Ecommerce Spot

Interspire Shopping Cart Review

Interspire Shopping Cart Review

Introduction

Interspire Shopping Cart is made by Australian Company Interspire. Interspire make several web products, e.g., a CMS and email marketing software. Their shopping cart product is, despite the version 3 tag, quite new, but has more maturity than many far more established shopping carts. It comes in three versions: starter, professional and ultimate. You can find a features comparison table on their site. I tested 3.6.2 Ultimate.

In the interests of disclosure, I have used this product on a client's site.

Initial Impressions

Interspire has the slickest back end I've seen. Someone has obviously put some thought and likely some research into how to structure it. The things you use all the time are in your face, those you use less often are a little more hidden but still quite accessible.

You are greeted by a flash based dashboard, which shows you key statistics for your shop over the last 7 days. A minor quibble is that it uses the same scale for visitors and orders. With most stores converting around 1 - 3% of visitors, it's going to be very hard to see the orders and conversion rate numbers next to the unique visitors. The numbers do popup when you mouse over the day, so you aren't reliant on the graph alone.


Administration home page

Setting up & Managing Products

One word comes up again: slick. You'll be seeing a lot of that throughout this article. This product has a lot of polish and really focusses on the needs of the shop owner. Adding a product is simple and painless. The key features are on the homepage. More advanced features such as product variations are on easy to access tabs. A particularly impressive feature which I've only seen once before (on Magento, whose implementation was amateur compared to this) is the ability to choose a unique template for a product. Most of your products are probably fine on one template, but if you have for example, a promotion on certain products, you could create a special template with whatever different formatting and features you wanted. The same applies to category pages.


Product setup

The main product categories page is to die for. While it looks similar to others - a nested list of all your categories - you can rearrange categories simply by dragging and dropping with your mouse, and that's it. Much of the backend is done using AJAX and DHTML type functions, making common jobs very quick and easy. Very slick.

Interspire does product variations, allowing you to have variations such as size, color, etc. As is becoming more common amongst the better products on the market, and not before time, is the ability to handle stock levels at a variation level, so you can have 2 large shirts and 4 medium shirts in stock. It also allows pricing variations such as making extra large shirts $5 more.

There's lots of other nice touches, such as support for brands, purchase cost, and so on.

Search

A lot of products don't pay much attention to site search, but Interspire isn't one of them. Some of the site search options include putting site search specific keywords (as opposed to general meta keywords) in for products. This allows you to "rig" the search results, or modify for common customer mistakes. Speaking of which, there are good search reporting facilities including popular searches and popular searches with no results (your customers are telling you they want something!).

The front end search box has a nifty AJAX search suggestion function (similar to Google suggest). As you type in your search query, results are shown that get refined as you continue to type. The results even show thumbnail images! I'm not sure what this does for sales, but it impressed me.

Payment, Shipping & Taxes

Interspire has a long list of supported gateways, with a lot more coming in the next version. The shipping handles multiple countries and/or regions very well, even allowing you to enter zipcode/postcode level shipping options.

The tax options are fairly thorough. Apparently Canadians struggle with taxation in the current version, but they will supposedly be supported in the next one.

Checking Out

Interspire has a choice between one page checkout or regular checkout. The one page checkout is very slick, the best I've seen. Unfortunately in some tests I ran, the one page checkout hurt sales, and so I am using the regular checkout on my client's site. Your mileage may vary, every shop is different, but it's definitely worth testing.

They also have the choice between guest checkout and registered checkout, a definite sales booster.

Skinning

Of all the impressive features in Interspire shopping cart, this one takes the cake. First of all, there is a wide range of templates available. These don't come preinstalled but can be previewed and then installed seamlessly with literally one mouse click. The standard of the templates is fairly high.  There is even a simple but effective logo creation tool built in.


A view of templates available to install

Modifying the template is a dream. You really have to experience it. You put the store into "design mode" through the back end, and then go to the front end and simply move things about. Want the "related products" on the left instead of the right? Just drag it there. It's really that simple. If you want to change the name from "Related Products" to "Other Products", just click on it and change it. If there are more detailed changes you want to make, just right click on it and select edit, and you can start editing the very simple and well structured HTML template files and CSS using the web based editor. I have found changing the templates to be in almost all cases very simple and straight forward.


Editing the skin in design mode. Note the right click menu on the right.

