How To Design An Attractive Online Store Website Without Spending A Lot Of Money

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One of the biggest mistakes that I see when I’m asked to evaluate or critique an online store website is that the shop owner has used the out of the box template for their store.

Simply put, the out of the box design for any shopping cart is going to be ugly, non-functional and you aren’t going to sell much no matter how compelling your products are.

The main problem is that most people aren’t web designers. They want an attractive design but they either don’t have the funds or are too cheap to hire a dedicated developer.

Admittedly, hiring a web designer can be pricey and while it’s easy for me to say that it’s worth every penny, most people don’t want to put down a lot of cold hard cash upfront if they are just testing the waters.

A Hybrid Solution

These days, all open source shopping carts are written in such a way that the main store engine is completely decoupled from the aesthetic portions of the design.

What this means is that it is very easy to change the look of your online store without worrying about breaking the functionality of your shop.

What this also means is that you don’t really need a full blown web developer to help design your site because all of the difficult parts have already been written for you. You just need to focus on aesthetics and usability.

Bottom line, if you are short on cash, don’t bother hiring a dedicated developer. Instead, what I recommend to most people is to purchase a store template created by a professional eCommerce web developer and then tweak it to how you want it to look.

In most cases, a store bought template from a place like Algozone will take you 90% percent of the way there for only $100-$200.

You can choose from a variety of layouts on how you want your store to look and the installation is simple.

I’m Tech Averse. Can I Still Handle It?

My general philosophy on creating any website is that being tech averse is mostly a state of mind. 99.9% of the time, you don’t need to be a hard core programmer to accomplish what you need to do.

You just need to have an open mind, be willing and able to follow directions and to learn the terminology.

I’ll just say this upfront. To become a successful online business owner, you will need to learn a modicum of web design just to get by, especially if you don’t have the budget to hire a full time developer.

So even if you hate computers, you are now going to be running a business on one so you should try to adapt.

Realistically, you really don’t need to know that much and to demonstrate, I’m going to put up a quick tutorial on how to install a store template and point you to where you can learn the basic skills required to tweak your design.

Basic Skills

As I mentioned earlier, you don’t need to know much, but basic knowledge of HTML and CSS is required. Thankfully, composing simple HTML is much like using Microsoft Word.

There are tags that denote how you want text to be formatted as it is displayed on the screen. For a quick and easy tutorial on HTML, I recommend checking out the W3schools tutorials

The other thing you need to know how to do is move files back and forth from your webserver. Most tutorials recommend that you use FTP (stands for file transfer protocol) for this, but I personally never use FTP because it is insecure.

Instead, I use a program called WinSCP, which is a windows based secure file transfer program. It’s free and you can download it here. Grab it!

The final thing that you need to know is how to read basic PHP. Don’t be scared by the language and its syntax. Remember, you don’t need to know how to use it.

You just need to understand how to read the basics so you can know where to insert your HTML code. A quick and dirty tutorial on PHP can be found here

Installing The Template

Installing the store template is easy. In the tutorial, I will show you how to install a template from ThemeForest to an open source shopping cart. For the purposes of illustration, let’s say that we want to open a toy store.

The default ZenCart template looks like this.


If you just shove your logo at the top of this template, it’s going to be ugly and you are aren’t going to be selling any toys period. But what if you started with this instead?


Installing The Template Is Easy

The first step is to download the template file to your desktop computer. If you purchased your template from Themeforest, you will receive a file in a standard compressed format .tar.gz.

To extract the contents of this file onto your computer, you need to use either winzip.exe or winrar.exe which are both free utilities found on the web. Go ahead and place the extracted files onto your desktop.

Install The Template Files
Before proceeding with the install, make sure you have backed up your existing ZenCart installation. In addition, make sure that you have installed ZenCart properly using my instructions above by verifying that your shopping cart is up on your web browser

The next step is to transfer all of the files to your webserver. As I mentioned earlier, I use a program called WinSCP which is freely available on the web.

1) Launch WinSCP. The program should look like the following

2) On the left hand column, go to the template source directory of the open archive that you extracted from Algozone. On the right hand column go to the directory where your zencart installation resides on your webserver.

3) Select all files/directories in the template_source directory and upload (copy) them to the main directory where your Zencart files are located in your remote server. If you don’t know where that is, look for files/directories like index.php, includes, admin …etc.

Enable The Template In ZenCart
Once all of the files are copied over, go to the admin window of ZenCart using your browser. If you didn’t change the defaults, the URL should be

yourstore.com/admin

Once on your admin page, go to the Tools->Template Selections screen

On the template selection screen, click on “New Language” and on the right hand pull down menu, select your newly purchased template and click “insert”.

Voila! Your new template is installed.

Final Steps

In most cases, the template that you purchased will not be exactly to your liking. At this point, you need to go into the template directory and use your newly learned html/css/php skills to make the necessary edits to tweak how you want your store to look.

Having the store bought template will get you 90% of the way there. The remaining 10% is up to you.

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5 thoughts on “How To Design An Attractive Online Store Website Without Spending A Lot Of Money”

  1. I totally agree with you. Even though I did hire someone to dramatically modify a template, I still know enough basic HTML and CSS to make minor changes to it. Any questions I have are usually answered by a simple Google search.

  2. The w3school tutorials are really great for all levels. I would recommend from experience a program called Magento too which is raelly simplistic yet powerful.

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