OPEN-SOURCE SHOPPING CART FOR SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS

posted by Smirnovi4 @ 14:29 PM
September 11, 2009

If you plan to open a small e-commerce business, the first thing you need to consider is the shop cart. Now we can think of a shopping cart as of a type of software application that allows you to incorporate a storefront into one’s e-commerce website. Such software will help an owner to customize his store with tons of products attached with thumbnails, multiple shipping methods, payment options, product search options and so on. With good software, it won’t take long before one is ready to start selling products by accepting payments via credit card or popular alternatives such as PayPal. Some of the most popular shopping carts are open-source programs. Sitevalley.com offer three very popular Shopping Carts that can be easily installed with one click installer on our hosting plans “E-commerce hosting” and “Pro hosting”. This article will introduce you to these three popular choices…

HOW SHOPPING CARTS WORK

Most of the shopping carts these days implement common structure. There are three basic elements that are essential to any shopping software, they are:

• a database, in which information such as product details, customer data, order information, etc is stored.
• a storefront (also called frontend) that every customer sees when entering your store on the web(e.g. product detail pages, search pages, checkout pages, etc.)
• an administration area, where one manages his store (adds products, sets up shipping & payment options, processes orders, etc.)

This structure is very different from usual, so called “static”, websites. Such websites are called static because the content that a visitor views in his browser already exists on the server in the exact same shape. On the other hand, the “dynamic” structure of a shopping cart web site assumes that the shape of the content is generated at the very same moment a person enters the online store. All the data required for the generation of the store’s front end is kept inside of the database and the configuration is created in the administration area. This way the page a customer sees is generated only when the customer enters the store. This is made for the sake of both management efficiency and usability. Let’s say a person is looking to buy a toaster from an online store, which sells whole bunch of different household products. Instead of browsing through hundreds of items the customer has no interest in, he ends up viewing only 10 available toasters on the page.

The technology behind such carts usually makes use of such popular ele-ments as PHP, CGI, Ruby on Rails, Cold Fusion, MySQL and so on. To put it simple, we can use simplified cart web site structure in the following picture:

how shopping cart works

SHOPPING CART OFFERED WITH SITEVALLEY E-COMMERCE AND ALL INCLUSIVE PACKAGES

• OSCOMMERCE

Most probably, you have already heard of osCommerce, as it is an popular & totally free open source software. It has huge list of features which are either preinstalled or can be added with modules that are not too hard to configure, and enable. It has numerous options to create and edit products, categories, discounts and a lot more elements, which are outlined in a table below. It has very vast taxing and billing capabilities. It has been on the market for more than 6 years now and the period speaks for itself. It is compatible with 90% of available operation systems, has unique ready to go feature of address book for clients.

To cut a long story short, it has “Everything” you might need in a shopping cart. Given it is an open source project, it does indeed have certain bugs, malfunctions and different kind of errors. But come on! It is an open source, so most of the defects are being fixed on the day to day bases by both huge community and the developers themselves. Based on the information available on the net, base setup doesn’t seem to support affiliates, statistic features are limited to admin part and probably some customers would require more multimedia features. However, all that can be added with modules which are available in the Web and most of them are free.

Admin Menu Panel Screenshot
Oscommerce Admin Menu Panel Screenshot

• CUBECART

The situation with CubeCart is very similar to that with osCommerce, with exception of some points. One of these points is absence of label “Free of charge” when it comes to most things related to CubeCart. Versions 3.x are free to download, install and use, but you have to leave the developer’s copyright notice in your footer. As always pretty good community support comes free of charge, but to get the pros solve your issue you will have to put out few bucks. A lot of modules won’t come free for it either. The amount of features initially granted by CubeCart v.3.x is, in my opinion, smaller and I tried to show it in the comparison table I have made. At the same time, unlike osCommerce, it does offer you an affiliate solution out of the box, which is different in design. The latter grants you some uniqueness compared to an osCommerce based site (design of both can be easily edited though, so it is up to you to decide, whether to leave it or not). Another nice thing about it is its on/off shop switch which can be useful for fast chang-ing sites. It has logging statistics for the admins and also offers Image HTML POP up gallery out of the box.

