A Review of CubeCart 4

October 5th, 2007 by Chris

This review has been updated, please read the updated CubeCart review before making any purchasing decisions.
I came to CubeCart via a circuitous route, it was never my first choice, however the path I took to get there is a useful lesson, and so I shall share it.

I’ve been planning a new site selling only chainmail armor for a while now. My sword ecommerce site sells chainmail but I thought I could get more sales with a site that focused on the armor itself. I wanted a premium domain and tried to buy chainmail.com figuring the small hobby business than owns it probably would be willing to sell out, but they spurned my offers. Instead I settled on chainmail.net, which I purchased for a reasonable four-figure sum. I could have easily just used a non-premium domain but I have very long-term plans for this site. It will be an extremely easy site to run, and it sells a product that is just about perfect for ecommerce with a good profit margin.

My previous ecommerce sites all used OSCommerce (OSC) or it’s derivatives such as CRELoaded or ZenCart but I wanted to get more experience in a wider variety of carts for writing purposes (so I could write about a wider variety of carts) and so I decided this chainmail site would use a different cart. Plus I was fairly frusturated with OSC.

Miva & Magento

I bounced around for awhile considering which cart I wanted to use, meanwhile I was having a logo drawn up. Finally the logo was going to be done and everything in place for launch. I heard some decent things recently about Miva so I decided to give their shopping cart a try. That was a big mistake. I figured Miva was a larger business but there was very, very, very little documentation on installation and what they had was poorly written, even inaccurate. Sure, for most carts you don’t need hefty installation documentation, but Miva uses a custom scripting language and requires all sorts of server tweaks to run, I couldn’t even get it set up properly. Then I had the most horrible time just canceling my order with them, it took many multiple emails. Support, by the way, was obviously outsourced.

I had long thought of Miva as slow and bloated because every Miva website I visited as a surfed seemed to load slow, but I thought I’d give them a shot. Turns out I should have trusted my initial instincts.

So, after the Miva failure I heard about this new cart coming out in August, Magento Commerce. The features they mentioned that they were aiming for were all really good, and the company making it was really interacting with their community. It seemed like an ideal situation, so I decided to wait until it launched… which it finally did the last day of August (seemingly rushed).

Alas it was a big let down. Many rudimentary features were not there. The installation was fairly straightforward, I did have to upgrade to PHP5 finally but I won’t hold that against them, but the admin side of things was horribly complex to manage, just from a pure usability standpoint. In their admin control panel something that should be accomplishable in 1 click, took 5. Pages all loaded slowly, the software was unbelievably bloated (the initial download zip was something like 75mb) and almost every script kept bumping into PHP’s memory limit until I increased it (indicative of the slow loading).

What is perhaps the most annoying is I posted a suggestion that they code support for shipping via dimensional weight in their forums, explaining how it is absolutely necessary for any shop that sells large products (really, anything over 30 inches), and a developer told me that it isn’t a big deal and I should just manually edit shipping costs for all orders after they are placed. This wasn’t a big request on my part, OSC has had such a feature available in a contribution for years, but the developer’s attitude sort of underlined all the other problems I saw with the software. I didn’t need that feature for this site, since chainmail is heavier than it is big, but I didn’t like the way they were going.

Maybe I was confused, I thought a beta product is supposed to be working better, this was more like an alpha release, even though supposed they had already done beta testing.

Anyways, quietly (at least to me) in the middle of September, CubeCart V4 was released.

On to CubeCart 4

Now, I’ve never used CubeCart Version 3, so none of this review will compare the new version to the old version. I will say though that CubeCart 3 was free, CubeCart 4.0 is commercial, which is alright with me. The price is only $129.95 and if you cannot afford that to open an ecommerce site, how will you afford your initial inventory or your merchant account?

