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|Which ecommerce CMS package?|
or do I build one myself?
I've been scanning around the various CMS for Ecommerce today and they all seem keen on flashy stuff rather than good clean usability and SEO.
I'm old school myself. I'd like something that's really usable and completely accessible even if you have a rubbish browser as bad as googlebot.
There are bound to be other old school folk like myself on here. What do you all use? Or do you just build something sensible yourself? (I can program but it seems a hassle).
[edited by: lorax at 10:41 pm (utc) on Jan. 4, 2009]
Apologies for my errors. A lack of answer on a friendly forum like this one suggests folk are thinking I've not read through a whole load of obvious looking previous threads. Really I have looked through the library and through the first couple of pages of the forum, but I probably ought to dedicate a day to the task and read some more.
To make the thread more fun in the meantime: Doesn't everyone else think much of the standard ecommerce software goes for form over function? I've only looked at 20 of them so far, so there might still be some out there that would suit me. Market is flooded though so it's a real hassle. My question might seem the same as everyone else, so I should rephrase:
I'm probably going to want to redevelop any software I start to use for usability, SEO, and (it seems from further looking) security. Can anyone suggest a good starting point which is reasonably well written to start with?
I bet I've still not asked the right question so please bear with me or ask for the appropriate clarification.
I think what you are seeing has a lot more to do with the user than with the platform.
For example, Yahoo stores is about as plain as you can get, yet I have seen some of those users manage to make it into something beyond ugly.
Which CMS I can use?
Thanks Wlauzon. I had a look at some of the example shops that Zen Cart links, and while most were plain standard ugly there were one or two that had their own look and feel and way of navigating. Awful URL structure though and mod rewrites look tricky, otherwise that would probably be the one.
Prestashop looks like it would need fewer mods for the front end I would like, but would probably need more at the backend.
Takes some experience to find something you like. I ran phpBB for a couple of years for forums before changing to vBulletin in 2006 - much preferred vB.
With store software I'm new to the scene. I'm not even sure what to ask for. Is there a list anywhere of the main choices?
Or what does anyone reckon the quickest is for speed between entering the site to paying and getting out again? That's a usability question. I can land them into the shop and want to minimise bounce. Like you'd have if you were asked to create an account.
We have been looking at ecommerce shopping cart platforms for over a year now, and while many offer advantages over what we use now, so far I have yet to find any without some flaws - in some case serioujs ones.
The flaws range all the way from being difficult to customize for look and feel, poor documentation, iffy support, questionable business models (will they be around in 2 years to keep upgrading?).
And "made to order" - which can cost 10's of $1000, also have issues - the main one being that unless you have your own inhouse IT staff, it is going to cost you forever to make changes.
Of the 25 or so that we have looked at, none would make more than a 7/10 score. A few, like OScommerce, barely make it to 4/10.
I am currently playing with Magento (the latest "hot" platform). So far, while better than most in many ways, it also has issues. My two main concerns with it are poor documentation for some features, and the spaghetti-like template setup that seems to be scattered out amongst several subdirectories.
[edited by: Wlauzon at 12:41 pm (utc) on Jan. 12, 2009]
How do you find the speed of Magento? The live shops they linked took between 4 and 20 seconds to load for me, with the majority presenting a white screen for over 10 seconds. To be fair they might have all been hosted solutions on the same server - I didn't look them up. Also many seemed flash heavy.
Did any other open source stores make it to your 7/10 rating?
I am currently playing with Magento on a "semi-shared" host that is optimized for Magento, so it is faster than most Magento sites.
It still has some delay in coming up, but no worse than most php or asp driven sites. I am not sure where the delay is coming from on Magento, but it seems to be a problem endemic to that platform running on the cheaper shared hosts.
