Which Shopping Cart Should I Choose?

That is a common question that we get when clients call. There are so many shopping carts out there it is hard to know which one to use for your web site. That is why we have written this article to help you know the advantages and disadvantages of each cart. We will be reviewing:

Magento Shopping Cart Review
Oscommerce Shopping Cart Review
CRE Loaded Shopping Cart Review
Zen Cart Shopping Cart Review
X-Cart Shopping Cart Review
OSC Max Shopping Cart Review
Joomla & Virtuemart Shopping Cart Review
E-commerce Shopping Cart Feature Comparison Chart

It is important to know when selecting your shopping cart what features you need. All the shopping carts below feature the following:
  • Customer management
  • Product management
  • Variety of payment and shipping modules
  • Order receipt emails
  • Ability to use SSL secure layers for ordering process
However the shopping carts vary when it comes to:
  • Time it takes to modify the cart to look like a current web design
  • WYSIWYG ability to modify product descriptions using different fonts, colors, etc.
  • Ability to import/export from Excel spreadsheet
  • Wholesale/Reseller Pricing

In this review we will be going over PHP/MySQL shopping carts that run both Linux and Windows servers. We will not be reviewing pay-per-month shopping carts. We feel these offer less value because they have expensive monthly fees. Also - they usually do not allow access to the source code of the system or much customization of the shopping cart. The following shopping carts below are open-source meaning that you can modify the source code and customize the shopping cart to your needs.


Website: http://www.magentocommerce.com
Magento is one of the newer shopping carts on the block but has already attracted a large following. The coding is based on the latest PHP 5 object oriented coding standards and the Zend framework.

Advantages +
+ Varian the company who backs the cart is very active in updating the code and fixing bugs
+ Multi-Store Capable
+ Nice default template

Disadvantages -
Heavily layered and overly complicated coding style and thousands of files requires a lot of time to learn and do customizations. Estimate about 2 - 5 x more for your budget for customizing it vs. other carts
Right now the technical documentation is very limited, making it difficult to customize and modify the programming of Magento beyond doing graphical changes.
Runs fairly slow. Plan on spending at least $25/month for a 1000 product store, or $50 - $100 month for stores with over that.

Oscommerce MS 2.2 - The Cart That Started Them All

website: http://www.oscommerce.com
Oscommerce is the basis for both Zen Cart and CRE Loaded. As such is it is simpler and does not have all of the contributions already added that Zen Cart and CRE Loaded do. It runs well though and is a good back to basics shopping cart.

Advantages +
+ Has the most available number of contributions and modifications
+ Recent security update brings it up to date with MySQL 5 and PHP 5

Disadvantages -
- It can take a lot of time and money to install all the contributions you want (add-ons)
- No graphic template system meaning it is harder to modify the design

CRE Loaded Chain Reaction Edition of Oscommerce

website: http://www.creloaded.com
CRE Loaded is like Oscommerce but with many more contributions installed. Some of the nice contributions it has are Easy Populate which lets you populate your database from an Excel file, coupon codes, administrator access levels, template system, and an affiliate manager. CRE Loaded also has one of the Oscommerce templating systems installed which allows you to more easily integrate a design into the system and control which information boxes show on the left and right columns.

Advantages +
+ Many contributions from Oscommerce already installed

Disadvantages -
- Contributions from Oscommerce.com can be more difficult to install, but CRE Loaded has many of its own already converted
- Buggy code for some modules like multi vendor shipping

Additional Information
CRE Loaded comes in 3 verisons. The regular version is free. The Pro version adds better product attribute support and credit card encryption, and the B2B version adds seperate pricing level support.

Zen Cart - The Art of E-commerce

website: http://www.zen-cart.com
Zen Cart has a very nice wide array of features based on Oscommerce but has gone its own path. You can not install contributions directly from the Oscommerce web site onto Zen Cart. Some of the nice features include product attributes managers, template system, html editor for regular web page contents, built in coupon code system, ability to select what credit cards you accept, and more. An issue with Zen Cart right now is the Easy Populate contribution which would let you import products from an Excel sheet does not work yet. So if you need this feature we recommend the other shopping carts.

Advantages +
+ No licensing fees
+ Stable
+ Many contributions from Oscommerce already installed

Disadvantages -
- not possible to use Oscommerce contributions, they must be converted to Zen Cart
- Admin interface is a little messy in certain areas because there are so many contributions installed


website: http://www.x-cart.com
X-Cart is a commercial package, but one of the most competitively priced and easy to modify.

Advantages +
+ Commercially supported and has very few if any bugs
+ Uses Smarty Templates system which many programmers like to work with for laying out the web site

Disadvantages -
- Licensing fees for system


website: http://www.oscdox.com
OSC Max is an excellent version of Oscommerce that has many useful contributions installed. It is just as easy to use in the admin as the default Oscommerce installation.

Advantages +

+ No licensing fees
+ The contributions installed are very useful
+ Has wholesale/Reseller pricing module already installed
+ Well-documented

Disadvantages -
- Personal preference - I don't like the mopics image module, you have to separately upload small and large images, but easily fixed by installing on the fly thumbnails module

Joomla & Virtuemart

website: http://virtuemart.net
Installing and configuring Joomla & Virtuemart together was a snap. On the Virtuemart website they have a combined installer that installs Virtuemart with Joomla. This is the solution you would want if you have to have your CMS (Content Management System) combined with your shopping cart. Joomla we feel is the best CMS out there, but Virtuemart on the other hand is not the best shopping cart system. It is not a bad one though, it is just not as fully featured as the other solutions.

Overall we would say that Virtuemart is about equal with default Oscommerce, but not the loaded versions of Oscommerce: Zen Cart & CRE Loaded.

Advantages +

+ Easy to install
+ Combines well with the best CMS Joomla
+ Has the basic shopping cart features

Disadvantages -
- Lacks a lot of high-end shopping cart features
- Not as many add-on modules available


Shopping Cart Feature Comparison Chart

This feature comparison chart compares the out of the box features of each cart. Sometimes a cart will have an available add-on module to install the feature listed.


Final Thoughts

If you decide to go with an Oscommerce based shopping cart, we recommend that you start with one of the loaded versions - Zencart, CRE Loaded, or OSCmax - in order to save you lots of money on installing additional modules to the plain Oscommerce version. You can then use your development money to put in your own custom modifications, design, etc. rather than installing all of the basics.  We can not recommend Magento unless you like the default features and layout because it is way overly complicated to customize efficiently (with a normal budget).

Having worked with all of the above platforms, we have found ZenCart to be the most versatile and cost-efficient shopping cart solution.

Do you need help with setting up, customizing or maintaining your E-commerce web site?
Please feel free to contact us with any questions you may have or should you wish to hire us to build your site.

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