Interspire Shopping Cart 5.0 Review

June 20th, 2009 by Chris

9 months ago I was asked by the CEO of Interspire to review their shopping cart software. I was provided with a copy of the software for free and set about doing my customary review process. Now, for those who do not know, I do not merely play with a demo to do a review, I actually build a site, so it takes awhile. Still, it doesn’t normally take 9 months. The reason it has taken so long in this case is because I have been waiting for a feature, which thus far has been vaporware. More on that later.

Pricing

Lets start out with what is perhaps the biggest complaint with Interspire, the pricing. This software is not cheap. For the purposes of this review I was given their ultimate edition, which clocks in at $1800, plus more if you want to be able to download upgrades. For a small time person wanting to merely get their feet wet with ecommerce, this would seem daunting. Still, in the grand scheme of things, $1800 is not a whole lot. You’d pay more typically to have a custom cart or site developed, and you’ll likely make back your expenditure in no time. I like to tell people how I started my first ecommerce site (not my first profitable site, I took profits from my content sites to start it) with an initial outlay of $1200. That covered all my initial inventory, merchant account, SSL certificate, I used my existing servers for hosting, did my own design, and used free OScommerce. This site made $500,000 in gross revenue over the next 6 months. In retrospect I could have spent far more to launch the site and still been wildly profitable.

It isn’t so much their upfront pricing that bothers me but rather their upgrade pricing, and in fact I’ve seen quite a few complaints about it from other users. Because I’ve been sitting on this review for 9 months I’ve actually experienced having to upgrade a couple times, and while it was free for me as part of the review, I do know that otherwise it would have been an egregious cost.

When first ordering your license you can sign up for maintenance that allows you access to upgrades for the period you request. This will add on an additional 20% to the product cost if you want a year of upgrades. But, it appears to me this covers only minor upgrades, not major upgrades. So if the software is updated from 4.0.5 to 4.0.6 it is covered, but you don’t get the 5.0 upgrade, because that is a major one (read their upgrade policy). Most other places will give you the upgrade for free within a year, that is fairly standard in the software Industry, Interspire has only a 60 day window, after that you have to pay for it (but they give you a 50% discount on the retail price, still, it is a lot of money).

On October 13th 2008 Interspire officially released version 4.0, it reached 4.0.6 by the end of March 2009, when 5.0 was released, forcing people to reup. My charge would have been around $1200 had I not gotten it for free. Furthermore, I couldn’t see what justified this being 5.0 instead of 4.1. When vBulletin (and I know I mention Jelsoft a lot, but they really are the pinnacle of website software in terms of customer service and whatnot) does a major upgrade, you know it, the new version is entirely different, it is an event. Interspire 5.0 has a lot of new features, but it is not a major upgrade in my opinion.

It seems to me like Interspire knows what their upgrade policy is and that they define product release milestones not by any accepted programming standards, but rather by what their budgetary needs are. I do not like this. I do not like this one bit. $1800 is a lot of money, but if it is a one time fee it is easy to justify, if Interspire is expecting you pay that every 6 months, then you’ve got a very high cost of ownership. Its one thing if they want to jump from 4.0.6 to 5.0 quickly if 5.0 is a major overhaul that changes systems to their core, it is a completely other thing where in any other software package the changes like with what you get with 5.0 would be considered a 4.1.

Now, as I said above, there are different pricing levels with different features, there are differences between the packages, the main one being product quantities. The cheapest package is $295 and includes capability for 100 products. The next one is $1000 and includes capabilities for 5000 products, and then the ultimate one I got that allows for unlimited products. There are other small differences and I urge you to compare them before making a purchase (if any).

Installing, Upgrading and Importing

Interspire has a very easy to use install & upgrade process, as I’ve mentioned I had to do it a couple times, very easy both times. My only issue is with the templates as I will mention below. Quick fast easy, no complaints here at all.

They also have importers for OScommerce, X-Cart, and CubeCart. I’ve not actually tried any of these. I’d be willing to try them if I had more licenses to play with and/or if Interspire started supporting dimensional shipping with UPS, but they are available.

Customer Experience

My main concerns are how easy is it to find a product on the site, add that product to the cart, and then buy the product. It is amazing how many carts mess this up. Interspire does a pretty good job with all of the above.

There are certain additions I’ve made in all carts I use to make it even better, I wouldn’t expect the software to do these, because for all I know I’m the only one that wants them, but I do find them incredibly useful.

1. Really, really, explain to people what the CVV is when checking out with a credit card. I mean, show a picture (wikipedia has some as I recall), it is on the front on AMEX, and on the back on Visa, Mastercard, and Discover. It is amazing how many people get confused on this, and then don’t check out. Interspire could do more here.

2. Make the final checkout button very prominent and flashy, flashing even. It is amazing how many people get that far and then don’t click it, this is more a problem with OScommerce and their final confirmation screen that looks like a receipt but isn’t, but still, it can’t hurt any cart. A small template change I could do, or Interspire could do. If they do it it is permanent, if I do it I gotta redo it after every upgrade.

3. Stress to the people to put in the correct billing address when checking out with a credit card. Interspire does this really good actually. They put a second place for billing address right next to your credit card number on the form, and if you put in the wrong thing, the error tells you why it was wrong (address mismatch) and again, presents that form on the same page for you to fix. OScommerce requires you to manually go back a few steps in the checkout to fix it, annoying for the user, and then they don’t buy from me.

Order Summary

Why is it so hard for some carts to provide a printable receipt after checkout? Honestly, Cubecart doesn’t, OScommerce doesn’t, what is the deal?

Interspire does not do it either when you select payment of check or money order (mail order form) they provide this sentence: “Mail a check or money order in US funds, along with a printed order summary, to:” But don’t actually provide the order summary. I guess you have to wait for the email and print it out? What if you don’t get it? Why not just put the order summary on that page?

