VirtueMart is an open source e-commerce solution for the Joomla Content Management System (CMS). It was first created in 2009 by Sören Eberhardt-Biermann, who created an offshoot of the stand-alone phpShop e-commerce suite. This offshoot became what’s now known as VirtueMart.
Today, over 269,000 businesses use VirtueMart. It is developed by a small team of developers, who work primarily on the Core System and the project’s open program sources. Financial support for the project comes primarily from sales of VirtueMart extensions, which add functionality to the core product. However, as open source software, there are a lot of individual contributors to the final product.
Prerequisites for using VirtueMart
To use VirtueMart, you’ll first need to install Joomla. This e-commerce solution is not available as a stand-alone product or with any other CMS, such as Drupal or WordPress.
VirtueMart Modes of Use
VirtueMart can be used in two different modes: shopping cart and catalog.
- The shopping cart mode offers you everything you need to operate a full ecommerce store: a product catalog, a shopping cart, and full checkout/payment processing workflows
- The catalog mode, however, is designed just to showcase your products; your customers cannot make any purchases directly from the catalog.
VirtueMart aims to be a full-featured, easy-to-use e-commerce system for both beginners and experts. It is an extension for the Joomla platform, but VirtueMart is itself extensible. Here is a list of the features that you get from VirtueMart, based on how they’re organized in the software’s configuration menu:
In addition to the typical product management features you’d expect from an e-commerce tool with a catalog feature (such as easy product editing, lists, and categorization), you can create custom fields so you can easily populate the details you want to be shared with your customers. You can also edit the taxes and calculation rules, so users, depending on where they’re located see prices exclusive of VAT, inclusive of sales tax, and so on.
VirtueMart includes many different features designed to make it easy for both you and your customers to find what you’re looking for. You can list your products and organize them however you see fit. VirtueMart makes it very easy to create as many categories as you’d like and nest your products accordingly. If all these options seem overwhelming, you can use the parent products to create cloned child product listings.
One big draw of ecommerce storeping is being able to see product reviews. Research shows that 88% of consumers read online reviews before making a purchase. VirtueMart makes it easy for people to leave ratings and reviews on the items you’re selling.
To help you manage your inventory, you get robust backend tools to keep track of items you have in stock, items you’ve sold, and items that you’ve ordered but not yet received. These features aren’t just for physical products, however; you can easily manage a shop of digital downloads using the same tools.
Orders and Shoppers
The backend tools you get with VirtueMart also include the ability to handle coupons for product discounts, order management, and shopper management. In particular, the shopper management tool allows you to segment your customers — you can keep groups of customers, and then, using the policies/rules features, you can show shopper groups different prices, tax rates, shipping costs, and so on.
Finally, VirtueMart keeps records and offers reporting features so that you can automatically generate records for tax purposes.
VirtueMart offers a series of features located under Manufacturers, which you can associate with products and provide website, contact, and descriptive information. Using these features are strictly optional, but it is an easy way to enter information once and have it populate multiple times across different products.
The Shop area is where you can change the display details for your shop, including its name, primary currency (and any secondary currencies you’ll accept), photographs/ business logos, terms of service blurbs, and so on. You can also change the payment methods you accept, as well as the shipping methods you want to offer your customers.
You’ll also get access to plugins that make it easy to integrate your shipping workflow with your online store.
The shopping cart and checkout process are fully-customizable. In addition to the traditional, multi-step process that requires user registration, you can implement a guest checkout or a one-click checkout option. Support for SSL certificates ensures that your customers’ data stays secure. As a product aimed at a global audience (or stores catering to a global audience), you can set the countries your serve, as well as the currencies you accept.
Your customers can provide their details using the included forms. Form input fields vary depending on whether the user is registering, checking out, or setting their shipping options. They can certainly opt for a registration-free checkout process, but registered users get access to an address book, set their default bill-to and ship-to addresses, and save their payment information for later use.
If necessary, you can manually manage your orders, including changing its status, offering refunds, and so on.
VirtueMart can be used in a number of languages, so if you are targeting a global audience, it might be a good option for you. However, as open source software, the languages supported depend on the availability of a translator willing to take on the project. You can add additional support for languages other than English by installing VirtueMart extension packs.
The tools section contains the features necessary for developers to set up their stores. As an open source product, you can change any part of the software suite, including its underlying code. This is the section where you’d go to do this, though you can certainly use VirtueMart as-is. Furthermore, some of the features available here make it so that you can do in-depth troubleshooting and make major changes to your installation without have to uninstall and reinstall.
In the Extensions Store, you can find plugins, components, modules and templates for use with your VirtueMart implementation. If you ever find that the standard feature set of VirtueMart doesn’t include something you want, you’re likely to find an extension that adds the functionality to your store.
Pricing and Payments
The pricing tools allow you to implement dynamic pricing; this allows you to charge different groups of customers different prices. You can also use the dynamic calculator to offer discounts based on the time, product category, shopper group, country, or state. This calculator can also be used for tax calculators and duties/ customs fees.
VirtueMart has a global focus so that you can display prices and conduct transactions in many different currencies.
To accept payment from your customers, VirtueMart integrates with PayPal, Amazon Payments, and several global banks, as well as offering a cash on delivery (COD) option.
To make sure that your store gets found by as many people as possible, VirtueMart comes with built-in SEO features that allow you to set the metadata for your product pages.
As open source software, VirtueMart is 100% free to use.
If you’d like to contribute financially to the project, VirtueMart has a membership model instead of a straight donations system. You can choose from three tiers of memberships, and as a thank-you gift, you’ll get access to additional e-commerce suite features.
VirtueMart has the same technical requirements as Joomla, though the recommended server includes support for PHP 5.3+ and has at least 128 MB of RAM. Your server should also support MySQL databases.
You’ll also need to provide your own hosting. You probably already have a hosting plan for your Joomla installation, but if not, VirtueMart recommends A2 Hosting, Cloudaccess, Joomla100, and SiteGround for compatible web hosting packages.
As open source software, support for VirtueMart is limited to the provided documentation, public knowledgebase, and community forum, where you can crowdsource answers to your questions and implementation ideas.
The VirtueMart Documentation Center offers four types of documents:
- Manuals: explains how each feature included works
- Tutorials: walks you through processes, such as creating products or working with layouts and templates
- FAQ pages: the most commonly-asked questions about VirtueMart
- API documentation: docs for developers who want to communicate with the VirtueMart API — although this is not necessary for the use of the product.
There are multiple community forums serving customers speaking different languages, so if English isn’t your native language, you can find assistance in the language you’d prefer.
There’s a lot to like about VirtueMart. As an open source product, it is constantly changing and improving, and its extensibility means that you can easily add on to the base product to create an e-commerce solution that fits the needs of your business. However, it’s not the easiest product to use, so if you’re daunted by the technical challenge of getting VirtueMart up and running, there are easier solutions out there. Remember: VirtueMart is only available for users of Joomla. Rather than learning a whole new CMS from scratch, it’s probably easier to use an all-in-one tool from another vendor if you’re not comfortable with Joomla already.