E-Commerce: Application Selection for ShySiren.com

ShySiren.com is a jewelry site featuring handcrafted jewelry, earrings, necklaces, bracelets and wedding accessories.  Shy Siren also happens to be my wife’s company.  Shy Siren is selling jewelry online for about 7 years and is successful.  With its success the need to improve the website’s e-commerce platform is a priority. Shy Siren came to Four Eyes — E.g., wife came to husband — to talk about options for redevelopment.

Shy Siren needs a robust e-commerce platform with similar features to the current site.   Among the key considerations for this new site are: increasing site performance , leveraging new technologies for both the customer user interface (UI) and the administrative UI,  improved search engine optimization (SEO) and friendly URLs.

Accomplishing the above requires preserving the existing customer UI,  replicating existing customer and administrative features, migrating about 1,200 or so products, migrating supporting data and streamlining order processing. The site requires a horizontal migration to a new e-commerce platform and then a vertical migration to enhance features, all while keeping the site aesthetic the same.

The current Shy Siren site runs on Coldfusion and MSSQL using an e-commerce solution that wasHEAVILY customized.  The goal for this upgraded site is to forgo the HEAVY customizations and find an e-commerce solution that has our core requirements.  I evaluated e-commerce solutions in Coldfusion, JSP, and PHP.  The winner, hands down, for diversity  of e-commerce offerings was PHP utilizing MySQL.

After reviewing about 10 different e-commerce platforms, I narrowed my field down to Magento, OpenCart, PrestaShop and LemonStand.  Each solution has its pluses and minuses.  My evaluation criteria:

  • Ease of customizing the front-end UI
  • Robustness of administrative tools
  • Availability of add-on modules (free or pay)
  • Server requirements
  • Developer documentation
  • API and kooks to enhance/build upon the existing functionality
  • Administrative documentation
  • Screen based help in the admin UI

Magento, OpenCart, PrestaShop and LemonStand are  good solutions and my conclusion based upon the above are as follows:

  • Magento: Wonderful e-commerce solution with a ton of features and modules for the enterprise website.  The directory structure is a tad convoluted and figuring out where templates are stored took some time. The admin UI is clean and very easy to use. Overall, if ShySiren.com was dealing with thousands of products and numerous employees for handling fulfillment, this would be the ways to go.  Magneto, was too big.   Truth be told I was familiar with Magneto for a while.  I have been in the code and once one understands the structure, working with it is pretty straightforward.  Customizing the design is a mule, but any design ideas can be accomplished.  That being said, this is a monster of code and debugging it is painful.  On the plus side, very few bugs. Magento offers a free (community version) and two commercial version each with yearly licence fees. I highly suggest going for a licensed version.   I keep Magento very close in mind, and if any thing were to fall through with my development direction this would be a solid direction.
  • LemonStand: At $300,LemonStand it is dirt cheap for how good it is.  The admin and frontend are clean, fast, intuitive and full of features that any shop could use.  Customizing the design is easy and the backend is a breeze for a store administrator.  So why are we not using it?  It was mostly to do with the database design, product import and how the system deals with product options.  I just felt it would not work out for the needs of Shy Siren.  However, LemonStand is high on my list and a definite resource for clients.
  • Open Cart: Out of all the applications I evaluated, this was my least favorite.  It is not as polished as the above solutions and very cookie-cutter.  While it is fine for basic commerce, I doubt Four Eyes would ever use this.  From the Four Eyes (and the Michael) perspective, the e-commerce is so rudimentary that I can see issues with customizing it even before I got deep into the code. I am not saying it is bad solution, it just too simple of a solution.  It would be worth the time to learn other applications as ultimately, I think, they are far more customizable.

For Shy Siren I like ….

  • PrestaShop:  This is solution takes the best of above and adds a robust template system (uses PHP Smarty for nice caching), robust order support, powerful admin interface and extensive use hooks and core extensions for extending the core code (MVC — Model View Controller).  The design flexibility will allow for any layout we want (E.g., the one we have), and the admin area fulfils the requirements we already have in place, plus many more.  Just as I was going to use LemonStand I discovered PrestaShop and WOWwas I glad I did. PrestaShop has a huge user community and the core development team is updating the code and fairly regular basis.PrestaShop like Magento forces the developer to code correctly.  While many do not like Smarty Templates, I think it is plus as we will adhere to standards coding and not use spaghetti code (not that we would).  Also, Smarty means caching for increased site performance. The site templates are easy to work with and debugging is easy.  The solution is not perfect.  The admin area could be sleeker, but that appears to be adressed in the next release.   Moreover, product sorting (manual sorting) appears to not have an AJAX interface.  Again, this is OK, as the rest of the features make up for it.

Making an e-commerce choice came down to implementation and by no means are any of these solutions bad.  This evaluation is based on the needs of Shy Siren.  No matter what we select the migration will take time.

Lastly, the evaluation is based upon downloads and a few sample products.  Once we get the development really moving who knows what we will find, but my confidence level is very high — i.e., disclaimer to myself.

Well, the new Shy Siren site will be in development for a few months.  For now check out ShySiren.com for some really pretty jewelry! If you have any questions about e-commerce development, please visit foureyes.com.

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