Virtually all merchants utilize accounting software. They typically transfer sales and customer data from their shopping carts to that software. For many merchants, this transfer requires the manual exporting of data from the cart, and the manual importing of it to the accounting software. There is a company, CartSpan, that automatically links a shopping cart to Peachtree accounting software in a manner that requires no additional exporting or importing or keying-in of data. We recently spoke about it with the founder and owner of CartSpan, Scott Wheeler.
Practical eCommerce: Why did CartSpan choose to sync its software with Peachtree rather than QuickBooks?
Scott Wheeler: “Well, they’re both great products and QuickBooks certainly has a dominant share in the marketplace, but dominant share doesn’t always mean that’s the best product for somebody looking to accomplish a specific piece of work. In considering both products originally, we looked at three areas — product functionality, technical aspects and marketing opportunities. Both products have their strengths and weaknesses.
“One of the recognized strengths of the Peachtree product is stronger inventory management capability — being aware of stock levels and reordering, stock location, etc. Given that one of our goals was to produce a bi-directional product where inventory was updated in the shopping cart with current pricing and on-hand stock levels and bringing some additional functionality, this was one of the stronger factors in making a decision for Peachtree. We found out after the fact that there are some other benefits in terms of pricing and depth and precision in taking orders for items. In order to do that, we looked at some websites that did (hopefully) objective reviews. Each advocate of the product will say that theirs is always the best, but looking at Top Ten Reviews and consulting with some certified consultants that work with both products, Peachtree is what we came to.
“From a technical perspective, a developer likes to work with a very capable technology and what we found is that Peachtree is built upon a relational database unlike a proprietary flat file format that QuickBooks offers. What this means is the developer can leverage more powerful query language in getting the work done. It’s just faster, more powerful, and with a lot more capabilities. It’s a pretty well known, widely used, relational database called Pervasive. It provides great tools for using this database. They have control panels that look a lot like some of the higher end databases like Oracle and Microsoft SQL server have. This facilitates development and testing, another aspect.
“Another big factor on technical development is that Peachtree is very committed to evolving their SDK [software development kit]. Just this last year, they introduced a .NET version of the SDK. It’s not just a simple migration, but it goes further and adds a significant amount of new functionality for getting data in and out of the Peachtree product.”
PEC: Walk us through the process of how CartSpan integrates a merchant’s cart with Peachtree.
“It will make a call with a date range saying, ‘Give me all new order activity between this date and this date.’ That can be open-ended. Then the script will return CSV or XML-formatted files for CartSpan to import the orders. This format can be mapped directly to the corresponding input fields in Peachtree through CartSpan’s drag-and-drop mapping facility. Once you create this mapping utility, it can be saved off for future use by another user of the same cart. So, it makes it very easy.
“The price/quantity update behaves in a similar fashion, only in the opposite direction. CartSpan will export item information from Peachtree and process it as required and send a request to the server. Now, those functions run on the schedule that the user decides. So, if you wanted to download orders every 15 minutes, you could run it in that fashion. It’s completely flexible.”
PEC: Does this mean the merchant doesn’t have to do any manual downloading or manual importing of data?
Wheeler: “That’s correct. It is very streamlined and hands-free. Start it and forget about it.
“Just going a level deeper on how it behaves, when you start this, it will make that request for orders and that file comes down into a directory that CartSpan is looking at and it will pick it up and start processing it. If it sees that the customer does not already exist, it will create that customer record in Peachtree and save off all of the bill-to information as well as the ship-to as contact. Then it will follow that customer creation with the actual order.
“Taking it a step further, you can configure CartSpan to automatically create the item in the shopping cart if it doesn’t already exist. Not every customer operates in that mode, but it’s available. It is very much a hands-free operation.”
PEC: Does it work with a PC and a Mac?
Wheeler: “It’s PC only. Right now, I don’t have any plans to include a Mac version.”
PEC: How much does it cost?
Wheeler: “The initial price is $495, and then just an annual renewal or maintenance fee of $99 a year. All of this includes upgrades. The newer versions are backwards-compatible with earlier versions of Peachtree. The products aren’t necessarily upgrading and releasing and lockstep with each other, so it’s not as if you would have to update your Peachtree if you wanted to run a newer version of CartSpan.”
PEC: How does the price of Peachtree compare to QuickBooks?
Wheeler: “They are priced competitively in the marketplace. You’re looking at roughly $100 difference between the two. Price is very dependent upon on who you buy it from or what kind of discounting is going on at any point in time, but the cost overall I would say are about the same. Peachtree would be slightly more.”
PEC: What carts is CartSpan currently set up to link with?
Wheeler: “Well, the list is growing and the reason it’s growing is because CartSpan is a configurable product. It’s essentially the engine that allows you to attach to this output coming from the cart, and it’s easy to build a configuration to the output of another cart if it is indeed available.
“Some of the carts that we support right now are AmeriCommerce, AspDotNetStorefront, CartGenie, Homestead, Magento, osCommerce, ShopSite, VirtueMart, VP-ASP, WebJaguar, and Zen Cart. There is a mix of open source carts as well as hosted solutions in that list.
“If somebody calls and their cart is not listed on our site, it doesn’t mean we’re not going to integrate to it. We would encourage a call just to find out about what the prospects are. What we do is take a look at the cart and see what the backend looks like if they support the export and the CSV or XML format, and if it’s a hosted solution. If it’s an open source solution, it means that we have a lot of control and can actually build the integration or the API ourselves.”
PEC: Tell us more about CartSpan as a company.
Wheeler: “CartSpan is a newer product, but the company itself, Little Big ERP, has been in business and has been an add-on partner for Peachtree for about five years. Three years ago the market started going soft for our much-more complex add-on for Peachtree called Composer NPD, which has a price point of about $10,000 to $15,000. We started looking at what are some other needs out there in the marketplace that people could spend a significantly lower amount of money and get a big bang for their buck. And, just in the environmental scanning process, in looking at forums and just some of the complaints and things people were asking for, the shopping cart interface presented itself as a nice little niche opportunity for the Peachtree product.
“So, while the CartSpan product has only been in the market for about two years, a lot of the underlying technology — the development of the customer imports and order imports and invoice imports and such — all of that had already been developed. It was then integrated into the CartSpan product along with the additional development work to attach to shopping carts and the web services. So, it’s got a really solid underpinning as far as the import-export techniques that are being used to get the work done.”
PEC: Anything else on your mind for our readers today?
Wheeler: “I want them to know that the goal of this product is to be as much a hands-free operation as possible, that is, start it and forget about it. We have accommodated some very interesting aspects of peoples’ business processes in this operation that, on first glance, might seem a little bit odd. But we’re finding that a lot of people do business in some extraordinary ways and their needs are varied. We work very hard to accommodate these from a real world needs management perspective.”