When you pay with a credit card through authorize.net Interspire provides a link for the order summary, but again, why not put the order summary on that page? There is a ton of whitespace on it, fill that space up!

The email summaries they send are nice, put that content on the page seen after checkout.

SEO

I’ve got no complaints about the SEO for interspire’s cart. They support friendly URLS, give you control over your meta tags (not so necessary but nice) and page titles (very necessary). There are no duplicate content issues with non-canonical URLs like you’ll find in Cubecart with their reviews, or in OScommerce with a new URL for each way to view a product (from a category, from each category, from any category, or from the bestseller list or search results, blech!). There is nice keyword rich breadcrumb navigation, a nice text menu. From an SEO perspective it is an almost perfect platform. The one thing I might want is more product menu control.

For instance, it just lists all top level categories in alphabetical order. Great, but maybe I want to go two levels deep on my menu. Maybe I’d like to list a few of my most popular products indented under the category they belong too. Giving such products prominent menu links increases their intra-site link popularity, and is something I might want to do.

Category Management & Menus

Category management is good, other than the things mentioned above. I can drag categories to reorder them (though with a lot of categories, a numbering system might be easier). Categories can have their own custom template specified for display, which is a really cool feature, they can have images and you have full control over their title and meta tags. All told, Interspire has a fine category system.

On the menus, as I mentioned above, I’d like a little more control. I’d especially like the ability to put in headings (since I can’t do multi-level category listings). For instance say I ran a site for “Birds and Blooms” (a real-life gardening & birding magazine) I might want a heading for “Birds” with all the applicable product categories below it, and one for “Blooms”. This can be achieved with allowing selective multi-level display of categories (showing the top level category, and the next level down where indicated by the admin). Or with a sectioning system, either way, it’d be a good feature.

Customizing Templates

Interspire is by far, hands down, the easiest cart I’ve ever had to skin, it is miles ahead of anything else. First of all, it has a wordpress like one-click install of a new template you can download from their free template library. Chances are you’ll find one with a color scheme you like, then you can easily do the few customizations you need to do, such as specifying your logo image.

Secondly, they have an awesome inline-editing tool whereby if you’re logged in as an admin and you’re viewing the site you have the option to edit the page you’re currently viewing. It is an extremely intuitive tool, I could figure it out without looking at any reference documentation. You can do some point-click-drag editing dragging boxes around the page, or open up the files (again direct from this interface) and move the content that way. You can also use this tool to discover which files are responsible for markup you’re selling, it tells you. No more having to play “guess the template” when figuring out which file you need to open to make a small change to your template.

Thirdly, their markup is extremely clean, well commented, and intuitively named. A CSS class name lets you know what it is for, it isn’t just some programmer’s shorthand like .crc (center right column? I’d rather not guess thank you). So if you do need to do some hard editing (and I didn’t) you’re good to go.

You can also of course edit the textual content of various pages from the backend, and in fact the cart even includes a quasi CMS for articles/pages of content or store news. As well as the content of any store emails.

The one problem with this whole system is upgrades can break your templates, even the ones you’ve gotten from Interspire, and to fix it you need to get the new version that they provide, which overwrites all your changes. It would be nice if, perhaps, it only overwrote the templates you had not changed from the default, and for templates you HAD changed it gave you a side by side comparison to help you port over the changes to the new files… like vBulletin does it for instance.

So, the few minor changes I’ve made have to be redone at times, and that does get annoying.

Adding Products

Interspire has some of the best product adding features I’ve seen, with a few caveats. You can easily add all the product information, all the standard stuff, they have a very nice WYSIWYG editor, and it is easily to select one or more categories. They also allow you to select shipping weight AND dimensions (though they do not use those dimensions with UPS). You can also add a fixed shipping cost, on the product (most other carts allow that merely for your whole store) and you can offer free shipping, again, just on that one product. I appreciate that flexibility.

You can also turn on inventory tracking on a product by product basis, there are options for fill-in-the-blank fields for customers to fill in during checkout, and product level discounts, all really accessible. One really cool feature I’ve not seen elsewhere is the option to specify the template file for displaying the product page. This means that you can use different templates for different products really easily, how cool is that?

There are also tags, page titles, meta information, all for you to fill out as well, and some accounting software settings I don’t use, but if you want to integrate your cart with accounting software, I’m sure you’d like them.

The images leave something to be desired. I’ve seen carts that allow one image, and I’ve seen carts that allow more than one. Never have I seen a cart that allows 5 images, but not more. It would seem to me once you code the many::one image to product relationship, your software should be able to support any number of images, or certainly more than 5. This arbitrarily limit should be lifted. You should be able to upload any number of images that are automatically resized into thumbnails for a public gallery page as necessary.

Finally, there are product variations….

Product Variations

The main problem with Interspire’s shopping cart is their horrible product variation system. By “product variation system” I mean that system found in shopping carts whereby you can create options for a product, such as colors, or sizes, thus allowing someone to buy a shirt in x-large and green.

The way Interspire has their system is extremely powerful, more powerful in fact than most other carts I’ve tried, it is also extremely excruciating to work with.

The power, and the problem, is that Interspire allows you to set option details for every possible configuration. Blue in small, blue in medium, blue in large, blue in x-large, green in small, green in medium, green in large, green in x-large. And so on. And when I say they “allow” you to do this, I really mean require, because there is no other way to use their system. So, thinking ahead, what you end up having to do is fill out a row of form fields (including possible image upload) for the product of the number of product options multiplied together.

