What eCommerce Platform to Choose? Expert’s Opinion

This article is composed by Andy Marcus, TemplateMonster lead product manager and the head of our R&D Dept.
If you ask yourself questions like that, you probably should continue reading this article, otherwise just go to our eCommerce templates section.

As I made templates for and worked with almost every popular shopping cart available it is going to be hard for me to stay unbiased during this review, obviously I do have my own favorite platform, but still I will try to keep the info fair.

Lets begin with some history. In the beginning there was Harald Ponce de Leon, who as a project leader started an open source e-сommerce solution osCommerce™. It was the first largest Open Source shopping cart available back in 2000, the forefather of them all. After a while the team that worked on osCommerce project has split into CRE Loaded™, Zen Cart™ and the original osCommerce™, therefore you will find much in common between those three. Each team was after perfection of their product, with their own approach, but the core code was pretty much the same. If you look inside you will find same variables, same functions in all three of them. Back in those times it was the revolution. Although osCommerce was the foundation it had neither the template system nor the ability to control the original layout by the end user, Zen Cart and CRE Loaded had a pretty nice functionality along with other things.

Actually CRE Loaded and Zen Cart were the response to the demands of a rapidly growing osCommmerce community, each of them has met the needs of their users in a unique way. For instance Zen Cart has a slogan saying “the art of e-commerce” meaning that Zen Cart is the art, and indeed back then it was nicely put together with their override system that gives the coder an opportunity to add and change functionality without messing and changing the original code. CRE Loaded contained the best and most useful contributions made for osCommerce, they had 3 versions of the cart, the community edition and 2 commercial editions with additional functionality. The code was partly object oriented and partly procedural (osCommerce’s boxes were class-based, but the rest was procedural). OsCommerce (and it’s derivatives) ruled the universe of free e-commerce solutions up until 2004.

Another shopping cart that is worth mentioning is VirtueMart™, though it is not a complete standalone shopping cart but rather a component for a popular Joomla CMS it still is/was a competitor for osCommerce. Joomla™ has gained its popularity incredibly fast due to its functionality, growing demand for portal CMS and its architecture where developers could scale Joomla’s capabilities by creating modules and components with their own functionality. Even now the ability of having a portal with shopping cart looks really attractive.

By 2007 evolution demanded modern approaches and solutions, the e-commerce application had to be Object oriented, easily Scalable, Search engine friendly urls out of the box, it had to be back office compliant and no one fitted the niche. Then as Wikipedia suggests “Varien, the company that owns Magento, formerly worked with osCommerce. They originally planned to fork osCommerce but later decided to start Magento. Magento officially started development in early 2007. Seven months later on August 31, 2007, the first public beta version was released.” Magento™ was really well designed, it’s architecture completely observes Object Oriented Paradigm (PHP 5). Magento supports installation of modules through a web-based interface accessible through the administration area of a Magento installation. Basically if you have written an extension (which is not hard if you are familiar with php 5 and read simple guidelines provided by Magento development team on how to compose extensions for Magento) you can upload it to magentocommerce.com website and give everyone an opportunity to use your extensions. If you want to install a 3rd party extension all you have to do is go to the back end of your Magento installation and install the extension within several clicks, you just need to get the extensions key from magentocommerce.com website. Magento has search engine friendly urls out of the box and has answered all basic demands for a modern shopping cart system. Among the shortcomings is Magento’s resource consumption. It takes at least semi dedicated server to run it smoothly and it will be slow on shared hosting. Some say it is a huge deficiency.

By now there are a lot of shopping cart systems being developed – such as Prestashop, OpenCart and many others open source e-commerce solutions. Prestashop is a PHP/MySQL shopping cart that claims to be a light weight, fast and easily customizable solution. It’s popularity and community is rapidly growing.

Below is the shopping carts comparison table. It represents features of all the shopping carts that we currently produce templates for.

Shopping Cart Templates Comparison Chart

Features

osCommerce

Zen Cart

CRE Loaded

Magento

VirtueMart

Listing Modules

Category listing

+

+

+

+

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Product listing

+

+

+

+

+

Special Products

+

+

+

Extension

+

Featured Products

+

+

Extension

Bestseller Products

+

+

+

Extension

Product Catalog Features

Product Attributes

+

+

+

+

+

Downloadable Products

+

+

+

+

+

Multiple Product Images

+

+

Subcategory Dropdown In Top Menu

+

Stock Level Control

+

+

+

+

+

General Features

Customer Management

+

+

+

+

+

Multiple Languages

+

+

+

+

+

Multiple Currencies

+

+

+

+

+

Currency Conversion

+

+

+

+

+

Flexible Tax Calculation

+

+

+

+

+

Flexible Shipping Calc.

+

+

+

+

+

Common Text Pages

Manually

+

+

+

Customer Notifications

+

+

+

+

+

More detailed comparison table may be found at a Wikipedia Shopping Cart software comparison page:

Below you may find a short description for every shopping cart we provide:

  • osCommerce – vintage, light weight, forefather of e-commerce that has basic shopping cart functionality (multilingual, supports multiple currencies, supports basic payment gateways out of the box). It has the biggest number of extensions and developers that are able to customize it. No template system out of the box whatsoever. No release version available yet. No SEF URLs out of the box.
  • Zen Cart – osCommerce-based shopping cart. It has an integrated CMS, supports modules override (gives you a way to extend and modify functionality without hacking it), has the template system. No SEF URLs out of the box. Supports basic payment gateways. Large community of developers.
  • CRE Loaded – is the osCommerce port extended with most useful osCommerce contributions. Has a template system. Allows to have more then one administrator. No SEF URLs out of the box.
  • VirtueMart – is a Joomla component, best solution if you need to have a shopping cart ability added to your Joomla portal. Supports basic shipping and payment modules. SEF only as a Joomla module.
  • Magento – supports multiple websites/multiple stores, has an extended number of payment and shipping modules, SEF URLs, supports admin panel accessibility levels, multiple administrators, supports customer groups, catalog price rules. Requires at least semi dedicated server hosting plan to run. Requires professional developer familiar with OOP with php to customize or extend functionality. Rapidly growing community.

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