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Review of CRE Loaded 6.3 Pro and B2B

Late last fall, I was asked by a representative of CRE to do a review of CRE Loaded 6.3 B2B and Pro. It has taken some time to complete the reviews, due to the need to test out the functions in day to day usage situations. Even with multiple installs of the software running for various clients, we still have not tested everything, but we have tested enough to draw some conclusions and to see where the major changes have occurred.

I am pasting in the entire review here.

Published by
Laura Wheeler
Firelight Web Studio
(a division of Firelight Business Enterprises, Inc)
June 6, 2009

Copyright, 2009
Reprinting of this document is permissible ONLY if the entire document is published. Quotes may be extracted for online publication if a clearly labeled live link to the entire document is published directly below the quote.

CRELoaded Reviews

I have been very vocal about my opinion of the changes in CRELoaded 6.3 Standard, and I’m still a bit confused about why I was asked to review Pro and B2B. My opinion of them is not much gentler than my opinion of Standard, and in some ways, it is harsher, because of the pricing.

It has, in fact, taken MANY months to do this review. Because of a need to use it and actually test out functions in real-life situations. It is impossible to test a cart by looking at it, and most functions are not fully testable until you get them into real shopping demands. That takes time – hence the delay in releasing a useful review.

Even then, it is not comprehensive. There are features we were unable to fully test, because of a lack of demand for them.

I’ve already stated my opinions of the pricing structure, and the feature breakpoints, though I’m fairly certain that they were not read or listened to by anyone who could actually do anything about it.

I am striving in this review to be fair on both positives and negatives. Our clients use various versions of this software, and we depend upon it for some of our core service offerings.

Both Pro and B2B

I have long felt, based on experience with many carts, that CRE is the most flexible and sustainable option out there – not by a large margin, just on many carefully weighed points. Other options are either more complicated to deal with, or completely unsustainable for a number of reasons, or too immature to do what you need them to do. I still feel that way. But it does not mean that I think that CRE does not need work.

So here’s a quick rundown of the changes that I like, and those that I do not appreciate, along with things that should have changed but didn’t.

  • Infoboxes are more flexible to manage. You can position them up and down more easily without getting stuck in a section.

  • Design is harder to manage. Parts were put into the Admin, but since some bits are there, and some bits are still in the templates, it is very difficult to figure out where the change is that you want to make. And they are handled in more than one area in the Admin, further complicating the issue. It is very tedious to have to change the color of each infobox individually, especially when it is a slow and awkward process in the first place. We feel this was a step backward, not forward.

  • We are still having to fix bugs and adjust common elements to get the system to behave in commonly expected ways.

  • The installer still has the merchant account signup presented as a required part of registration. The link to skip it is small and not easily noticed.

  • The template sales in the site backend does not say who the credit card billing is originating from. This is a serious issue, making it seem shady.

  • I also dislike that many longstanding annoyances, inconveniences, and time wasters have not even been addressed. Most improvements were aimed at bells and whistles rather than core function.

  • This version has many things half-finished, or hidden goodies that are unpublished – they are not referred to in the documentation, and no instructions exist for using them. You may stumble on them, but have no idea what they actually are, or if they will work as you assume they logically should. I do not know if this happened because they were abandoned in the middle of them, or if the team did not have time to document them, or if they simply did not feel they were mature enough to want to have to support them.

  • We dislike the RSS feeds in the admin area. CRE’s server is perpetually overloaded, and those feeds can slow down the admin area of a site to the point of outright frustration, especially when combined with the clunky and redundant editing screens.

  • We also dislike the serial number validation methods. While we have no problem with CRE wanting to charge for the software, or wanting to require a serial number, validating it against CREs overloaded servers each time the site is logged into, is problematic for the end user, on a number of fronts.


Most of the B2B features work at some level, though figuring out how to use them is difficult. The manual is only partially helpful, since it only skims the surface. Many new features have been added which are not documented – some have cursory documentation stating the feature exists, others have no mention anywhere that they are even available, you may stumble on them, and then have to figure out what they do and how they work, or IF they work (many do not).