If your product has only a few scant options, this is not a big deal, but if your product has more options, boy howdy. Suppose you were selling engagement rings, you have a ring and first you must choose a ring size, 5-15, in whole and half sizes. 20 options right there. Then you have to choose a finish (silver, 10k, 18k, 24k white or yellow golds, platinum, tungsten, titanium, carbon, stainless steel). 12 more possibilities. Then you need to choose diamond size, setting, and cut. Say 6 different options for each. Giftbox, yes or no? 2 choices. So, just in this example, you have 20*12*6*6*6*2 = 103,680 rows of form fields to fill out. This is not a joke, this is not an error, this is the sad truth. I’ve had browsers crash using their shopping cart because I did not have enough RAM to display the page that was generated. Another user posted a complaint on their forum and for good measure he copied and pasted the entire thing into the forum, it took him over 25 posts to get it all (with the per post character limit).

Technical issues aside, how do they expect someone to sit and fill out all that information? The cheapest data entry person in the world is still going to break your budget for having to do that much work for a single product, yes, a single product. You’ll have to do this for each product on your site that has options.

Every other cart I have ever seen does this better. For instance, a 1 carat diamond may add $1000 to the base price, you don’t have to type that in a thousand times, you type it in once and the software knows to apply it to every size, setting, and cut option. Doing these kind of repetitive iterations are why computers were invented in the first place, why does Interspire not take advantage of that ability?

Now, they way they do it is powerful. For instance suppose one particular build is more expensive than others, say, a size 15 ring costs more because it uses more metal, but how much more it costs depends on the metal used. Using their system I could go in and specifically define this, I can’t do that with other carts. But with other carts I can otherwise get the product entered in minutes, not weeks.

I don’t know why they have not fixed this yet. As I said before I was asked by their CEO 9 months ago to review their software, and I noticed this issue right away, and I told them about it, and they said they’d fix it. Maybe there was a misunderstanding, but it hasn’t been fixed, and me waiting for it to be fixed is why this review is so late.

They don’t have to scrap their variation system entirely, they merely need to make two front ends for it. One, allowing the computer to take user-inputted rules and fill in all the blanks, and the other to allow the user to go in and manually edit any one of the rows as needed. They can even do it with a little javascript scriptlet. In fact, if they don’t do this, I may hire someone to do it myself, it’d be an extremely small job, and probably take a day of work at the most. It would be the equivalent of using excel or another spreadsheet, highlighting a column, and doing “fill down” with some value.

The second problem with product variations is the frontend. The way they are displayed in the template is completely obtuse and hinders purchase decision making by the consumer. Many shopping carts will display the options, and next to them they will display the price for that option. Interspire does not, instead they force you to select the option and then the price on the page changes, and if you’re good at mental math maybe you can do a quick calculation in your head to figure out how much that option cost you. I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t want to force my users to have to do mental math to spend money with me. I want to make it as easy as possible for them to spend money with me.

Users who use price in their purchase decision (which is most users) will want to know how much options cost them up front without having to play “tour the dropdown list.” Like in a restaurant you can get a steak, smothered with mushrooms is a dollar, cheese is another dollar, add salad bar for $3.99. Users then make a decision based on how much they want to eat and how much they want to spend. Contrast that with just a vague mention on the menu of “Mushrooms and cheese are extra, as is salad bar, when you order your server will tell you how much extra.” Who would like that?

I prefer using radio buttons for option selections (like OSCommerce does I believe) with the price increase (or decrease) displayed next to each option. Users can then easily see what options cost them and make their decision appropriately.

I’m not saying Interspire has to do it only my way, but doing it only the way they currently do it is a bad idea, they should at the very least provide an option to store admins for a variety of ways to display product options.

Authorize.net Integration

I don’t try out every payment gateway when I review a shopping cart, I try out the ones I use, and I use authorize.net.

Interspire’s integration leaves something to be desired, specifically they leave many fields blank, and improperly use others. This limits the usefulness of Authorize.net. I’ve had a custom cart developed, and paid less than $1000 for it, and that included an entire site, I paid less for it than what Interspire charges for their best cart, and it included a more fleshed out Authorize.net connection function.

To be specific, in the below transaction receipt EVERY FIELD under “Billing Information” should be filled out and EVERY FIELD under “Shipping Information” should be filled out. Additionally, under “Order Information” the “Description” field should not just redundantly list the order number. It should, instead, list the actual description of your order, ie, the contents of it. “1 diamond ring, pack of cheetos” like most other carts do, and like what Authorize.net says the field is supposed to be used for.

Merchant : StoreName.com (5555555)
Date/Time : 11-May-2009 02:42:07 PM

========= ORDER INFORMATION =========
Invoice : 1
Description : Your Order From StoreName (#1)
Amount : 49.95 (USD)
Payment Method : Visa
Type : Authorization and Capture

============== RESULTS ==============
Response : This transaction has been approved.
Authorization Code : 05555B
Transaction ID : 555555555555
Address Verification : Street Address: Match — First 5 Digits of Zip:
Match

==== CUSTOMER BILLING INFORMATION ===
Customer ID :
First Name : joe
Last Name : smith
Company :
Address : 123 Main Street
City : Springfield
State/Province : MS
Zip/Postal Code : 55555
Country :
Phone :
Fax :
E-Mail :

==== CUSTOMER SHIPPING INFORMATION ===
First Name :
Last Name :
Company :
Address :
City :
State/Province :
Zip/Postal Code :
Country :

======= ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ======
Tax :
Duty :
Freight :
Tax Exempt :
PO Number :

Shipping

Like most carts there is a bevy of shipping options, the one thing I care about though is missing. Support for UPS shipping based on package dimensions. I don’t know if most shopping cart developers get that two boxes can weigh the exact same amount and yet one can cost hundreds of more dollars to ship because of product dimensions, this is true on air and International shipping. UPS supports this in their API, Interspire allows you to specify dimensions on the product screens, why not connect the dots? This feels like a perpetual complaint of mine, most carts fall short here. OScommerce has this as a contribution you can install, CREloaded contains this out of the box. And X-cart supposedly does too. Interspire though falls short. Supposedly this is high on their list of priorities to add in the future though.

