Pick a cart, any cart ...

by Joe Gillespie — Dec 1, 1999

The information that follows is fairly brief insofar as features of each cart goes, but will hopefully offer some assistance in determining whether it meets your criteria.

PERLSHOP

URL:http://www.arpanet.com/perlshop/
COST: Free

PerlShop appears to be a good cart for anyone with a relatively small number of products to sell, but if you've got more than 100 or so products, it's probably not the right solution. It's an HTML-based cart (no database capability), so I discarded this one as an option early in the game.

The documentation appears to be quite good, and you can also find step-by-step instructions in "Drag N Drop CGI" by Bob Weil and Chris Baron, published by Addison-Wesley, 1997, ISBN: 0-201-41966-1.

COMMERCE.CGI

URL:http://www.careyinternet.com/main/commerce/
COST: Free

Considering the price, this is a pretty darned good shopping cart, but it fell short on a couple of my requirements. It didn't offer an option of quantity-based pricing, and also tracked visitors only by cookie. Since much of my visitor base is somewhat 'technophobic,' I was concerned about the loss of potential customers as the result of a cookie alert. So, I scrapped this one as a solution. Documentation, once I found it, was fairly complete.

S-MART

URL: http://www.stiusa.com/~brobison/scripts/
COST: Free

This is also a robust, feature-laden shopping cart script, but it didn't offer quantity-based pricing and, more importantly, didn't support PGP. When I started digging through the site to find out whether or not PGP support was coming, or whether anyone had figured out a workaround, buried in the message forum were some notes indicating that the script's author no longer had time to support it. That was also a big concern. If technologies change down the road, would the cart still function? If not, then what? Would I have to purchase and build a new/different shopping cart from scratch?

Documentation was good, provided you could read the author's cryptic comments mixed among the code. Without that talent, it was a bit more difficult, and the 'readme' left out a number of key steps in the installation/customisation process.

So, S-Mart went out the window, too.

MINIVEND

URL:http://www.minivend.com/minivend/
COST: Free

Minivend is a VERY robust cart with all of the features you could want (or need). Unfortunately, it's also a very complex one, and I wasn't up to the learning curve associated with implementing it.

Something else to note: it runs as a background application on the server at all times, and there are a number of Web presence providers who will refuse to allow you to install it because of the potential drain on server resources. Before you get too far into this one, check with your Web host to find out whether they'll even let you use it.

The documentation is excellent -- a 200+ page online manual that gives you all the info you need, if you can wade through the technospeak.

EXTROPIA: WEBSTORE (SELENA SOL)

URL: http://www.extropia.com/scripts/web_store.html
Cost: Free

Another excellent shopping cart, but with what appeared to be a high learning curve, and I didn't find the documentation all that easy to follow, so I abandoned this one as a choice early on, too. The lack of a Web-based interface was a bit of a concern, too, although I could have lived with it. (Someone has apparently designed a Web-based interface to work with the script, but I didn't delve into that too deeply since I couldn't seem to wade through the documentation.)

After exhausting most of the 'free' shopping cart options without finding what I felt was a good solution, I started looking at the ones with a pricetag. Again, many of them required that the order form be processed via their server and as a result were automatically dismissed.

CART-IT

URL:http://www.cartit.com/
COST: US $299.95 (UNIX solution)

Cart-It was a strong contender. It has some very interesting features, like online order tracking and mailing list management software, but the cost was somewhat prohibitive within the budget I had available, especially once I factored in the exchange rate (US $1 = approx. CAD $1.50) and the fact that some of the features were 'add-ons', which bumped the price even higher.

While still inexpensive compared to some of the other commercial solutions available (many in the $1,000 - $15,000 price range) I wasn't willing to 'sell the house' to buy the cart.

This cart also didn't appear to have a Web-based interface, and when I wrote for clarification on that and a couple of other questions, I never received an answer. (Can you say "customer support?")

So long, Cart-It!

Editors Note: The people from Cart-It admit that their support has been lacking in the past but assure us that the issue has now been resolved.

Ultimately, I decided on:

QUIKSTORE

URL:http://www.quikstore.com/
COST: US $175 (US $179 with CDRom complete with video tutorials)

PROS: QuikStore had most of the features I was looking for: reasonable cost, complete script ownership; multiple shipping options; quantity-based pricing; database-driven or HTML-based capability; built-in search engine; tracking of visitors by IP address; ability to process orders over a remote secure server; and PGP support. For the most part, the documentation was fairly complete, too, and customer support was good.

The scripts were quite easy to customize, and I ended up with the look and feel I wanted. With some creative coding, I was also able to set up the cart to perform calculation of Canadian sales tax.

CONS: I couldn't get the PGP module, as written, to work on my server. When I asked my Web host for assistance, they voiced concerns about the way the script handled the security of the data for that fleeting moment between the time a customer clicked on the 'Order' button and when PGP actually encrypted the data. At my request -- and expense -- they rewrote it for me. (Quikstore has apparently since remedied this, but given the difficulty I had in getting the PGP interface to work correctly in the first place, I've been reluctant to test their latest version.)

Quikstore didn't offer a Web-based interface. Instead, products are entered via a somewhat clunky, stand-alone Access-based interface called Catalog Builder which, on export, places all of the data within a specified set of folders for easy upload to the server. I was told that a Web-based interface was coming soon though, and decided to run with it.

At the time of initial installation, I was quite pleased with Quikstore. I recommended it highly to my colleagues and peers, and seriously considered becoming a reseller.
       The Web-based interface, however, has yet to materialize (though I'm still told it's on the way), and Catalog Builder, in my opinion, is one of Quikstore's biggest pitfalls. In fact, I found the interface so clunky that I chose instead to work with the database in a text editor.

Recently, I ran into trouble when I tried to add some new products. I thought it might help to load the database back into Catalog Builder so I could better determine what the problem might be, but my attempts to import the database were in vain. I then sent the database to Quikstore and asked for their assistance in converting it back to an MDB file. Unfortunately, the conversion wasn't able to recognize or attach the product GIF images and option files, which meant I'd have to manually re-key one to two images, plus up to 6 options, per product. Multiplied by some 150 items or so, this was not exactly my idea of time well spent.

After voicing my concerns, the folks at Quikstore did send along a programming fix, which I've yet to find the time to fully test. Even with it, though, I'm still left without an easy interface for adding or deleting products. Entering complex product descriptions within a tab-delimited file is NOT the best way to handle this task.

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