E-commerce Shopping Cart Review - Shop Script Free, Zen Shopping Cart
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Shop Script Free is a PHP based shopping cart system that is very quick and easy to install. PHP and either MySQL, MS SQL Server or Interbase are required on the Web server. The default installation looks very nice, and it is fairly easy to customize through the intuitive browser based admin panel or by modifying the main CSS file directly. Adding new products is a five second job; generally, this solution would be ideal for the small or specialised business. Unfortunately, many of the features of the Shop Script Free ecommerce cart are unavailable in the free version; to get the full featured, modular and completely customizable version, or to be able to accept payments online, you need to upgrade to Shop Script Pro, which, while undoubtedly worth the $199, offers nothing that other shopping carts don’t offer for free.
The Zen Shopping Cart solution is an out-of-the-box style ecommerce system that aims to offer everything you could need to get a store up and running on the Internet. It comes with an integrated phpBB forum built in that can be configured or left out at install time. It is quick and easy to set up, provided you have everything installed on the Web server; I have found that it works best using IIS 5.1, PHP 4.3.10 and MySQL 4.1.1, although it is possible to configure higher versions of both IIS and PHP. Theoretically, this should all be taken care of by your Web host, and in many cases, hosting companies are configured specifically for the Zen Cart, but if you’re hosting a site on your own Web server, setting up a development server, or want to create a store on your desktop PC, this is something you’ll need to think about.
When everything is in place, you are taken through a browser based installation that helps you to quickly set up a store and database. Once set up, you’re given some basic security advice to protect your online store, which is helpful. In addition to using MySQL as the default database, you can also choose to use the postgreSQL open source database. You should also note at this point that the Zen cart is optimized for US use primarily. Any UK based store operators will need to do quite a bit of customization just to use the UK currency and address formats.
It comes with two sample stores for you to install; first time users are recommended to do this to see how a successfully created store operates. Once created, the store is managed via a browser-based admin panel which gives an overview of the site statistics: number of hits, number of customers, number of orders, and so forth, and gives access to every single aspect of the management and maintenance of the store, from adding new products and product reviews, to setting the supported credit card options.
There are also many built in tools, such as the banner manager, newsletter manager and template editor. Newcomers to Web based business running may find this solution a little daunting at first, due to the size of the store, but support for Zen Cart is top notch; the creators’ site ( http://www.zen-cart.com) features a wealth of information, a dedicated support forum used by store owners and developers alike, and the Live Store showcase to help you. In true open source style, the Zen cart is regularly updated by like minded developers, and there are many, many modules, design templates and add-ons that can be downloaded and bolted on. All in all, people wanting to easily and quickly set up a functional Web shop could do far worse than choose the Zen Cart.
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