To me, the real value in B2B, and the only value worth upgrading for, has been the ability to create customer pricing groups – this is a functional feature which increases monetary potentials in measurable ways – most of the other features do not have that kind of return potential. This feature allows wholesale ordering capabilities to run alongside retail ordering. For many small merchants, this is a function that is difficult to find in a shopping cart. It still has some bugs and annoyances. Some are slated to be fixed in the next release, but there is no knowing whether that will actually be done, or WHEN it will be done, or how many new bugs will come with that.

Many of the annoyances have to do with how it is used – if you want to use all the features, you are in for some frustration. Many of the settings are straightforward, and logical. Others are buried in out of the way places, and require either extensive digging to find them, or someone has to tell you how to do it. Those that do work, often do so in a way that is crippled, offering only partial functionality.

The Affiliate program, which is only fully functional in the B2B version, is still too immature to be flexible enough to meet the needs of people who need a robust system. It works, but in a limited way. 6.3 does add some new functionality to it, and some if it very desirable (though undocumented), but it is still fairly simplistic as far as affiliate managers are concerned. It also has some longstanding issues of things simply not working, or being so inconvenient to access that actually using it is very irritating. The frontend links for this have always been broken, not going where they say they do, and the signup process is extremely unintuitive.

B2B ships with only a single template enabled. This is a serious limitation, in my opinion. CRE is fairly difficult to template, and while the templates for 6.2 were no great shakes, between the included templates, you could usually modify one to come up with something to work for most businesses. It is clear that the intent is that you purchase one instead.

Ok… but then that causes another problem, because at this time, templates that are compatible with 6.3 B2B are still very difficult to locate, and they are fairly costly when you do find them. Templates for content management systems are easy to find in the $35 to $50 range (and often free), but for CRE, they start at $135, and no other free ones are available. Hardly worth it when you’ll have to do as much coding on a purchased template as you would to modify the stock template. We have also found that many purchased templates introduce language file errors, and SQL errors when activating infoboxes, or activating other commonly needed functions.

The template that it ships with does have a couple of nice changes from the 6.2 templates. We like the horizontal menu, and the options on it, though the fact that it is hard coded into the mainpage file is unimpressive, to say the least. We’re not so crazy about the tiny links for contact page and policies page at the top and bottom of the page, and have removed them from many sites. We’ve pushed this single template into many shapes, and have done quite a bit with it, but it is more difficult to work with.


I know designers who think I am nuts for my opinion of Pro, but I’ve never seen the value in this. Not enough to pay for it anyway. It does offer some add-ons that generally cost something to get, but it does not have a significant value breakpoint for small businesses (our expertise is specifically with small business). There are things that make using it more convenient, but little that actually makes more money for the merchant.

I feel that CRE should have given Pro the more functional affiliate features of B2B, while reserving Customer Groups for B2B. This gives a clear monetary and functional advantage for each version.

Templating issues are the same as with B2B – limited, and very hard to find. In fact, Pro templates are harder to find than B2B templates.

When we agreed to test these and review them, I stated that I’d only do so if I could test them on actual client sites. I have been unable to do that with Pro, because I cannot find a client who wants even a free version, when they know they’d be locked into a long term pricing that was not justifiable. They want the function of B2B, but they do not perceive Pro as having enough difference over Standard to pay for it.


Our clients who have attempted to access support have stated that it is “less than helpful”. Answers are often obscure, or the equivalent of the “beats me” shoulder shrug.

Since the documentation is lacking in anything other than descriptions of the obvious, the real problems are hard to find answers for. A search of the forums sometimes helps, but many questions remain unanswered there, and others are hard to find because the search function is so abysmal. It also appears that many of the older helpful answers have been removed – searches now fail to pull up useful information that was once available under the same search terms.

I believe strongly that good documentation is the solution to this – both for providing resources to the tech support personnel, and for providing resources to the customer base. Charge for it, but get it done, because the lack of usable instructions is a huge hindrance to the growth of CRE.