• PHPSHOP

Phpshop is a pretty good compromise for coder-designer-salesman type of people, i.e. for those who like doing most stuff in a custom personal way.. I’d say its functions are somewhat limited in comparison to those of osCommerce and CubeCart. At the same time, the great advantage of phpShop is the simplicity of its code.

The main distinctive features of PhpShop are:
•    easy code based customization
•    easy to understand source code
•    programming language that is easy to learn as a base
•    capability to use web page design programs to implement new layouts
The name of the cart speaks for itself – it is based on PHP. So this one can be a great solution for people familiar with PHP and feeling developer powers within themselves. Features are limited in my opinion, but the modules can do the trick.

To sum it up, the cart is very simple to use from the start, but obviously needs a great input to be brought to the professional level.

Admin Menu Panel Screenshot

Phpshop Control Panel Screenshot

TABLES

I have made two tables for you to make your choice easier. The results given in both of them based on my personal opinion mostly. The information given in the tables below was taken from both the official feature lists and my own experience.

Property

OSCommerce

Cube Cart

PHP Shop

Easy Start Good Great Moderate
Easy Customization w/t PHP knowledge Great Great Moderate
Simplicity of code Moderate Moderate Best
Free Developer support Good n/a Moderate (new version under development)
Community Support Best Moderate Moderate
Community Support Best Moderate Moderate
Availability of free modules Best Least Moderate
Finesse of code Moderate Good N/A
User Friendliness Good Good Moderate

FEATURES

DESIGN/LAYOUT AND PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY

OS Commerce

Cube Cart

PHP Shop

Template structure implementation to:

  • allow layout changes to be adaptive, easy, and quickly to make
  • allow easy integration into an existing site
100% Template Driven (HTML is completely separate from PHP code) Easily integrated with Dreamweaver for layout design
Dynamic product attributes relationship Product Image Gallery (HTML POP up)

Unlimited Product Options with +ve or -ve price.

Unlimited number of product attributes.

Able to display multiple prices per product.

SKU based product listings with SKU’s at the product attribute(s) level

HTML based product descriptions Descriptions available WYSIWYG editing of product descriptions.
N/A by default or further investigation needed. Bulk Export CSV:

Google Base (Froogle)

N/A by default or further investigation needed.
Automated display of specials Specials Available Show current specials.

Pricing based on shopper groups.

Control if out of stock products can still be shown and are available for purchase N/A by default or further investigation needed. Order management with customizable order status types
Customers can subscribe to products to receive related emails/newsletters N/A by default or further investigation needed. N/A by default or further investigation needed.

PAYMENT FEATURES

OS Commerce

Cube Cart

PHP Shop

Payment Functionality

Accept numerous online payment processing (PayPal, 2CheckOut, Authorize.net, iPayment, ..) 2Checkout

AsianPay

Authorize AIM / SIM

Mals-E

Moneybookers

Nochex (Basic & APC)

PayJunction

PayMate

PayMex †

PayOffline

PayPal Standard & IPN

WorldPay Junior

And more

Update order statuses.

Live credit card processing through payment processors

Disable certain payment services based on a zone basis N/A by default or further investigation          needed. Supported.

Tax Functionality

Flexible tax implementation on a state and country basis
Set different tax rates for different products Multiple Tax Classes (Applied to single zone/country) Ability to set tax rates for multiple countries, states and cities.
Charge tax on shipping on a per shipping service basis N/A by default or further investigation needed. N/A by default or further investigation needed.
N/A by default or further investigation needed. N/A by default or further investigation needed.

Payment Gateways

http://www.oscommerce.com/solutions/oscommerce http://www.cubecart.com/features http://www.phpshop.org/a-simple-shopping-cart/

Shipping Functionality

Weight, price, and destination based shipping modules
Real-time quotes available (UPS, USPS, FedEx, ..)
  • By Percentage of Order Total
  • By Price (Free over certain order totals)
  • By Order Weight
  • Flat Rate
  • Free Shipping
  • By Category (National / International)
  • Per Item
  • Royal Mail
  • USPS
  • UPS (Rate v3)
Zone based shipping methods
Free shipping based on amount and destination Separate shipping and handling charge calculation
Disable certain shipping services based on a zone basis N/A by default or further investigation needed.

Back-end and Frontend Functionality

OS Commerce

Cube Cart

PHP Shop

Administration / Back-end Functionality

Supports unlimited products and categories

  • Products-to-categories structure
  • Categories-to-categories structure
Unlimited Products, Categories & Images per Product Unlimited number of products.

