Lite Survey of eCommerce Platforms

I’m helping a client get the lay of the land for ecommerce tools and platforms. If I lived in this land, I’d have to ask for directions a lot — the landscape is vast and featureless. I say “featureless” with tongue in cheek; ecommerce platforms are now bloatware, in my opinion, chock full of features, but nearly all that I have encountered have about the same feature set. They’re so similar “you could throw a hat over them,” as my dad used to say. So how did I find a standout in such a me-too field?

Before I answer my own rhetorical question, here’s some background on the platforms I considered, and how I classified them. First of all, what are these things? Some products are toolkits of software and templates with which a fairly technical person can construct an online store, while other products are complete online stores right out of the box. And some are hybrids, giving you the skeleton store plus some tools and templates for making enhancements and customizations. So are they tools? Platforms? I opt to call them “platforms” with the understanding that some of them really are just SDKs.

How did I find these things? A good starting place is at Authorize.net where they list the platforms that have been certified to work with their payment gateway. Their Certified Solution Directory is at http://www.authorize.net/certified_solution_directory.asp. I looked for “Shopping Cart” types of solutions and got over 70 choices on the day I ran the search. I was not able to exhaustively investigate all the listed solutions; I had to perform some triage and narrow in quickly on one that would meet my client’s needs. I didn’t want gigantic enterprise class solution suites that could drive commerce for a small country. I mostly cared about the ability to maintain control over all aspects of the online store, so my favored solutions were those that gave you the tools to build/maintain the store and deploy it anywhere. I specifically did not want a “just add water” solution in which a hosting provider controls the store and dictates what I can do with it while all I do is enter my product data. I realize that for non-technical proprietors, especially those operating very small businesses, the “Poof! Here’s your store!” solutions may be nirvana. If that sort of solution is what you need, I have good news. You have choices — lots of ’em. I don’t think you can even count how many choices you have; you need to measure them by the metric ton.

As I narrowed down the field, I arrived at three categories: Worth A Second Look, Interesting Maybes, and The Rest. The grids I created appear below. These grids are sparse — I didn’t look deeply into every platform. Repeat, these grids are sparse. One more time: sparse grids below. If you know factoids about a platform that I didn’t capture, please leave a comment! Perhaps with some collaboration we can flesh out these grids (did I mention that they’re sparse?)

The platform I went with is AbleCommerce. For me, it stands out. Part of what attracted me to AbleCommerce was the feeling, before I knew it intimately, that I could get somewhere with it. And that intuition has been borne out. I easily developed a working prototype store into which I loaded sample data for 18,000+ products.

Some things I like about AbleCommerce:

  • It’s feature-rich, but not over the top. It can handle product variants (e.g., size, color), product kits (the ability to build or customize something out of several parts each of which adds to or subtracts from the base price), digital products (things the customer downloads so nothing has to be shipped), promotion codes, volume discounts, customer reviews, customer ratings, marketing to a mailing list, email a friend, most popular.
  • A non-programmer can customize page layout and content, and most of this can be done from within the store pages without needing to visit the administration module
  • It has a nice administration module for the things that you do need to do there
  • It has a flexible architecture that isn’t ridiculous. There aren’t layers and layers of abstractions that beget other abstractions that beget factories that — if you can STAND to read that much documentation — eventually beget the silly little tweak you wanted to make. I easily copied their ASPX and C# code, made my own versions of things, and extended the system. And let’s just say that nobody has ever mistaken me for a hot shot .NET programmer.
  • The AbleCommerce developer forums are active — people use this platform and they help each other.
  • The bulk data upload/export tool, DataPort, works pretty well and has a very nice user interface. It lets you upload from either CSV or XML, and once it has read your source file, it lets you map your columns to the AbleCommerce data model very flexibly: you can map on-screen on the fly using the importer and save what you did as a template, you can map using an existing template, or you can map using their defaults. It can get picky during import, and its error messages need work, but I loaded over 18,000 product records without pulling my hair out.

