by Fred Boyle
So here we are, our first entry on this new journey we’re calling “Ask the Pro”. For those of you that don’t know me I’m Fred Boyle, the Digital Chef at nGen Works in Jacksonville, FL. I take care of all things EE among other geeky tasks.
Don’t forget to email firstname.lastname@example.org to ask your question. But what you’ve really come here for are the answers to the questions, so let’s get on with the show!
Q: What shopping cart solution do you prefer?
Thoughts on FoxEE Cart, Cartthrob, or dual installation of Magento or Interspire along with EE? Please list a couple of vital tips to help customers succeed with their new web shopping cart site.
A: The question about how to do e-commerce on EE is frequently asked. The topic itself is diverse. Currently the major player in integrated EE shopping carts is Foxee. At the time of writing this is also the only integrated option I’m aware of other than the Simple Commerce module included with EE. Another option that will be available soon is CartThrob. It is touted as extremely robust but is currently not publicly available. Keep an eye out for it.
All of these are great in their own respects and have their own sets of pros and cons. I won’t go into the details of each, instead I’ll discuss things to keep in mind when using an integrated solution or not.
So what do I get if I use an integrated solution? Well the obvious is that it’s integrated directly into your EE installation and uses your entries and weblogs/channels to do it’s thing. This lets your site manager maintain the site and the shop in one place. On the down side you may not have all the functionality you need from the limited options that are currently available.
What about using a more stand-alone solution? The big benefit here is the power and flexibility of what is possible for your shop such as: coupons, specials, grouped items, shipping options, gift cards, and payment gateways. On the down side integrating the shop into the rest of your site could present some challenges, and not always fun ones.
So what do I suggest you use? That all depends on the needs of your client and what features the shop needs to have. There simply is no one answer to this question unfortunately. What I can give you are thoughts to consider when making your decision.
If your client is seeking a truly robust e-commerce system to manage a large number of products and wants to manage customer accounts and use advanced features such as grouped items, I would suggest you look at the stand-alone options. It may feel a little dirty but if the core of the site is the e-commerce element that’s where the money is for your client, the rest of the site serves to support it.
For lesser needs where the shop is a smaller part of the whole—I’m thinking of a situation where the shop compliments the site and enhances it but isn’t a major focus—the integrated solutions even the Simple Commerce module may suffice. Based on the need it maintains simplicity of management while still meeting the e-commerce need.
What we’ve Done
What have we done in the past at nGen Works? We created PHP classes to handle the average needs of our clients and ourselves. We re-use these classes with tweaks from client to client as needed. This means we have total control over the experience and if needed we can modify the functionality, payment gateway interaction, store data in EE or not. Developing custom code such as we did may not be a worthwhile effort for you and your clients but for us it made sense and gave us the control we needed while meeting the needs of the projects.
Whatever solution you choose never forget that someone has to manage it. How savvy your shop manager is will affect which option you choose, if the system is too complex or isn’t understood it won’t be used and lead to frustration. This frustration will likely end up directed at you which nobody wants.
In the end only you, with the help of your client, can decide but hopefully I’ve provided you with some good food for thought to help you make that decision. Never forget that there are many ways to slice a pie in the web world, don’t limit yourself to one option because it’s what you know.
If you’d like to ask me a question, just send an email to email@example.com.