One thing they do that is really nice, that some other carts do not do, is have shipping zones. So you can offer say, UPS for domestic shipping and USPS for international, or free domestic and paid international. This is one thing I miss with my OScommerce stores.

Reporting

Interspire has amazing profession reporting features, blowing any other cart I’ve used out of the water. Easy Google analytics and Adwords integration, real-time graph generation, all out awesome stuff.

But perhaps the most important report they left off.

This is something where I think sometimes the developers could benefit from shadowing an actual merchant, or perhaps a US merchant, maybe it is different in Australia. Here, in the US, most merchant have to collect sales tax, and like every other cart Interspire has a zone system for sales tax collection settings. But, in addition to collecting tax, we then have to forward that tax money to our state governments, usually once a month, sometimes more or less often. Most shopping carts include a “sales tax report” that lists the taxes collected by month. This is awesome, this is great, this is absolutely necessary. Without such a report you need to go through, viewing each order, and manually add up by hand the tax collected. Actually, last time I had to do this manually, I used an custom SQL query I ran against the database directly, but still, it took more work than what I can do now with other carts, which is click a link in the admin and get a list of monthly revenue with tax & shipping broken out.

Minor Bugs

Interspire doesn’t list the version number of your current install in the backend, nor is it easily found in the header of source files. At one point I forgot which version I was running and had to go look at the original zip file from the original download. This is just weird. They do send upgrade notices telling you of a new version, but they don’t let you know what version you currently have. I’ve never seen any software, shopping cart or otherwise, that doesn’t remind you which version you’re running in the backend.

There is no way to set an SSL domain. You can turn SSL on or off, but not set your SSL domain. I’ve never seen another cart leave that out, you shouldn’t always assume that if your URL is www.example.com your SSL domain will be exactly the same, at the very least “www” usually isn’t included, but sometimes (especially people on shared hosts who use shared SSL) it is something wholly different.

Order Management

Their Order Management is awkward, and perhaps better than Cubecart, but I like OScommerce over Interspire here. First of all, they make it somewhat difficult to email customers a message about their order. For one, you can’t even do it unless you buy the most expensive cart (emailing customers about their order is now a premium option say what?), then it is just awkward. You can’t do it on main order screen, or while updating an order to mark it as shipped with a tracking number. You must click a message link to open a new page to view or send any messages, then there is no way back, you can only go to your mass order list and find the order you were working on again, not that easy to use. Time is money and the extra time it takes to email customers, something that will need to be done often, hurts. I much prefer OScommerce. You have a checkbox to indicate if the customer will be emailed when you update the status, yes or no, on every status update. This is really nice. And then of course a text box for putting in comments that can be included with any such update. Quick, easy, powerful. This is the type of feature you take for granted in software like OSC, but when it is gone you realize how important it was.

To make this even worse, the message you enter with Interspire doesn’t even get emailed to them. They mere get emailed that a message was sent, but to read it the customer has to visit your site and login. What a hassle. Why not just email them the message, add a link to reply if you want to track replies, but let the customer read the notice from their email software.

Final Thoughts

I don’t know how to feel about Interspire. On one hand, they have a nice outreach system at ideas.interspire.com and at first blush they seem to really care to make the product their customer’s want. On the other hand there was this snafu over the product variation upgrade I was told would be included in a release, and I’ve also heard reports of them censoring ideas posted when they involve pricing complaints. Then yes, the pricing. Interspire is one of the best carts I’ve used. The issues I have with them are issues I feel strongly about, but I also think they could be easily rectified making Interspire a cart that fits my needs perfectly. On the other hand they’re expensive, and they seem like a greedy company that will manipulate their upgrade policy to get the most possible dollars from their customers in a sly way. If they really wanted more money they could just charge more up front, but they don’t, so people feel tricked.

In the end I would call Interspire a Ferrari with no wheels stuck up on cinder blocks. It is high end, with a lot of features, and a high cost of ownership what with repair costs and insurance. But because of the hobbling of the product variation system it really doesn’t have the wheels to make it go.

Can I recommend them? The only thing that gives me pause is their pricing. I’ve found tons and tons and tons of complaints on the Internet about their pricing and upgrade policies. Do I want to recommend them and get you locked into having to pay thousands of dollars a year for minor upgrades? Could you find other carts that do better or the same, for less money? I think their cart is worth the initial price tag, I’m just not sure they as a company care about the customer so much as the customer’s wallet and how best to milk it. I also, obviously, cannot recommend them for any site that needs to ship large packages, or sells any product that needs variations or options, if you try to use it with either of those you’ll just be swimming up stream.

If Interspire fixed their product variations and released an equivalent of OScommerce’s UPS XML Dimensional Support contribution, and I got a better vibe from them in regards to upgrade pricing, such as a change in their policy, and their importers work. I would probably import at least one, possible more, of my existing stores onto their software. But there are a lot of “if’s” there. So until all that happens, I think I’ll have to keep looking for my vBulletin of the shopping cart world.

The next cart I plan to review is X-Cart, and as always if you’re a shopping cart company I’d be glad to review your software.

