One of the most important aspects of any shopping cart is the front end, as this is what customers will see and how they will judge your store. Many companies put an awful lot of time and money into improving the experience of each passer-by’s view of their store as they walk past, and your store front end is no different – people may well decide whether or not they like your website and deem it worthy of their business.
Each shopping cart has its own front end; they are generally highly customisable so you can tailor the look of your store as required. There are also a multitude of websites offering templates and plugins for each cart, as well as bespoke design and development work to improve the front end experience. We’re going to look at three, free, open source applications we are familiar with.
The Magento front end is impressive. It has lots of space to feature products and product lines, as well as good navigation via the top menu bar, a search bar, language selection, a log-in form for existing customers to view their account status, and even a community poll. It also has a ‘tag cloud’ which helps to improve search engine ranking, and clearly displays your available payment methods to prospective customers.
Looking deeper into the site, each product is clearly displayed with logs, an AJAX-expandable image, a section for reviews, comments, similar items, a description and comparatives. The experience is comparable to any larger online retailer (partly because so many of the larger online retailers actually use Magento!).
With regard to customisation, there are a multitude of plugins and themes available for Magento, from both their own responsive online community, and third parties such as Theme Forest and Template Monster. We at NuBlue also have considerable experience working with Magento and our Agency department has customised Magento in a wide array of ways to suit clients’ needs in the past. You don’t have to look far to find impressive examples of what Magento can do.
The OpenCart front end is slightly more streamlined than that of Magento, but still comes with all of the main features. Some featured products are listed on the home page, along with a slider showing some close-up shots. Most of the navigation is via text links in the header and footer.
The product description page is also more streamlined than that of Magento, though the key features are still there. Products have full descriptions, specifications, ratings and reviews, with AJAX-based image showcasing via a lightbox. Products can be compared with one another or added to a ‘wish list’, and social media integration is built into the core of the software, so one can easily share products via Facebook, Twitter and so forth.
Again, OpenCart is completely customisable, with a multitude of themes and plugins being available on the web.
The Prestashop front end is quite similar to that of Magento. By default the home page has navigation on the top, bottom, left and right with the centre being dominated by the featured products and an introduction to the store. The cart is clearly displayed on all pages and visitors are taken straight in to the store from the first instance. Language and currency selections are also clearly visible, as well as a search bar.
Each product page is laid on according to the same template, with the centre being dominated by a large depiction of the item in question. AJAX-based image enlargement is also available as well as a ‘printable’ version of each product.
Just like Magento and OpenCart the templates are completely customisable, and there is a great selection of templates and plugins available, and a showcase available on Prestashop’s website, showing what a little creativity can do to Prestashop.
Magento does seem to have the most features, and is very nicely laid out. More ‘open’ options were Prestashop and OpenCart. Of course, the needs of your website is also a contributing factor in choosing a solution. Magento suits larger, complex stores that requires flexibility for the future, while OpenCart is more suited to simpler stores, while still retaining many powerful features.