The Joomla! Community Magazine™

e-Commerce for Joomla! Part One

Written by | Friday, 01 October 2010 00:00 | Published in 2010 October
As Joomla! has skyrocketed in popularity, Extensions available have multiplied exponentially. eCommerce Extensions, in particular, have seen phenomenal growth and maturation. Those of us who build Joomla! eCommerce sites have watched this growth with great interest and are pleased with the variety of choices now available for the Joomla! the powerful platform. For many years now, when community members think of eCommerce for Joomla!, VirtueMart springs to mind. Next, consideration often goes to bridging a Joomla! website to another open source solution. This past year, however, two other major players have emerged in the eCommerce space, that being Tienda from Dioscouri Design and redShop from redComponent.

Less is More

This month, our e-Commerce review focuses on three free of charge, GPL products from Virtuemart, redShop and Tienda. Commercial support is available for each of these environments. A commercial VM solution named VirtueMart VMX is available from vm-expert.com, a company run by a major contributor to that project. Both redShop and Tienda offer support on a subscription basis.

Our goal was to provide side by side comparisons of redShop, Tienda and VirtueMart. We limited our testing time to two hours per product and explored four areas: installation, configuration, product definition and visitor experience. We installed the products one by one, processing each of our testing phases for each product one at a time. In that manner, we were able to more easily compare and contrast what each product offered. It was an interesting experiment that made clear each of these Joomla! eCommerce solutions are exceptional and each have unique advantages.

After we installed, added products and reviewed the display for site visitors, we had a great round table discussion with a developer from each project and several members of Team EaSE. This conversation is available as a Podcast in the tab below.

What did we learn?

Each of the products installed without any issue. Tienda and redShop both have a simple one file installation process. In contrast, VirtueMart must first be unzipped before the Component and various Modules and Plugins are individually installed. Obviously, the fewer items there are to install, the easier the process. With Virtuemart, an experienced site builder is better able to select only that which is needed.

Options increase complexity

Tienda has fewer options than the other two products. For that reason, it is much easier to understand the product. Given the fact that Tienda uses the standard Joomla! architecture, knowledge about MVC layouts and Extensions transfers easily to this environment.

For all three Components, we sometimes had a difficult time guessing what options represented. Both Tienda and redShop would benefit from more tool tips and screen explanations.

Given the complexity of the topic, a configuration manual is required to get the full value of any of these packages. At the time of testing, VirtueMart was the only solution with a complete manual. The VM guide is available online and as a PDF and serves as a very detailed walk through of the application. Overall, the guide is exceptionional with only a few quirks (for example, we found the section on how to add downloadable products to be confusing). Tienda's online manual is limited. At the time of testing, redShop's guide was only available through subscription. But, now the redShop manual is available as a PDF. (links in Team EaSE Resources Page - October 2010)

In terms of functionality, we found that RedShop is the most extensive of the three. Naturally, this increased functionality is also more complex and difficult to configure but the application does have many welcome features. Both Tienda and redShop are offered by development shops with other Extensions. These options integrate easily together.

Extensibility

Being the 'old kid on the block' means VirtueMart has an older feel to it and a vast ecosystem. There are many Extensions, Modules and special VirtueMart Template vendors. For users in the United States, QuickBooks integrates with VirtueMart. VM's output is table based. The layouts can be overridden by those with VM experience.

Tienda's adherance to "the Joomla! way" means layout overrides and other benefits of the MVC architecture are immediately available. Tienda has accessible, div-based output. As mentioned previously, Tienda can be easily configured for use with other Discouri offerings.

Although it is a newer solution, redShop offers the most functionality. One thing that is interesting to note is redShop has a built in theme editor, making it easy for even an inexperienced Joomla! user to change the look of the store. As with Tienda, redShop's output is div-based and clean.

Joomla! Template clubs seem to be embracing Tienda and redShop and new Joomla! themes are starting to surface for these products.

So, which shopping cart is best?

The truth is only you can answer which shopping cart is best, given the needs of your customer. What we can say is that each solution works exceptionally well. When setting up an online store, many advanced skills come into play. Business knowledge is required, as are good design skills and ability to configure Joomla!.

In general, the following considerations might apply:

  • Do you want a simple easy-to-understand shopping cart for the average Joomla! Administrator? If so, Tienda might be your best bet.
  • Do you need a rich feature set and lots of control? If so, redShop is a good choice.
  • If you want your shop to be based on a community driven project and a mature set of community Extensions and documentation, VirtueMart is likely the best choice.

Getting started with Joomla! eCommerce

It is critical to write down specific objectives needed from the software. In many cases, it will be important to consult with an attorney or an accountant on legal and tax implications. For shipping, it's important to map the whole range of products for shipping options needed. Consider integration requirements for existing accounting and shipping software. Design matters and most eCommerce sites will require at least some Template/CSS manipulation. It might also be neccessary to add or change code to make the shop work as expected.

With those business details in mind, you can then evaluate the software and estimate the amount of customization required. The shopping cart that works best for one engagement might not be the best choice for another. It's good to have the rich array of choices we enjoy with Joomla!.

As with any other serious business engagement, success depends on planning. Consider the design, legal and business requirements and select the option that most closely matches the business need.

e-Commerce Podcast

Podcast

Members of Team EaSE sat down and talked with Rafael Diaz-Tushman (Tienda), Ronni K G Christiansen (redShop) and Francesco Albeni (Virtuemart) about their Joomla! eCommerce solutions. The discussion was quite informative and included such topics as target audience, code maturity and eco-system, integration with other environments and search engine optimization. If you are considering development in this area, we encourage you to listen to the experts as they share their experience.

e-Commerce Comparison Spreadsheet

Comparison

When it comes to eCommerce software, it is critical to document specific business requirements. In many cases, it will be important to consult with professionals, such as an attorney or an accountant on legal and tax implications.

The attached comparison might provide a good "jumping off point" for further study. Each of the products evaluated are available at no charge and you are encouraged to review this work and compare what is available to the requirements of your engagement.

The Joomla! community has a rich array of choices in this area. This can make choosing the best option for your needs difficult. A good problem to have, we think.

Team EaSE e-Commerce Comparison Spreadsheet

Download Comparison Spreadsheet .pdf


Summary

Joomla! site builders are fortunate to have many excellent solutions available for eCommerce needs. This type of site development often requires significant business, user interface design, and development knowledge. Virtuemart, redShop and Tienda are each excellent options with unique strengths. By clearly defining the business requirements for your eCommerce engagement, you can better compare the choices available and find an eCommerce solution suitable for your customer's need.

Issue 5 - November 2010

As you’ve seen, there are powerful choices available in Joomla! for full-scale e-commerce functionality. Next month, Team EaSE will conduct an in-depth review of several popular extensions which add basic shopping cart functionality to a Joomla! web site. Check back here in November for our side-by-side comparison and podcast.

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Team EaSE

Team EaSE

Current Team EaSE Members: Bo Astrup, Babs Gösgens, Brian 'Sully' Sullivan (Team Lead), Miljan Vujosevic

Grateful thanks also to Steve Burge

Past Members: Hilary Cheyne, Amy Stephen, Nicholas K. Dionysopoulos, Neri Valentin-Macias