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Shopping Cart Software...Needed?

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Having basically grown up in PHP(and JS) with you and your books, pretty much everything in them is hand coded(though I really can't wait to dive into your Yii book to see how much time it will save when starting a new site). Anyway, I am, as your recently alluded to resolution list states, trying to learn or at least be familiar with as many technologies as possible. One of those is shopping cart software.


I go to the website template sites(because like you, I can create a pretty decent looking site but when a client wants a really nice site, I know my limitations) and see all these templates for various shopping cart software(Zencart, OsCommerce, Magneto etc) and I'm actually a little puzzled. Having created two sites using your code for example 2 in this book as a backbone, I know what a shopping cart looks like behind the scenes.


So my question(yes finally lol) is what exactly do these software systems offer that is better than your code. Or in other words: before devoting a week or 4 learning one of them, do I even need to IF I know how to code a shopping cart by hand? BTW this question is not just for Larry but for anyone familiar with that software.

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It's been a long time since I've used a shopping cart software package. But what these packages offer is fast development. If you were going to be doing a LOT of e-commerce sites and didn't want to develop your own methods, then learning one of these makes sense. However, if you're not going to be doing that many, then the time spent learning these won't pay off. And if what you need to create is very customized, then using a shopping cart package will be a challenge, too.

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  • 1 month later...

Having used Magento for the past year, and OSCommerce and derivatives of it for several years previous, I can tell you something about the limits of using canned software, even if it is opensource.


OSCommerce was begun years ago, and is stable, but is not PCI compliant. Magento is PCI compliant, but there is a scripting bug in it somewhere, and people can put comments on my site without logging in.


If you want the cart to do something it does not, then you can search for a module (paid or free), install it, and pray for the  best.  Of course you backup the entire server first, before installing on a live application.  


If the module does not work, then you have 3 choices:

1) try and figure out what line(s) in the code someone else wrote and probably did not comment very well went wrong

2) try and write your own code to interface with the base software, or

3) hire a programmer to make it work or write you a new one.


If no module exists that does what you want, then you have the bottom 2 choices again.


On the plus side, there are very active forums for both, lots of modules, and people in the US that can install scripts and make them work for the reasonable fee of abt $50. Magento will pester you with ads and emails periodically to upgrade to their paid hosted version.  Both carts will periodically inform you of security issues that need to be addressed.  BE AWARE that if you have installed additional modules, the upgrades MIGHT crash your site.  Not all modules were written well enough to take code upgrades gracefully.


The reason I bought this book is because I am tired of the limitations of canned software and the modules that are available, and I want to know WHY something crashes when it does, and how to fix it. I want to build a site based on extensible modules and solid code, not use code that was started 12+ years ago and cobbled together again and again as holes were found.


Having spent over $10K to get open source projects to meld together and produce what I want accomplished, only to have the whole thing crash a month after the programmers signed off, I never want to be in the spot again that my income is dependent on something that someone else did.  If it fails, I will learn how to fix it, and I will have the code and the knowledge, because I learned it from the ground up.


In short, knowledge is power, and even if I only build 1 or 2 sites, I will know what I am doing, and how to build my own improvements.

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  • 4 weeks later...

If you are looking at shopping cart packages, they come in 2 basic versions:

1) you have to use someone else's server

2) you can use your own server or your own hosting company.


If you choose a package that is only hosted on the supplier's servers, then what happens if you want to do something that they do not already have provisions for?  Say for example you have developed this beautiful site, excellent content, and now you want to provide feeds to the shopping engines (multi-channel commerce).  If the cart company does not offer this service, chances are excellent that they will not allow you to store any of your own scripts on the site.  This leaves you with 2 choices to get your multi-channel project accomplished:

1) pay whatever their development fees are for them to write the scripts, make cron jobs, etc.  Be aware that you might have to provide all the requirements to the company, even though they are charging you a very stiff fee.

2) use an outside multi-channel company that has already developed the multi-channel scripts, and hope that they are compatible with the shopping cart host you chose.  If not, then again you will be paying someone to write a custom interface.