Pros

CubeCart 4 is very easy to install, and is fast loading. The SEO based options are as good as I’ve ever seen in a shopping cart. Normally with OSC I’d have to install around 5 contributions, that don’t always want to play together nicely, to achieve good SEO. This includes things like keyword rich and friendly URLs, friendly links, killing session IDs for spiders, meta & title tag management, textual content on category pages, and some things I’m probably not remembering. CubeCart 4 does all these things easily, and by default.

Coming from OSCommerce I’m used to shopping carts that are a pain to skin and edit. OSCommerce is some of the most convoluted software on the planet and to change a single design element you may have to edit 20 files. Compared to that CubeCart 4 is a dream. I was going to have someone do the skinning for me, but I ended up doing it myself, it only took around 4 hours of work and that is with me starting at 0 experience in CubeCart skinning at the start of the process, and also with no documentation, and I’m also far from a CSS ninja. It is as easy to skin as WordPress.

CubeCart comes by default with a whole bevy of shipping and payment modules, many of which beat their OSCommerce counterparts handily. Somethings that required one or multiple contributions with OSCommerce, such as Authorize.net AIM integration with support for CVV numbers, is able to be done by default with CubeCart. They also integrate a printable mail order form, which I think is nice.

Finally, they have an easy utility for exporting to Google Base format your product catalogue, as well as some other similar formats.

All told, it is a great shopping cart, has great features, is easy to use, fast loading, accessible, and should be easy to rank well in the search engines with, and it is only 2 weeks old, I expect great future improvements.

Cons

No dimensional shipping support with their UPS module. This annoys me, I think they should add it, and if I wanted to use this cart with other sites I might not be able to, but for my chainmail site it wasn’t an issue.

They do something somewhat screwy with orders. They load an order into the database as pending once the person goes around halfway through checkout, they also send a confirmation email at this point, then after payment is received they change the order to processing and send another confirmation email. This is strange to me, and I cannot find a way to turn this off, but I’m sure with a hack it would be possible. You see, customers aren’t always intelligent, and I just know many people will have trouble checking out, but then check their email and see the first confirmation and think they’re okay and the order got placed then a month later I get a phone call asking where the order is.

Then, after checkout, they do not print out an order receipt or summary. They have code to do it, a customer can go into their order history and see a receipt, why do they not print out the same thing after checkout? They also do not include any such details in the email confirmations, making them probably the only shopping cart in existence that doesn’t do this. Instead they just give a URL to the customer’s order history, a link is decidedly less useful than just the information straight off.

There is currently one small bug with their authorize.net module, but I know they’re aware of it and I expect it to be fixed, it doesn’t hinder use, just ends up in having less information stored at authorize.net as is possible.

There is no way currently to set different shipping methods for different zones. For instance if you wanted to offer free shipping on domestic orders and USPS for international orders, you can’t. I think there might be a commercial mod a third party has put out that does this, but I’m not 100% sure.

I did have to buy, for $21.99, a commercial mod so that I could build a contact us form on the site. The way by default CubeCart sets things up they expect you, apparently, to just put in an email link, but I don’t much like spam so I decided to pay for the upgrade. Again however other carts include this functionality by default, and I think CubeCart should as well.

The last main feature I really wish they had is an automatic sitemap xml generator. All the major search engines say they’re using the sitemaps protocol now, this would be a really handy feature to add.

So that’s it, it isn’t a perfect cart, but it is as close to perfect as I’ve used, and it is cheap, fast, efficient, and oh so easy to use. I highly recommend it.
This review has been updated, please read the updated CubeCart review before making any purchasing decisions.

28 Responses to “A Review of CubeCart 4”

  1. Matt  Says:

    Have you ever used jshop Chris?

  2. Chris  Says:

    I’ve heard of it and checked out their demo but never used it.

  3. Markus V.  Says:

    Thanks for the review, I’m actually thinking about converting an existing OSC website (which has stopped working since I updated to PHP5) to cubecart: have you had any success finding a mod to convert OSC’s database to cubecart’s?

