Below you will find a summary of the e-commerce systems I’ve been exposed to, and in some cases, my own experiences using them. I’ve done a lot of digging on this issue for different client needs, but the report below is by no means complete. The bright side is that this blog has a comment section, where more experts or users of e-commerce systems can contribute to the research!
In short: fully loaded but doesn’t come with an affiliate program. This is likely because their own affiliate program is through Commission Junction, and they wouldn’t want to ruin that relationship by offering their own version of that. Big Commerce is what to use if your main goal is to sell retail online, and to sell many products, with abundant variations and customizations. It’s content marketing tools are not as effective as using a content management system like WordPress, but it more than compensates for that with many SEO and internet marketing features designed for an online store.
If using BigCommerce, be prepared to lose your advanced blogging features, or get ready for some heavy-weight integration by installing WordPress on a subfolder and seamlessly aligning your graphics and links so the user doesn’t know they’re switching between two systems when navigating through the site. Downside: monthly fee, hosting is on their servers only. Upside: Allows exporting of products, customization of a template and using your own domain.
An open source, customizable e-commerce system that requires a developer to set up for ya. The best e-commerce site I’ve ever used was built by a brilliant developer using ZenCart (I’ve yet to meet this person)…but the customized system is not up for sale (I asked). It would be a developer’s job to re-code another one just like it, using ZenCart as a base. The site that deserves a high five? well.ca.
Audrey Capital, Matt Mullenweg’s investment firm invested in Well.ca, calling it the “Amazon of Canada.” It’s true. Mullenweg is the co-founder of WordPress, for those who didn’t know. And that’s not their only buy-in. Check out the impressive list of other investors.
If that’s not enough, CrunchBase reports that, “Well.ca was recognized in May 2009 by IDC as one of Ten Canadian Healthcare Solutions to Watch, and in July as “one of 20 companies that are driving innovation and changing the way we use the Internet” by Backbone Magazine and KPMG.”
Pretty fancy for being on ZenCart, I’d say! The cool part about all this is that they actually talk about their site’s development on their labs site: http://labs.well.ca/ (for those who want a heads up on where to start).
I have officially broken up with WP e-Commerce. We are so over. Yes it is prominent in the WordPress community, and yes, it has nice features, and yes, it has a free version. But a shopping cart should work, and should not have THAT many bugs.
My turning point was when I read audacious comments written by the owner of Instinct / GetShopped (whatever you want to call the parent company behind the plugin) on many forums defending his plugin when so many people had complaints about it. A repeated comment was people telling this guy ‘maybe if you stop defending your plugin and actually work on it, it won’t be so bad.’ Also, his own forums are FULL of unanswered posts, usually with common trends of the same problem happening to repeated clients, even paying ones.
I dunno, as a former communication major, I feel that NOT acknowledging the frustrations of your customer and failing to LISTEN to your audience is a big no-no. When reading his defensive comments, I envisioned a project leader who was too arrogant to change. Because of that, likely nothing change with the amount of bugs that continuously get released with new versions of this plugin. It is also a pain to erase out of your database when you try to uninstall, and a novice user will not enjoy the struggle of getting this one to work in the first place.
The only good thing about WP e-commerce is that it led me to find Shopp, another e-commerce solution for WordPress. The miraculous thing is that when you install this software, it works! (ok, it’s not miraculous, but after weeks of toil, sweat and tears with WP e-commerce, it DID feel like a miracle). It is bolt on, as others have blogged, and it has many optional add-ons, such as a Canada Post shipping module, which is very helpful for clients wanting exact shipping rates calculated automatically by the postal code a user enters on checkout (requires a Canada Post merchant’s account though). Also, alternate payment gateways are available to use for clients with their own, non-PayPal online credit card processors.
A great thing about Shopp is that the WP Affiliate Platform integrates with it so sweetly. I also give a hats off to Tips and Tricks for coming up with that one, and creating something that actually works, unlike you know who (see above).
The big down side of Shopp:
My only complaint is that their support is not as bolt-on as their programming and it is definitely NOT a dummy-proof software to customize for non-coders, which makes support all the more necessary. Even someone who can get by putting up a simple WordPress site and has general knowledge of minor programming will find it confusing to customize based on their documentation, which, although comprehensive (sort of), does not come with step-by-step instructions.
Another annoying thing is that their support system has a robot that automatically answers your support requests if they are even remotely related to a “how-to’”question, which they say is outside the scope of their support. Lame-o, and quite rude, actually. If you try to draw their attention to an unanswered post, the robot gets back to you saying they’re closing your second request for attention because it’s already been posted. Searching their password-protected, barely-used (so it seems) community forum is not helpful most of the time either.
If you want to walk the red carpet for faster support, you have to pull out the mullah and pay for it. I can kind of see their point on that one (avoids the stupid questions and forces people to read before asking), but also feel that nothing can compare to the value of having a real human address your needs as a customer. And, judging by the poor level of “free” support, it scares me to think of paying for “priority” support which they claim is just faster. If it were better support, or support that included “how to” questions without a Shoppbot replying to me, I might be willing to take the risk and pay for it, just to see what I’ll get in return.
The Shopp conclusion:
In the end, Shopp has a lot of features that make it worth its price, even if the company does need help on their support (no one can be good at everything, except StudioPress, they’re the exception because they’re just darn great). I bought a developer’s access key and it is my main platform for running e-commerce and retaining all the wonderful E-marketing and content management features of WordPress. Shopp can actually can handle a lot, though their sales pitch doesn’t reveal too much, which makes it feel like a $55 risk when you first decide to try it out (well, their free demo helps with that). Examples include: inventory tracking, batch changes to variations and add-ons, categories and tags, multiple photos per product, CSS customization capabilities and more. The Wishlist add-on is not impressive yet, and super hard to get working, but there is hope – others have it going, so once support actually replies to a support request about it, hopefully I will too.
Never tried it, but a WordPress guru living in my favourite country has a whole section (albeit an under-developed section) dedicated to it on his infamous site: http://yoast.com/cat/magento/ The fact someone like him uses it gives it a lot of credibility already.
The stuff I’m missing:
There are probably hundreds of e-commerce options out there, and I know readers will be wondering why I didn’t mention big names like Shopify, X Cart, CS Cart, or even simple PayPal buttons. Truth is, I haven’t been exposed to everything, and most of this research starts when a particular e-commerce need is identified. For example, I work with WordPress, hence my e-commerce needs were to have something that integrates with that system. Others may need other features, and that’s where I duly invite your recommendations in the comments below!
Happy e-commerce discussing!