Practical Ecommerce

Shopping Carts: The Umpteenth Time’s The Charm

Name: Chris “Cartel” English
Title: Director of Online Sales
Companies: HipHopNow, PetsRight, Ramco Worldwide
URLs: Petsright.com (under construction), Ramcoworldwide.com

Chris English

Used Miva Script at first

I originally had a hosting account with SimpleNet before Yahoo! purchased it, and SimpleNet offered Miva Script like other companies offer PHP. Through the Miva Script forums, I met a guy who programmed a custom shopping cart for me. I launched an online store specializing in independent hip-hop CDs back in 1995 called HipHopNow (a play on the CDNOW name). I used SalesGate to process my credit cards. SalesGate’s security was breached and its sensitive data compromised, so I moved to Miva Merchant. Back then if you knew Miva Script you could go in to modify the code and make changes to the system in the same way you could on an open source project. Then down the line Miva decided to close its system, and I felt it was time for me to move on.”

osCommerce came next

“My next store was a music download store created in osCommerce. The thing that really attracted me to OSC was its huge support community. Once you learned the structure of it, it was easy to modify, though time consuming because there is no separation of code and graphics. If you wanted to make a graphic change on one page, you had to manually do it on all the pages. There were template systems for OSC, but there was no guarantee that your store wouldn’t break upon the next upgrade. I really like OSC and even developed a couple of music store templates that I offered for free download on the site, but the underlying code of OSC is just old and outdated.”

Storesprite came next

“Eventually I shut down that store and started working on a pet store, Petsright.com. I didn’t feel like going through the hassle of changing every page in osCommerce, so I searched for another solution and came across storesprite. Storesprite has the absolute easiest cart to customize the look and feel of, but its payment systems and the way it handles shipping are kind of limited.”

Now it’s Magento

“I also run the online division of Ramco, which supplies commercial parts and accessories to the food service industry. This includes, but is not limited to, design, updating its products and search engine optimization. Ramco is running on Magento with a generic template. I needed to get it up and running to meet a deadline, so I haven’t done much in the way of customization beyond images. Right now I’m in the process of trying to learn Magento inside and out in order to improve the Ramco website and migrate my upcoming pet store site to the platform.”

“My personal project, Petsright.com, is in the process of being created. It utilizes storesprite, but I’ve stopped adding products to it as I’m going to migrate this store over to Magento as well. I’m also considering another music-based venture, which will utilize Magento once it adds the ability to handle downloadable products.”

“What really attracted me to Magento initially was that its default store was the best looking of any software I’ve seen. Other things that attracted me were built-in integration with Google Analytics and real-time shipping modules for UPS, UPS XML, FedEx, USPS and DHL, one page checkout, the ability to handle multiple product images with a zoom slider function, abandoned shopping cart reports, RSS feeds for new tags, importing products through XML or CSV files, the ability to handle shipping to multiple addresses in one order and the host of search engine optimization options built into the software.”

“But as much as I love Magento, it’s not perfect. Some of the functions of Magento seemed to be designed by developers for developers, meaning everything is not as intuitive as it could be. Also, because it’s new the community is not yet as active as, say, with osCommerce, where questions get answered almost immediately. I also think the documentation could also use a major overhaul.”

Choose a cart based on your business needs

“I chose each cart I’ve used by different criteria. Miva Merchant was chosen because I was already familiar with the scripting system and the community behind it. osCommerce was chosen because of the very active user community and the many extensions available for it. I utilized storesprite because it was the easiest to get up and running and to customize. I chose Magento because there’s nothing out there quite like it.”

“I’ve learned that you should choose your cart based on how you see your business growing. I took over the Ramco project from a developer who had created the original site with a little shopping cart script. While this solution may have worked for a small company with 10 to 20 products, Ramco needed a solution that can eventually handle hundreds of thousands of products, and the original software would just not be able to cut it.”

“Don’t get suckered into something underpowered, but it doesn’t have to be the most expensive solution either. Its need to be something you feel comfortable with that has the ability to grow with your company.”

“Migrating to another platform is always a pain, and there’s almost always no easy solution for it. I would suggest trying to find a solution that’s the least painful. Do your homework. Check the support forums of these companies, and see what problems people are having with the software and how quickly their problems are resolved. Check out live stores created with the software so you can get an idea of what can be accomplished.”

Brendan Gibbons
Brendan Gibbons
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Comments ( 13 )

  1. Legacy User May 29, 2008 Reply

    Thanks for turning me on to Magento… feature list is beyond impressive. I recently went through a transition of carts, ended up with Americommerce. They are awesome; very similar to Magento in terms of features, but provide a managed service. If we were doing everything in house, Magento would be a top contender.

