Reader Response: A Simple, Streamlined E-Commerce Solution

Published April 8, 2009 by CSS Newbies.

Today, dear readers, I come to you with my arms wide open — and my shoulders caught somewhere between a slump and a shrug. I’ve been tearing my hair out over the last couple of months looking for the perfect ecommerce solution for my specific needs and wants. I’ve come up short.

But it occurs to me that I have a lot of smart, savvy readers here on CSS Newbie — and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to help me find the perfect shopping cart. Below, I’ll explain specifically what I’m looking for (and a bit about what I’m not looking for, too). If you know of a cart that meets my needs — or even just some of them — please do not hesitate to let me know! I’m hoping that the comments on this article will prove as plentiful as Starbucks on the open prairie. And twice as useful.

I Want a Simple, User-Friendly Cart that Stays Out of My Way.

That about sums it up, really. But for more detail, here’s what I want/need in a cart:

  • A self-hosted solution. If it weren’t for this requirement, I think Foxycart would be my #1 contender. Consider that a hint — if you know of something Foxycart-eque, but is self-hosted instead, please let me know!
  • Supports everything PayPal has to offer. Specifically, I want something that can support Website Payments Pro and the Payflow Pro gateway. This way I can handle payments on my site, but still take advantage of PayPal’s expertise, PCI compliance, and competitive pricing.
  • Flexible, straightforward templating. I am a front-end developer. Any cart solution that tries to stand between me and my code or that makes templating a holy hell isn’t a good solution. I want simple, straightforward flexibility. For example, I’ve been working with Magento a lot recently, and while it has a lot of great features, it’s a huge pain to deviate too far from the standard build. Every small change requires updates in multiple disparate files and hours of time for a five-minute job. My ideal solution would let me build my pages however I wanted, and just drop in the “cart” functionality wherever I cared to do so.
  • Good support of downloadable products. The stores I’m building will have both hard and soft goods, so I need the cart to work equally smoothly with both.
  • Built for LAMP servers. The ideal solution would run on PHP/MySQL, but I would consider other LAMP-friendly options. Sorry, but ASP/.NET solutions aren’t a possibility for me.
  • A single product database. This solution will be running multiple stores, but several of the stores will share some products. In the interest of avoiding redundant data, I’d like to have a single product database that all my stores can draw from.
  • Access to the source. I don’t want to have to wait for a team halfway around the world or a community of volunteer developers to get around to building the functionality I need if I think I could tackle the project myself. If I can’t have access to the source itself, an exceptional plugin system would be a good alternative.
  • A flexible discounting system. I want to be able to offer (as a fake example) 20% off orders of $50 or more on certain products. I want to discount items if people buy two or more of the same product. I want sales that run for three weeks, and expire automatically. Or at least some of those things.

That’s the basics of what I need, folks. That isn’t too much to ask, is it?

To summarize, I’m looking for a simple, straightforward shopping cart that makes templating a breeze, runs on PHP/MySQL, supports PayPal gateways, allows virtual goods and discounts, and is something I can install locally and modify. I do not need a solution that tries to be everything at once — it doesn’t have to contain a CMS, a catalog, or an inventory system. It doesn’t have to provide a newsletter, it needn’t compare items, and it shouldn’t try to walk my dog on Thursdays. I don’t want a jack-of-all-trades: I want a master of one (or two).

I also want to clarify: this does not have to be a free solution. If you know of a commercial option that does all this, I would be very excited to hear about it.

So! Let me know what you know in the comments below. Even if you know of a cart that fulfills some of these needs, I would be excited to hear about it — there’s always the chance I can customize it to do what I need from there.