Friday, September 22, 2006

Shopping Cart Showdown

Here's the deal.

I need a shopping cart for a client. I have basic functionality the shopping cart MUST have. Not necessarily because the client demanded them but because I'm forming a hairbrained notion that these are some type of milestone or rite of passage for shopping carts.

1) coupons & discounts -- there's nothing like putting a coupon with your ad or on an invoice. Even better, giving out coupon codes in your newsletters. Make sure they're paying attention! Many carts don't seem to have this. The granddaddy of shopping carts in the open-source world requires being broken TWICE to have coupons ("easy discounts" and "easy coupons" must be added to oscommerce aka OSC to get coupons). Bonus points for coupon support out-of-the-box.

QuickCart & Viart Free have coupons out-of-the-box according to

2) a template system with under 50 files. OSC fails this test, requiring nearly EVERY file to be changed to consistently alter the HTML appearance features of the website. ZenCart has 95 template files not counting those for the admin panel. Viart Free has 115 template files.

Winner: QuickCart (loaded version) comes in at under 38 -- note "page.tpl" is the "main page" of the site. Other template pages MAY NOT NEED TO BE ALTERED! I haven't figured that out conclusively. But they're not using something standardized like Smarty so you need some PHP savvy to plow through them.

3) separation -- real separation -- of logic and design. ZenCart is OK on this one. OSC fails miserably. Viart Free comes out on top -- using Smarty templating! WOOT! However note the loss on #2, coming in at 95 template files. Shame on them! Smarty is much MUCH smarter than that!

Viart Free, as I mentioned, uses Smarty, and has a standard "header" "footer". In spite of 115 files, using Smarty would probably make it a pleasure. I'm upset that there's no standard "right-sidebar" type formats, but that can easily be added to header/footer files so I'm happy enough.

QuickCart also seems to have real separation of logic vs design, so it's the 2nd runner up for not using a standard templating system like Smarty.

4) real-world examples that show off the system's flexibility for customization & style.

This is a tough cookie because people are generally lazy. I looked 3 times at because it had some of the better shopping cart examples I'd seen. Custom buttons, horizontal instead of vertical cart display, entirely different layouts. Turns out this is a free hosted service, you don't install the software, you do have to muck around in your website's HTML, but it's really a service that handles the customer's orders off your site. It allows a lot of flexibility, and he's hoping you make so many sales that you want the advanced site features, which are not make-or-break deals. I don't see coupon/discount code entry, so Mal's service fails #1, but it wins on 2 & 3. How much more separate from the logic can you be?

Viart has an odd quantity feature that involves a drop-down, but that's probably fixable. It requires clicking a JavaScript pop-up to confirm putting something into your shopping basket, which is awkward. These are awkward, but livable issues, but all the sites I looked at had these issues so no one bothered fixing them.

QuickCart -- they don't have that many sites in English, and they have SO MANY in other languages, I needed to narrow the playing field. So of the English sites, I saw minor promising variants in the cart design itself -- something near impossible to do in OSC -- as well as at least one site where the overall design was beautifully done very differently from the others. The cart behaved the way I would want a cart to behave. At least one site had web sites up for sale, with a number of options for ordering, which is something I may be doing myself.

5) No restrictions.

Viart Free fails here. Limited to 50 products. It requires a Zend optimizer installation. But it does install on GoDaddy. However, this is not terribly expensive to upgrade at $119, if you go over 10 categories/50 products.

In any case, the winner system from looking at the websites is Mal's service -- but if I eliminate the one host I bumped into during my search for something better, QuickCart did better than Viart.

The winning system today: QuickCart. Several hundred shops are listed, though some are spammers or the domains are now invalid. One problem is that I've not seen very strongly customized category views, and that's an area I'll need to customize. If you expect to have a very small cart, don't forget to check out Viart Free. Notable mention for money: SquirrelCart -- at about $70 it looks like a good bang for the buck -- but I can't say how it does amongst all the criteria mentioned here, since I couldn't evaluate it.

Note that many carts were eliminated from the contest for a variety of reasons. #1 price. #2 bad reviews out of the starting box (such as VirtueMart/Joomla! which has been repeatedly reported as having the shittiest support forum, being overly complex, etc. If I want that shit, I'll go back to OSC).

Ok, so next I'll be working with QuickCart and I'll let people know how it goes.

[tags]e-commerce, programming, reviews, design, competition, custom programming, education, metasite, usability, web applications[/tags]


  1. QuickCart -> fails because of a criteria I didn't foresee. Tax. If you add tax to a shopping cart it's not on a per-product basis. It's also not on a per-state basis. Many merchants don't charge out-of-state taxes. In any case, a store in New Jersey does not charge sales tax on clothes. Many places don't charge tax on certain types of food or food products. Etc. You can't have a variety of items and not be able to figure out whether or not your items get taxed individually. That's not something I want to hack.

    I guess I look closer at Viart Free next. :/

  2. Ok. When it boiled down to it, I ended up back and Zen Cart. I got pretty close to revisiting oscommerce and beating it into submission, but I'm glad I gave Zen Cart a try.

    Ease of templating - templating it was OK. Still somewhat oscommerce-like, but to put the basic template around the page required only touching the expected header/footer type of files.

    Fit for use in the US - while exceptionally internationally-minded, there was no blanket tax (similar to oscommerce).

    Coupons/Discounts - these modifications are built in, unlike oscommerce which required hand-editing of a dozen files to patch it for coupons & discounts.

    -- Overall I was happy but I look forward to working on a shopping cart for PmWiki in the near future. The customer's site is up, it looks good, and will probably go live this coming week. It looks a LOT like the design she wanted, and I didn't have to break the program or myself against the program to get it to look good.

  3. Hey Crisses, be sure to checkout as well. Feature filled, strong helpful userbase, easy to template, many additional mods. Free :)