Avactis Shopping Cart Review

July 12th, 2008 by Chris

I had been hearing a lot about Avactis on various forums and I had seen how active the developers were on webmaster forums and so I decided to give it a try for my next ecommerce project.

Unfortunately, I can sum up the software in one word, amateurish.

Installation is a little abnormal as they really want you to turn on full 777 permissions for various different folders so that files can be written. Why do it this way? I don’t know, but then of course Apache ends up being the owner of said files and I had to go in through SSH as root to reassign ownership back to the user account so that I could use it to edit files, all told, that’s much more complicated than say WordPress or vBulletin, which are the standards (in my opinion) to which all other programs should hold themselves.

Once installed I opened up a file to check it out and start skinning the store, and my eyes were blasted by HTML I have not seen since the 90s, honest. All tags are capitalized, there is copious use of <CENTER> and <FONT> and nested tables galore.

Adding insult to injury the developers, for whatever reason, failed to design their software using includes for the header. Seriously, there is no header include for this software. If you want to edit the code that makes up the header you must in fact edit every file. Even the <title> tag must be individually edited in every file.

This all makes me wonder, there is a menu include, and a footer include. Additionally there is a tag system whereby content can be inserts into the design much like WordPress, and yet for some very basic parts of the site these features were not used.

Which is how I’ve come to the word amateurish. It isn’t that the software is wholly old fashioned, out of date, or obsolete, it is that it was built seemingly in an amateurish way, ie, not professional.

I almost at this point decided to just give in and use CubeCart for my next ecommerce project, but I got this Avactis license for free, and so I thought I might as well make the best of it. Plus I felt that to write a good and honest review I really needed to see the software through.

My main worry of course was that the amateurish markup would permeate the rest of the code and result in other problems, I wish I could say my worry was unfounded.

Proceeding to skin their tagging system for doing the templating was cumbersome and unintuitive. It is as if they tried to make up for the lack of a basic header include with extraneous includes elsewhere. For instance the main menu is made up of no less than 9 templates that I can find, the actual functions to print the links themselves are buried elsewhere, and I couldn’t find them. A seasoned developer might say that to change a link to indicate a current location one could just change a CSS class, but not this software, they need an extra template for each individual menu link status.

I ran into this same problem when dealing with images. I was going to do the typical thing I do and just upload larger or irregularly sized images and in the code set a maximum width that would then make them all line up or otherwise be the same size. Where would one expect to find the code that outputs an image on the product page? Well could it be in avactis-templates/catalog/product-info/default/product-info.tpl.html? You’d think so, but no, it isn’t. <?php ProductSmallImage(); ?> is all you get. There are no other applicable templates in that directory. So next I checked all the templates in the avactis-templates/catalog/product-images/default/ directory. No go there either. I looked all over for it, in the files that you get with the zip, in the files the program creates on your server during install, I couldn’t find it. I shouldn’t have to work that hard to find it.

See, in my opinion the developers of Avactis don’t quite understand what exactly they’re trying to do. Everyone hates OScommerce because the layout is not separate from the programming, making it a pain to skin. Avactis sells itself as a cart that does have separation but, really, they don’t. They’re using a function buried somewhere to print an IMG tag, that is layout, not programming.

This is not an isolated example, this is indicative of the software as a whole. They’re way overusing their tagging system or whatever they want to call it and it doesn’t work well.

Moving on, the admin area has some good parts and bad parts. The available store settings are sparse, there are some weird defaults you must get rid of yourself. I like, overall, the product & category management, but much of it is done with popup windows, which are annoying. I know the developers know how to do layer based DHTML popups, which are much better to use. I know they know how to use those because some of the neatest features of the admin backend use them, so why not use them to replace the standard popups? I don’t know.