    — *Brian*

  2. Legacy User May 29, 2008 Reply

    Learning the hard way is wicked! If only you could actually test before you commit yourself. Miva Merchant 4 was pretty good, but modifying it meant purchasing extras. Now I'm looking again.

    — *Karen*

  3. Legacy User May 29, 2008 Reply

    Great article. Thanks for taking the time to share your insight.

    — *rdv*

  4. Legacy User May 29, 2008 Reply

    I heard Magento was dragged down and slow; bloated with thick code. I even loaded an early beta to my sandbox and found that to be true. Has that been resolved?
    I'm looking to step away from my old osC platform. It's just too old fashioned. Was looking at Zen since migration would be easiest. If Magento has resolved their speed issue, I'd look again.

    — *Brushwood Nursery*

  5. Legacy User May 29, 2008 Reply

    Yes the beta versions of Magento were really slow… the release version is a lot faster and there are tips to speed it up even more. I've seen some pretty fast loading Magneto sites lately.

    Product import is still rather slow.. but the team is working on it..

    There's also an OSC Migration Extension that will probably be of interest to you though I don't know much about it. There's also an Osc Migrators Group that you should probably join if you so decide to move to Magento.

    — *Ramco Worldwide*

  6. Legacy User June 4, 2008 Reply

    Have you ever considered Cubecart?

    — *Euan*

  7. Legacy User June 11, 2008 Reply

    Chris,

    Thank you very much for thoroughly covering all the aspects of shopping carts that I've been wondering about for several months. Your observations and complete testing have saved me a lot of time.

    I used PayPal for a long time. Last October I decided to use shopping cart software that accepts credit card payments directly.

    My customers are confused by seeing mostly PayPal buttons and then some cartmanager credit card buttons.

    I'm currently using cartmanager at http://cartmanager.com/ that has a lot of features I enjoy.

    Before reading your article, I had looked into several other shopping carts that were all way out of my budget. The cost is a major concern. Cartmanager is very affordable.

    I own and run five websites that I'm redesigning and updating. Because of the amount of time it's going to take to update all my sites, I need an uncomplicated solution.

    I'm hoping I can enter the shopping cart button codes at the same time I'm updating each product page. This is a very longterm project which is going to prevent me from adding new products until I get these sites updated.

    Chris, what do you feel is the best plan of action for me?

    Thank you,
    Steph
    I have to update all of these due to FPSE no longer being supported:

    http://www.alldressforms.com/ – major website
    http://www.3dfoilart.com/
    http://www.adoredjewelry.com/
    http://www.artlithoprints.com/
    the fifth site is going as soon as the domain expires (next year)

    — *Stephanie Walsh*

  8. Legacy User June 18, 2008 Reply

    Someone just suggested that I use the Amazon Webstore. Has anyone been able to convert a large site full of various products to an Amazon Webstore?

    — *Stephanie Walsh*

  9. Legacy User June 26, 2008 Reply

    Chris,
    take a look at Mindware Software Solutions fully automated Ecommerce platform
    Fluent-Ecommerce.
    http://www.fluent-ecommerce.com

    jim@fluent-ecommerce.com

    — *Jim Hoskins*

  10. Legacy User June 29, 2008 Reply

    Magento is still awfully slow, even on a modern server. Too bad, since it looks great.

    — *JK*

  11. Legacy User July 2, 2008 Reply

    Jim Hoskins,
    I looked into the link that you gave me… and though it looks good… i'm just not a fan of hosted solutions. I'm such a hands on person with everything that I'd much prefer to host it myself. I always say to myself.. "What if this company goes out of business?"

    — *Chris English*

  12. Legacy User July 2, 2008 Reply

    Stephanie Walsh,
    I plan on using Amazon as well with Ramco as a secondary store front and maybe eventually ebay as well. For some people, having Amazon as your sole platform might make sense, I'm not that familiar with your business so I can't say yay or nay. Some people make more on Ebay than they do on their own websites.

    Maybe I'm just old fashioned but I always prefer to have a site of my own that's not connected to anyone's tech beyond whatever software I've installed myself. That's just my preference.

    — *Chris English*

  13. Legacy User July 2, 2008 Reply

    As to your first question, "Chris, what do you feel is the best plan of action for me?"…
    Let me think it over and get back to you on that.

    — *Stephanie Walsh*

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