34 Responses to “Interspire Shopping Cart 5.0 Review”

  1. Jack  Says:

    Hello chris, I am really happy to have found this page with a real accurate review written by you. While i was searching the net i was tired of finding reviews that only praised Interspire Shopping Cart. While i was having difficulty in getting so many things customized. I was wondering how any body can write only +ve reviews. You have really bought the correct issues in front the same things what i feel you have written in this review. It is really like swimming upstream when we have a lot of variations and dynamic options coming up. My company has asked me to review the Interspire shopping cart and told me to get through with this i was wondering what to report to the company as this product is like a wild horse which is difficult to train and make it perform the jingles desired by us it is only good at what it is built for running and running fast but in my case i don’t want a running horse i want t tamed horse that is a highly customizable shopping cat in terms of options and variations and ease of coding which i find very difficult to achieve with this shopping cat. Can you help me in how to report to the company that this is difficult to customize as the programming used by this cart is difficult to understand and put in our customized options is even more difficult.

    Thank You

    Jack

  2. Michelle Greer  Says:

    Thank you for your review. I am in the marketing department at Interspire and would like to clarify a few things.

    Interspire makes it policy that any upgrade released is actually a major upgrade. These occur once a year on average and are designed to more than justify their cost to the user. There is no forced upgrade. Smaller releases are indeed free.

    You can create product codes for variations by selecting the product, going to “Inventory Tracking” and then selecting “Track inventory by product variations”.

    If you have any questions, feel free to email me at michelle.greer@interspire.com.

  3. Interspire User  Says:

    In response to Michelle Greer’s comment:

    She left out the fact that if you choose not to upgrade more once, you will have to pay FULL PRICE for the upgraded version of Interspire. This is on top of the continual yearly maintenance fee. They really need to change this policy so that the upgrades can be purchased at half price ANY TIME for their valued customers regardless if it’s one or ten upgrades away from the version they have. I will have to strongly agree with Chris that this policy is very much a matter of greed.

    This is such a great review that I hope every prospective Interspire customer reads it and this will make Interspire change it’s policy on this issue. I am considering changing carts purely because they implemented this new policy that locks you in to continual payments to them. Otherwise, it is a solid cart (with a few complaints mentioned in Chris’s blog)

  4. Alex  Says:

    Features that are not there:
    1. No insurance;
    2. Manual CC transactions – unable to read CCV code on the back end;
    3. Huge coupon issue: instead of taking $x off order, it takes $x off every item in the cart.

    _____
    ISC recently allowed to use shared ssls, as well as ssls on other subdomains.

  5. Chris  Says:

    Alex. Storing the CCV code anywhere is against CC regulations. If you’re caught doing it you can have your merchant account shut down and yourself black listed. They are very very clear about that. The only place the CCV code is allowed to be printed or stored is the back of the card (or front for AMEX). Merchants are not allowed to store it, anywhere, at all.

  6. Martin  Says:

    Chris: Thank you for saying what I’ve felt for a very long time.

    Your review will be required reading now for anyone who asks me about Interspires Shopping Cart, why I use it and why I don’t recommend it at present.

    For anyone reading Michelle’s response, please note that it does absolutely nothing to deal with the massive number of issues noted.

    As for the Upgrade policy, this was retroactively employed after version 4.0.2 (or there-abouts). Many of the features promised in 4.x were shifted to 4.5 which was relabelled into a “major” upgrade of 5.x as a cynical attempt to raise more cash. Commercial necessity or greed? Personally I put it down to a diabolical lack of business, development and/or communication plan.

    Ultimately there is no “average” by which to judge the number of “major” upgrades per year as this was the first one in quite some time. So unfortunately Michelle is making it up as she goes along.

    Finally, all those who purchased 4.x before 5.x was announced were promised that they could continue to use 4.x and continue to purchase maintenance as the two versions would be maintained in tandem, presumably for 6 to 12 months. Since approximately a month ago it’s been impossible to do so, and 4.x has only been out for 4 months. It’s blackmail, pure and simple.

    Anyway… The sooner Interspire deal with their rectally encephalitic attitude to customer opinion and listen to feedback the better, otherwise reviews like this will only intensify in number.

  7. tommy  Says:

    so when will you post the x-cart review?
    cuz i am also doing evaluation of x-cart vs interspire …

  8. Walrus  Says:

    “For a small time person wanting to merely get their feet wet with ecommerce, this [$1800,] would seem daunting.”

    Haven’t read all of the review but it gets off to a bad start. What is a “small time person?” Assuming you made a profit of $250,000 (your gross being $500,000 you say), is that your idea of small? If that is your profit line, spending $10,000 on a cart is peanuts and ISC doesn’t cost anywhere near as much — and we all know these costs are tax write offs, so the cost of buying a cart is even less than it appears at first sight. If you are a “small time person,” you can use the starter edition or the pro edition, which cost a lot less.

    Template upgrades is made easier with 5.0. You need to copy file from the _master dir to your template dir, which then takes precedence over the version in the _master dir, and edit the copy. When templates are updated, you won’t lose your changes.

    As for upgrade policies, sure everyone wants everything for free but unless your profits are microscopic, it is affordable. If your profits are microscopic, you should really be using eCommerce, or even X-Cart, etc.

    Someone comments, “They really need to change this policy so that the upgrades can be purchased at half price ANY TIME for their valued customers regardless if it’s one or ten upgrades away from the version they have.”

    Which universe do these people live in? Not one of commerce, that’s for sure. I suspect people who have such views are “box shifters” and not creators or developers or have ever invested a penny in R&D. There are NO free lunches. To make such a policy work, someone will have to pay more. I would rather it was the person who skips versions.

    There are good customers who come back because THEY value your software and support and bad customers who sit on their arses and moan and groan — while they make a profit enabled by your sweat and tears and massive overheads and loans.

    Here’s a bit of news: no one forces you to buy ISC! If you try it and you are not happy, they give you your money back within 60 days of making a purchase.

    “Interspire doesn’t list the version number of your current install in the backend, nor is it easily found in the header of source files.”

    Try Tools > System Info. Hell, I haven’t a clue about building sites or eCommerce but I could work that one out. Why can’t you as a reviewer before writing damning reviews? Much of which is just “I wish” and not very informative, BTW.