They have a feature I’ve not seen elsewhere that I like that allows you to specify product types, meaning you can set some standard features for a single type of product and then when adding a new product you select that type and the defaults get populated. But here is the thing, when adding a new product if you don’t select a type it doesn’t let you add the product, and there is no such thing as a default product type. So, every time you add a product a popup window opens, then you select the product type, and the page reloads, every time. Even if you only have 1 product type, you have to jump through this extra hoop every time you add a product. Obviously the intuitive thing would be to set a default that automatically loads, saving you an unnecessary step.

The supported payment and shipping options is below average for a shopping cart, though the big ones are provided. There is also less flexibility in customizing the couple such modules that I used as opposed to what I’ve gotten in OScommerce and CubeCart.

After I thought I was done I decided to test the checkout, which, unfortunately, is cumbersome. The person has to click fully far too much to check out. You hit checkout and you get a cart summary and a billing & shipping address field. Pretty standard. Then you hit a button at the bottom called “Place Order.” Okay, you click that, and your order is not placed, maybe the button should say something else? The next page is for picking shipping & payment method. Then again, a “Place Order” button. This time my order must really be getting placed right? Nope, next page is an order confirmation screen, this time the button at the bottom says “Confirm Order” so really, this time it must be done? Nope. You click confirm order and your order gets entered into the database & you get an email thanking you for your order… but it isn’t placed, because you haven’t paid for it yet, you’ve picked your payment method, but not made payment. How many customers get confused because of that? CubeCart does it too, but there is a free community contribution to turn it off.

Now, this unmodded unhacked installation also threw me bugs when I tried to turn on a check payment method. Additionally the email sent to thank you for your non-paid-for order, that, by the way, says nothing about the order needing to be paid for still, has a few typos in it. Which brings me back to amateurish.

Now, look at the order summary too:

Subtotal of Items: $49.95
Global Discount: $0.00
Promo Code Discount: $0.00
Quantity Discount: $0.00
Discounted Subtotal: $49.95
Shipping & Handling: $13.81

One thing Avactis isn’t shy on is providing you ways to provide discounts, lots of functionality for automatic discounts… which I do not want to use, and if I’m not using them perhaps you don’t need to let my customer know how much of a miser I am?

There are other shortcomings as well, but this review is getting long enough, suffice it to say Avactis is no CubeCart, it isn’t even OScommerce. Unless someone comes by offering me another free cart that I haven’t tried yet, I’ll be going back to CubeCart 4 for my next ecommerce project, and I recommend you do as well.

11 Responses to “Avactis Shopping Cart Review”

  1. Al  Says:

    Hi Chris, thanks for such an interesting review of these systems with their good and bad points it mad a very interesting read. As the founder of CubeCart I was pleased (and hoping as I read) you would come back to using it. We make a concerted effort to find blogs etc about our product to gain valuable feedback such as this.

    You will be pleased to hear that CubeCart’s uptake is still incredibly strong and development is in full throttle. Thanks to kind people such as yourself we have a fantastic grounds to know where CubeCart strengths and weaknesses lie and we work every day to improve it further. Our current focus is to drastically improve the admin control panel and take FULL advantage of PHP5.

    If you have any further comments of questions I would be delighted to discuss them with you.

  2. John  Says:


    Thanks very much for the review.
    I was leaning toward Avactis but have found that this review was consistent with what I found with their online demo site.
    I’m not a programmer, but the confusing page sequence of their cart and the fact that I couldn’t actually tell I was proceeding through the checkout process without scrolling down on each page, are reason enough to stay away from this product.
    And, as Chris mentioned, the premature order confirmation e-mail would really confuse people. These things alone would have a negative effect on sales.
    Since I’m now looking for a better cart… does anyone know
    of one that allows the layout to be customized as needed?

  3. peach  Says:

    Have you tried Magento lately? I havent tried actually running an ecommerce site with it but the demo looks nothing short of awesome.

  4. Chris  Says:

    I tried it when it was released and it sucked. Search my blog for my cubecart review, the first half is actually a Magento review.

  5. David Frost of Avactis  Says:

    Dear Chris,

    Thank you for a thorough review of our software.