I wrote this post because I looked at, at least a little, a whole bunch of platforms, and I thought it might help someone conducting the same sort of search to see what I turned up. Have I directly used lots of tools in this field? No. So could other tools be as good as or even better than the ones I have singled out? Of course they could. And if you know things I don’t know, please leave a comment and educate us all.

Here are the products I considered.

Worth a second look…

I short-listed these because they seemed to meet my need of giving the store creator a lot of control. My technology preferences were ASP.NET and SQL Server, but I did consider platforms based on PHP, Java, or ColdFusion as well as those based on other databases. I was also interested in platforms that would allow bulk upload of product data from a file.

Product URL Notes Hosted Software Prog. Language Database Pricing
AbleCommerce http://www.ablecommerce.com Does have bulk upload; free trial available. Easy to get going, permits plenty of
customization without programming. Most source included.
x x ASP.NET $995
AspDotNetStorefront http://www.aspdotnetstorefront.com PABP certified

Feature matrix at http://www.aspdotnetstorefront.com/t-features.aspx

Bulk import only with Excel for Express; need
regular ML to use XML or web services

ASP.NET SQL Server 2005/2008 ML/Express $695; ML $1295
Click Cart Pro http://www.kryptronic.com/Shopping-Cart-Software Feature list at http://www.kryptronic.com/Shopping-Cart-Software-Features

Demo looks nice and runs well; somewhat busy,
but probably to illustrate all you can do; Demo at http://www.kryptronic.com/demo/index.php

x PHP SQL Server $99 limited offer (1999 price
rollback)
Interspire Shopping Cart http://www.interspire.com/shoppingcart Template-based with slick WYSIWYG drag-n-drop
editing;

Feature list at
http://www.interspire.com/shoppingcart/features.php

x PHP MySQL Starter ($295), Professional
($995), Ultimate($1,795)
VP-ASP Shopping Cart http://www.vpasp.com Free trial supports only Access database;

3 payment gateways per license

Style templates $65; install with file overwrite

Admin very table-based, lots of id fields
floating around

Admin screens are easy to understand with
decent on-screen help; lots of store features are configurable

Source code in VB; oldish, not .NET

x ASP MySQL, SQL Server from $245-$495
X-Cart http://www.x-cart.com 30-day trial x x PHP MySQL Gold $229, Pro $575

Interesting Maybes…

Product URL Notes Hosted Software Prog. Language Database Pricing
123 Shop Pro http://www.123ShopPro.com Features at http://www.123shoppro.com/feature.htm;
http://www.123shoppro.com/demo.htm
x ASP SQL Server Standard $550, Advanced $850
5th Avenue Shoppe http://www.5th-avenue-software.com/ http://artists-showcase.org/phpstore/store_pages/mainpage.php

http://winelovers.5th-avenue-demo.com/store/store_pages/mainpage.php

x PHP;

Windows or Linux

MySQL or PostgreSQL $395
WebAssist http://www.webassist.com Various products; PowerStore seems like the right one; no free trial x PHP MySQL $299
Hostway Merchant Manager 4.5 http://www.hostway.com/ecommerce/index.html Signed up for online demo; always get 404 error x
OS Commerce http://www.oscommerce.com/solutions Open source x PHP MySQL typically Free

The rest…

The products in this grid are not necessarily inferior or weak compared to the ones in my most favored category. They mostly are just the wrong kind of product for what I wanted to do — most of these are hosted solutions geared toward non-technical people who wouldn’t want to change the programming of their online store even if learning to do so would grant them eternal life and an endless supply of donuts. No shame in that — they know their strengths. But solutions geared for that audience aren’t right for mine, so they quickly fell to the bottom of my list.

