Tutorials, reviews, case studies and other tips to help website owners and website developers master the Joomla content management system.
AceShop Review: First Look
The basic function of an ecommerce application is pretty easy. Display products, store the products in categories, keep a track of items added to each customer's cart, collect the shipping information and process the payment. But doing this well is hard. Stores have different needs so ecommerce applications need a lot of flexibility. Also, if something is unclear on the frontend, a customer is less likely to buy, so it is critical to choose a solution that works well.
Until now, there have been several Joomla solutions to consider, each with their pros and cons. Probably the oldest and best known in the Joomla Community is Virtuemart. The big upside is that there are hundreds of extensions for it. But developers have complained for a long time that updates are slow and support/documentation is only fair.
When it came time to produce ecommerce tutorials for our Joomla Pro course, we whittled the list down to RedShop and Tienda. The RedShop backend was more confusing than Tienda, so we went with the latter. Sadly it looks like we backed the wrong horse. Tienda works reasonably well, but at time of writing, the only version is for Joomla 1.5. The JED listing contains a mix of fantstic and terrible reviews. The developers, Dioscouri Design has promised that a 2.5 version is on the way. However the time it has taken kills our confidence that the product will receive timely updates in the future and adequate support which is so vital with ecommerce. We're worried that it is heading down the same path as Virtuemart.
Some of our customers have reported they like HikaShop.
One of the best known open source ecommerce applications on the market is Magento. It is a stand-alone solution, but a "bridge" is available that allows it to run inside a Joomla site. This setup is somewhat more complicated and you effectively need to manage two sites. But MageBridge by Yireo is a viable solution for the more advanced developer.
And so we come to a new contender, AceShop. Well, technically it isn't new as it is a reincarnation of AyelShop, which is now part of the JoomAce family under a new name. AceShop takes OpenCart, a popular open source ecommerce solution and wraps it inside Joomla. This approach means that JoomAce hasn't had to develop an ecommerce application from scratch. They don't need to maintain one either, however this doesn't mean they're getting a free ride as there is still significant work to integrate it into Joomla.
Unlike MageBridge, AceShop is not a "bridge". Everything is managed natively inside the Joomla Administrator. However after installing, it is obvious that it is not a stand-alone solution. There are two levels of menus which is confusing at first. The top navigation options are shortcuts to the most commonly used functions such as Products and Orders. The second menu provides access to all other functions.
The frontend design is powered by OpenCart and the product page layout is excellent. All the features you would expect from modern ecommerce software are included such as product attributes, reviews/ratings, wish list, product comparisons, coupons, group-based pricing and multi-currency.
The next thing we looked at were our big three ecommerce killers - tax, payment and shipping. Payment is pretty straight-forward and the usual suspects are there; PayPal, 2Checkout, Worldpay and many more. But here's where the beauty of this arrangement becomes obvious. If your preferred payment option isn't available, you may well find it at OpenCart. Any OpenCart extension can be used with AceShop.
Tax was next and this can be a great source of grief, depending on your country. Here in Australia, our consumption tax is pretty simple. Just about everything has 10% tax applied and this is easy to configure. But for some, you might need to create two or even three levels of (local, state and federal). This functionality is available, although we didn't test this possibility.
The final big three is shipping. Get this wrong and you're guaranteed to lose business. Many options are available in AceShop including free, flat rate, per item, by weight and others. And once again, if you don't find what you need, check the OpenCart extensions.
There is one version of AceShop and it is sold by subscription. The cheapest option is $59 which includes 6 months of support and updates. A 12 month subscription is $99, 24 months is $149 or pay once for a lifetime subscription for $499. OpenCart extensions are a mix of free and commercial.
Would we buy it? This review is a "first look" meaning that we spent a couple of hours playing around. This is enough to get a good feel for its stability and functionality, but not enough to decide for sure if it is good enough to receive the Joomla ecommerce crown. There were a couple of sticking points. We installed an OpenCart shipping extension for Australia that refused to work. Then we tried the OpenCart version of a popular ecommerce extension called Magic Zoom. This has a unique installation routine that also refused to work. It did have a 34 step manual installation process, but when this was followed, it still didn't work. In fairness, this was most probably issues with the extension rather than AceShop. But I can't help wondering if the process would have worked directly into an OpenCart installation. Maybe I'll try that one day.
As mentioned above, we need to spend more time testing with a real shop, but I think this could be an excellent ecommerce solution for Joomla. I would also like to hear from more developers, but so far, the JED reviews are mostly positive. OpenCart is a strong ecommerce solution. JoomAce's other extensions such as AceSEF are well regarded and their support is excellent. The danger for JoomAce is they are relying on a third party to an extent and if the OpenCart project becomes stale, they can't do much about it.
When it comes time to consider ecommerce for Joomla, add AceShop to your shortlist.
What has been your experience with Joomla and ecommerce? Would you consider AceShop? Would you like us to produce tutorials for this or other Joomla ecommerce extensions? Please leave your comments below.