A very technical friend recommended CS-Cart, and I'm very impressed with the built in drop shipping capabilities and the Real Time Shipping aspect.
The only thing I am concerned about is the “Smarty” templating system, I've heard some negative things on this. We create visually stunning/graphic intensive/highly customized designs for storefronts. Is it going to be a headache to work with this?
I'm familiar with a cart called JShop, where they use very simple tags/snippets. I'm also using a CMS called ExpressionEngine which makes integrating a complex design very easy. I am not familiar with how Smarty works.
Thanks for all the help!
CS-Cart is a very powerful cart and you can manipulate it to whatever design you want. There are some sites that other users have done that look nothing like CS-Cart at all.
As for doing it yourself, it depends on how much you know. Personally, I'm very comfortable with it, but I've been using the cart since 2006, so I've been with it for a while. I've designed quite a few stores and everytime I do one, I learn something new.
A lot of things can be done just with the blocks. I guess what you are asking all depends on you knowledge and what you want done. But, it can be done.
Hope that helps in your decision.
I think it's relatively easy to fully customise a cscart design.
The gotcha comes when time to upgrade the cart.
Not to worry. You can quite easily implement any design. Just remember to use hooks when you want changes in the core files, which after I tried it turned out to actually be a piece of cake (and i'm a non-coder).
Also… most stores kinda look alike. This has a reason: we are used to shopping that look similar and we like that. We expect the shopping cart to be on the top right, the buttons on the top and left side, etc.
What differs most of the time between shops are the graphics and CSS styles: the logo, buttons, banners, colors, cart image, and so on. Just by changing these alone, even in existing templates, you can change the design tremendously.
If you make designs yourself, I advice you to make one in photoshop or whatever you use, and have it implemented by someone who knows cs-cart, like one of the guys here. They will do it fast, and will use hooks wherever possible (ask your developer to do this whoever you use!) to ensure upgrades will go as smooth as possible.