Author: Greg Nicholl
Your choice of an e-Commerce Shopping Cart is very important. The software will either be suited or ill-suited to your type of business and your skills. A Wrong choice can make things more of a burden. This article talks about my journey to find a free Open Source Shopping Cart that I could use on my Shared Hosting accounts. Some carts had plenty of functions but lacked important ones like SEO modules. Some were well known but looked old like Web 1.2. One had plenty going for it but took up a ton of PHP memory. After this discovery adventure I present my top 2 choices.
The Journey Begins
When I began my search for a shopping cart I first looked at Zen Cart since I had had a little experience with it before. I find that Zen Cart looks a little bit stale by modern standards. It is noted as a very respectable and stable PHP shopping cart. However, there are few free templates available in the Zen Cart community. Most of what I\’ve seen didn\’t seem to meet the style demands that I was looking for. Granted, I could adjust templates and CSS in order to make it look better. I was not in the mood for that sort of work at the time. Zen Cart has a lot of nice features but the back end and catalog system seems overly complicated. In my opinion, it could take the newbie quite a bit of time to get used to the features of the Zen Cart back end. I decided not to go any further with Zen Cart.
Heavy Duty Stuff – Too Much To Cope With
I began to do some research and I came across a newer offering called Magento. Magento is starting to get a lot of acclaim. It is a very full featured Shopping Cart, in fact some insisted that it is a full business system rather than just a cart. At first look I thought that I had found what I was looking for. I downloaded Magento (you have to register to download it) and began to set it up. Magento has a free Community Edition that can be used. The fuller Professional Edition is available which comes with a paid support package. The Professional Edition comes with a price tag of $2,995 per year. That might hinder the participation of many small business persons. Magento Community has a lot of themes and extensions (otherwise known as modules). The Magento script has an onboard upload feature which connects to Magento Connect, the site where extensions and themes are made available. Some free things are available at Magento Connect but many of them are offered with a price and some with a hefty price tag. I had quite some trouble with installing a free module from Magento Connect. I\’m not sure just what the trouble was but the installation of that extension caused the total destruction of my site. I entertained the thought that I might have uploaded the wrong version of the extension but I had come to the belief that Magento Connect was going to safeguard me from that. At any rate, the site would need restored through a database backup or a total re-installation. I opted to do neither.
Another problem sprung up earlier which helped me to give up on the notion of using Magento. Shortly after I installed the software and started to configure it I received a blank white screen and a PHP memory error. I set up a php.ini file and increased the php memory. The problem did not go away. I did a little research and found out that Magento typically takes a whopping 128 MB of php memory. The more the weight of the php script the higher the amount of memory that is required. Magento is a little hefty. This would create a real problem. I used to run some Drupal sites on GoDaddy. Drupal with a significant number of modules can require from 60 to 90 MB of memory. When I ran into that situation Godaddy said no, I could not have an increase like that. I found that some other hosting companies will allow this on shared hosting accounts. I think it is doubtful that many hosting companies are going to want people to run php scripts at 128 MB. This could necessitate people obtaining Virtual Private Hosting or a Dedicated Server. This does not mean that Magento is bad, but it means that it is not what I am looking for. Magento is rich and feature full but it is for the online merchant who has need of a larger and more powerful site. I deleted the Magento installation and emptied the tables of the database to make ready for my next trial.
Does Not Have Features I Want
Somewhere along the road of discovery I tried Zeuscart, whose website is at http://zeuscart.com/. Zeuscart is a commercial Open Source shopping cart. with a free version. It is not Open Source in the way that Drupal or Joomla are. You are allowed to modify the source code but there is not a large community of developers for support and what community exists is not directly responsibility for the direction and upgrades of Zeuscart. The company AJ Square Inc., is apparently, responsible for maintaining the software. You may use the free version but must pay for the more advanced version with support.
