CS-Cart, A Very Excellent E-Commerce Engine

I’ve been in the Web Development Business now for more years than I care to remember. In that time I’ve worked with plenty of E-Commerce engines, some of which were entirely bespoke before ‘off the shelf’ solutions such as osCommerce or Magento existed.

In more recent years I’ve been using osCommerce. I took a look at Magento but reviews of its fairly serious need for horsepower and to be honest I found it quite difficult to get around. Before any Magento fans flame me I’m quite prepared to admit that is probably much more down to me than it is to Magento. So I stuck with osCommerce. I’ve released a number of E-Commerce sites based on osCommerce and in general I had been fairly happy with it. But, it’s very old technology now – my first shop was released back in 2005, on osCommerce 2.2 and today the platform is still the same, 4.5 years later. And I’m sure I wasn’t on the bleeding edge back then. I don’t want to bash osCommerce here either – that’s not the purpose of this article. But it is my basis for comparison and as such I have to point out the shortfalls it has when compared to CS-Cart.

I took the plunge and started looking at CS-Cart. It was a brave (and potentially stupid) move because I chose to investigate it’s use for a large client site. Sometimes when taking on a large project it can be better the devil you know. In this case though, I was pleasantly surprised. It was better the devil I didn’t know.

CS-Cart is based on the Smarty Template Engine and I have good experience with Smarty, having developed the more recent parts of DearDiary.Net in Smarty, along with the original version of Kabarty Collector, plus the playing around with WHMCS (which also uses Smarty) and a couple of other smaller projects. CS-Cart is also structured into a Model – View – Controller paradigm, which with my commercial background with Java Server Faces, Struts and CodeIgniter appealed to me from the outset. Perhaps having experience in both these technologies helped me to understand CS-Cart quicker than others might was an advantage but I soon found I could get around the software quickly and easily.

CS-Cart is written in PHP using the Smarty Template Engine, and although it is commercial software (which I might add is very reasonably priced at $265US) it does come with full source code so you can find your way around it. Just like the WordPress world though it is highly recommended that you do not make any edits to the core code. Doing so will make your upgrade path much harder – and it’s just about never necessary (although I did have to for one of my customers as it was a bug in the core).

CS-Cart uses a skin architecture (made simple by the use of MVC) so you can make it look exactly how you want – and I’ve applied a pretty radical design to one of my new sites. I’ll update the URL later once it’s been made public. But you can hook in jQuery effects and just totally radically alter the way the site looks whilst not having to stress at all about how the engine works. The engine is totally seperate from the display – which is how a modern system should be designed.

The engine also supports the concept of Add-Ons which means you can plugin extra functionality. In the case of CS-Cart these are quite literally ‘plug ins’. You don’t have to get your editor out and search for line Y in file blah.php and modify this query to show Z. You place the addon into the addons directory – possibly add the addon skin additions to the skins directory, and then activate the addon in the Administration screen. You may need to configure the addon and that’s all done through the Admin screen.

CS-Cart, straight out of the box, comes with dozens of Payment Gateways, including Paypal, eWay, WestPac (sadly, no Commonwealth Bank of Australia or ANZ (yet)), noChex and too many more to mention. Along with those payment gateways, it also comes with a bunch of pre-installed Postage Handlers, including live postage rate calculations from Australia Post and others. It supports multiple taxation models for sales tax, so if you’re a multi-national you can apply VAT to British Addresses, GST to Australian addresses and whatever other sales taxes you might need, all at different taxation rates as defined by you.

CS-Cart is also very user friendly for the customer. It contains its own Content Management System which allows the customer to add additional pages that aren’t product specific (for example, Terms and Conditions, Returns Information, Privacy Policy). The user does not have to understand any PHP to do this, CS-Cart provides an editor built into the Administration Screens.

Positively THE most powerful part of CS-Cart is found in its ‘Blocks Management’. This allows a designer of the site and/or addons to create blocks of content which can be placed on certain (or all) pages and the intuitive interface allows the cart administrator to move these blocks all around to fit how they want it to look. No need to edit HTML – the administrator simply drags the block from (for example) the left sidebar over to the right sidebar, or even to the top. The blocks manager seems to be almost infinitely flexible and even allows certain blocks to be only shown on specific product or category pages.

