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EcommerceThere are many open source ecommerce systems available to web developers and designers. Some have great support, whilst others are meant to stand alone. As part of our launch of the new Baby and Home store, we decided to take a look at a group of ecommerce systems from the perspective of a small to medium sized store, with 20 products. Our store is looking to do some newsletters, small amounts of marketing and will need some SEO facilities. This case study store will have to stand on its own, without the need for tinkering, however the administrator will be capable of making small changes to the product catalogue.

osCommerce / Zen Cart

osCommerce and Zen Cart were one and the same thing. However recently Zen Cart split off and now does its own thing. Although the code is similar there are a few very important differences, namely that Zen Cart has its own template system built it, a feature frustatingly lacking from osCommerce. osCommerce is one of the older ecommerce systems available, and it is starting to show. The system is easy enough to install, and if you want to have just a very basic shop that processes payment via email or paypal, then this is probably ok. For the hardcore systems admin, this system will probably cover most bases, however it is seriously lacking in any niceties, which will put off all but those with the strongest stomach.

The nasty bits;

  • The manual Credit Card payment is not PCI Compliant and should be used for testing only.
  • Image thumbnails are in fact full size images reduced for display which impacts bandwidth.
  • The main cause of stress, however, is that almost all of the add-ons and additions, which you will almost certainly need, have to be coded in manually.
  • Be prepared to back up your website frequently because a large number of contributions come with little or no support and some are very old and no longer work.
  • The back end is very clunky
  • Although there is a simple template system, the front end is still hardwired to the system, so you are unable to easily move to a better looking design.
  • Nested tables… virtually all the content exists in some form of a nested table… GAH!
  • Almost all of the templates are outdated.

The good bits;

  • There are MASSES of options to tweak, improve and add to your site
  • The community support is good, if a little high level. Its fine if you understand php.
  • There is support for MIGS, which is used by almost all of the banks here in Australia
  • The basic additions are relatively easy to add on, if time consuming. Most of the seriously offputting issues are taken care of by contributions from the community
  • Its very lightweight and fast. A full installation, with images, can compact down into less than 10MB
  • If you are a tinkerer, then you can get in and work under the hood. There is no gloss to the code, so you can get your hands dirty if you want.
  • It supports multiple languages and multiple currencies/prices and shipping options from the beginning.


If osCommerce is an old sea dog, then Magento is speed boat racer. It is slick, good looking and improving every day. It is very easy to install, but has only been around for a few years. The good side to that is it looks modern and has a lot of the functions we expect as standard. It claims to be the fastest growing eCommerce system available. The downside is that it is still working through some issues. When we looked into it again 6 months ago, there was a MIGs gateway, but it needed tweaking.

The pretty bits;

  • Very slick inside and out
  • Module installation is as automatic as you would want
  • Comes with SEO optimisation and analytics out of the box
  • iPhone support from the beginning
  • A good range of addons and plugins

The grungier bits

  • MIGS is unsupported at this stage, which can be a big drawback for Australian retailers
  • The community is not as strong as other open source software, and being young there is not as many help files available

WordPress and WP-eCommerce

WordPress has started to become all things to all people, which is a good thing and a bad thing. The once humble blogging systems has been tweaking and hacked apart and now can pretty much be  used as anything. The problems start when people try to turn it into something that it probably isnt.

As far as basic eCommerce goes, using the WP-eCommerce system is easy. Using WordPress’ native coding and templating makes it by far the easiest option for someone to set up a small store. If you have a few products and are happy to sell through PayPal or through another payment gateway like that, then you are fine. However the system does not naturally support a lot of gateways and does not have support for multiple currencies. Also, as far as we know, it does not support membership and sign up, so you can’t tell if people are abandoning carts etc.

The sexy bits;

  • WordPress is pretty much magic. Modern, sleek, sexy
  • SEO comes easily
  • You can have a blog with a shop attatched, which is content gold!
  • So easy to set up
  • Support is generally good, from a lot of capable developers

The gruesome bits

  • Its not really meant to be an all singing eCommerce system
  • Some parts are actually open source and some aren’t
  • Most of the “best” add ons you have to pay for
  • CSS coding for the shopping cart is completely seperate from the blog itself.
  • There is little or no support for multiple currencies, languages etc

There are more opensource shopping carts out there, and over time we will probably assess them too. For now, however, the three/four above are probably the best for most situations, and are well worth taking a look at.

Of course if you have your own experiences with eCommerce, you are welcome to share them here.


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