As for features, about the only others to make my 7/10 list are PDG Software and aspdotnetstorefront. Again, both have issues for what we need.
aspdotnet is by far the most configurable platform I have seen, but actually getting it to do all the neat things possible can take a lot of time, and may require some knowledge of asp.net. PDG has some nice features, but also some limits on what it works with - such as stone edge order manager. Neither are free, and can run over $1000 for the basic platforms.
I briefly tried Volusion also, but their hosting plans suck as far as I am concerned - and many have complained about their bandwidth limits running the costs up a lot.
Of all the rest in the free to $2500 range, I can't think of any that I would give more than a 5/10 to. We currently use Yahoo merchant services, I would give that about a 6/10.
I took a stab at doing this 2 or 3 years ago for a client who had (at that time) a limited range of product groups and variations (designs, prices, sizes, colors, etc).
|Or do you just build something sensible yourself? |
It became a "beast" - certainly not *sensible* in hindsight. Yes: it works, but like others already said - it's a pain to maintain. Depending on your volume, you'll also have to build hooks into CC validation and processing apis (we opted for offline processing instead).
Your data model will determine how *sensible* the app will become :)
That's my worry. I've built things for clients with database back ends and CC hook ups in the past. In fact I'm currently building a web application based on a stone age executable that runs in dos. But in both cases they took/are taking me months.
I'm very slow to code so there would be a heck of an investment in time required. Especially when I start thinking about other bits and pieces that would be handy.
Though I've been pondering what would be involved in doing my own. I'm surprised there's nothing open source or paid (that I've spotted) that doesn't jump out as having major drawbacks for my application.
Few of the commonly used packages have any *major drawbacks. Quite a few have a lot of minor drawbacks.
But that said, probably even the worst of the free OS ones is a better choice than building your own unless you have thousands of hours to spend doing it.
But you also can get to a point pretty quickly where the free/OS ones end up costing you more in time and effort than if you just went out and bought one that is better supported.
As far as Magento, the one big worry I have is that I question the business model of the developers, which is basically free but they charge for any type of support. Not sure that is sustainable.
After evaluating a bunch of OSC derivatives (Zen Cart, CRELoaded, OSCmax) I decided to go for Drupal+Ubercart solution. I have not tried Magento, but none of the OSC based stuff compares to Drupal when it comes to flexibility, usability, SEO. It is also very useful when you want to add "non-commerce" elements such as blogs, galleries, social network functionality - cause Drupal has an overwhelming amount of contributed modules.
The only problem is that it is not as easy to find a Drupal programmer and theme designer, as it is for OSC (or at least not as cheap). I have to code everything myself.
Most of the solutions have major Duplicate Content issues to figure out.
I have personally worked with xtCommerce (another osCommerce-fork) and I didn't like it one bit. It's working fine, unless you want to customize, then it's off to research where they might have hidden that tiny bit of code. Bugs aren't fixed, even if you submit patches.
What I found with most of the free solutions is their lack of support for the most common scenarios. Say, for example, I have widgets in different sizes and colors -- very few let me quantify my inventory based on color-size-combination, which was a killer for us when we had to add a shop to a client's website, because it's a trade off between having a stupid product setup (e.g. XL widget ABC with multiple colors, XXL widget ABC with the same colors etc) or not being able to quickly tell the customer which combinations are in stock. We ended up building a small solution ourselves (which worked out fine, but we didn't have to do credit cards, crossselling etc).
I'm not really into the scene but a friend of mine is always looking to replace his xtcommerce-based solution and he's complaining all the time about the new ones he looks at. we've started work on a few things to enhance existing shop functions that are at the same time usable in a replacement that is to come whenever somebody really has the time.
I personally think that you won't be happy with any shop system unless you plan to put some coding into it - configuration and ready made customization can only take you so far ... anything beyond that requires hacking and then you really want a clean code base to start with or you'll be losing too much sleep.
Find one that allows you to modify the functions.
You can search and search for something to match your requirements, but when you install it, you'll find it's missing some features that you either didn't think about or that you thought was included (e.g., Zen cart doesn't have offline cc processing).
