Choosing a shopping cart is not easy! I’ve spent well over 10 years looking at shopping cart software and I can promise you no solution is perfect. Like many of you, I initially had high hopes for Interspire Shopping Cart (and still do) but over the past year the Interspire management has really dropped the ball with their communication and software updates, which has encouraged some of us to look at alternatives. One of the alternative shopping carts that I see popping up from time to time is CS Cart, which I was able to take a close look at over what was a very wet and miserable weekend.

CS Cart Pricing

To be honest, up until recently I had been somewhat suspicious of the quality of CS Cart. I figured that at $285 there had to be something wrong…. it’s just far too cheap for the features on offer.

CS Cart Support Options

With your initial purchase you will have access to all major and minor updates for a period of 12 months. If you wish to continue receiving these updates after this time period it will cost $49.50 per year. Your initial purchase will also provide you with either 30 days or 40 credits of technical support. Support queries are answered via an online helpdesk and are limited to consulting on the functionality of the shopping cart, assisting in your software configuration, resolving issues with the software (or server), and performing minor technical modifications. Understanding how the support options work is a little bit tricky. It seems that you can either purchase support for one ($65), three ($180), six ($350) or 12 months ($650) or you can purchase between 25 ($35) and 200 ($270) support credits that can be used as needed. (If I have interpreted this incorrectly please let me know in the comments) The development team also offer a custom development service that allows you to extend the “out-of-the-box” functionality of CS Cart. I was surprised to read that some customers who have previously had modifications developed found their customised work included in the-base software package at a later date, essentially paying for the ongoing development of the cart. No big deal I suppose, so long as the customer was made aware of this beforehand.

CS Cart Community

It is very impressive to see that there is a strong and enthusiastic crowd of people using CS Cart. The discussion forums are busy and full of helpful and encouraging advice. There appears to be quite a few active developers offering third-party services and/or add-ons for sale. There also appears to be a range of third-party designers ready to help design and customise the look and feel of your store layout. The only ongoing negative sentiment I could find coming out of the community was that perhaps the CS Cart developers were releasing software updates before enough testing has taken place, essentially relying on customers to find most of the bugs rather than their own quality testing. In saying that, releasing software too early isn’t an uncommon practice with software providers and you should never look at upgrading your software too quickly, it’s just a recipe for disaster. The other negative comments that I could find were that a number of larger e-commerce stores were reporting experiences of dramatic slowing under heavy traffic. I’m really not sure if this is the fault of the software or if they need a better performing web server. Something that’s probably worthwhile looking into it if you’re in the situation of owning a busy site. Overall, this positive community vibe and access to third-party services bodes well for the future of this shopping cart. A happy community generally reflects a software application that is heading in the right direction.

CS Cart Features

In terms of features, CS Cart is very much comparable to Interspire Shopping Cart’s Ultimate Edition, which is surprising as it retails for $285 US compared to $1,795 US with Interspire. The CS Cart design is fully customisable and is 100% template driven (using smarty templates). For those of you who are not sure what this means and why it is important you can interpret it as having the core files totally separated from the design elements, making the software much easier to customise and more importantly much harder to break. On top of this the developers have also provided you with an inbuilt a Block Management feature, which further facilitates the design customisation by allowing the cart administrator to create and drag blocks of content around the interface until the desired look and feel has been obtained. No HTML or PHP skills required!

Unlike other providers, the software allows you to add an unlimited number of products and categories to your catalogue. Fortunately, large product catalogues are pretty easy to manage via the bulk product management or the import/export tools. Quantity discounts, configurable products, digital product delivery and a flexible range of product options round out the product related features. Logging in via the web-based administration panel allows you to easily and quickly make changes to your store via a large range of configurable options and settings. You can set up an unlimited amount of admin accounts, each of which can be set at a different access level which is great for limiting staff members from gaining access to sensitive information. The localisation features are strong. There are currently 8 languages translated and the software can be configured to cater for any particular currency, measurement unit, or date-time format. On top of that the software is also able to handle a range of different localised tax calculations (e.g. VAT in England, GST in Australia etc). CS Cart has included over 50 integrated payment systems and has a flexible range of shipping options that would cover the needs of most online retailers. There is also a wide range of marketing and promotional tools that include an affiliate program, SEO friendliness, gift certificates, gift registry, reward points, coupons, discounts etc. I won’t bother with explanation of the rest of the features because it would only be repeating what is on their website, but you can rest assured that it is jampacked and very impressive.

Summary of CS Cart

Personally, my overall impression of CS Cart is very good, but if you want software that is developed and supported well you should expect to pay an appropriate price. Ongoing development and the associated support is costly and at its current price point I wonder if CS Cart is too cheap (perhaps it is a great time to be buying). I should add that to date I have had no dealings with the CS Cart team, however if experience with similar software companies is anything to go by there is a possibility that if they don’t increase their price they may struggle to keep up with future growth or even cannibalise their reputation chasing alternative revenue streams (like charging a custom development and then releasing it as part of your software at a future date). In saying that, this is just my speculation and everything else I can find about CS Cart seems very very positive. I will definitely be looking at purchasing a license in the near future and have no problems recommending people check it out.
[divider title=”What do you think of CS Cart?”] As I mentioned above, to date I have no real life experience with CS Cart and am basing this review on their demos and the research that I have conducted online. If you have had any experience with CS Cart I would love to hear them in the comments below.