VirtueMart is one of the world's most popular ecommerce platforms, and is experiencing huge growth each month since VirtueMart 2 was released. VirtueMart has more shops in the Alexa Top One Million survey than osCommerce, PrestaShop, Volusion, Yahoo Stores, OpenCart or Ubercart.
VirtueMart is a powerful, Open Source eCommerce plug-in for the Joomla CMS (Content Management System, or a way for non-technical people to manage a website without programming). This means once Joomla is installed, then VirtueMart can be automatically installed with just a few clicks. If you are not technical-minded, just think of Joomla as a framework, and adding Virtuemart is like plugging in a lightbulb.
VirtueMart's powerful features can be used almost immediately by a store owner with no programming experience, because most parts of VirtueMart are edited by filling in forms or by automatically installing a plug-in to add the features you want.
About VirtueMart 2
VirtueMart 2 was just released a few months ago. It has been completely re-written from the ground up in object-oriented code using the Joomla framework. What this means is that almost any Joomla programmer can do a respectable job on VirtueMart without learning a specialized program.
One reason VirtueMart 2 is so popular is because it is a "right-size" program: some come loaded with every possible feature, others are stripped-down so you must add every feature you want. VirtueMart is just right, with enough built-in features that you can use it without adding more. But it is so incredibly easy to add features that you will not be able to resist.
VirtueMart 2 review
I just finished learning and testing every aspect of the VirtueMart 2 Administration for the upcoming VirtueMart 2 User Manual, and I found it to be a delight to use and administer. The back end is so visually pleasing -- okay, it's downright pretty. I learned the program very fast, everything is in a logical place which speeds the learning curve. It's so amazingly easy to add extensions, templates, and updates (see detail below). It's a winner in almost every aspect.
I did get stuck when I got to the "Custom Fields" menu. Normally product attributes that customers can choose (like size and color) are tricky to learn, that is normal. But in VM2 the product attributes concept is expanded into Custom Fields to also include wildly customizable features like specification lists, related products or categories, and more. The concept is so big that it is difficult to get your arms around it, but several pre-installed plug-ins help make it more manageable. It's like going into an ice cream store that offers 1,000 flavors, when 32 flavors would do. Look for more plug-ins to simplify this process further.
Easy VirtueMart extensions, templates & updates
VirtueMart 2 now uses Joomla templates, so you can switch templates as easily as plugging in that proverbial lightbulb. You just download a Joomla template - and there are plenty of free ones to try out - click the "Extensions" (plug-ins) menu in Joomla and click the downloaded file on your computer, and voila, your template is uploaded and installed for you automatically. Adding any kind of extension is just as easy.
Updating an unmodified VirtueMart store is even easier, because a big notice appears in your Administration notifying you of an update. If you click the notice, the Live Update feature automatically applies the updates. Note that best practice is to always back up before updating by using your cPanel or web host's control panel to get a full backup.
VirtueMart documentation and support
VirtueMart 2 online user documentation was recently updated and can be found at http://dev.virtuemart.net/projects/virtuemart/wiki. Bookmark this page, because the program has been around for so long that there is lots of documentation on the old version which is of no use to you. There is an active and rollicking VirtueMart community forum to help with almost any issue not covered by documentation at http://forum.virtuemart.net/index.php. Again, there is lots of forum information about older versions, so be sure you are looking at VirtueMart 2 info.
The VirtueMart 2 User Manual will be available soon, and several free, full-color guides are available from my own website http://oscmanuals.com/virtuemart.
VirtueMart started way back in 1999 as phpShop for the Mambo CMS. When Mambo forked into Joomla in 2005, phpShop was renamed VirtueMart. Mambo CMS is no longer officially supported. In 2010 the founder of the project, Sören Eberhardt Biermann, named Max Milbers as the new head of the project. Under Milbers’ direction, VirtueMart Version 2.0 was completely re-written, and was officially released in December, 2012.
Based on my experience, VirtueMart 2 is best for non-technical vendors who have a limited need for product attributes (your products do not come in different sizes or colors), or who have technical support, or who will install a simple plug-in to use them. VirtueMart is good out of the box, but you will want to customize it with the easy to install extensions. Do not be shy about having to learn Joomla, think of it as the deck of a swimming pool - when you will spend almost all your time swimming in the water with VirtueMart. And both VirtueMart and Joomla work the same way now, so if you are new to them you may not even notice which one you are using.
If you are a technically-minded person, then jump right in and take the time to learn the custom fields; they are an elegant and brilliant tool and you will think of a myriad of good uses for them. The sky is the limit.