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What is E-Commerce? Do I Need It?

E-Commerce refers to the process of buying and selling products and services to consumers over the internet. Payment is usually – but not always – made over the internet and handled real time, or through an eftpos after an order is received. Thus E-Commerce usually refers to the sales proportion of e-business models or online shopping. E-Commerce, incorporating online retail and B2B, is a growing industry. The industry is predicted to grow at least 10 per cent a year to contribute up to 13 per cent of the GDP by 2015 and some estimates have placed the internet economy at £100 billion in the UK alone1.

The potential for E-Commerce is endless. From retail shopping and banking and financial products to real estate transactions, online auctions and travel, online sales is only limited by the imagination. E-Commerce allows for distribution of associated products or services by a company that might have previously specialised in one product only through online shops. E-Commerce also removes costs barriers to retailing so that firms can distribute to final users without expensive shop-fronts or retail staff. As long as legal, security and privacy concerns are addresses, there is everything to be gained for any business from E-Commerce.

It is not so much a question of needing E-Commerce but rather whether a business enterprise can afford not to consider it. Cost reductions can result from reducing labour, turnaround and lead times to payment, investment on advertising, and faster delivery of product. The high-degree of automation means businesses and individuals can handle more complex sales, a larger product range, a broader customer base and trade in higher volumes than ever before. The emergence of online shops through E-Commerce has changed many business models by rendering communication and sales almost instant and allowing sellers and buyers to trade with more markets than ever before.


Popular Open Source Shopping Carts and Feature Comparison

There are a variety of E-Commerce shopping carts that have gained popularity and many of these are open source. Open source means that the software is available for use for free and can be modified and adapted without having to obtain additional permissions. Shopping carts list and sell products on an existing website or online shop and as such, they are not functional without an existing website. Shopping cart software integrates into the main website and have content management system that allows the site owner to administer and manage the content and orders. It is important to note that it is very difficult to run an E-Commerce business without shopping cart software.

Many popular open source shopping cart programs are user-friendly. Compared with bespoke designs, they are limited in adaption and choice.

One of these is Magento. Magento was released in 2008 and comes in two versions. The open source version, or ‘Community Edition,’ allows for some level of functionality but the paid edition, the ‘Enterprise Edition,’ allows more options such as cross selling, product bundling, gift vouchers and store credits. Magento is a sizeable download and requires more capacity to host, operate and run. Magento is one of the most popular forms, with millions of downloads and users.

OsCommerce has an attractive interface and immediate functionality. It is easy to install and there are thousands of add-ons that provide additional features to the shopping cart. OsCommerce was first released in 2000; since then, it has accumulated a large community of users who share tips and support. OsCommerce has been the subject of security vulnerability issues in the past.

Zen Cart, originally an off-shoot of OsCommerce, is very user friendly and is directed at shoppers and merchants rather than developers. As such it is very easy to install. Among its options are PayPal payments, shipping and tax modules, languages, currencies, quantity discounts, newsletters, and coupons. Although it allows easy installation, Zen Cart has limited expansion potential without the assistance of web developers to edit the core files when compared with some of the other shopping carts.

CubeCart is used by millions of shops worldwide and has paid and non-paid versions, the former with many added features and capabilities such as gift vouchers and alternate checkouts. CubeCart has a feature that guarantees its popularity to both shop owners and web designers: HTML and PHP coding is kept separate. CubeCart is not fully open source – its free version is limited by an inability to change footer text, or add new skins.

Prestashop is a professional grade open source package. Its backend interface has a full range of options that covers inventory management, order management, shipping, and customers. Prestashop has excellent security technology and allows customers to send payment directly to  financial institution. Modules can be easily added to the shopping cart thought it does not allow for product bundling and cross-selling options. The software is small and compact and runs efficiently without taking up a lot of memory.

OpenCart is fully open source and is PHP based for its coding. It is extremely user friendly and has an excellent feature which lets customers write reviews of products. Its interface is attractive. OpenCart supports more than 20 payment gateways and eight shipping methods. Best of all, this software package allows unlimited number of products in an infinite number of categories. Different languages and currencies can be incorporated. OpenCart’s coding facilitates its adaptation by professional software developers.

Ubercart must be used with the content management system, Drupal. Ubercart is geared toward sellers looking to build a community around their products and sell access to premium content. It allows paid file downloads and has an excellent range of options for customisation. A downside is that familiarity with Drupal is required use Ubercart.

AgoraCart is a full featured shopping cart system that allows for extensive modification of the cart’s appearance. Like OpenCart, AgoraCart has unlimited product options, up to four different tax zones, numerous shipping and payment gateways, customisable layouts, and customisable product category layouts. Sellers can choose from simple, template-based stores or complex modifications and design controls through css, which would probably require the work of professional web developers. Thus AgoraCart appeals to both sellers who are seeking a template solution and developers because it

There are many other open source shopping carts with extensive customisation options such as Storefront and VirtueMart. They can differ greatly in their range of options. Many of these will allow the online seller to have an e-store up and running overnight. However, open source software comes with its own warning. While it may be free, website owners will have no support apart from advice contained in community forums or elsewhere on the internet, when they encounter issues. Furthermore, laypersons will find it difficult to add personal customisation if they do not have some coding knowledge.


Open Source vs Bespoke Pros and Cons of Open Source and Bespoke

Even where a website owner is seeking a simple, template store, they may fall into some problems. E-Commerce can be a competitive industry: in many cases, their online shopfront may be the only point of interface with potential customers. While it is often stated that the internet levels the playing field for many sellers, when the time comes for customisation and improving a E-Commerce website, it may be best to seek out the advice of a professional developer who can work with the owner to create the kind of E-Commerce site that matches the appearance and functionality of popular sites such as or

After having explored the open source options available, the website owner may consider a bespoke E-Commerce site to be the right option. With a professionally designed store, they may wish to consult a developer about the needs in a store. The developer may assist the website owner with discovering options that they had not considered or known were possible. Open source software may be free, but this means that competitors have access to the same software. Bespoke sites allow the company to communicate a unique vision that sells their product, giving them that extra competitive advantage over other players in the market.

Remember while companies may trust open source software, only a professional designer can ensure that an E-Commerce site gives their customers’ payments the level of security that they deserve. A professional designer will check the coding and install any security processes to help customers obtain the highest degree of protection, providing a higher level of security every time customers make an online payment. Where the website owner has found an open source shopping cart that appeals, they should be sure to check with a website developer who can customise it for the organisation and make sure that it is secure when it comes to online payments. Most open source packages can indeed be customised to their full satisfaction.


Conclusion: Reaping Benefit!

In summary, E-Commerce is the market of the future. Online retail and B2B in all industries will continue to grow as buyers gain trust in purchasing online. Having an E-Commerce site helps you sell  product every hour of the day. It reduces overhead and operations costs while expanding market share into geographical areas that were not possible before. While many open-source options are available, for security and to get the most out of customisation, it is best to have a website developer assist with the development of a E-Commerce site that will look professional, appeal to customers, and provide a high level of security for online purchases.

1, Small Business Driving Internet Economic, viewed 29 November 2010,

Author: Amy Chen
Source: Internal
Posted on: February 16th, 2011
Category: Ecommerce

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