The only strange part I’ve found to CS-Cart at this stage is the business model that CS-Cart employs when a specific add on is required. You can write to CS-Cart and request a particular addon be coded, which they will quote you a price for. If you agree, and pay the price, they will code the addon. All good there. But that addon could then appear in a later version of the CS-Cart product – even though you just paid for it to be developed. It’s not a huge deal, and I think it’s just something that will happen more in the bespoke software world.

All in all, I’ve been really very pleased with the easy way CS-Cart can be extended and the intuitive and very powerful customer administration interface that makes it a great system to deploy to customers and not have to continually go back and make changes for them.

Author: Steve Brown

Steve is a paramedic in Victoria, Australia who is also an ex-IT Consultant and currently uses all manner of MacOS software in his everyday life. So he usually tends to write about his experiences with that. But sometimes he'll write about medical, political or other stuff that might (or might not!) be of interest

50 thoughts on “CS-Cart, A Very Excellent E-Commerce Engine”

  1. Thanks Steve, excellent article. We are about to get into the CS-Cart space. Looks like a great product as you explained. Downside I think is that there are not many commercial skins for sale. I am having a Zencart skin converted to CS-Cart. May just be a matter of time. US$220 is cheap for such a versatile product.

  2. CS Cart is a fantastic product. Hands down the best shopping cart I found after doing extensive research (including Interspire and Magento).

  3. The structure of customization is the best feature of the product.
    We Reseller of CS-Cart in Brazil, even if no adjustments to our Mercarder the adaptability helped our programmers to make the necessary adjustments.

  4. Hi Steve,
    Nice post, I’m just about to start using CS-Cart myself, and I have a question. How do you handle the different look and feel of some pages? I haven’t found a way of creating a template say for the homepage, then applying that template to a page via the admin, there doesn’t seem to be an area to do this in.

    Seems that I would need to hardcode a conditional statement into the main template to say, if home then show home html, else show normal 3 column block layout.

    Is this right?

    1. Hi Chris,
      That’s exactly the way I had to do it for one my sites since it needed a different header depending on the area being viewed. For example;


      if ( $controller == 'products' && $mode == 'view' ) {
      // yada yada
      } else if ( $controller == 'categories' ) {
      // more yada
      }

      Hope that helps!
      Steve

  5. Hi Steve,
    This is great E-Commerce Engine web site. They add-ons are supper. With easy code. Biggest thing of the cscart is hook concept. I realy like it, and also mychanges addons, its really super.

  6. Hi Steve!

    I’m finishing my first web using cs-cart. But I have a problem with shipping methods.To use a domestic shipping carrier, and another for international transport. Therefore the shipping rates are different. I’ve divided by locations. But there is no way to fix it. The message is:Unfortunately no shipping options are available for your location.
    Please contact us and we will see about delivering to you.

    I don’t know what to do. You know what might be the problem?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Anna,
      Usually when CS-Cart shows no shipping methods available to you it is because either the weight of the package is too high, or the address the customer has set has no shipping methods setup. I had this when I first configured Australia Post to work with my installs, because the default account I was using had a US postal address and the only type of shipping I’d set up was Australia only.

  7. It really is an excellent cart. After more than a year I am still not jumping to another cart (not even thinking about it). But they have got the invoicing engine wrong. Everyday I get hundreds of open and failed invoices which should not have been generated in first place. Why generate invoices for orders which have not been paid at all. Many a times this has been abused by customers. There’s so much accounting overhead that CS-cart generates due to this insensible invoicing engine.

    1. Hi Kumar,
      I’ve never used X-Cart, but I’m happy that if anyone has used both X-Cart and CS-Cart and wants to write a guest entry here on the subject I’ll be happy to publish it.