CRE in general

I am still unconvinced that the company will be reliable long term in how they treat their customers. I feel that there have been longstanding issues, which have existed from the beginning, which have never been addressed. Many would be simple things to correct, or which could be easily addressed by placing priorities in the right order. Most criticisms of CRE come back to the same things, over and over. Those problems have been serious impediments to the growth of the company.

Many techs have made a profession around CRE. They’ve been able to do so partly because there is very little in the way of real help or documentation. If you are gifted enough to figure it out, you can make money helping other people figure it out. But it means that techs who are just learning the business go and learn other systems first, and never bother with CRE. Once a tech adopts a system and begins to build services around it, they rarely change to others. CRE’s best chance of getting techs to adopt CRE and promote it, is to make instructions available which address the common issues, and make it easy to get helpful answers.

Setup and sustainability still remain awkward enough that do-it-yourselfers generally avoid it unless they are a techie at heart. Once a client is introduced to the backend of the site, they can usually manage it fairly simply, and can often figure out how to do basic tasks without specific instruction. Beyond that, the learning curve escalates.

Longstanding Problems Still Unresolved

  • The setup screens are awkward, and time wasting. Three clicks to do what you should be able to do in one click.

  • Affiliate links on front of site are inaccurate, signup is awkward.

  • Checkout process loses sales at a HIGH rate due to inefficient workflow.

  • Newsletter manager is buggy, and has no throttling. A serious issue that makes it completely unusable for most businesses.

  • Options and attributes are slow to set up, unintuitive, and clunky. And buggy, they often do not work.

  • Quantity pricing tables are buggy – same bugs they’ve had for many versions.

  • Links system is a spam trap.

  • Mainpage is stored in a file instead of the database.

  • Contact Us STILL has to be hand-edited in the language file.

  • Affiliate Terms still have to be edited in the language file.

  • Articles functions are still awkward, and unintuitive.

  • Still requires a shipping weight to charge any kind of shipping, whether weight based or not.

  • Updating the software is still very difficult, due to the number of items hard coded into language and other files, and due to the number of bugs requiring patching on each install. This is a MAJOR problem for business affordability.

  • Many other functions do not work, are awkward, or require bug fixes on every install. This is true in spite of the “bug fix” updates.

New Goodies

This is not a comprehensive list – just some things we noticed that are helpful.

  • Sort order on products – you can sort the product order more easily.

  • Default customer groups – Saves some time on setup.

  • Product/Article Blurb – Useful for category display.

  • SubProducts – designate at bottom of product listing

  • Article product linking at bottom of article – needs this on pages too.

  • Edit button on Products and Categories – makes product editing slightly faster.

Broken Features and Half Finished Elements

Again, not a comprehensive list, just some of the most obvious

  • Contact Us – They’ve created a Contact Us item in the Pages, but it does nothing. Contact Us page still has to be edited by hand.

  • Affiliate Branding – Half functional and annoying – affiliate info will show up on the front of the site, but the Admin has to enter the information in. There is no interface for the affiliate to do so. The site header also changes for affiliate branding, BUT, there is NO WAY to turn it off! You have to edit the code and remove the branding code, OR, put your header image in for EVERY AFFILIATE, in order to get it to consistently display YOUR header or logo.

  • One Page Checkout is buggy. Still.


Do I think that the new features are good? Some of them yes. The ones that work, and the ones that actually enhanced the usability.

Do I think that either Pro or B2B are worth the current price? No.

My primary reason is that the price is high largely to cover the cost of support which many people do not need, or which they’d gladly do without to get a lower price. And the support isn’t stellar, by any means.

I believe that the slow adoption of 6.3 in general speaks volumes of the reluctance that people have in using software that is priced this high, and which has the issues that it does.

I have always felt that CRE would be better off charging a lower price for the software, and charging separately for support. This makes sense from a business perspective – maximize the profit from replicatable things, while minimizing the revenue streams that are low profit but which are labor intensive.