    If I were asked to review this review, I would give it 6 out of 10. No, on second thought, 4 out of 10.

  9. Frank  Says:

    Hello,

    I’m also a log term Interspire customer and have to say the newly (with the release of ISC) introduced update/upgrade policies are robbery it’s like holding your customers ransom.

    I only can comment the reviewer for writing a true review and not a PR Marketing pitch for interspire and can only agree to his review.

    I also do not recommend Interspire any-more and would not purchase further products.

    It’s a shame to see a great company going down because of greed and watching out for short term gain. Whoever developed the new business strategies for Interspire did certainly not do Interspire a favour in the long run.

  10. Chris  Says:

    Well Walrus, I am not small time, but I am not so arrogant as to assume everyone is as wealthy and successful as I am. I write my reviews for people like myself, but also for Joe Smith who just got laid off and needs to find a way to feed his family and has an idea to start an Internet business.

    I also cannot review software in a vacuum. I have to consider the other options out there, what features they offer, and their pricing model. What is more I even for this review considered the pricing model of all software I could think of, from other carts, to other web scripts, to desktop applications, to Microsoft Windows. And Interspire’s pricing model doesn’t match any of those, it is so far from the standard in the software industry.

  11. Chris  Says:

    Oh and I’m not sure if you know what a tax writeoff is.

    You can’t actually write business expenses off against your tax bill, only against your income, to lower your overall taxable income. So if you have a writeoff of $1000, and your tax rate is 30%, by making the expenditure you’re saving $300 in taxes, but you’re still spending $700.

    If you’re a business owner that $700 comes out of your pocket directly.

    This is of course true of all expenses a business accrues. Business owners who nonchalantly spend too much because they can “write it all off” are the ones who end up broke and out of business. The ability to deduct expenses does not create wealth nor does it make those expenses free.

  12. Nathan  Says:

    sorry for budging in
    was finding a review for shopping carts
    im thinking why would someone not use a ISC cart when it’s laying around in the net for free??

  13. Josh  Says:

    A couple of things that might have changed since you wrote the review (They’re changed in my installation at least):

    1) The version number of the software is listed on the home page of the Admin Control Panel and in the System Information menu (Tools -> System Information), so no, you don’t need to pull up the original installation zip file to figure out the version number.

    2) The review mentions Ultimate Edition, which is indeed $1800. It’s also the premium product. I use Starter Edition ($300) and I’m ridiculously happy. If you have a larger store, Professional will almost certainly fit all of your needs. Here’s a list of features:
    http://www.interspire.com/shoppingcart/features.php

    3) The SSL domain can be set as of 4.0.8 and 5.0.4.

    I personally love the software, and don’t feel any pressing need to update or upgrade my store. If I did, I’m sure I’d be happy to pay any fee. One other thing that’s not mentioned in this review is that in 5.0, Interspire gave away their Yahoo Shopping and Google Base addons for free whereas in 4.0, they’re sold for $299 each. That makes the upgrade fee make much more sense to me

  14. Jonny  Says:

    Chris, a very fair and accurate review but your review doesn’t cover ongoing support, which is most definately should in the case of Interspire. They do not offer ANY support in UK working day timezone plus their support (based in Australia) doesn’t work over the weekend! UK/Eurozone users beware – one problem requiring support and your shop could be offline for three days while you wait for support to clock-in!

  15. Mitchell Harper  Says:

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for the review (both the kind words and the not so kind), and thanks to everyone for leaving comments.

    We of course take all feedback seriously – both from customers and those reviewing our software, and your feedback has been noted and will be implemented in future releases.

    I just wanted to clarify a few things about our upgrade policies:

    1. Minor updates (bug fixes) are free if you have a valid support contract. All purchases include at least 3 months free

    2. We only release one paid upgrade per year, and that release is chock full of new features. For example our 5.0 release had discount rules, custom form fields, agree to terms during checkout, tabs on product pages, re-ordering, export to any accounting system, add multiple products to your cart at once, products with delivery/event dates (flowers or concert tickets), a new dashboard, more payment providers and Google AdWords and Yahoo Search Marketing addons now included free – you can see the “What’s New” page here: http://www.interspire.com/shoppingcart/whatsnew.php

    It’s completely optional to upgrade, and if you don’t we still support the version you’re on until your support period expires (which you can renew for a small fee)

    3. We have a team of support engineers in Australia but also have a team of dedicated engineers in our Austin, Texas office, which overlaps with UK timezones by 3 hours a day. Over the last few months we’ve been laying the foundation to start offering phone support to our customers and will be lauching it very soon.

    In terms of price, our Ultimate edition is $1,795 and it is targeted to those who are either a) already running a store and looking for more functionality and ease-of-use or b) those with an existing retail presence looking to move online with minimal effort and maximum profit. We’ve had customers spend just $1,795 who are now turning over tens of millions of dollars from their online store, so it really depends on what you sell and how you sell as to the value you extract from the product.

    The product is priced to include technical support – and not canned response support. Each of our engineers has at least 5 years commercial experience building and supporting web-based software and that costs money. We could outsource our support, but that would sacrafice quality which is something we’ll never do.

    In regards to frequent releases, because our software runs on tens of thousands of server config combinations, unfortunately we can’t test every single combination before release. When we do find a bug related to server compatibility, it’s fixed as a matter of urgency and included in our minor updates – which are generally released every 3-4 weeks. This may sound like we put out a lot of releases, but we do develop using agile methodologies and so have a “ready to ship” release every few weeks. Compare this practice to a SaaS or hosted ecommerce software provider who pushes up fixes daily, and even hourly, and you’ll see what I mean.