    Our development team is currently working on a new version of Avactis which will eliminate the most annoying issues mentioned in this review as well as in customer feedback.

    We encourage you to try it out as soon as it is released and see the differences.


    David Frost
    Avactis Shopping Cart Team

  6. Chris  Says:

    The best thing about Avactis cart is its ‘TAG SYSTEM’ this system allows you to integrate the cart into your existing website. Without forcing you to use ‘skins’, (which may change the colour or style of the cart but still looks nothing like your original site)?
    With Avactis you can edit/change every element of the shopping cart to match your site.
    I understand that the checkout sequence seems long-winded but you can simple add a graphical step indicator to the checkout template, (I read once that it makes no difference to customers how long the checkout sequence takes as long as they no how far they have got in the sequence)
    All emails sent to customers can be edited in the admin section so the store owner has complete control on this as well.

    The Avactis team are always adding new features the cart and are always glad to receive comments and suggestions.

    Avactis is feature rich, which makes this cart very powerful, yes I admit that it is not for everyone but if you want a cart which is 100% designed to integrate into YOUR design then I would recommend it.

    Chris Willcox
    LX24 Web Design & Integration

  7. Eli  Says:

    Hey Chris, thanks for the review.

    Another method out there for WordPress users you may be curious about is the Market theme. It’s a premium theme that turns WordPress into an online store. You just connect the theme to Paypal in the WP settings for the money part of the transaction. It even comes with a plugin to give you backend administration tools so you can add products with images, description, and pricing.

    The layout is pretty sweet and they’ve got a live demo that you can play around with.


  8. Bjarni Wark  Says:

    The latest version of the avactis cart 1.8.2 has got a lot of improvements but still there is room for more. There was rumor that the Avactis version 1.8.2 was going to be a tableless css version, not yet but when this happens it will make this even a better product and along with some refined folder structure for ease of skinning.

  9. David Frost (Avactis)  Says:

    Hello Chris and everyone :)

    Just wanted to let you know we’ve just released a new version – Avactis 1.9.0 – with a completely new, XHTML-compliant storefront design, product reviews, and basic CMS.

    You can check out all the new features in our new demo. Free version is available for download, too.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  10. Chris  Says:

    You should read this:

    Talking about version 1.9. I picked up Avactis after doing a lot of comparing. I am forced to run CubeCart for another site and I can’t stand it. There are some things in particular about Avactis that I like, and some things I’d like to see them implement.

    The Good and Decent

    1. After spending hours and hours trying to figure out the tags and templates (mostly falling into the “where on earth IS this” category) I think I now have an 85% handle on that. And I kind of like it. It’s easier to deal with (once you figure it out) than many other systems. Even though I didn’t build my own template from scratch, I can mostly see now how I could.

    2. It’s got features built in that CubeCart refuses to implement, instead sending you off to pay way more than you thought you would for mods. For little things that should be built in. Avactis has probably 95% of all the features I desire, which is way more than some others (without having to install add ons).

    3. For the most part, everything I tried to implement got started without a hitch, like SSL, the shipping module I wanted to use, etc. No spending hours in support tickets just trying to get the SSL to work like I did with CubeCart when we upgraded from 3 (which was a nightmare we won’t discuss here).

    4. The 1.9 base template is way better than the old flower shop, in my opinion, and definitely looks better than the standard skins many other carts offer.

    5. Avactis expects us to create custom themes. So if we have a support issue, they don’t do what CubeCart often does, which is say “well, you changed a minute portion of the drop down menu on one page of your template, therefore we will not provide support on this matter that is completely unrelated to that menu or anything like it.” With CC if they change parts of what goes into their templates, you’ll lose your changes on an upgrade, too, which doesn’t appear to be an issue with Avactis.