Zeuscart seems to be a nice shopping cart. It has a modern look and feel and is very presentable. It did not have the extra Search Engine Optimization tools that I desired and that caused me to want to keep on looking. Someone on a forum had raised the objection that Zeuscart had had a security issue which could lead to Cross Site Scripting. Hints of this can be found across the Internet with This Site being one example. People tend to think that software owned by a company rather than a volunteer based community may not, and I stress may not, get speedy attention to security issues. I loved the way that Zeuscart looked but I moved on primarily because of the SEO and security issues. Another quirk was their registration process. When you receive your validation email you proceed to the site and are told that you may now change your password. Try as I may on a couple of occasions, I never found a member area and found no place to add or modify any information. That was sort of an ominous sign to me.
A Cute, Fast, Usable Cart
After some research I decided to try Cube Cart. Cube Cart is a nice little cart which is easy to install and is light weight. I found that there a number of really nice themes and modules available for Cube Cart. There is a tendency for sites which offer themes and modules to require registration and to then have them domain restricted. The theme which you register must have a key applied and then will only work on that exact domain. I obtained a very nice free theme called ‘Orange Crush’ at http://www.mycubecart.com. I had to jump through some hoops to get a registration key and get it registered. It will work at that domain only and it has their link in the footer which cannot be removed without paying a licensing fee. These limitations didn\’t seem too intrusive so I kept Cube Cart for one of my two sited. I find that Cube Cart is very user friendly and dependable. It was very easy to set up. The categories are easy to establish and the pricing, payment and other modules were very easy to cope with. For selling digital downloads there is no upload feature. To set up digital downloads one must use FTP to upload them to a folder on your server. This means that you must be sure to list the exact file name, to a tee, or the download will not be available. You can use Google AdSense easily with Cube Cart. In fact I find Cube Cart to be very appealing with an easy interface and it looks sweet. My shop is located here and I like it. The cart does have some limitations in the area of SEO, not offering a complete set of tools to aid Search Engine Optimization. I believe that if I had 8 to 10 solid hours I could have my cart set up and ready to go online.
Presta Shop – A Great New Cart
I wanted to install one more store and I looked further for a good cart with good SEO tools and options. I found that PrestaShop was an up and coming Shopping Cart which was getting some very favorable attention. PrestaShop is a very light weight shopping cart which has nice modern looks and a very good feature set. I found PrestaShop to be very easy to install. There is a large number of modules in the stock installation of PrestaShop. There are modules for meta keywords and meta description, Google Sitemap, traffic analysis, Google Analytics, newsletter, customer notifications, specials, canonical url and many more. The features of PrestaShop offer a lot of ways to gather and analyze the traffic and visitors to your site. Several of the payment gateways are with foreign companies, since PrestaShop originates in France. It does offer the option of PayPal and also Google Checkout also. The shop is fast to load even though it is loaded with a large number of modules.
It was easy to set up categories and to begin to install products. Setting up your display of products is very easy and there is a color selector feature for products which come in a number of colors. Upload of Cover images is very easy as well as the upload of digital products. Digital products are very easy to deal with and they are uploaded to a secure place on the server without the need to use FTP. Prices can be set at $0 on digital products if you want to offer some free items. The selection of a free item will make it available instantly as a free download. Pricing of products can be set with a discount which will expire after a set period of time. Registration is required for purchase of products with PrestaShop but modules are available for a fee, which will enable a one page checkout for people who do not want to register to buy. Some free templates are available for PrestaShop and customization is possible through templates and CSS.
This is the outcome of my shopping cart comparison in. There are many others that I have not covered. However in my opinion, Cube Cart and PrestaShop are fine php shopping carts – my top two picks. After I got my PrestaShop set up at this address The Ebooks Planet and was pleased with it I noticed that I had an email asking me if I wanted to vote for PrestaShop for the 2010 Open-source Award in the E-commerce category! I did vote for this fine cart software and was glad to do so. Then I found that on November 18 PrestaShop won the Open-Source Award for 2010. I pick PrestaShop as the big winner.
About the Author
Do you need an Ecommerce Shopping Cart solution for your products? Find the whole process comfusing and distracting from your main business focus? Why take time out from the things that you do the best to learn a new field that is foreign to you.
Allow me to set up an effective online store for your business. I have 12 years experience in Web Design and 4 years experience in CMS and Shopping Cart design. I am a qualified Website Designer.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+