Best eCommerce Platforms in 2013

Which e-commerce site would you recommend? Is it better to have a site that starts as a blog with a shopping cart added, or an e-commerce site with a blog added?

BigcommerceI’m currently recommending BigCommerce.com as the number one best eCommerce platform in 2013. It’s an online shopping cart/ecommerce platform that performs well, looks great, and has a standard HTML/CSS backend theme structure. It’s an example of an e-commerce site with a blog added. It’s a managed site that you pay monthly for, rather than a self-hosted site like WordPress, osCommerce, or Magento Community, but it’s not much to pay for the amount of support and consulting that comes with that fee. I’ll discuss more on this later. For now, let’s look at the number one blogging platform, WordPress, when ecommerce is added.

WP-Ecommerce is the most popular ecommerce plugin that runs on WordPress, but I don’t recommend it. I have experience using it myself and from helping clients with it. It does work most of the time, it’s just that when it doesn’t, support is hard to come by. It’s also hard, but not impossible, to make it look good. CSS and theme elements have a lot to do with that, but the plugin has it’s own CSS too, which makes it harder to configure. If you are deadset on using WordPress as your platform, consider Woocommerce first because of all the great themes and support available for it, but if you truly want to self-host, consider Magento Community instead. You might also want to consider osCommerce (read my comparison of Magento vs. osCommerce). Self-hosted ecommerce packages are not easy. If you don’t want to pay someone to support it (or to put it another way, if you want to support it cheaply), what I am recommending right now to clients is BigCommerce.com.

BigCommerce is easy. Software and hosting are managed for you, it has integration with Google Shopping, is SEO friendly, loads super-fast, has blogging functionality, and has gorgeous themes. For a low monthly rate you also get support and some initial consulting. Compare that with hiring a web designer like me and/or hosting it yourself. The bottom line is that WordPress is not an ecommerce platform, it’s designed for blogging. Although it is powerful enough to run an ecommerce site, it’s not its specialty and it will always be harder than a platform designed for ecommerce. For a second hosted solution, consider Shopify. It’s slightly more expensive than BigCommerce and uses less ‘open standards’ of coding, but if you like it better, it’s still a great shopping cart system.

osCommerce Vs. Magento Community

Recently an e-commerce customer who uses osCommerce asked me about re-installing his e-commerce site from scratch or whether or not he should switch platforms:

1. Can I start from scratch to build an osCommerce site? What’s involved? Would I need to link my shipping and payment?

Yes, but I don’t recommend that because it’s out-of-date technology that’s hard to update and doesn’t look that good compared to what else is out there. Installing a new OS Commerce install involves:

  1. Creating a blank database via your web hosting control panel.
  2. Downloading the latest osCommerce zip file from osCommerce, unzip it and extract the ‘catalog’ folder.
  3. If you want your shop to be available at http://www.yourdomain.com/catalog then upload the whole of the catalog folder to the root directory of your website via FTP. If you want the site to be available at http://www.yourdomain.com then just upload all of the contents of the catalog folder, but not the folder itself.
  4. Make sure that the permissions on all of the folders are set to 755, and if that does not work then set them to 777. Make sure that the includes/configure.php file and the admin/includes/configure.php file are set to 777 for the duration of the install. Once the install is complete reset to 644, 444, or 400 depending on your server setup.
  5. Go to http://www.yourdomain.com/install and begin the install procedure. Your DB Server will probably be ‘localhost’, your db user name and password (for mysql access) will have been provided to you by your web hosting company. The name of the database you already know – because you just set it up. Do not enable SSL, elect to store sessions in the database and not files (untick the box), and do not enable persistent connections.
  6. After the install create a folder called ‘backups’ inside the ‘admin’ folder (via FTP), and delete the install folder. Reset permissions on the two configure.php files.
  7. Password Protect your ‘admin’ folder using the Password Protect feature in your web hosting control panel.

2. Can the new site be full screen format? Or can it have a different look? I have not yet figured out how to give my osCommerce site a different look.

The CSS files in the catalog folder control the color and look of the site. The “catalog/includes/header.php” and “catalog/includes/footer.php” files contain the structure of the tables that control the width of the site. A quick find and replace in your editor will replace all the pages that have the same code as above in the catalog folder. The header.php and footer.php files have a little different code and would need to be manually changed. Look for the “table” element that looks like this:

table width="100%"

3. I’m not sure if I want a completely new site – different address or just revamp my current. I think maybe both. Can I use the same shipping and payment for two sites? New site would be O.S. only….I need a no cost option otherwise I would consider something else.

Magento Community Edition is a much better ecommerce platform and is free to download and use, but to answer your question, yes, you can use the same shipping and payment information for both sites. If you’re serious about considering Magento, there is a osCommerce Migration tool to convert your osCommerce site to a Magento site.

osCommerce vs Magento4. Why Magento vs. osCommerce?

Magento has ‘Store View,’ which allows online shop keepers the ability to set up multiple stores with the same products, at different prices, and even in different languages from a single admin area. Magento is better in terms of what it allows you to do and the customer experience. However, the community around osCommerce is huge, and even a person who does not know programming is able to enter and modify the code. If your shop is a huge online store and you are planning to have thousands of products then it’s better to use Magento as it is more robust and has a dedicated support team because of it’s enterprise customers.

How to Convert Shopperpress Custom Post-Type Articles to WordPress Posts

Recently I wrote about how to setup a blog on Shopperpress, which then led one of my readers to ask about what happens to the custom post-type articles Shopperpress uses for the blog functionality when you convert to another theme or want to move your content to another site or ecommerce platform?

I saw your Shopperpress post, and I just wondered if you could give me any advice. I probably will move from Shopperpress to another platform in the near future. But for now, is it OK to use the “new-articles” function on WordPress to write articles/blog posts? I just wondered if I did this, would the blog posts be transferable from Shopperpress to the new cart I purchase? I just was a little confused by your blog post that’s all. I currently use the “article” template from Shopperpress on my blog page.

I haven’t tested it, but I believe that posts written as “articles” are custom post-types, which don’t display natively without the plugin or theme calling them specifically. This means that if you were to switch themes, your articles would not display unless the new theme specifically went looking for them.

Switching to a different shopping cart platform is an entirely different matter unless you were referring to a different WordPress plugin like WP-Ecommerce, which I don’t recommend. If switching to Big Commerce, you’d probably have to copy and paste it all in manually so make sure you do some sort of backup that makes sense to you before switching over.

I haven’t actually written any blog posts thus far, I’m just in the process of setting it up. Is there an alternative than using the “article” post type to write blog posts? Basically, Shopperpress has hijacked the “posts” option on WordPress to create new products instead. So I can’t create blog posts that way. Is there an easy way to write blog posts on Shopperpress that are easy to move to a new shopping cart if I did move? I don’t know if doing it manually in the future is particularly appealing.

You’re right in that Shopperpress uses the normal “posts” option to post products. Your options for moving custom post-types like Shopperpress articles to normal WordPress post-types involve using a plugin like pTypeConverter or Post Type Convertr. Your other option is to use a plugin like Backup WordPress.

Wordpress Post Type Converter