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Ronin Round Table: The New Green Ronin Online Store

By Evan Sass

If there's one part of my job and my freelance work that gives me the heebie-jeebies, it's taking a system that works and has thousands of users or posts or products, like a forum or an online store, and either upgrading it or replacing it with something completely new. But that is exactly what we've done with the Green Ronin Online Store. Heebie. Jeebies.

We've always hosted our own online store, at first just hand-coded static web pages with PayPal buttons, and then a full-fledged Miva Merchant catalog and shopping cart system. In 2009, when we were still relatively new at selling our books in PDF format, we did a complete upgrade/overhaul of our Miva storefront, switching to the latest version of that system. That was pretty nerve-racking, but it did end up improving things for shoppers and us alike.

Now, four years later, we have a pretty large, and ever-growing, stable of electronic products, and that new version of our old shopping cart system was becoming too difficult to maintain. The features that were the most important to our business, like eBook and coupon management, were all in third-party modules. In order to upgrade the core shopping cart / catalog software, we had to first ensure that the various modules were all updated, too. Upgrading the store software became difficult and stressful to say the least.

Another difficulty with the online store was caused by our own success. We currently rent a modest dedicated server to host GreenRonin.com, MutantsAndMasterminds.com, AtomicThinkTank.com, and True20.com. As our site traffic and eBook downloads increased over the years, so did our bandwidth charges. Along with hundreds of forum posts, thousands of spammer forum registrations, and thousands of page views to boot, we also sell a bunch of PDFs every day. Our bandwidth charges really rack up, especially after a big release like DC Universe. Something had to change.

The old Green Ronin Online Store was functional, but it wasn't really very elegant. I edited a stock template so that we could get the upgraded store up and running, made sure that things worked right, and moved on to other projects. We never got around to revisiting the look and feel to make it right.

Finally, there is another issue that is the bane of many a small online retailer: PCI compliance. PCI-DSS is the "Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard." As a consumer I think it sounds great. As the IT Dude for a small time online retailer whose web sites have never stored credit card data but who finds himself held to the same standard as giant online retailers with office buildings to house their IT Departments and PCI Compliance Departments, well... Let's just reiterate that we have never stored credit card data and move on.

After a bunch of research and asking around, enter Shopify, our new online store system. Shopify is a hosted system, so our new online store, now located at http://greenroninstore.com, lives on Shopify's servers. Some features we used to use modules for in the old store are built-in, and others are provided by third-party apps. But because everything is hosted by either Shopify or the app developers, we don't need to upgrade the software. It just upgrades automagically. Poof! You're upgraded. Also? Shopify is certified PCI-compliant. In case you were keeping track.

The new Green Ronin Online Store makes things better for us, and hopefully it does the same for you. We have imported as many customer accounts as we could (some were associated with faulty email addresses, and some valid email addresses had more than one account associated with them. But odds are, if you've shopped with us lately, your name, billing and shipping addresses, and email address have been securely transferred to the new site. You can visit the registration page to see if your email address is already in our system, and create a password if so. (The old passwords were 1-way encrypted in our database, and they were not imported to the new store.)

Along with your old password, your order history and download links were left behind as well. The new system uses a completely different data structure and a completely different download management system, so we could not just import that information into the new store. Rest assured, we will be creating a secure system for you to access your old download links, and possibly also your order history. It just won't be hosted on Shopify's servers. In the meantime, you can write to pdfsupport at greenronin.com to get any PDFs you've purchased in our Green Ronin Online Store in the past when your cat sits on your keyboard and deletes them. We might not have an office building to house an IT Department, but our eBook Specialist Marc has an actual business school Master's degree in Thinking About Ways to Present Data, and I've got him thinking about your downloads.

Remember the heebie jeebies? Up next we have a few spammer-infested forums with thousands of users and over 1.1 million posts to consolidate and move to a new server and a new forum system. If I survive the process, I'm sure the new forums will be better for both of us. If I don't survive, well, I'm sure you'll like them.