    We’re also in the beta phase of launching a completely hosted version of Interspire Shopping Cart at http://www.bigcommerce.com – there’s even a 100% free plan which lets you sell up to 20 products. The plan is free for life and you don’t even need to enter a credit card, so that’s how we’re catering to all segments of the market. The hosted version of course includes free automatic upgrades and support for life.

    As everyone knows, there’s ecommerce software for the lower end of the market (OsCommerce, X-Cart, BigCommerce) as well as the upper/enterprise end (Interspire Shopping Cart, NetSuite) and price point is just one of many factors business owners use to evaluate their options.

    Since launching Interspire Shopping Cart in late 2007 we’ve had close to 10,000 store owners use the software to sell online, including Wayne Gretsky, Logitech, Layne Beachley, John Maxwell and thousands of SMEs and enterprise companies, who have collectively sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of products online, and of course we have room to improve, but of course we can’t please everyone.

    As Chris mentioned, we do have our ideas lab at http://ideas.interspire.com where we take feedback for new ideas in a “digg like” voting system. We also reach out to customers there, conduct regular surveys (both over the phone and using Survey Monkey) and have meetings with our partners and resellers to work out how we can better meet their needs.

    Customers are also encouraged to reach out to me via email – mitch [at] interspire {dot} com with any questions, ideas or concerns. We don’t have hierarchy here at Interspire and that lets us stay as close to our customers as we can.

    Once again Chris, thanks for the review and your honest feedback. Also thanks to everyone for commenting – I read every review written about our products, both the good and the bad.

    Mitchell Harper
    Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer
    Interspire

  16. s.c.  Says:

    I’m a customer of Interspire of almost a year, and although I don’t mind the price tag (it is truly well designed in the back-end, and light years ahead of other shopping carts as far as ease/speed of use goes), I do have some concerns.

    My main gripe at the moment is that returns can only be made as a dollar amount, and not by line item. If a customer purchases 10 items and returns one (say, for $50) — when we refund her that $50 (again, for one item), the entire order is marked as “returned” and ALL 10 items from the order are then added BACK into inventory. Then, we get to take each and every thing that wasn’t returned back OUT of inventory. Insane, right?

    Also, Interspire does not hook up with any larger order management companies, and the statistics in the back end are not entirely accurate (with sales, since refunds are calculated all wrong, as well as traffic/visitors). Since the returns functionality is useless, so would any reporting that could be generated as far as return percentages, items most returned, etc.

    Support can also be slow at times.

    The AJAX one page checkout rules.
    Everything else rules.

    But…my business is suffering because of these very, very basic flaws. The returns issue is absolutely a flaw, and should not be considered a “feature”, which I have been told via customer support it is.

    My two cents.

  17. David  Says:

    Hello, I have read your review and this it is a very good review that brings up a few questions?
    To me the price point to buy the Interspire software is ok if that’s all you had to buy? It is the maintenance and upgrade policy that is a problem. Is that correct? What do you folks think a good maintenance and upgrade pricing package should be?

    I’m looking at a few Ecommerce packages and have it down to a few including Magento but that may be over kill for me at this point.
    Any other suggestions on other Ecommerce software that have most of these same features?

    Thanks

  18. Michael Wernke  Says:

    @Dave, if you are interested in **hosted** solutions check out 3dcart. I am currently evaluating Interspire’s hosted service Bigcommerce against 3dcart. Both are hosted, similar pricing, use html/css templates, similar level of features including SEO friendly options. 3dcart has more features but I really like Bigcommerce’s slick backend and fresh looking templates (this one can be fixed at 3dcart if you have the time to customize the templates.) Ideally I would like to see Bigcommerce close the gap on functionality with 3dcart and assuming decent tech support it would be a no brainer for Bigcommerce.

    From a tech savy newbie with a few simple html sites and one tortured customization of oscommerce under his belt.

    Good Luck!

    -M

  19. Disillusioned  Says:

    Can I just say, thank you for reviewing Interspire fairly.

    I decided to go with Interspire after months of whittling down the various shopping carts. I spoke at the time to their sales person who was very helpful and promised the sun moon and stars. Perhaps I should have twigged but unfortunately, decided that as he seemed to know what he was talking about it should be ok.

    Sadly not.

    I am now almost a year down the line and I kid you not, they still haven’t completed my site. I paid a price we agreed verbally for skinning my existing site onto the ISC, under the agreement that a few tweaks to the functionality would also be made.

    I’ve given up on the majority of the tweaks but there are still a couple that are crucial and, though I keep being told they’re working on it, I’ve yet to see results.

    It’s such a shame that a seemingly good software is ruined by a complete and total disregard for customer service.

    I do still think that the software is good, not perfect but not bad for the money (if you’re willing to take it as it is without thinking you’ll have any the upgrades later, which can cost a fortune). But unfortunately, I’ve yet to see it in action – and I have lost literally thousands in lost sales in the process.

  20. babul  Says:

    Have you tried ecommerce solutions in other frameworks e.g. http://satchmoproject.com (Django based) or http://spreecommerce.com/ (Ruby based) as almost all free/low-cost (less than $1500~2000) solutions I have seen are PHP based and very lacking in many ways, especially in terms of general speed (e.g. Magento looks good but is very slow) or reliability/managability (Interspire looked good but reading the MANY reviews like yours puts me off)?

    Have you considered creating a Top10 list of your favourites? I’d be interested to read it as from what I can gather, you actually do a full-lifecyle test (and not just play with the demo).

    The only other store that catches my eye is http://www.prestashop.com, but frankly think that using Satchmo may be the best solution as it is getting a lot of positive press in the Django/Python/Ruby world especially from people who do ecommerce.

  21. Mitchell Harper  Says:

    Hi Chris and everyone else,

    After really listening to your feedback and talking to hundreds of customers, we’ve now officially changed our upgrades and maintenance policy.