  4. Chris  Says:

    No, but I imagine someone will make one eventually. I did see a CSV importer for cubecart4 for products & categories atleast. So with some tweaks you could probably use that for OSC.

  5. Kieran  Says:

    Chris,

    Very good review of CC4. I enjoyed it.

    You may want to take a look at Optimal Works’ SiteMap Generator for CC4.
    http://www.cartdesigns.net/index.php?act=viewProd&productId=140

  6. Colin  Says:

    Hi Chris,

    I’m playing around with the demo of V4 myself and had the same problem of creating free delivery to my home city. I managed to do it in the end by duplicating the Royal Mail shipping folder, changng a few code bits, creating a new Free shipping logo and uploading it. I had problems getting the script to accept the settings in the “Free shipping zone” to 999:0.00. In the end after many different combinations I got this to work 999:0.001 – yes an extra nought and a one at the end lets it get past the script and sends it through as Shipping: £0.00 to the cart.

    Hope this helps. Btw if you thought Magento Commerce admin was complicated you should try Clickcartpro V6 – wow – it’s something else.

  7. Alan  Says:

    Hello Chris,

    I had Zen Cart loaded onto my server by the hosting company but after trying to learn and configure all of the modules with the amount of time invested and still not complete (that’s a novice for you!) I am looking at Cubecart. Do you consider it to be a procust that a novice who is normally computer savy could use?

  8. Chris  Says:

    Yes, I do. Getting it setup is very easy. Skinning it does require some CSS/HTML knowledge, but you dont NEED to skin it or skin it yourself, and if you did do it yourself it is still 10x easier than OSC.

  9. Euan  Says:

    Hi guys, an excellent review and some good comments. Also nice to read it given you had no experience of CubeCart V3.

    I use V3 on a site I run and I am currently testing V4. Like yourself, we tested a lot of options and felt that CubeCart overall was the easiest to use, skin and develop to meet our needs.

    Yes, it has it’s cons but everything does and it was a case of finding the best solution which we found with CubeCart.

  10. Mark  Says:

    Watch out for cubecart. It looks nice on the surface, but the database is extremely poorly thought out.

    Eg: customer places an order. Something goes wrong (CC bounces, customer changes their mind, whatever), you cancel the other. All the items removed from stock are put back into stock. Right? Right? Oh no, gotta do it manually.

    There are heaps of little things like that, IMHO, relegate it strictly to amateurville.

  11. Andre  Says:

    Hi Chris, I found this Mod for data import for CubeCart “G7Cart.com – Data Pump”!
    Any idea about this Mod?????

  12. Anne Moss  Says:

    I can’t find where you can change anything on the order form or anything in the order process. I have used oscommerce and cc is much better.

  13. Merchandise of AZ  Says:

    “There is currently one small bug with their authorize.net module, but I know they’re aware of it and I expect it to be fixed, it doesn’t hinder use, just ends up in having less information stored at authorize.net as is possible.”

    No they never fixed it as far as we can tell. We are having a hell of a time to get it to work.

    If ANY one has authorize.net working with v4 PLEASE email us and let us know what you did.

    THANKS!

  14. Anjanesh  Says:

    Its almost 6 months since this informative review.
    But the Magento commerce you tried out was an early release. Have you checked out the latest-soon-to-be-GA version ? Do you think the final version would have sorted out the admin issues you mentioned ?

  15. Mike  Says:

    Reading through your post was quite interesting as I went through almost the exact same process while ending up on cube cart 4. I tried Zencart, Magento (which is still in beta), and tried numerous hosted carts demos. In the end Cubecart 4 was worth, even the 189.00 (with copyright removal), because I knew I’d spend so much time “fixing” a free cart. Good luck with your chainmail store!

  16. Gavin  Says:

    Nice review. I think CC is one of the easiest solutions to get up and running with. The SEO URLs seem to be working wonders with my store :) And you’re right, it is relatively cheap. Anyone who is looking to get a store up online and does not want to pay anything are kidding themselves. As you say, you need a merchant account, SSL, etc.