Product URL Notes Hosted Software Prog. Language Database Pricing
Doba www.doba.com Interface to wholesalers who will drop ship x
WordPress http://wordpress.org/support/topic/224202 WordPress with shopping cart plugin; only good for very small shops. x
Elastic Path Software http://www.elasticpath.com They say, “If your annual online revenue is less than $5 million,
Elastic Path Commerce is probably too expensive for you.” Well, alrighty then.
x Java, Velocity, Spring Independent; uses Apache
OpenJPA
Not posted
.netCART http://www.dotnetcart.com Seems to have the capabilities; very
programming-oriented; not very pretty

Latest version 2.9.2844, 10/15/2007

http://www.dotnetcart.com/demo/

x ASP.NET $295 per store
1ShoppingCart.com http://www.1shoppingcart.com/ x Basic $59/month or $599/year;
Professional $99/month or $999/year
AAcart http://www.aacart.com Demo stores work very well; http://www.aacart.com/ecommerce-shopping-cart-software/shopping-cart-demo-store.html x Setup from $0-399; monthly
hosting from $19-69
Advanced Cart v2.11A http://www.bsmstore.com Standalone shopping cart only; not catalog
management
Agile Cart http://www.eastland.com/carts.html http://www.eastland.com/AgileDemo.html x ColdFusion and PHP $395
Americart http://www.americart.com x
ampleShop http://www.amplecom.com “Our company is based in Macedonia with representatives
in the US and Switzerland”
Andale Auction Management Tools http://www.andale.com
Apple Cart http://www.spads.com Seems too low level for my needs
ASecureCart x
B2I_Shopping_Cart http://www.b2ishoppingcart.com Looks like a one-person company x x
Cart Manager http://www.cartmanager.net/ x
CartFusion http://www.tradestudios.com/ Under new management and confusing
CashCowCart http://www.cashcowcart.com Could use polish x
CatalogIntegrator Cart http://www.CatalogIntegrator.com Shell site; could use polish
cf_ezcart ColdFusion Shopping
Cart
http://www.cf-ezcart.com/ Requires ColdFusion x
Colehosting.com http://www.colehosting.com Smallish design/hosting provider
Comersus ASP Shopping Cart
& Mall
http://www.comersus.com Could use polish x $299 for PowerPack (free
version doesn’t do enough)
CoreAve Web Design & Web
Site Hosting
http://coreave.com One man shop
CyberOffice Shopping Cart http://www.smartwin.com.au/cybershop.htm Could use polish X ASP ODBC
DesignCart http://www.designcart.com x
Earth Skater Custom eCommerce http://www.earthskater.net x
EasyCart http://www.easycart.com Too canned for my needs x
EasyStoreCreator http://www.easystorecreator.com Too canned for my needs x
Ecommerce Shopping Cart http://www.roicart.com x
Ecommerce Templates http://www.ecommercetemplates.com Seems a bit simple x
eCOMpal http://www.ecompal.com x
Ecompro http://ecompro.com/content.cfm/shoppingcart x
e-Merchanizer http://www.lynchinteractive.com For smaller businesses; Typo? C’mon. x
Evocative Commerce http://www.evocative.com Hosting provider x
FORT eCommerce http://www.fortsystem.com
Fractal Commerce http://www.rvbs.com/index_en.html 404; can’t find site
Free AFCommerce Shopping Cart http://www.afcommerce.com Could use polish
Freedom Networking Solutions http://www.freedomnetworking.com x
GoECart http://www.goecart.com x
GoldbarOne http://www.goldbar.net x
InOrder http://www.morsedata.com Basically an ERP for the SMB market, which can
include an ecommerce module; Company is Morse Data; HQ in Dover, NH
Internet Commerce Engine 5 http://www.ice5software.com x $3,995 for Small Business
Edition (!!)
iSell Shopping Cart http://www.macdock.com/mac/webhosting/ecommerce/isell.php 404
King Cart Services http://www.king-cart.com x
Make-a-Store http://www.make-a-store.com x Heavy Metal starts at $2,995
MalÕs E-commerce http://www.mals-e.com x
MightyMerchant http://www.mightymerchant.com x
MIVA Merchant http://smallbusiness.miva.com/products/merchant Software, but written in proprietary MivaScript x
MonsterCommerce Pro E-commerce http://www.networksolutions.com/e-commerce/ecommerce-pro-package.jsp Hosted by Network Solutions x
MyCart.net http://www.MyCart.net x
MyWebSiteTool http://www.mywebsitetool.com x
NetStores http://www.netstores.com x
Next Gen Cart http://www.weaveyourwebdreams.com Could use polish x
PDG Shopping Cart http://www.pdgsoft.com Something about this doesn’t inspire confidence x PDG Commerce ranges from $999
to $1,799
PepperCart http://peppercart.com Whaaaa???
Pinnacle Cart http://www.pinnaclecart.com Not seeing anything compelling x x PHP, Apache MySQL $597; $697 for developer
license (includes source code)
POWERSTOREASP http://www.powerstoreasp.com 404
Priusant http://www.priusant.com/products_sc.htm 404; no ecommerce products on site
ProductCart http://www.earlyimpact.com Others seem better x $695
ProStores www.prostores.com Feature comparison at http://www.prostores.com/shopping_cart_features.html x
Quick Cart http://www.quickcart.com x
QuickEStore http://www.quickestore.com Template-based; could be nicer looking x
Ruby Business Platform http://www.rubensteintech.com/ruby Not enough info to tell
SalesCart http://www.SalesCart.com x ASP.NET $499.99
SCartFree SCartServer Online
Shopping Cart Network
http://shopping.scartserver.com Ad-sponsored x
SecureNetShop http://www.securenetshop.com x
SEO-Cart http://www.seo-cart.com x
ShopFactory http://www.shopfactory.com Unclear; too hard to find info x
Shop-Script http://www.shop-script.com Could use polish x PHP
ShopSite http://www.shopsite.com Mostly Hosted; can get Software but expensive;
AviaDirect store uses it
x x Manager $690/Pro $1490
SmartCart http://www.smartcart.com x
StoreFront http://www.storefront.net To get source, need the XE version x x XE is $3,295; the AE version is
$1,995
SunShop Shopping Cart http://www.turnkeywebtools.com x $549.99 for an “owned” license
UltraCart http://www.ultracart.com x
Veracart http://www.veracart.com x
Virtualshop http://www.virtualshop.co.uk Doesn’t seem industrial strength x
VirtualStore 2000 http://www.vs2000.net OMG – they have a Y2K banner on their home page
Volusion http://www.volusion.com x
Zoovy e-Commerce http://www.zoovy.com Seems comprehensive x
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3 comments on “Lite Survey of eCommerce Platforms
  1. Manoj says:

    Hi Peter,

    Another shopping cart software is Vevocart. Its kinda ok, but their support isn’t very good. I have used it once for one of our clients.

    I’d say most of these products that we purchase online provide poor service. A recent example being Dark Blue Duck Scanning enabler for MOSS. No matter how many mails I send for support, they do not reply. Now I’m stuck their product! It is a nice product, but they have to respond to a Customer’s query. Anyways, just wanted to post my views here.

    Regards,
    Manoj

  2. Karl says:

    Dude,

    Thanks, did AbleCommerce buy you out to promote its software?

    I’ve been working with the trial version and have found it an absolute @#$ to even get the installation running.

    ASPDotNetStoreFront on the other hand was up and running in the blink of an eye (well maybe 2 blinks).

    Anyway, thanks for your info, i’m going to assume you are being honest and continue my quest to get AbleCommerce running.

    Cheers,

    feel free to drop me an email and tell me how 🙂 -> i’ve installed several EC platforms and AbleCommerce is the ONLY one which wouldn’t run.

    Firstly I had to comment out several ‘duplicate’ web.config rows.

    Then when I try and browse to the Install folder and run the automated install , it simply redirects me to the root folder and states ‘blah blah you have a problem with your ablecommerce license…etc etc’

    well….yes i do have a problem..that is im installing the trial and the installation is supposed to set that license…

    i found the step by step installation guide for windows XP……still the exact same problem…

    its not rocket science is it? > given i’m a developer and have been for almost 6 years, I dont buy ANY excuse!!

    its .nET! it should just run!

    Right rant is over!…given its only $1000 usd including source code..thats tempting…ASPDOTNETSTOREFRONT is like 2200USD with source code…

    cheers,
    Karl (i think i said this already).

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