  8. Great cart. I have purchased the software after my boss got the cs cart and requested to have some custom modules done. After seeing how fast and detail oriented they are, I have decided to switch to Cs cart myself, especially that many modules that come extra anywhere else, here are included.
    CS cart – Very highly recommended (previous CRE Loaded cart owner)

  9. Hey Steve! Great article. I’ve been working with zen cart for a long time now and to be honest I hated the fact that I had to add certain mods to make it work just how I wanted it, specially Friendly URLs. Last week I decided to make a big switch on a site I was working on and that’s been on line for 3 years and that was running on zen cart but it was modded, a bi too much I think!! and lost track of it and I was having check out issues, so to make my story short, I ran into CS-Cart and decided to make the switch mainly because it had all the features that I needed and the price was right, 4 days later I had the shopping cart working and ready to go live!! with some help of their great support team it all happened and so far we are pleased with CS-Cart, the cost for the software is all worth it, thanks CS-Cart!!

    Happy coding!

  10. We have a client with over 80,000 products in their online store. It is currently running a heavily modded version of oscommerce. With a customer mailing of 30,000 – we get hit pretty hard on our sale days. Just think of how osc handles that for a moment. I am curious, how will cs-cart do?

    1. Hi Glenn,
      It’s fair to say I have no idea how it would cope. It’s such a combination of many factors, such as categorization of products and other things.

      I’d be interested to hear if you do any kind of performance comparisons with this though.

  11. Hi,
    how to solve this
    Deprecated: Function set_magic_quotes_runtime() is deprecated in /home/united/public_html/lib/html2pdf/config.parse.php on line 177

  12. Hi,
    how to solve this
    Deprecated: Function set_magic_quotes_runtime() is deprecated in /home/united/public_html/lib/html2pdf/config.parse.php on line 177

    Pls reply

  13. Hi, Chose cs-cart and love it … BUT ! Has anyone worked with Canada Posts sellonline module and cscart..having problems getting it to work…

  14. Hi,
    Brilliant software for it’s default cost. Can this be setup to perform a simple add product to quote nasket and send me a pricing request. This would be great for product which have specific customer requirements.

    Thanks,

    Richard.

  15. Hello-

    I am setting up an ecommerce site using cscart. Do you recommend any specific hosting companies for this cart. The cs site recomments A2.com and Siteground.com. Others have suggested byethost.com, superb.net and colocrossing. We want to place the site on a shared server during setup and then migrate to a dedicated server.

    Appreciate any input. Thanks,

    Kevin

  16. Hi,
    I’m using and selling it. The best e-commerce script is cs-cart. I have use 20 different professional shop script. But cs is number one.. Thank you…

  17. Thanks for the review Steve. We’ve spent several soul destroying weeks reviewing must be nearly 40 shopping carts and CS-Cart is at the top of our list and the cart we shall be recommending to our customers. Fingers crossed!

    Cheers
    Ted

  18. Hi, I’m a web developer looking to set up a UPS add-on for one of my clients. The client would rather pay for a prebuilt add-on rather than pay me to build one. If you know of one could you please send me the link to my email nate@ndswebdesign.com? Thanks,

  19. I found one at “shippingkit.com” thanks though. I have enjoyed my working with CS Cart as well. I enjoy working with MVC and now that I have done some integration with CS-Cart I may develop some addons as well.

  20. Cs-cart is much better then Interspire and I’m just converting my 2 site over to CS cart. While slightly less user-friendly and a bit more effort needed for the set up it actually works (in comparison to Interspire Shopping Cart which sucks) Is has a big hype but can not deliver the features and support is virtually non existent.

  21. Hi Fred, We have released a couple of sites using INterspire and find support very lousy. We are looking for an alternate platform for developing sites with. How was you experience in transfer from Interspire to CS Cart? Anyone else here had dealings with Interspire? We are seriously looking to change.

  22. Thanks for the reviews,
    I’m considering CS-Cart, but am concerned about it coming from Russia. Had anyone done an audit on this cart to make sure there are no back-doors built in?

    Andre

  23. @andre
    its open source code. I am coder and i worked with the code for some 2 years but i never came across any back doors.
    Its a best cart with low cost.

  24. Hi Steve,

    Great review. Have you taken a look at version 2.1 just out?

    Can you or anyone recommend a good webhost in Australia that you run your cs-cart sites on.

  25. I’ve been running an online product catalog for a number of client on WordPress with a Getshopper.org plug-in, I gave up trying to modify all the components and it was unstable across browser types. I setup a CS Cart Pre-Prod site and within about 2 hours of testing I knew I was onto a winner. It just works, only downside is no payment gateway of ANZ (Australian bank) but I have already scoured a company that has one ready to go.

