This review was written by Samburu.com - Samburu.com offers adorable pet and animal related gifts and collectibles for pet lovers everywhere. If you are looking for unique pet gift ideas, our online store includes hundreds of collectible items, stuffed animals, and other pet gifts for specific breeds of dogs, cats, horses and more! No matter the occasion, you're sure to find the right gifts for the pet lovers in your life...even if that pet lover happens to be you!

If you want to contact Samburu's freelance developer, you get reach him on
sales@java-e.com

VP-ASP Review from a retailer's perspective

Summary: Hugely all-encompassing, flexible, and useful, but a little bit technical.

Summary Pro (For) Points:
1. Optionally a total retail site solution, not just a cart.
2. Hugely encompassing.
3. Very flexible.
4. Easy to install.
5. HTML-Generator Included.
6. Loads of add-ons available from 3rd parties.
7. A great forum for help/advice.
8. Top-quality documentation.
9. Great support.

Summary Con (Against) Points:
1. Lack of "pretty" look-and-feel templates.
2. A bit technical.
3. Initial security measures need to be implemented before release.

Being a retail business (
Samburu.com), and not programmers, we wanted to get a cart which did everything, and we didn't want to learn programming just to set it up.

Our idea was to set the site/cart up ourselves, then add in all the product and customer information ourselves, change a few options, and end up with a finished site that we could unleash on the world without having to employ a programmer.

VP-ASP allowed us to do exactly that.

It has an unbelievably large number of options that you can simply switch on/off, and change to your own requirements without having to make programmatic changes. Most of the options are changed just by ticking boxes and choosing values from the poplists on the administration menus.

To give you an idea of the kind of things that you can do in the admin menu, here's a small sub-set:



Pay particular attention to the "other tables" link at the top of that sub-set - that allows you to directly edit the data in any of your tables without you having to create a new/dedicated reference data screen for it - this is massively useful and helps to save you yet more development time. This funcionality works for ALL your tables, and not just the VP-ASP tables, so you can use this to maintain your NON-VP-ASP data, too.

To give you an idea of the kind of things that you can change in the configuration, here's a small sub-set, and all configuration options have corresponding help text included so that you can see what they do:



There is a down-side to having all these options, which is that almost everything is in ASP (vbscript) format rather than straight-forward HTML, which means that if you know basic HTML then that won't really help you much if you want to make manual customised changes, because the underlying programs are almost all in vbscript and not HTML.

You can easily change the headers/trailers and product templates etc (which ARE in HTML), but if you want to, say, change anything other than the config options or those headers/trailers/templates, then you end up having to delve into very complex ASP.

There'll always be a trade-off for this; the more options you have, the harder it'll be to make manual customised changes. The balance that they've got at the moment is probably about right, but it is fairly technical for people who aren't programmers.

What we did was to install it, set our config options to get as close to our preferred format as we could, and then pasted in our look-and-feel code/values (menus etc) into the headers and trailers. After that had been done, we found it necessary to employ a freelance programmer on an as/when needed basis to change some of the things that we found too difficult. Although we didn't need to employ a programmer to get the site up and running, we did find it necessary for our slightly more obscure changes that couldn't be changed via the config options or headers/trailers/templates.

If you need to do similar "not normal" customised changes, we'd advise that you get a programmer to do it for you (preferably someone who's worked on vp-asp quite a lot), because the programs are very involved, and if you try to change the ASP code yourself then you might unwittingly cause errors elsewhere that you're not expecting. VP-ASP themselves can do such customisations for you (chargeable, obviously), and they'll make a really good job of it. But if your site starts to stray away from the standard VP-ASP model too much, then you're better off getting your own programmer, but make sure you get a good one - it'll save you a lot of time and money in the long run - ask for VP-ASP's advice or use word-of-mouth advice from other VP-ASP users.

So, unless you're an ASP programmer, we suggest that you find someone who is that you can call-on on an as/when needed basis. If you're running a large cart/site that's based on ASP, then it's really essential that you've got someone to hand who can quickly/easily investigate any problems that you might run into in the future. For example, if you get a "page can not be shown" error, and you don't know anything about ASP, then what would you do ? We just email our developer and say "look at that; can you investigate and correct it ?"

All the look-and-feel code/values (colours, fonts etc) are centralised in easy-to-change files that anyone can follow, and it's up to you how much you want to change things. It uses html templates for the product pages, so you can change the product pages to whatever extent you want to very easily. In those templates, you can also use special fields (eg: "[cimageurl]" for your product's image) and the asp's will automatically add-in the relevant code for you when the pages are loaded in a browser.

