Sunshop Shopping Cart Review
A truly search engine friendly shopping cart
I've been promising a Sunshop shopping cart review, particularly since Turnkey Web Tools' php-based Sunshop 4 is a huge enhancement over the earlier excellent versions, and lots of additional little tweaks have been added since the initial release (we've up to version 4.1.5). Let me put it this way — I've just completed two (of three) ecommerce sites utilizing Sunshop 4, and am about to launch into a fourth. While I'm great at kvetching, you'll hear no complaints from me.
If you're familiar with installing web/database applications, Sunshop is a breeze — edit the config file, upload the files and run the web-based install. (My How to install Sunshop post was written for people who are less familiar with installing web apps.)
So far so good, but if I'm going to set up a shopping cart, it ought to look and feel professional and logical. I don't want to work with (or present a possibly not so Web-savvy client with) a vague or strangely organized admin panel. But no fear of what you'll see when you log in to Sunshop, because the admin panel is gorgeous and organized:
On the admin panel home page, among other things, are Flash-based graphs showing current and yearly sales. There are also links (see the blue Transactions panel below) to various reports, including pie charts. Lots of stuff to download. On the Transaction Reports and Transaction Stats pages, we have more Flash-based graphs, calendars, compilations of which products are doing best — tastefully colorful pie charts, even. Very impressive, as these features boost your knowledge of how your site is doing. And what an impressive marketing tool to hand over to a client!
Designing Sunshop Themes
Sunshop 4 comes with at least six really excellent themes (designs). You can use them as is, or choose one as the basis of your custom theme. As well, you can design within the admin panel (a very slick Ajax-y interface) or — my personal preference — you can edit the individual template files on your computer and upload them.
To be honest, I really pushed/begged/pleaded for the ability to edit templates on my machine and upload them, as I find that so much easier than editing in a browser — and the Turnkey guys came through spectacularly. On the right is a small image of the Sunshop templates in Dreamweaver. Just open, edit, save, select and press button — uploaded! I can't tell you how much easier this makes designing a theme.
But, enough of my preferred methods of working. On to …
The Sunshop Store
Sunshop 4 has so many features that I won't be able to cover them all here. But here's the store front of Julien's Auctions — I customized the theme to fit the Julien's website design:
Next, we have a screenshot of a product page from the Corium 21 store. As you can see, the product pages have little "tabs" for product descriptions, Related Products, Reviews and the Tell-A-Friend feature. This image and the one below it show that I've moved the product description out of the tabs:
Mini-Cart — what's in your cart? Next is a product page from Julien's Auctions; in this one, I've highlighted the little "mini-cart" that displays what a customer has added to his/her cart. There is also a currency feature; just install the included plugin (did I mention there are quite a few plugins, including many for Google checkout), press a button to update the currency rates, and there you go. Customers can visit the store and elect to have prices converted to their own currency. Very cool.
Here's a screenshot of the View Cart page. Notice that I've elected to use a couple of the plugins included with Sunshop:
- the cart displays items that other customers have purchased along with the one in the Cart.
- The Shipping Estimate Calculator, which enables customers to see what their shipping costs will likely be before the checkout sequence.
- By the way, there are more plugins; these are just the ones I've used.
I should also note that Sunshop 4's entire checkout sequence is secure — which starts when you click the Checkout button on the View Cart page.
Okay, let's get down to it: Sunshop 4 uses mostly divs and CSS and is XHTML compliant (assuming you don't err if you're customizing it). This, of course, makes it much easier to work with than fully tables-based designs.
Search Engine Friendly Shopping Cart
That out of the way, it's also very search engine friendly. To be honest, I've given a decent amount of input regarding what it might take to make Sunshop search engine friendly — and more so than other "search engine friendly shopping carts" (which may not have been so SEF). The guys at Turnkey Web Tools did all that and more.
Heck, you can even convert the category and product pages to static HTML with word-based URLs based on your product titles. I haven't because I'm in love with the little mini-cart, but I also haven't found any problems with getting pages indexed in search engines — or ranking well.
I noticed a couple of Sunshop customers in the TurnkeyWebTools forums discussing how their Sunshop stores are performing in the search engines. Read jett69 and Pooch (comments #25 and #26).
So, there you have it. Years ago, I'd looked into a dozen or so shopping carts, and installed a couple, and then stopped at Sunshop — I wanted a reasonably easy to work with, client-pleasing, search engine friendly shopping cart that was easy for both customers and site owners to use. Lacking those elements, it doesn't matter to me what features a shopping cart has because it's not workable for me.
I'll say that I've also spent a certain amount of time talking to the kind gents at TWT about features I wanted. When it came time to design Sunshop 4 (which they redid more or less from the bottom up), they threw the doors open, posting an open call for requests and feedback in their forums (the comments thread alone is 15 pages long). They've come through admirably. Kudos to them, and to their software.
TurnkeyWebTools: I've had exceptional help from these guys over a number of years. Although Sunshop is not a free shopping cart, in my opinion, it gives me far more, and far more to work with, than anything else I've seen. I'm pleased to know that, since TWT is a business, they stand behind their products; I'm not just waiting out there for someone to answer a query in a forum.
I highly appreciate the support, both by phone, by email and in the TWT forums, on those increasingly rare occasions when I had a question. Heck, check their forums — they'll even step in and have a look at your server if you can't sort things out yourself.
Kudos, and thanks, guys.
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