Unlimited number of product categories.

Unlimited number of product attributes.

Unlimited Store Administrators (with configurable permissions) Unlimited Store Administrators (with configurable permissions)

Admin Session Loging Available.

Unlimited Store Administrators
Add/Edit/Remove categories, products, manufacturers, customers, and reviews One product in unlimited categories Similar functionality
Support for physical (shippable) and virtual (downloadable) products Sell Digital & Tangible Goods Physical Products.

Further investigation needed as for the digital ones.

Support for physical (shippable) and virtual (downloadable) products Sell Digital & Tangible Goods Physical Products.

Further investigation needed as for the digital ones.

Administration area secured with a username and password defined during installation Administration included. Administrative user management
Contact customers directly via email or newsletters Email Marketing Email notifications of orders
Easily backup and restore the database Not available with default installation.

Further investigation needed.

Not available with default installation.

Further investigation needed.

Print invoices and packaging lists from the order screen Printable Order Invoices Order management and processing
Statistics for products and customers
  • Search Phrases
  • Product Popularity
  • Customers Online Now

Display method: HTML Table

Sales statistics
Multilingual support 14 languages Not available with default installation.

Further investigation needed.

Multicurrency support

  • Automatically update currency exchange rates
Multi Currency Support One currency per store.
Select what to display, and in what order, in the product listing page Inventory Stock Control (on completed payment) Depth of function needs investigation.
Display products in thumbnail and full size Display products in thumbnail and full size Display products in thumbnail and full size
N/A by default. Unlimited Site Documents (Privacy Policy / Delivery / About Us etc…). Implemented as a separate function in Administration panel. N/A by default or further investigation needed.
Support for static and dynamic banners with full statistics N/A by default or further investigation needed. N/A by default or further investigation needed.

Customer / Frontend Functionality

All orders stored in the database for fast and efficient retrieval Database driven Database driven for dynamic store maintenance
Customers can view their order history and order statuses Customer Order History Shoppers can view orders with status.

Shoppers have secure account access to view current and previous orders

Customers can maintain their accounts

Address book for multiple shipping and billing addresses

N/A by default or further investigation needed. Multiple shipping addresses per shopper.

Shipping address book for storing multiple shipping or billing addresses.

Temporary shopping cart for guests and permanent shopping cart for customers Customer needs to be registered (Mandatory). Shopping cart per visiting shopper

Minicart visible for shoppers as they browse site

Shoppers registration

Fast and friendly quick search and advanced search features Product Search   Simple search tool for finding products.

Category based navigation of store.

Product reviews for an interactive shopping experience N/A by default or further investigation needed. N/A by default or further investigation needed.
Forseen checkout procedure N/A by default or further investigation needed. N/A by default or further investigation needed.
Secure transactions with SSL SSL support available SSL template driven admin and storefront pages
Number of products in each category can be shown or hidden N/A by default or further investigation needed. N/A by default or further investigation needed.
Global and per-category bestseller lists N/A by default or further investigation needed. Pricing based on shopper groups.
Display what other customers have ordered with the current product shown N/A by default or further investigation needed. Ability to create shopper groups
Breadcrumb trail for easy site navigation N/A by default or further investigation needed. N/A by default or further investigation needed.

Affiliate support

n/a

(Module can be installed)

Available by default with install

Modules:

  • ClixGalore
  • iDevAffiliate
  • JROX
  • tradeDoubler
N/A (Check is needed for latest modules)

CONCLUSION

Now, if I was to give personal advice as for which one to choose I would go like this:

osCommerce is for those who need a lot of features, do not want to spent anything at all on it (i.e. want all to be free), love browsing forums for help and don’t mind spending a lot of time tuning up their shop. These people need to be ready for bugs, lack of finesse and perfection, and should be willing to contribute a lot of personal time to the project.

CubeCart is for those who want clean nice code with minimal amount of bugs and errors, don’t mind spending money on support and additional modules and don’t really feel like doing administration and setup by means other than Administration panel.

PHPShop would be awesome for people familiar with php, creative in development and design. This script will suite those who like transparency of code for easiness of modification and customization. But this cart is limited in functions, so before making a choice, check if the list of features you need is supported by this solution.

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