Jul 03 2007

Before You Select Your Shopping Cart Platform (part 2)

Major Players

I’ll go through what I consider a few of the major players in the shopping cart software world. There are way too many to list here individually, so I’ve done my best to narrow it down to a few. I’ve also organized this by technology, with the three major areas being PHP, .NET, and managed solutions – there are more options out there (ColdFusion, Java, etc.) but again, these are the more widely used among small to mid sized businesses. Something to think about when choosing any platform – if you’re the type of person that needs to ask a lot of questions and need the security of having some responsible for supporting the application (it is after all your most business critical application), then you may want to concentrate your efforts on some of the paid applications with a support option.

PHP

  • osCommerce: osCommerce is one of the most powerful free open source shopping cart platforms and the most widely used of its kind. In the 7+ years its been around, they’ve built up a strong developer community and a bevy of plugins are available for the platform. On the downside, you need to be a little more on the technical side to implement these plugins and managing them can be a pain (you have to use a file comparison tool and manually copy-paste PHP code in some cases). If you have the technical expertise, it’s a flexible platform with a strong following and a lot of online help. However, if you’re not familiar with PHP – I wouldn’t recommend it.
  • ZenCart: Another free Open Source platform and is actually based on the osCommerce platform, the team at ZenCart have actually created a simplified version of the osCommerce platform in an attempt to appeal to more store owners that don’t have a technical background. How do they succeed? Ok, you still need to have some knowledge of PHP to apply any plugins, but it isn’t as daunting a task as with osCommerce. The code seems a bit cleaner, but the admin interface a bit clunkier. In an osCommerce alternative the effort is there, but the end result is just another osCommerce version.
  • Pinnacle Cart: For $597, this eCommerce platform is geared towards merchants who want to get up and running without a lot of tweaking and customizing. If you’re in the market for a product without the need to go much beyond the norm this is a viable option. Offered in both a hosted version and a stand-alone version – although the hosted option seems a bit expensive when you look at how long it would take to recoup the $597, you’re better off getting your own hosting and buying the license.

.NET (& traditional ASP)

  • Storefront: Despite being one of the most prominent platforms in the industry, StoreFront has been riddled with poor customer satisfaction. It is setup as a design time eCommerce solution which means it integrates into Dreamweaver and Frontpage (which also means you need to own one of those products). With it’s hefty price tag, and knowing what else is out there we’d recommend to look elsewhere.
  • ASPdotNetStorefront: Another popular option on the .NET platform, ASPdotNetStorefront is a strong solution with a lot of features, plugins, and a large customer base – that’s a good sign. They use a pretty unique XML Packages framework which is technically is an innovative solution, however, most traditional developers haven’t been exposed to this type of setup and makes for modifying the templates a bit of a challenge. Lots of features, lots of options, with competitive pricing make this a strong candidate. One of my gripes, no flexibility in the URL rewrite, URLs still look ugly.
  • BV Commerce: Our personal favorite, and while it doesn’t come with the popularity as some of the other solutions, but we feel it’s one of the strongest. With a powerful featureset, lots of flexibility, and the ability for a pure (well, the purest of all these options) CSS based design we don’t feel bad pimpin’ this product. Some of the reasons we prefer BVCommerce over ASPdotNetStorefront, the flexibility on the design sode, cleaner leaner framework, plug and play add-ons, and best of all, customizable URL rewriting – you know what that means – you define the URL!

Managed Solutions

  • Yahoo! Store: The Yahoo! Store is the most widely adopted managed shopping cart solution available. Starting at around $40 per month with a low 1.5% transaction fee, many newbies to Internet retailing find this solution to be the easiest method to selling onlne. This is typically followed shortly thereafter by outgrowing the solution. If you’re looking to get serious with online retailing, you may find it’s limited functionality and lack of flexibility an impediment to growth.
  • Monster Commerce: We’ve seen some websites with great success running on the Monster Commerce platform. Like other managed providers you are limited in functionality and flexibility, but we’ve found Monster Commerce to be feature rich with helpful support. While it’s subscription costs are substantially higher than Yahoo!, we do feel this is a better product. Our biggest gripe is it utilizes an outdated platform of ASP (traditional), and SQL 2000 – not sure if they plan on updating their software but they are well behind current technologies available.
  • Netsuite: Netsuite is its own brand of a managed solution. It is an all-in-one business system, combining eCommerce, ERP, accounting, and CRM information altogether in a hosted environment. We’re big advocates of having backend systems integrated together, and Netsuite is a pioneer in this arena, as well as SaaS (software as a service). We applaud their efforts, and they have a quality product to back it up. While I’m not here to do an entire review of the software, I’ll focus on the eCommerce piece alone. There are some great websites currently running on this platform, despite being one of the most limiting as far as out of the box features. We’ll be on the lookout for big things to come with Netsuite, but at this point, limited functionality, steep learning curve, and the lack of hosting flexibility (your eCommerce site must be hosted on their servers – and we’ve noticed slow performance on numerous sites) keep this product in the waiting for more category.

Honorable Mention

  • Shopify: I had to mention a newcomer to the market in this post: Shopify. While it really doesn’t fit into the traditional categories above, Shopify entered the market one year ago as a hosted, free (as in no setup and no monthly fees) eCommerce platform dedicated to making selling online easy. And easy it is, we setup a sample site on there in literally one hour, used Paypal and Google checkout accounts, and all they ask for is a 3% rake. We love the CSS based designs, which is ideal for skinning your site with a custom template. In its current state, the functionality is quite limited, but for a reason. The product is intended to be eCommerce in its purest, simplest form, and is the first major step in making it beyond easy for anyone to sell online. Can I buy stock you guys?

Well, that about covers it for me, feel free to share your experiences with these platforms or any others.

Kevin Eichelberger

Founder & CEO

Founded in 2008, Blue Acorn is the product of Kevin’s great passion and knowledge of all things eCommerce. Kevin’s data-driven approach has culminated in a strong, growing business that’s success is closely tied to the success of its clients. When he’s not immersing himself in eCommerce, Kevin works toward expanding Charleston’s tech community by serving as a board member for the Charleston Digital Corridor Foundation, and is also a mentor and advisor to several startups. A business-savvy technologist, you can find Kevin evangelizing about data, optimization and eCommerce.

5 Comments

Rob Poitras
Jul 11 2007

I found your site from linkedin. Good article on shopping carts. I did some light template work on oscommerce a couple years ago and I found that most of the free templates were average at best. You are right about needing to know php if you want to make any changes.
Btw, the shopify link doesn’t work.

Reply
Blue Acorn
Jul 11 2007

Thanks Rob – fixed the link =)

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Seraph
Mar 09 2009

I would love if you guys made an update to this article or could point me in the right direction. I’m trying to start a new online business and getting lose between all the features between magneto, joomla, oscommerce, zen cart, and all the rest

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Mike
Jul 24 2009

This article hasn’t been updated in a while, but there have been major changes in the industry since the thorough reviews were done. In July of 2010, to be PCI compliant, store owners will need to use a PA DSS certified shopping cart. This is a huge change in the industry and a change that will create a significant amount of consolidation due to the vast resources and money it takes to get a cart platform certified. I have read articles that the cost to the software company can be upwards of $100,000.

That leaves all the open source products in total jeopardy as well as the community version of Magento (free). Their website says they will only be certifying the enterprise version. So unless you are planning to use a payment page that takes consumers off your site for payment, a practice that is guaranteed to reduce your conversion, you have to choose a certified platform.

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Flo Christiano
Oct 07 2010

Would ProStores be another option for a shopping cart platform?

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