  26. The most informative article about CS-Cart I’ve ever read ))) I think the developers should highly appreciate such a good and understandable review )))
    P.S. I liked your style of writing a lot.

  27. Interspire Shopping Cart has been a nightmare for me. Basically, I’ve paid them thousands of dollars to fix their buggy software.

  28. Hi Steve . I have done a bit of research and found CS cart SEEMS to be the best shopping cart for my needs as i only have about 250 products to sell and im only going to marked them in Australia and only have a very small budget and i dont expect 1,000s of sales (maybe 1 a week if im lucky) could you recommend a good Australian host for this
    Thanks
    Allan
    PS wish I had of found your Blog sooner as it would have saved me a lot of time.
    Keep up the good work

    1. Hi Allan, thanks for the kind words!

      I’d highly recommend AusWeb – I used them for a while before switching to a US based host (purely because that’s where my biggest audience is). Their prices are good and support was fantastic. Page load times were great for Aussies too.

      HTH,
      Steve

  29. Hay Steve
    I now have my host sorted now (thanks) and want to get CS-Cart Professional 2.1.4 (seems to be the latest ver) and i am looking for the best (cheapest) site to get it from. Do you know anywhere that has it discounted or where they offer something with it (eg free premium skin, free install on my server, free….. something)
    thanks again for your advice and help
    Allan

  30. I positively agree with you Steve. Your comments express a very professional and analytical way of thinking. I have two stores using CS-Cart for my customers and the details that you say are completely correct. I sincerely congratulate you and at the same time I give you the thanks for this review. God bless you so much!

  31. Hi Steve,

    Good review. I have been using CS-Cart since April 2011 and the technical support was fantastic. I have no words to describe how good they were.

    They have an ‘affiliate’ add-on which I am using so that visitors can earn commissions by placing my banners on their site. Which is far cheaper solution for a small guy then advertising.

    I was using WordPress on another site to write articles and redirect interested visitors to my e-commerce site at http://www.drpetersnews.com (CS-Cart site) to purchase my products but then when WordPress upgraded to version 3.2 and it striped all my banners (scripts) from my pages. I have since abandoned WordPress because I found out that CS-cart has comments feature where visitors can post comments. So now my e-commerce site is also my blog. Great isn’t it? I do not have to send my visitors here and there to buy my products.

    Also I have set it up so that the Google adverts disappears when a visitor Signs In or Registers. In fact one can play around and make blocks appear or disappear depending on whether they are logged in or not.

    Thanks
    Peter

  32. Steve, I am new to ecommerce and shopping carts. I have selected a Magento template and I want to convert it or have it converted to work with CS-Cart. Have I set an impossible task for myself? Are there instructions ANYWHERE on HOW to do this? Thanks for being here for everyone!

  33. Have you ever seen a code of cs-cart? Have you seen their documentation? What are your talking about?

    If you need shop + plugins you pay for it is ok. If you have to modify this system you’ll know how shit this is.

    Procedural style, hooks, no current documentation. Very slow execution. Pure support. You have to pay for everything. Still interested in?

    I’m programmer for 20 years. And I have to modify this software. The worst I’ve seen was osCommerce code. Comparing CS-CART to ocCommerce you can tell CS-CART is much better but is still sucks.

  34. Hello Steve,

    Like you, I used many carts before CS-Cart, especially Virtuemart, first release in 2007.

    Unfortunately, weakness of VM is discounts management: You needed to hack the PHP core code to be able to add a single discount on order if its subtotal exceeds certain value.

    This is why I quit VM for CS-Cart. With CSC it is very easy to add any discount from Admin panel. No need to hack something there, even the most complicated discount is easily managed with CS-Cart.

    Today, I launch my tenth project based on CS-Cart, and counting… The near future is the upgrade of my oldest eCommerce website (based on CS-Cart 2.2.5) with the new 4.2.2 CS-Cart, Responsive Design compatible for smartphone and tablet, ready to use right out of the box.

    I use CS-Cart for 6 years now, and is always the best choice for my needs, even when compared with the new eCommerce solutions that have emerged in recent years, big or small, scripts or hosted.

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