Reducing sales by charging a high price that has a built in labor intensive factor, is purely stupid. Increasing sales by reducing the price for the items EVERYONE wants (and which are cheap to reproduce because they require less labor), and eliminating the built in labor intensive aspect, would be the intelligent course.

Offer a low priced option with NO support. Let it sell like hotcakes. Offer a separate support package and make the support division of the company self-sustaining.

Long term, CRE needs to focus on fixing bugs, and working out the longstanding problems which affect sustainability for businesses. The competition is already figuring this out, and is making strides toward that goal. CRE is still mired in old problems that are not even on the schedule to be fixed, but which every person who uses it is annoyed by.

The treasure is definitely there – but it is by no means refined.


NOTE: Support was last tried about three or four months ago. All other comments reflect the status of updated 6.3 installs prior to 6.4.

Take Heart CRE Users… X-Cart is Infinitely Worse

Gosh, I feel like a snippy critic for this one. I’d worry about it except that everything I’m going to say is absolutely true, and something that people investigating cart options oughta know.

A client contacted me to do some work on X-Cart. She paid for the software – no Open Source freebies here. We had trouble accessing the support forums in the first place, due to ownership issues. Once we did, I have become increasingly frustrated with this cart. I’ll outline a few of the reasons why I hope to never have to work on it again – in fact, any other new clients who have it will be turned down flat.

1. Documentation is weak. For a paid cart, that isn’t acceptable. It covers only the most basic stuff, and does not outline many necessary bits of info.

2. You are required to put the version number in the signature line of your forum posts to get help. The version number is hard to find – their instructions do not pertain to new versions. Once you find it, you have to go back and edit your forum profile just to put that sig line in. I don’t like being hassled to get help.

3. You have to edit a LANGUAGE FILE just to change the home page contents! Please be shocked here! This is inconvenient, awkward, and completely unacceptable for cart functions within the last five years! There are hundreds of language files, and you can’t even find the right one without explicit instructions.

4. The template is a NIGHTMARE. In excess of 100 files each one containing one little bit of the page, one snippet of the boxes, etc. The only templating I’ve seen that is worse, is Magento. I don’t mind a header, footer, and main template file. But when every single cell is chopped up on the page, and when the contents of those cells are all in different files from the cell code, it becomes an impossible task to try to edit any part of the design without a reference guide to do it. This level of complexity is not only unnecessary, it is the equivalent of rubbing two sticks together to get light.

5. Nothing is simple or logical. It is all convoluted and cumbersome. Backend functions take more steps than necessary, and there are no intuitive tasks. Forget trying to learn this one without both reading the manual, and spending a lot of time on the forums looking up stuff that should be intuitive, but is not.

6. Updating is also inconvenient. This makes site sustainability more costly.

7. Support is paid only. That wouldn’t be a problem, except they have two classes of tickets – HotRush, and Normal. If you have a problem that is urgent, like your site being down, the only way you can get timely help is with a HotRush ticket. They cost twice as much! Currently their support turnaround time on normal tickets is TWO DAYS! This isn’t just unacceptable, it is grossly irresponsible.

8. It has no outstanding features, no advantage that would make any of this justifiable. It doesn’t do anything that other carts don’t do, it doesn’t have ONE THING that is more convenient to do, or more functional. It isn’t a matter of the disadvantages outweighing the advantages – there simply ARE no advantages that would make this cart even a consideration for anyone who needs a functional cart.

I’d expect better than this from Open Source. In a commercial product, it is completely ridiculous. I cannot for the life of me figure out why someone would PAY MONEY for lousy software accompanied by bad support. That is available free, anywhere. Good software with decent forum support is available all over the place.

This doesn’t just go onto my “I don’t like it” list, it goes onto my “Never again” list. Sad, because at one time they had some potential. They obviously have not kept up with the rest of the industry.

Note: The opinions expressed in this post are the perceptions of the writer, and should not be interpreted or quoted as fact without corroborrating evidence.

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