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.
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.
|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.
Feature matrix at http://www.aspdotnetstorefront.com/t-features.aspx
Bulk import only with Excel for Express; need
|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,
|x||PHP||SQL Server||$99 limited offer (1999 price
|Interspire Shopping Cart||http://www.interspire.com/shoppingcart||Template-based with slick WYSIWYG drag-n-drop
Feature list at
|x||PHP||MySQL||Starter ($295), Professional
|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
Admin screens are easy to understand with
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|
|123 Shop Pro||http://www.123ShopPro.com||Features at http://www.123shoppro.com/feature.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||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 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.
|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
|.netCART||http://www.dotnetcart.com||Seems to have the capabilities; very
programming-oriented; not very pretty
Latest version 2.9.2844, 10/15/2007
|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
|Agile Cart||http://www.eastland.com/carts.html||http://www.eastland.com/AgileDemo.html||x||ColdFusion and PHP||$395|
|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|
|B2I_Shopping_Cart||http://www.b2ishoppingcart.com||Looks like a one-person company||x||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
|Colehosting.com||http://www.colehosting.com||Smallish design/hosting provider|
|Comersus ASP Shopping Cart
|http://www.comersus.com||Could use polish||x||$299 for PowerPack (free
version doesn’t do enough)
|CoreAve Web Design & Web
|http://coreave.com||One man shop|
|CyberOffice Shopping Cart||http://www.smartwin.com.au/cybershop.htm||Could use polish||X||ASP||ODBC|
|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|
|e-Merchanizer||http://www.lynchinteractive.com||For smaller businesses; Typo? C’mon.||x|
|Evocative Commerce||http://www.evocative.com||Hosting provider||x|
|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|
|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
|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|
|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|
|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
|Pinnacle Cart||http://www.pinnaclecart.com||Not seeing anything compelling||x||x||PHP, Apache||MySQL||$597; $697 for developer
license (includes source code)
|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|
|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|
|SCartFree SCartServer Online
Shopping Cart Network
|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|
|StoreFront||http://www.storefront.net||To get source, need the XE version||x||x||XE is $3,295; the AE version is
|SunShop Shopping Cart||http://www.turnkeywebtools.com||x||$549.99 for an “owned” license|
|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|
|Zoovy e-Commerce||http://www.zoovy.com||Seems comprehensive||x|