Thanks for all of the replies. Especially your experiences with various software. With little experience of what's on offer Google was being a nightmare. Every other result is a rubbish hosted solution so I've been using comparison sites, some of which are 2 years out of date. I'll research the software that's been suggested.
Sorting items in a usable fashion is something that hadn't occurred to me, but I might have the same trouble as I'm also in the widgets market. ;-) I think I can fit into a normal category structure but will check that with a big bit of paper and some scribbles. I'm building up my own list of like to have features.
Customising other people's software scares me a bit. In my phpBB2 days there would be a new important security update every month, and a day spent transferring my modifications to the new code. With my own code I could be quite strict on the filtering, so security updates would be more rare, but it would take a few thousand hours to write up front.
Sheesh it's complicated! :-)
>> Sheesh it's complicated!
Unfortunately, it's only getting more complicated. Wait until you see what's coming up later in this year! ;)
I agree. There are too many ecommerce "solutions", and not enough good ones, and not enough actual reviews of most of them.
Rephrase: too many ecommerce packages, not enough solutions.
We finally gave up on Magento. Despite the hype, it has a long ways to go. Poor documentation, buggy, no support, etc etc - all the usual open source problems.
I have yet to see what I would consider a really good free or cheap package, and even a lot of the more expensive ones are not that great. Interspire looks pretty good, but not sure I want to spend $1000 just to test it something that we may decide not to use.
[edited by: Wlauzon at 3:16 am (utc) on Jan. 15, 2009]
I found one I like, but it's written in ASP.net and uses the microsoft SQL database. I'm not prepared to go there again. Apart from that aspdotnetstorefront seems impressively well written.
Still not found another where all the pages are halfway accessible or the loading speed is halfway reasonable. Some are even written in ajax 'for speed' though I've not been prepared to wait 40 seconds for those stores to download to start with, so haven't yet been able to judge the speed for myself.
It's all quite disheartening. The one trick I've found is to open up a text file and write the name of the software and the plus and minus points whenever I see a store. I started off not doing that and had to go back to a lot of them as I'd forgotten what I liked and didn't like about them.
Another field of my work has died down this year so I might have a spare couple of months. And I can carry over a lot of code from the thing I'm doing at the moment (especially the security related stuff which seems to be most of the job). I think I'm going to write one of my own.
aspdotnetstorefront is one I keep coming back to for another look.
It is probably the most versatile of all the packages. My major concern with it that many of the example sites I have looked at seem slow to load or slow to display images. Of course, like any other package that could be poor site design rather than the platform.
We need to make a decision within the next couple of weeks, and still not sure what looks best for us. Interspire is another "finalist" on my list of about 6 to dig deeper into.
<<I'm old school myself. I'd like something that's really usable and completely accessible>>
I'm just a few steps ahead of you in this quest and I could have written your post myself. I shopped hard during the week between Christmas and New Year and settled on one called ClickCartPro from a company named Kryptronic. I'm hoping to take my current simple cart and cut and paste style of preparing shipping labels and emails into the 21st Century. So I know a little about these functions, but I'm a real beginner with a lot of the advanced functions like blending with the USPS and UPS APIs.
I am very pleased with their documentation; it is well written, well edited and includes very good use of screenshots within it. I needed my hand to be held and their documentation does so.
There is a support forum for the software that is well modified.
So far, I'm getting it and feel that it will be part of a nice long term solution for my business.
I have played with Magento for a a few months, but I can't make it do all the things it promises. The forums go unanswered, even when a Varien/Magento employee is in the thread, the documentation is bad and some of the features leave me baffled. I liked the layered navigation concept, but I can't get it to work right. I talked to a developer yesterday, but then he told me "we did this site for only $15,000" which seems a little steep.
