Zen Cart, by Suhreed Sarkar

It’s really difficult to write a good manual for a product like Zen Cart. The chief obstacle to universal acclaim is the fact that the market is highly segregated: newbies who are unlikely to venture beyond modifying simple admin settings are not going to want to the customization details that will excite experienced PHP developers. So how do you balance these interests?

Suhreed Sarkar’s new book Zen Cart E-commerce Application Development walks the wire nicely. It provides ample coverage of admin panel basics that every shopowner needs to know, and also takes the time to discuss topics like changing templates and writing CSS. There is code in every chapter (even some code I wrote from Better Together), which is going to be very helpful for someone who wants to go beyond the customization capabilities which are available through the admin panel. The book’s treatment of add-ons is also useful, as is the background and comparative information for people coming from OSCommerce.

If I had to buy a single book on Zen Cart, it would still be Goh Koon Hoek’s manual. However, for users seeking a litle more detail and a gentle introduction to changing files and using contributions, this book is a nice addition. Good luck to Suhreed Sarkar and Packt Publishing!

Talking with Qualiteam (X-Cart, LiteCommerce)

I was able to talk with the folks at Qualiteam, an Eastern European ecommerce vendor. They have two shopping cart products, X-Cart and LiteCommerce.

Thanks for talking with TheCartBlog.com, guys. Where are you located?

Our company is headquartered in Cyprus, with partner company offices in the Russian Federation.

How many people does your firm have?

At this time, we have more than 150 people working in our company.

Tell me about the products. In particular, I’m having trouble understanding why you have two apparently competing products. I read the comparison chart, and it seems to suggest that X-Cart is more mature and fully featured. Why didn’t you create an X-Cart lite? As a customer, how do I decide which is right for me?

The concepts behind these two products are quite different.

Both solutions are stable and mature, and both of them provide a rich feature set and can be used as ready-made shopping cart solutions or e-commerce platforms/engines for custom online store solutions. They are widely integrated with numerous payment and shipping services and other third-party solutions. Moreover, our company provides the whole range of accompanying services including software installation, custom development, web design and shopping cart hosting.

However, there are some significant differences: X-Cart is equipped with a wider range of built-in features (at a higher price), while LiteCommerce is a very modular architecture which provides convenient mechanisms for customization, such as an API for third-party add-ons. Designers also like LiteCommerce’s WYSIWYG editors. LiteCommerce is also easier to maintain for store owners and administrators, thanks to the built-in QuickStart wizard along with a Control Panel and installer for Windows.

So in a nutshell,

  • X-Cart is a powerful, ready-made, fully-featured solution with a wide range of ready-made add-ons and third-party solutions
  • LiteCommerce is a more flexible, easy to use and customizable solution.

And of course, our sales representatives are always happy make recommendations based on client needs.

Is X-Cart considered a legacy product? Are you actively in development?

X-Cart is under active development, with releases containing new features, enhancements and bugfixes being provided on a regular basis. By no means is it a legacy product.

How many people are using the products? Any segments in particular that
prefer your software?

Our products power more than 20,000 live online stores worldwide. Since both products are highly customizable, they can be tailored to almost any industry, and that is why the range of segments greatly varies. Among the most popular are: books, videos, clothing, electronics, toys, and e-goods.

Your add ons for the LiteCommerce product are very modestly priced. How did you
decide on this strategy? Why have you kept X-Cart add on prices high?

The main idea behind this approach is to allow a client to combine a desired feature set himself and expand it when there’s a need for extended functionality. For example, a client can buy a basic version of LiteCommerce and extend it with additional components at a later date without having to spend too much extra money up front.

With X-Cart, the approach is different since many advanced features are already present in the stock version. Add-ons provide some complex, powerful features, that is why they are priced higher.

What’s your support plan? How do you deal with the time difference?

Our support system is based on support points. Each incident (an issue, problem or question related to our software) is classified by category and rated in points depending on its complexity. Points can be bought at any time, they are simply added to your account and can be spent later. However, we advise our customers to maintain a positive account balance in order to cover the work, and most of our customers buy points in advance.

The point system means that a customer can buy as much support as needed and avoid unnecessary spending. Also, each of our products comes with a free support package so that clients can receive assistance on the basics.

As for the time difference, it’s not an issue for our customers since the support service is provided 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Are you primarily marketing to developers or to storeowners?

