Interview with Roman Zenner

Roman ZennerRoman Zenner is an author, speaker, consultant and entrepreneur. In his latest book “Online-Shop mit OXID eShop” (published in German by O’Reilly) he guides the reader through the installation of OXID eShop Community Edition, focussing on topics such as payment, basket, social media and fitting the shop to the needs of the own business model.

We asked Roman to give us a little insight about the work on his book.

When O’Reilly asked you to write a book about OXID eShop – why did you decide to take the job?

There were several reasons why this project got started. First of all, after having spent a lot of time working with the Magento platform (and writing two books about it – also published by O’Reilly) I had the feeling it was time to get to know another system better. In my daily job I advise companies which shop software best fits their individual needs, so I need to be objective about those kinds of things. The OXID eSales team was my first choice because I think they make good software since 2003 – and a user handbook was well overdue. As far as O’Reilly is concerned  – they are simply fantastic to work with!

How easy was it to get to know the OXID platform? Which difficulties did you face during the research?

Since the Community Edition can be easily downloaded and installed, I could play around with it practically within minutes. Although it’s not the most elegant thing in the world, the admin interface is easy to get along with after a short while, so doing things like adding products and categories wasn’t a problem. Thankfully, the OXID team invited me to a three-day workshop, so I got an even closer look at the nuts and bolts of the system.

What I found difficult was my lack of experience with the everyday-use of the system and all the little tricks you can do. There are people out there who use the system since the early days and have much to say about tweaking the system to make it run and look the way you want. Fortunately, there were members of the community who could help me out here – especially our technical advisor and editor Andreas Ziethen, who provided invaluable insights.

Why is a book necessary at all? The documentation for OXID eShop Community Edition can be found on the internet, the community is very agile to share experiences, and many OXID partners advise future shop owners if they want to use the Community Edition.

I’m an avid user of forums, wikis etc. and clearly see the advantages of digital publications – one of which being that obviously, one can keep track of new developments and keep everything up to date. Yet, a printed and bound book still has unmatched authority: As an author, you are very careful to make sure that everything you write is correct, and the publisher checks and double-checks that no mistakes are made with regard to language either. Also, the aim is to construct one’s text in a way that it contains a clear didactic path.

The OXID employee Juergen Busch counselled you for the book – isn’t there a danger to lose the neutrality towards the product a writer should have?

When discussing the book project with all stakeholders, I made it very clear from the beginning that I wanted to in fact write a neutral book about the subject and not let marketing lingo and cover-ups take over the manuscript. If something does not work the way it should or a function is not solved ideally, I wanted to have the freedom to call a spade a spade, and I think I succeeded in this respect.

Who are the soon-to-be shop owners who should concentrate on OXID eShop and read the book?

That’s a tough one. I would say that everybody thinking about starting an online business should have a look at whether OXID eShop supports their business model, i.e. provides the desired functionality. If this is the case – and will be in most cases because the software itself is quite flexible – people should buy the book and ideally follow it from cover to cover to setup their own onlineshop.

Other than reading the book and using OXID eShop – which additional advice would you like to give those shop-owners?

Very often I see shop-owners using features not because they provide an additional value for their customers but simply because they can. OXID eShop has many functionalities ready to be used out-of-the-box – but only in very rare occasions it is advisable to use all of them. For a retailer of automotive parts, for example, it does not make a lot of sense to automatically show all the latest products when those products are vehicle-specific and this kind of information would only be interesting to a very small subset of your users. So: the more you can leave out, the better. Or to quote da Vinci: Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Most of our readers are not so familiar with writing books for special needs – could you explain us a bit the writing process?

Typically, you begin by building a table of contents that structures the sheer endless amount of information you face when you begin writing a book. What I like to do is to think about the book as being a class with a couple of consecutive units: You start with installation and configuration, then move on to entering product and category data, talk about altering the design and push the shop online etc. When you follow the line of argument, the book should guide from beginning to end, covering everything important along the way.

When a raw structure has been set up, it’s just writing, writing, writing. I’m the type of author that needs to write something in order to find the structure and I’m constantly shifting things around as new ideas come up. Fortunately, my editor constantly reads the manuscript and provides ideas as well as criticism so that I’m not missing important details but also not dwell on the little things too much.  So this constant shuffling around and ping-ponging of text is what at the end of the day results in such a book.

Will you have another book project coming up soon?

After having written three books on onlineshop software now, I think it’s time for me to do something different this year. I have a number of ideas I’d like to see published, all of which are strategy- and business-related commerce-topics I usually blog about on ecomPunk, one of my latest ventures. I’ll let you know when I fire up the old word processor again 😉

Thank you for the interview.

You’re very welcome.