    Here’s an overview:

    - All new purchases include 12 months of maintenance free
    - All upgrades are provided to customers free instead of being paid
    - If your maintenance period expires, you can optionally renew it, however it’s completely optional
    - All customers have been given an extra 9 months of maintenance free, giving them more technical support and the latest release of the Interspire Shopping Cart free

    The new upgrade and maintenance policies have been really well received by customers and we really do thank everyone for your feedback, both good and bad.

    You can have your say and learn about our new policy (which was implemented last Monday) here:

    http://www.interspire.com/content/blogs/477/

    Cheers,
    Mitchell Harper
    Interspire Co-Founder
    mitch [AT] interspire [DOT] com

  22. Nikko  Says:

    Mitchell, this is a good news.

    I’m doing eCommerce for +15 years now, and I’ve tested everything. I’m actually evaluating the idea of buying the Vendor version of your software.

    I think that there are 3 business models that are working:
    - having a low price tag for the main product + paid upgrades ($459 + $100 per upgrade, upgrades every 6 months)
    - having a high price tag upfront and free upgrades ($4000 and full ownership and upgrade for life)
    - monthly fee to use an hosted solution (hard to do with downloadable as it needs space and takes bandwidth)

    Having a solution that is expensive upfront, and require constant expensive updates is not working.

    I understand that you have some big clients that have the money to pay for these upgrades. For them make a specific version of your software named ‘Fortune 5000′ where they get everything, support, upgrade, hassle free install, phone support etc, for $1999 monthly fee. That’s for the ones who are selling +100k/month gross.

    But for the indies, like most of people talking on the forums and setting up the reputation of a company, just do an indie version that has limited support, work just fine for setting up a business and is cheap, but you must upgrade if you do + 100k / month, which everybody will gladly do if they make this kind of money with your software.

    The price and updates for Interspire are not expensive for a big company who save bucks on having full time geeks coding a proprietary solution.

    But indies need to have an offer that is adapted to their needs or they will type “interspire rapidshare” and use the nulled version which is the worse case scenario, instead of upgrading their system, because their cannot afford the upgrades or afford to move to another cart and loose their small business.

    An Indies / Pro solution is something you should dig into, check for example http://www.unity3d.com business model. It works for everyone.

  23. belly  Says:

    Thank you so much for your review.

    As the user of interspire, I can say you totally speak for me.

    Their customer service is pretty bad actually. On their website, it says if you open any new ticket, they’ll be replying to you within 24-72 hours. However, that doesn’t really happen very often, especially after you become their customer for a while. It just seems to me that they care more about developing new products but not maintaining their old customers.

    and their tax setting sucks. They can only allow you to set up your tax rate by area. However, I’m in Canada where we have GST and PST according to the area and also some products are PST exempt. This software doesn’t allow you to set up multi-tax rate for each product. It causes a lot of problem for the merchant in Canada.

    I’m seriously thinking of switching shopping cart software soon.

  24. Wonder  Says:

    Chris,

    Is this review still current and has there been any further review given things have moved on since this review.

    Can you confirm if the Interspire(Bigcommerce) product I will buy today is not what you have reviewed and commented upon and therefore this is not current any long as to what you have said here.

  25. Chris  Says:

    They have changed their upgrade/license policies.

    They said they intend to change the product variation system, but it hasn’t been done yet. You can, however, buy a script I coded to sorta work around it (search this blog for interspire).

  26. Wonder  Says:

    How much is the code and where can I get it?

  27. Chris  Says:

    http://www.websitepublisher.net/blog/2009/07/21/wee-little-interspire-review-update/

    $50

  28. Wonder  Says:

    ok, cool.

    So this can be used on their licenced version.

  29. Chris  Says:

    Yes.

  30. Dietrich Lasa  Says:

    I have used Interspire’s email marketer for one year and found it so flawless that I assumed that their other products would also please me. This assumption has made me recently buy three more products from Interspire: The shopping cart, the website publisher and the knowledge manager. So far, my assumptions haven’t mislead me – I truly like their products, their clean and user-friendly interfaces and, as far as the shopping cart is concerned, a modern no-frills look like that of amazon for example. Whether perfection is ever achievable – who knows, but I definitely like that sense of elegance and simplicity that customers and business owners must feel when they ‘get things done’ with Interspire’s products. I am delighted.

  31. HappyHammer  Says:

    Thanks for the review Chris as I’m sure it went some way to changing the uprade policy at Interspire. I ran the demo on the Interspire website and was very impressed. I then read your review and other comments about the pricing and was very dissapointed and ready to look elsewhere.

    I then read all of the responses to this review and credit where credit is due Mitch and the guys at Interspire really did listen and came to the party with the policy change he details above.

    Based on Mitch’s response and the change in policy I will now be recommending Interspire Shopping Cart to my customers.

    Psst Mitch. Just one thing, surely the customer emails should be in the base version of the sofware…. :-)

  32. abass  Says:

    Often we forget the little guy, the SMB, in our discussions of the comings and goings of the Internet marketing industry. Sure there are times like this when a report surfaces talking about their issues and concerns but, for the most part, we like to talk about big brands and how they do the Internet marketing thing well or not so well.

    http://www.onlineuniversalwork.com

  33. Daniele Cusumano  Says:

    Hi,

    if you are interested in the italian language pack, I’ve translated Interspire SC ver. 5.5.2 and I’m selling it at 50 euro.

    Best regards.

    Daniele

  34. Kevin  Says:

    DO NOT BUY this software. You will regret it, not only is it just average shopping cart software. The support is the worst I have ever seen from a software company. If you ever want to change your domain name costs $500. If you ever want to ask a question costs $500 dollars. And you have to pay another $500 if you want to ask another question in 12 months. Buying this software was a horrible decision for my business and our clients. ~ Web Design Firm

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