    Plus there are tonnes of decent mods out there to purchase that extend the functionality of your store. For instance, I highly recommend the “All-In-One-Shipping” module by Estelle and the default shipping configs annoy the life out of me.

    Also, about those annoying order confirmation emails you can download this free mod here:
    http://cubecart.expandingbrain.com/free-cubecart-4-mods/disable-order-acknowledgement-emails-cc4/prod_100.html

  17. bumperbox  Says:

    i have tried magento and it keeps hitting memory limits, etc. even with all the caching on, it is incredibly slow. (but it looks nice)

    all i need to do now is convince my customers to hang around long enough for them to see the first page load.

    have you tried any of the hosted solutions like shopify.com ?

  18. fwezzel  Says:

    I wasn’t so nice and the president of cubecart didn’t like it much. its posted on my site check it out if you want. I am more interested in the fact that they say it is working with google checkout, but it does not pass the shipping charges to GC, and then you have to have separate shipping information set up at google.
    LAME

  19. Javier  Says:

    Nice review. I was considering Avactis but I’m now leaning towards Cubecart.
    BTW, I checked your site and was surprised to read this when I clicked your authorize.net logo:

    “Unable to verify this site as an Authorize.Net merchant.”

  20. Richard  Says:

    Main problem with cubecart 4 is that the manual add/edit order function (via admin) is a joke. It doesn’t let you select products, it doesn’t calculate prices or tax, it’s completely half-baked.

    And yeah, sending them an order email before they’ve even selected the payment method is just weird…

  21. Mike  Says:

    I used CC3 extensively and took the plunge into CC4, re-purchasing mods, etc. It was quite an expensive process actually – to get all the bits of functionality I needed. Certainly not saying another solution is better, just be prepared to spend $10 here, $15 there to add functionality you need from 3rd party developers.

    Gotta say I fully agree with Richard. With CC3 I had a combination of 2 mods that made manual orders doable. With CC4 3rd parties didn’t come in with a mod because this was supposedly “included.” Yeah, pretty much what Richard said: completely half-bakes. I would happily pay for a mod to fix this, but it seems nobody has steppen in yet.

  22. Andre  Says:

    I used CC3 and then moved to CS-cart.com
    I find they are easy to skin and have almost all the functionality you could wish for in a cart, support is good too.

    What do you think of them? have you tried them?

  23. Lesya  Says:

    Hi Markus!

    Probably you’ve already solved this problem but in just in case – now there’s web service called cart2cart. This guys make converting your osc data to cubecart a snap. Everything is automated. They migrate other shopping carts too. (www.shopping-cart-migration.com)

  24. Lav  Says:

    Thank you for the great story. We have been struggling with a few shopping cart solutions and have yet to find one which fits well with our requirements. Thanks to this article, we will now investigate Cube Cart to see if it is a better match for our needs.

  25. Mike Summers  Says:

    I’ve been using cubecart for a couple of years… actually considering moving onto Magento. Do you think Magento may have caught up with your expectations since you wrote this?

    CC4 has been good in many ways, but we do get a lot of phone orders and they are a BIG pain.

    Thanks.

  26. Chris  Says:

    Features aside, Magento is extremely bloated, the download is exponentially larger than cubecart or other carts. It is a huge ponderous piece of software.

  27. AntonW  Says:

    Great review there!

    Im a big fan of CubeCart. I run a couple of stores myself and I also design skins/templates for cubecart. It’s easy to administrate, and you get a greta overview of both your products, sales and cusstomers.

    Even if you don’t have a big catalogue of products, and just selling couple of products, cubecart can good platform/CMS for your website.

    /AntonW.com

  28. mark  Says:

    How’s cubecart coming along lately? Does anyone now if they resolved the authorized.net issue? I’ll check them out soon and see how it has improved,

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