I’ve worked with several free or low-cost e-commerce shopping carts. Here is my review of several of them. This is from a designer’s perspective, as one who can hack a bit of code, but not at the level of a developer. So while I like to have lots of options to make things the way I want them to look, the ‘how’ needs to be fairly straightforward.

OS Commerce (open source)

This is the first cart I used. It’s a huge, confusing mass of folders, many with repeated names in varying directories. It feels like many different people have worked on it, and many people have.

Upsides: Free. Easy to style. Full access to source code. Self hosted.

Options: Quite a few. Most powerful being “xml shipping” which takes into account the size of your product. Since it is open source, there are a lot of add-ons that may or may not work well.

Downsides: Extremely complex to update. The developers give you bits of code and the approx. line numbers for perhaps a dozen php files. Uploading products and images is a bit confusing. If you duplicate a product and delete the thumbnail, the thumbnail from the old product gets deleted along with it (sometimes).

Why I quit: The last upgrade, although well-documented, completely hosed the entire store. Perhaps things have improved, but I’ve been scared away for good.

Grade: C+

WordPress wp-ecommerce

I installed this software with the paid upgrade (Gold cart) so that I could have more control over the layout of the images (in a grid rather than in a 1-column list). It worked okay for awhile, using it in conjunction with a highly customized child theme.

Upsides: Installs as a plug-in. Self-hosted. No monthly fee.

Options: Definitely worth the upgrade, but your upgrade key only works on one site at a time. Has many payment options and shipping options.

Downsides: Cries for help on the plug in forum go unanswered. Customers are not instructed to enter their city and when they don’t, they don’t get the correct information. Although I put in large red letters “visa and mc only” orders still looked like they went through with discover, amex.

Why I quit: About a week after I got everything up and running, this plug -in had a major update along with a major update to WordPress itself (definitely an issue with anything on WordPress). Although I followed the instructions explicitly, all my images disappeared. I followed the instructions to make them reappear and they were all contorted, the categories were messed up – it really went south into a state of disrepair. Maybe it was because I had a custom theme… I still have the upgrade key and might try it again, some day.

Grade: B D-
*Update* I did try it again, with really bad results and embarrassing client situations where the cart just didn’t work – shipping was horrible even using USPS/xml accurate shipping -always charged too much. I read some blogs on the subject of this plug in and it’s described as the best marketed plugin but the dev team is really lacking in consistency and quality. I have to down this to a D- the experience was so bad… I switched to Woo and paid up the yazoo for stuff you get for free on wp-ecommerce, but not having to deal with customers not getting their downloads etc. makes it worthwhile.

Woo Commerce with Wootique

A friend of mine used this to set up his online store. He’s not at all a luddite and is young and computer savvy, but had trouble with some of the basics. I didn’t have much trouble getting it all going, but some of the instructions were unintuitive.

Upsides: Self hosted, free version available, free theme to optimize the plug in. Fairly easy to customize with style options as part of the theme.

Options: Paid version to accept more than Paypal. For instance, $50 for authorize.net. Guess they have to make money somehow. Has up-sell and cross-sell options.

Downside: With dozens of php files and interfaces, it can be a challenge to figure out where to activate something you set up on another page. Shipping countries have to be added one at a time. Customization is often counter-intuitive: for instance, in order for your custom logo to show up, you have to deselect “text title” right under it. Since it’s one or the other, seems like the programmer should have made it an either/or radio button option. Also “text title” seems like it should be an option since image can have a title tag, but that’s not what this is about. No option to hide certain things except to go into the style sheet and set its visibility.

Grade: B+

WooCommerce with Swatch (child) theme: Even though Swatch is a registered woo-compatible theme, I still had to go through the motions of telling it to be so. Kind of annoying because you can do this with just about any widgetized theme out there, and Swatch is not responsive, but it is free. If you don’t tell it to be compatible through Woo’s kind instructions, you get really odd image results in your product page.

I then installed Woo on a Responsive template, which so far has worked great! The problem is the client’s host.

I set up a store on a client who is hosted on IPage, yeah they have those annoying ads on YouTube videos. Client wants to use Fed Ex and I had to pay $49 for the plug in, which does not activate, because their SOAP is in a PEAR and yeah that makes no sense because I’m too lazy to go find their exact wording, and I am still waiting for WOO to assign this issue to a technical support staff.


The gang at Korakoram split board bindings (best split board setup ever) use this WordPress plug in so I thought I’d check it out. After spending a couple hours I discovered this:

Upsides: Easy to install as a WordPress plug-in. Free for basic features. Same store could be used on any web site. Adding products and categories is easy. Accepts authorize.net without additional fees.

Options: The usual ones, like countries to ship to, state-based tax settings.

Downsides: Image size is locked in at 500 pixels max. Couldn’t find a way to change it. An example was provided in the forums for the lightbox function, but not at all well documented. Hosted externally so you can’t really hack those kinds of settings. Lots and lots of paid upgrades for $17/month.

Grade: B


Currently in use for admaddox studios.

Upsides: Very user-friendly interface. Although they have their own code system (“liquid”) it’s intuitive and easy to edit. Free month long trial. There are free and paid themes. If you learn their programming language you can sell themes on their site, and get work helping others with their sites. Has light-box built in for really big enlargements. You do have access to your theme’s files and styles but not the admin back-end. Because of this you don’t have to worry about updates like on WordPress.

Options: Adding countries is a little time consuming but available.

Downsides: After the month long trial it can get expensive. There is a monthly fee in addition to a percentage of all sales. Files are hosted externally and your store will be on a different domain than the rest of your site (could be a bonus if you don’t have hosting). But it made it a pain for google adwords and analytics. The image alt tag isn’t working on my site because it’s an “old theme” but I’m working on that with developers there in an attempt to hack in a style for certain images.

Grade: A-