X-Cart 4 Review

April 18th, 2010 by Chris

I was asked by the people at X-Cart to review their software, I was given a free license for X-Cart Pro 4 and went at it, though, I didn’t really need the “pro” version, the Gold would have done fine.

The install was simple an easy, there was one issue I had where I thought I had the Gold install and so was following the wrong directions. Partly because the customer control panel of their website is not very intuitive as far as downloading software and downloading directions, they’re often stored in different places. It would seem to me they allowed complexity to be the enemy of usability.

Support was excellent though, I just told them the issue and gave them FTP details and they fixed it for me, which is nice service.

During install it asks you for the layout you would like for your store from some default templates, but it gives you no thumbnails or anything, so you really have to guess, which is really annoying.

So right as I was getting ready to do this review the first time they announced another update, great I thought. I login to their member’s area and look for upgrade instructions, and again depending on where you look they are different. So I found instructions to get an upgrade pack, they tell me to go to the “My Licenses” page, click on get an upgrade pack, and select the versions and whatnot. The problem is, the best upgrade pack listed is fom 4.2.2 to 4.2.3, there was no upgrade pack for 4.2.3 to 4.3.0, the most recent update. So, basically, the official instructions for upgrading were incorrect.

Then I found another set of instructions telling me to upload a dozen or so .sql files then run them to change the database, then to upload all the files from a 4.3.0 distribution, then install it, but indicate a setting during install to let it know the database had already been done.

Well, I didn’t do that because last time I upgraded by just uploading files everything broke and I couldn’t login to the admin area on the site.

Since I hadn’t really started building the site yet, I decided to just delete everything, and do a fresh install. Because, quite frankly, I was afraid to do anything else.

I get the impression x-cart is put a lot of thought into upgrading, but I also get the impression they’re making it far more complicated than it needs to be.

I thought the software was to include the ability to print UPS etc labels directly from the cart, it does not. To set up UPS it makes me register for UPS instead of just configure, maybe I already have a UPS account? That seems short sighted. Then the options provided for the setup are less than I’ve seen in most other carts. It will not let me define a shipped from zip code to use with the UPS module, uses store contact zip code. Store office could be a different location than warehouse, this is a problem. Even further, in an ideal situation you could set a shipping-from zip code per product, as different products may ship from different locations.

Perhaps the biggest issue with the software is how they deal with customer reviews. Customer reviews are ridiculous. Can you believe all reviews are automatically approved? How crazy is that? Of course they get spammed all to hell and you have to buy a third party mod just to deal with it. Also, stupidly enough, by default ratings are setup so that search engine crawlers will rate products while visiting your site. Google rated all my products all possible ratings, nice of them. This just seems to be, amateurish, how could you, in 2009 or 2010, release software that had no consideration for comment spam?

Cannot find what version you’re currently using in the admin area. That is a really silly oversight. Interspire had that problem too but they fixed it like a week after I published my review.

The picture management is really poor. Really really poor. There is no multiple size images, no click to enlarge, no lightbox, and any additional pictures for a product just are tossed at the bottom in an unorganized and haphazard way that looks amateurish. No thumbnails, just tossed down there in their original size. There is a setting for thumbnails but it does not seem to work.

Their integration with Authorize.net works appropriately, the only issue is an improper use of the description field for the transaction, which they do what Interspire and CubeCart do and just repeat the invoice number, rather than listing the contents of the order as it is meant for. But that is a small annoyance only.

Product variations work fine. The checkout is good and user friendly. The SEO naturally in the software is less than stellar with inadequate use of page titles among other less egregious issues.

Skinning is passable, there is an attempt to do a “webmaster console” for easy design changes like Interspire has, but in execution it isn’t near as useful, it does not work as well and the code you’re editing is not organized or commented so well, or as accepting of simple changes. I found it enough of a challenge just to add my logo and change one color. Doing a complex skin would be significantly difficult using that system.

Other than the SEO issue, the image issue, and the comments issue. The frontend is user friendly enough, I do not dislike it.

However, the backend annoys me. It is not intuitive in the least, options are not intuitive, navigation is not intuitive, product and order management is not intuitive. You don’t get a list of products or orders, you have to search for them, sometimes the link to edit something is a tiny one letter link, it is just weird. Way different than any other cart I’ve used, and I can’t say that I like it.

I would have to say, my favorite cart of all carts I’ve used, in this regard, for order management, is probably Interspire, and for catalog management (viewing and editing products) is Oscommerce (or it’s clones). And my least favorite in both categories is probably X-Cart, though Interspire still annoys me with their product variation management, but with my custom fix for that it isn’t so bad.

All told, I don’t like X-Cart. It works, it is functional, in fact it is quite powerful and flexible, but I don’t like it, from the admin side of things, I hate the usability. Almost all the problems I’ve mentioned can be fixed with third party add ons. There are mods for images, for product reviews, for SEO. All these things can be bought, installed, and paid for. Just search on Google and you’ll find quite a few sites selling this software.

But, see, the thing is, I don’t know if I will even keep this site, the site I built to test out the software. I got this license for free, but that doesn’t mean I get free mods too. The cost of ownership thus being so high I think maybe I don’t want to spend money to outfit it and upkeep it when I’d rather have different software.

Interspire is an expensive cart for instance, but when you buy X-Cart and then add in the cost of the mods required to run it at a bare minimum… suddenly the cheaper initial price ends up not being so cheap.

The next review I am going to do is going to be on CRELoaded, which I use as the basis for two of my OScommerce sites already, but I’ve never installed it and supported it and skinned it myself. I am going to do so now. So I know, the older versions I use, do a lot of what I like already. I know the company is really good about staying on top of updates, and security, and things like PCI compliance. Assuming this review works on well, I am probably going to take the site I built on the free X-Cart and port it to CREloaded, even though I would need to buy the CREloaded license whereas I got the X-Cart for free (I am getting 1 CREloaded license free to do the review on, but that is spoken for on another site already). Plus, right now, CREloaded is only $125, which is what a mere two mods for X-Cart would cost me to fit out my X-Cart license.

One Response to “X-Cart 4 Review”

  1. Tye  Says:

    I’ve got to agree with the upgrade process, its an absolute beast. I think this is another way for them to make revenue on top of the cheap price.

    I’m not sure your take on Product variants is too clear neither, they are not global, ie you have to create them for each product (again a mod fixes this) and also you only can have dropdowns or textfields. Another mod adds checkboxes, radios and textareas.

    I have used x-cart for years but have just been looking around at alternatives and realised how much other carts have improved.

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