If you choose to use a hosting company, do your research carefully first.  Do they allow stored procedures?  Cron jobs? What about backups? How hard is it get support?  Most hosting companies do not support applications or scripts written by others.  They guarantee their servers will run, and often that is it.  If your site totally crashes, even on Christmas day, is there someone you can call, or is it just a trouble ticket system, that might not get answered until the holiday weekend is over?


If you choose to use your own server, then you REALLY need to be careful, especially for ecommerce.  Do your research on PCI compliance especially.  To really be compliant, you should rent a bank box and store the backups there.  Banks have the fire protection, theft protection, etc.  You will need UPS systems, halon fire extinguisher, ready access to the server after hours, and no, there is no support team, just you and your team.


Whatever route you go, look carefully at MANY sites before deciding what you want.  Do you want wish lists, tell a friend, mobile compatible, FAQ section, products can be available in more than 1 category at the same time, related products, similar products, substitute products, gee whiz add-ons that really don't relate to the product, but are fast sellers and make extra money? (Think gum and candy and magazines at the grocery store checkout lines.) Think about software you use daily, and have to put up with limitations.  If you are selling serialized products, or bundles, or products with expiration dates, look very closely at what canned packages have to offer, because most of them will not handle these things gracefully, if at all.


Above all, think about automation.  Assuming your site is successful, will your package interface with your accounting system, or does it have one of its own? If one is supplied, does it handle all the functions you need, including receivables, payables, inventory, shrinkage, sale prices, etc.?  If you also have a physical store, does your package include point of sale, so the inventory stays synchronized?  Will the cart package handle shipping, including printing labels, allowing for various shipping methods, acquiring the actual weight from the scales in the shipping area?  Will it print pick lists and packing lists? Will it tell you when you are low on products, and what to reorder?  What kind of reports does it offer, vs what you will need?


Plan everything out on paper first.  Design it on graph paper.  Design the database with the fields you think you will want, and then run some sample data through, still on paper.  You might discover that what you thought was an outstanding design is missing several things when you really go to put it in action.


Write down the pros and cons of every site you visit.  Don't just look at clothing stores if you are going to sell clothing; look at all kinds of stores, geared to all types of buyers.  Check out the major retailers, like Amazon, ToyRUs, JCPenney, Sears, etc.  What (in your opinion) could be improved to make things easier for a customer?


Always look at the front end from a customer's view point.  How hard is it to find what you want?  More than 3 clicks, and most people go away.


Always look at the back end from the attitude that this is supposed to solve your problems, not create them.  If you have to update or enter things into multiple systems to get the order, pick it, pack it, ship it, invoice it, and support it, then you will not be able to keep up with a system that generates very many orders each day.  Even if you hire staff to do these jobs, how much could you have saved by using software that automated the job?  Remember the more times something is entered into different systems, the more chances for errors.

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  • 2 months later...

I just want to give you all a shopping cart that I found. It is PHP based so it is very customizable if you know the language. It uses CSS extensively. If you customize the css, your code is not overwritten with an upgrade. It has many features built in such as coupons, state tax capability, customer comments, and mail delivery calculations. It is PCI compliant and uses a standard interface for easy setup with a merchant account. I have used this with one venture and I am planning to use it for another product that I will offer online. Maybe the best part is the price. It is $85 for the software. You can also purchase it and have it hosted but I don't know what that cost is. Upgrades are $2. The software is called Neucart and you cans see more at http://www.newcart.com

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  • 4 weeks later...

Here is what you get when you use a shopping cart provider.


Peace of mind.


Basically all of the backups, bandwidth and network hassles are handled for you. Code only accounts for a portion of an ecommerce site. The other hassles can be overwhelming. Not to mention Security and PCI compliance.


There are other things too; like inventory control, shopping cart abandonment tools, preconfigured access to api's for shipping (UPS/USPS etc), order tracking and CRM to name a few.


The down side always rears its head when you want to do something really custom. Also ecommerce services do a very poor job when selling soft goods like subscriptions, one-off services etc.


My 2 cents. Once your figure your way around, Big Commerce is a pretty nice platform. It gets spendy as you add products. But you can sleep at night knowing that everything is being taken care of.



Edited by damcinnis
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