Now I am looking at Interspire (thanks Wlauzon for the idea). My needs are retail/multi tier wholesale, phone orders and detailed navigation. Any other carts to look at?
This is one of those things where we all usually end up picking the best of the worst because none can have the title of "best".
I have tried many and tend to go back to Zen Cart purley because my CSS and HTML skills are very good so I can style the cart exactly how I want.
|This is one of those things where we all usually end up picking the best of the worst because none can have the title of "best". |
I have tried many and tend to go back to Zen Cart purley because my CSS and HTML skills are very good so I can style the cart exactly how I want.
Then doesn't that make Zen Cart the best for you?
Hmmmm, I worded it wrong.
Nothing I've come across has got everything I need. While my "best of a bad bunch" might be good for me it's probably no good for someone else.
It's hard for me to call something "the best" when I still pull my hair out in frustration. Plus when you haven't got a lot of hair left the best ain't good enough :-)
|..I have played with Magento for a a few months, but I can't make it do all the things it promises. The forums go unanswered, even when a Varien/Magento employee is in the thread, the documentation is bad and some of the features leave me baffled... |
That pretty much mirrors my experience with Magento. Despite all the claims and hype, it still has a lot of issues. Even something simple like how (or even if you can) download/upload cart items in an XML or Excel file seems to be hidden someplace besides in the documentation or forums. I have pretty much eliminated any and all open source or "free" platforms from consideration.
Have been looking (again) at ASPDNSF most of the day, and while the features listed *look* great I still have quite a few other concerns. Speed is one, but having a simple to use interface for non-tech people (like sales people) to do some basic product/item management is another major one.
At this point it seems like Interspire is our best choice, but I have another week or two to make a final decision.
It would really upset me to spend a lot of time on money on a platform that either won't do what we need, and/or needs outside programming to make it work if it breaks.
It depends what your motivation is for having it, personally I would rather use a Zen and stick the RSS feed box on my site to my blog content in a sub directory of my shopping cart, i.e. www.mystore.com/blog
You can then have a perfect CMS system with well placed banners to take back to your store, if you configure your XML site map correctly also then our friend googlebot will still pick it up and Index it,
you can even use one of the sidebox mods to get a nice button to take people from your store to your blog really integrate a community feel to your site and keep people coming back
I bought Interspire. So far, pretty happy. Interesting idea about the RSS feed to the blog, I will have to try it.
We also ended up with Interspire. It does not have everything, but it comes the closest of the 30-40 under $10k packages we looked at. And it is an improvement over our current platform.
Some of the issues we had with a few of the other packages we looked at and rejected:
1. PDGsoft - seems like the only good thing it has going is Quickbooks integration. The user manual has not been updated since 2005. No Google checkout.
2. Magento - most of the problems have been mentioned in threads above, what finally decided us against it for sure was the total lack of support and documentation. (A common theme among open source programs).
3. aspdotnetstorefront - tons of versatility, if you are an asp.net guru it might actually work for you. Otherwise expect to spend $5-20K to hire someone. Of around 25 store I looked at running that, 2 of them came up dead due to asp.net errors.
4. 3Dcart and some other similar ones - basic program is cheap, but by the time you buy all the needed modules to do such simple things as UPS integration, csv imports, etc. you have spent a lot of money. I counted 7 pay-for modules we would need, and would still not have all we wanted.
Interspire has built in RSS feeds, so I might try setting it up so that new products or something get fed into our VBulletin forum just to see how it works.
Just an update on our experience so far with Interspire after two weeks.
While it has some very good features on the "visible" (customer) side, and is mostly better than other ecommerce packages on the user side (me), it has a couple of important issues:
1. Poor UI for entering products - spread out over 5 tabs and some fields cannot be forced to default to what we need, so have to go through each tab and click them.
2. Not very good data import, especially for products. Too many fields left out so most must be entered by hand on each item.
Some of these issues are supposed to be improved in the next update in a couple of weeks, we will see how it goes.
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