Something that you should note, is that the look-and-feel of the site that you get by default is not very appealing; when you first install it (before you change your config options etc), you'll see it looks very basic. This is intentional, but a bit annoying. VP-ASP is an overall cart/site set of files/data, it is NOT a look-and-feel template. Ideally, we'd like to have seen this come with a set of template look-and-feel styles that you can choose, but it doesn't, so you'll probably need to grab hold of a look-and-feel template (just to get your basic preferred colours and styles and some graphics etc) and paste that into your headers, trailers, and config options.

Here's an example of what your product details box might look like after you've done nothing more than set your config options and created a product (don't forget that this bit is also surrounded by the rest of your "frames" for your menus etc - the picture below is just an example of the box that shows the product detail)...



Here's an example of what your product summary (search results) box might look like after you've done nothing more than set your config options and created a couple of products (don't forget that this bit is also surrounded by the rest of your "frames" for your menus etc - the picture below is just an example of the box that shows the product summary)...



It's nice that with all the 1000's of options, there are only a handful of options that you actually need to set (things like your sitename, and your email address etc), and that if you want to (as we did), you can get up and running very quickly and change things later on at your own leasure.

Everything that you need to know is included in their extensive documentation. They've got guides for different aspects (developers, retailers etc).

In their documentation, they say that it only takes 5 minutes to get it installed on your site - and that's true. It's very quick and easy to install, and then you just go through whatever options you want to, changing things along the way.

Once you've got it running with a few products in there so that you can see how it looks/works, you'll be amazed at just how much it does for you.

To call it a shopping cart is vastly under-rating/under-using it; you can use it just as a cart if you want to, but in the real world it's actually a total retailing solution, because included inside VP-ASP is everything that a retailing site would ever need.

My advice is that before you create a single page for your site, buy and install VP-ASP, because you'll probably find that it does everything you'll need.

And as for support, well, that's second to none, really. Not only is the documentation extensive, but they also have a special VP-ASP forum where you'll get loads of free help from VP-ASP themselves and also from the VP-ASP community in general.

If you ever have a "how to?" question, or a "why's this not working ?" question, then my advice is to post your problem/question on their forum; you'll always get really great help/advice from loads of people totally free. It's a great little community that they've got on their forum, with everyone always helping each other out. We've found that having such a forum/community for the cart that we use has saved us a fortune in development costs and saved us many hours of frustration. It's a very friendly forum, and our experience is that as far as the forum users are concerned, there's no such thing as a "stupid question" - people will help you, whether it's something like "how do I make this text bold ?" or "how do I make my sub-category listings context-dependant ?"

If all that's not enough, they also have an html-generator, where you can create html pages for all your products in one go at the touch of a single button.

After you've done what you can on your own, you can (if you want to) pay your developer to add in any changes that you don't know how to do. We've been told that because the code is so well structured and easy to follow, changes that might seem huge sometimes only end up taking about half an hour by a decent developer.

The amount of time and money that buying this cart has saved us is impossible to quantify, but one thing I'm sure about is that we are extremely impressed by what it does and the community that surrounds it.

In fact, we liked it so much that we got our developer to build some extra add-ons (
PackingSlip, Froogle-Feed) that we now sell through our site to the rest of the VP-ASP community.

As we said above, it is quite technical, and if you're not a programmer then you'll really be best to employ one just to do your final more difficult changes. But we found that's a small price to pay as everything else is so easy to do.

IMPORTANT! - With the installation documentation, you'll see various security measures that you can do, things like moving the database file to a secure folder, changing the admin login screen name, and so on. We'd strongly advise that you do all these points BEFORE you copy the files up to a live internet server/host. If you have any problems with this, then either contact VP-ASP support, or just post a message in the forum. But whatever you do, DO NOT copy your files to a live host before applying these security measures, because there are lots of hacker sites who find such un-changed files and post "easy-to-hack" messages about the site. Avoid being put on the hackable site lists, and do these measures immediately ! VP-ASP is extremely secure as long as you follow their documented advice on how to install it, but if you don't follow their security advice, then you WILL be hacked. As VP-ASP is so widely used, hackers have learned about these installation issues and constantly try-out their hacks on every new site that appears. So, don't post your site to the web until you've followed VP-ASP documented installation security measures. When you've implemented those measures, then you'll be perfectly safe/secure.

Here's an example of what your final front page might look like after configuring VP-ASP with your products:



 

This review was written by Samburu.com - Samburu.com offers adorable pet and animal related gifts and collectibles for pet lovers everywhere. If you are looking for unique pet gift ideas, our online store includes hundreds of collectible items, stuffed animals, and other pet gifts for specific breeds of dogs, cats, horses and more! No matter the occasion, you're sure to find the right gifts for the pet lovers in your life...even if that pet lover happens to be you!

If you want to contact Samburu's freelance developer, you get reach him on
sales@java-e.com