    6. Product options. In CubeCart, you have to buy a mod to make product options somewhat easier to use. In Avactis, when you edit a product, you can just add an option right there. If you ever need to change it, you just open the product and make the change without having to go through hundreds of pages of option types to try and find the one you’re looking for. It’s probably one of my favorite features. I also like that you can have more than just a simple dropdown menu, and that you can give each option a description that appears directly under that option. Nice.

    7. I like that I can do a search in the label editor so I can easily find the bit I’m looking for, instead of having to guess where it is and then do a bunch of browser finds to drum up the text I want to change. And I like that I can include html in those labels so I can easily turn something bold or into a link without causing major drama.

    8. This may seem minor, but I like that if someone chooses Google Checkout or PayPal, when the page comes up that shows the logo, they can either click to continue like they otherwise would or can click on the logo itself. Multiple options means less phone calls to me from people who can’t figure out what button to push.

    9. I am in love with the ability to copy a product. Some of our stuff is very similar, with identical product options but maybe a few words changed in the title. Being able to copy one of them and just make those tiny changes on the copy is tremendous.

    10. I did not have to buy a mod to be able to custom sort the products. I enjoy that.

    11. I didn’t have to get a dedicated server like Magento wanted me to.

    The Desirables and Issues List

    1. The only mod that didn’t work out of the box was Authorize.net (of the ones I’ve used). It took some tweaking from Avactis support, but they got it fixed, though I have no idea how or why it wasn’t working. Hopefully that gets fixed in the core package if it’s an issue.

    2. Speedier checkout. Taking a step out of the process is something Avactis knows how to do, because they offer it for $50. Seeing how a faster checkout might attract more customers (for them and us) I think taking out the unnecessary step should be standard, especially since, if we get the change made for $50, we then have to pay $50 again if we ever upgrade Avactis. The checkout process is just too long, and I say that after having twenty people go through it and nine mentioned checkout time as an issue for them. The other eleven didn’t mention it but agreed later that they’d appreciate a faster process.

    3. I think when a new version comes out, webmasters who get half off discounts should get at least half the free support credits everyone else does, at least for the first time they order the new version (they are still paying half, after all). Just to make sure they don’t have any troubles with new features/tags/etc. Some may be so entrenched they won’t need to use them, in which case Avactis loses nothing. The ones who do need a little help getting into the swing of things would appreciate the recognition and support.

    4. Was sad to not have support for iDevAffiliate tracking, since it’s my affiliate tracker of choice.

    5. CubeCart allows me to buy x amount of credits. Each support ticket costs one credit. 75% of the time CC resolves my issue to my liking. Avactis has a better resolvement rate so far (and they don’t whine like one of the CC guys is prone to) but it seems like credits are gone almost as soon as you buy them if you have a couple minor issues. The money I don’t spend on mods it looks like I will spend on support (only one more minor issue and Avactis will have cost me more than the CubeCart with all the mods), so only the fact that I don’t then have to install mods as well is keeping Avactis ahead a bit cost-wise.

    6. I’d love for a true way to checkout with an account or without, running at the same time. As it is now, you really can only do Quick Checkout if you’ve enabled both quick and with accounts. In order to let people check out with an account, they have to first register, then make their way back to the cart. With CC, they can choose a password as they make their order, without having to first go to a completely different page that won’t bring them back to where they were when they’re done registering. I want people to have the option. They really don’t currently, even if they’re supposed to.

    Overall I’d say Avactis is far better than CubeCart, with just a few issues from my perspective. When we do another site in six months I’ll compare again and see if there’s another cart that has the same features (or most at least) plus a faster checkout by then before I say absolutely we’d go with Avactis for that one. If the speedier checkout in particular was done here I’d have no problem saying we’d go with Avactis without comparing anything at all.

  11. Mike  Says:

    Talking about version 1.9. I picked up Avactis after doing a lot of comparing. I am forced to run CubeCart for another site and I can’t stand it. There are some things in particular about Avactis that I like, and some things I’d like to see them implement.


Leave a Response

(Email field must be filled in)

Top of page...