Marketing tools

Discounts

Marketing tools is possibly the weak link at the moment. The tools currently available are usable but fairly basic. On offer is a basic percentage or amount off with expiry date, usage limit, and category restriction. When mentioning this to Interspire I have been told "you just wait till the next version", so I'm waiting!


Creating discount coupons

Emails

Interspire have made an interesting decision to not include any bulk emailing features into the software (although the do support capturing email addresses). Some may say this is through avarice, as they also sell bulk emailing software, and conveniently include hooks into it. Personally, I think this is a sensible decision. Bulk email is something that seems very simple on the surface but is deceptively hard to do well (I have been involved in the development of an enterprise bulk mail system), and I have long recommended my clients use a 3rd party email service. As always, I recommend you sign up for one of the many excellent bulk email services, or pay to get the Interspire bulk email software.

Other marketing tools

Interspire has a feature I've never seen before - "Banners". This allows you to put a message at the top or bottom of the homepage, brand page, category page or search results. This could be a "10% off Brand X this month only", an image, or whatever you want. As a wonderful extra touch, you can set the expiry date on banners, so when the promotion is finished the banner finishes as well - no need to stay up till midnight.

They also have a well thought out gift certificates implementation. You can create different themed certificates, e.g., birthday, Christmas, wedding, etc, so the purchaser can choose the most relevant theme (which you can design, or use the built in designs) and print it themselves. You can also set whether you want fixed dollar amounts available, or if the purchaser can do any amount. Customer reviews are also available.

Reporting

Interspire has a good collection of reports. Their presentation is certainly above average, using some fancy flash charting technology to make sure they look extra nice. The reports available are:

  • Overview - sales, orders, conversion rate
  • Top 20 customers
  • Best selling products
  • Order locations (with nice Google Maps integration)
  • Orders by items sold
  • Orders by revenue - work out your most common order size
  • Product overview - a group of product statistics
  • Most popular products by views
  • Inventory report
  • Revenue by customer
  • As previously mentioned, search statistics
Most of the reports above can be filtered by date.

Extensibility

One of the biggest expenses for most shop owners is the cost of customisation. Some products are a nightmare to customise so you save a few hundred dollars up front and end up paying thousands in developer fees or lost time. Interspire ranks pretty well. As far as skinning goes, it's by a long shot the easiest yet. As far as deeper functionality, you will need solid PHP skills. The code is neat and well structured. It doesn't use any 3rd party frameworks (Zend, CakePHP, Smarty, etc), but uses their own in-house system. Any competent PHP developer should, with a bit of orientation, do just fine.

There is a concept of "add ons" but provision of these seems to be restricted to Interspire.

Support

The product includes 3 months free support, and paid support is available after that at a reasonable price. I have always preferred this model as it is sustainable for the company, and means you aren't relying on the goodwill of the developers to support you. I used support on a few occasions. Responses were generally received within 24 hours and were helpful. In one case, the engineer went above and beyond the call of duty and fixed something that was mostly my fault. In one critical incident, it did take 48 hours for my first response, which I wasn't too pleased with.

Other features

Another feature I've never seen before is the ability to integrate third party tools. Many shopping carts use Google Analytics, an affiliates tracking system, and a live chat system. Normally, it would take at least an hour or two of hacking into footer files, header files, checkout completion files, etc to get these working. Interspire have taking the sensible approach of saying: most people do it, why not make it easy? So, all those things can be setup from the backend without touching code. I installed a new affiliate tracking system in about 5 minutes.

There is also a returns system and a messaging system, allowing you to communicate with your customers via the site.

The customer wish list is nicely done, and a particularly nice feature is the ability for customers to make their wish lists public and share them with friends. This could possible double as a bridal registry.

Conclusion

Interspire Shopping Cart is a product to seriously consider. The company seems to have a great, customer focussed culture. They have, in theory, a release every 8 weeks. I haven't witnessed this so not sure how accurate it is, but even as a goal it's admirable. They also claim new features and developments are determined or heavily influenced by customer suggestions, this is true from what I've seen.

With their focus on creating a polished, reliable easy to use product, I can see myself coming back for more.

A detailed review takes significant time. The cost of time was partially offset by a payment from Interspire. No pressure direct or indirect was put on me for future work, kick backs or other incentives. Payment was received before they saw the review. They thoroughly respect and value the independent nature of this site.

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