We think of both groups as our target audience, since it’s possible either to use our software as-is, customize it yourself or hire our developers to customize it for you.

Why did you make your forum members only?

In our experience, a forum open to the public attracts those who simply wish to promote their products and are not interested in providing assistance for our solutions at all. That is why we have limited access, so that people could actually receive assistance and participate in relevant discussions. In addition, there is a great deal of code available on our forum which we also want to protect for security and licensing reasons.

How many commercial 3rd party developers do you have in your community?

It’s hard to tell the exact number, however, we can definitely say that there are a number of individuals and studios who are very active in providing custom solutions and add-on modules and whose services are based solely on our products.

What are the differentiators between your solution and Zen Cart, OSCommerce or Magento?

ZenCart/OSCommerce are surely among the best picks from free e-commerce products, however, they mostly succeed in skilled hands since they’re quite difficult to customize. Store owners may still have to pay a lot for the extra work which in our case is built into the product.

As for Magento, it is surely an attractive product and it deserves a lot of attention, but the code quality and maturity is still uncertain, whereas X-Cart has a long development history and most of glitches are fixed by now. It’s also not clear what level of service Varien will provide (i.e. will they do custom programming themselves?) and this is a very important consideration for many clients.

How do you do upgrades? What’s the cost?

As soon as the new version is released, we provide upgrade packs at no additional cost so customers can perform the upgrade themselves. If code changes are minor, X-Cart can be upgraded using the automated script. An upgrade between versions involves automatic database upgrade and manual re-implementation of modifications.

Still, if necessary, clients are always welcome to order a custom upgrade to be done by our engineers.

What percentage of your revenue is derived from professional services vs. selling software licenses?

In general, the largest part of our revenue is generated by software sales.

Great! Well thanks for your time guys, and we’ll see you on the web.
Qualiteam’s e-commerce offerings are X-Cart and LiteCommerce. Check them out.

Elevator pitches – not just for entrepreneurs

I got a pitch in today’s mail for the American Express Gold Card.  Now I already have the Blue Cash card from Amex,  so why are they pitching me?  “Because you’re such a valued customer, we’re offering you the opportunity to upgrade.”  So what exactly does this upgrade look like?   At first glance, it looks like  $150 a year.

But I’m always keen to talk about money, so I call and tell them my situation.   I have your Blue Cash card.  It’s free, and I get hundreds of dollars in cash rewards every year.  So why would I want to pay another $150 a year for a gold card?  The nice woman on the phone said,
“I see your point.  I guess you wouldn’t.”

Well you could have knocked me over with a Discover card.  I was flabbergasted.

“The people who have it really like it, but it may not make sense for you.”

Okay then!   I guess we’re done here.   Is the argument for the Amex Gold Card actually that weak, or did I get her at a bad time?  I guess I’ll never know.

Questions:

  • Are you listening to other peoples’ sales pitches to improve your own?
  • Do you fold like a napkin at the slightest hint of sales resistance, or are you ready with your arguments?
  • How would you have made this sale?   I took the time to call and could have been convinced by a compelling presentation.  Could you have saved the sale?

The perils of Google searching

I wrote a piece of software that I called Checkout Candy, which does automatic upselling on the shopping cart and checkout pages of a Zen Cart, based on Better Together discounts.

I got an email last night (from someone who was obviously not a native English speaker) that said,

I have been asked by my cousin (that Is been a distributor of candies for the last 20 years In Israel). to look for a good deal In candy.

I’m looking to ship a container 40’ long.

Please send me list with prices.

I never laughed so hard! 🙂 Good luck in your search for candy, sir!

Create like Hugh MacLeod

I’m a big fan of @gapingvoid. And I’m anxiously awaiting his book. But in the meantime, I’m reflecting on his top ten tips for being more creative:

1. Ignore everybody.

2. The idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to change the world.

3. Put the hours in.

4. If your biz plan depends on you suddenly being “discovered” by some big shot, your plan will probably fail.

5. You are responsible for your own experience.

6. Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten.

7. Keep your day job.

8. Companies that squelch creativity can no longer compete with companies that champion creativity.

9. Everybody has their own private Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb.

10. The more talented somebody is, the less they need the props.

You can even read the rest of the tips if you want to keep going.