file The file name of the full sized image of this product. If your images are in a series of sub-directories within a main image directory, you should indicate the subdirectory name as part of the file name (ie: dir/file.jpg) The file should be in PNG, JPG or GIF format. It is desirable to keep the size of the file down to something reasonable. For most products it should be possible to create an image file that is in the 25k to 100k byte range. However, there is no real restriction on file size other than the cost of bandwidth.
Thumbnail image file The file name of the thumbnail sized image of this product. If your images are in a serious of sub-directories within a main thumbnail image directory, you should either leave this file blank (if the thumbnails are in a separate directory tree from the full sized images but share the same file name,) or indicate the subdirectory name as part of the file name (ie: dir/file.jpg) The file should be in PNG, JPG or GIF format. Note that many thumbnails can be displayed in a single product page - so the size of the thumbnail images can have a significant impact on your bandwidth costs. It's a good idea to keep the thumbnails down to 10k bytes or less for most types of products. However, there is no real restriction on the size of a thumbnail image as long as the total size of all the thumbnails on a given product page does not cause the page to load too slowly over the internet.
Length/Width/Height/UOM The dimensions of the product. Specify the Length, Width and Height in whatever dimensions you wish (ie: Inches or Feet or Meters,) and specify the Unit of Measurement in the UOM column (ie: In., CM, etc.) Leave these fields blank if you are selling downloadable products.
Items per Package/Box Some items are sold in packages and some items are sold as a box full of packages. Leave these fields blank if your product is sold in units of one item per box and package. On the other hand, if your item is a light-bulb which is sold in a box of 8 packages with two bulbs per package: The Package quantity would be 2 and the box quantity would be 8.

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