Practical Ecommerce

How To Choose A Shopping Cart

Good business is about good decisions. Good decisions are ones made after serious research and data gathering. One of the decisions that must be made by ecommerce people is choosing the right shopping cart for their business. The problem is there is a lot to choose from.

Mark Baartse, a man who, among other things, researches and reviews shopping carts, has identified 137 different shopping carts. Baartse tries to identify which are the best for the myriad applications required in the ecommerce industry. Baartse posts his review results at Shopping-cart-reviews.com. Practical eCommerce asked him to offer our readers some insights into shopping cart choices.

PeC: Mark, how important is the shopping cart choice?

Choosing the right shopping cart software is the most important technical decision to be made. Some people take the easy way out and say, “I don’t worry about that, I let my web programmer take care of those decisions.” But you have to ask yourself, does your programmer understand your business? Have they read your marketing plan? They might make the decision, but you’ll pick up the bill if that decision is a bad one.

PeC: What things in a marketing plan help make the shopping cart choice?

Well, does your marketing plan include an affiliates program? That’s where other websites can direct sales to you in return for a commission. If that’s important to you, you need to make sure your shopping cart can support it – your marketing plan should tell you this. If you decide you want this in 12 months and your shopping cart doesn’t support it, you’ll have to change your cart, which is very time consuming.

PeC: But marketing plans evolve. How do you deal with that?

That’s the tricky part. Marketing plans do change over time. For inexperienced startups in particular there is a lot of guess work – the marketing plan often needs to be re-written after 6 months. This can make the decision more complicated. If you are in this position, the best approaches is to talk to someone experienced, and have them help you through the things you might not have thought of.

PeC: How does the customer profile play into making the shopping cart decision?

How well do you want to know your customers? If you can easily target your customers through a niche-marketing channel, then you are in luck. However, maybe your customers would appreciate a newsletter with the latest happenings in the industry, and of course, the latest specials and items in stock. If so, you’ll need a shopping cart that supports a customer registration or newsletter function. You need to really understand your customers and what drives them. Do they respond better to discounts, free gifts or free shipping as an incentive? There’s an element of trial and error to work out these answers sometimes – but only if your shopping cart software supports it.

PeC: Sounds very complicated. Can you distill it all into a step by step plan?

Sure. First I would suggest downloading a template that I prepared to help you keep track of the process. It’s at shopping-cart-reviews.com/requirements.xls that will help you with this process. You can take the steps without it; it’s just easier with it. If you do use the template you’ll probably want to customize it for yourself since every business it a bit different. Here are my steps:

  • Write down a list of everything your customers might possibly need. Some ideas: gift certificates, product reviews, ability to look up Fedex shipping prices in real time, being able to send out newsletters to customers, etc. This can be tricky. Are there multiple images in the product description? Do your products come in multiple colors? Does the customer need to seen in? Is there a search box? Do you have a loyalty scheme? Write it all down – and re-read your marketing plan.
  • Now, think about everything you need. What sort of reports do you want? Do you want to be automatically notified when an item is running low on stock? Do you have a lot of products listed in another database you want to be able to import rather than re-entering them? What is your budget?
  • Now that you have a list, for each item put a priority next to it. 1 for critical, 2 for important, 3 for nice to have, 4 for unimportant. For example, it might be important (but not critical) that you have gift certificates, so rank that as a “2 – Important”. A common mistake is to make every feature top priority. You’ll need to do a bit of soul searching otherwise; you might end up with a list of features, which is unrealistic, or beyond your budget. Every time you write down a 1 – Critical stop for a second and ask yourself if it is really critical.
  • If you have a short list of shopping cart software already (perhaps suggested by friends or a programmer), visit their websites and quickly check each of them against each of your requirements. If you don’t have a short list yet, searching on my site shopping-cartreviews. com or google.com will help you get a list of candidates. You can eliminate a lot of carts straight away, as they won’t meet some of your critical requirements.
  • Try and get it down to a short list of 2 – 5 carts.
  • Study each shopping cart in detail and fill in the columns based on how well each one performs.
  • Review your list to compare your priorities against which shopping cart best meets those priorities and you are well on your way to making a decision!
Michael A. Cox

Michael A. Cox

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  1. Legacy User March 23, 2007 Reply

    I would also suggest:
    8. Call the company that offers the cart. Anyone can make a website that looks good – you want to know that the company that provides your whole online store platform is reliable, will answer the phone, will be around in five years, etc. You can get a feel for a lot over the phone.

    — *Emma*

  2. Legacy User March 25, 2007 Reply

    I dumped the Godaddy.com quick shopping cart after I discovered it was inflexible. It would not support download-only products, and I'm in the ebook business. Worse, although my merchant gateway would accept credit cards from all over the world, the GoDaddy quick shopping cart supports U.S. addresses only. I'm now with 2co which is great for startups as you pay per sale rather than fixed fee. Its weakness is that it does not support coupons or gift certificates.

    — *zanybooks.com*

  3. Legacy User October 7, 2007 Reply

    I've seen intermittent problems with shopping carts so often in my many years of managing AdWords and other pay per click advertising accounts for hundreds of online businesses that I strongly recommend going with a major shopping cart solution unless your business has requirements they can not meet. Running a profitable online store is challenging enough when your shopping cart works! I would also recommend hosted solutions so maintenance and updates are included. Volusion and Yahoo Stores are the two that have been the most solid for my clients. Do NOT assume that a highly touted company that has major clients will be a good choice for you; switching to one of those resulted in a 70% drop in online sales to an established business.

    — *Rose Sylvia*

  4. Legacy User April 21, 2008 Reply

    I bought a few days ago the Godaddy Quick shopping cart but regret it already. How can you do ecommerce without International shipping??? Obviously they don't advertise that flaw, had to go on their blog to discover it.

    — *Mickael*

  5. Linda December 23, 2008 Reply

    Best free shopping cart for small business?
    I am thinking about setting up an online store for my selling 40 types of women clothing. I am considering http://www.fastcommerce.com. They are free for 50 products. Beautiful templates. Is it the best free shopping cart for small business?

  6. rickb32 December 23, 2010 Reply

    Has anyone used shopping cart depot – http://www.shoppingcartdepot.com? It has everything – recurring billing, email marketing, affiliates, crm etc but I am questioning if it works well as this shopping cart is so cheap.

  7. rickb32 December 23, 2010 Reply

    and yes godaddy cart is pretty bad

  8. Mailware January 14, 2011 Reply

    OS Commerce and X-Cart are excellent carts, however requires an extensive amount of customization to get going with it imo. I personally really like Magento (as its free) and out of the box makes for a very nice web cart. If you need more support and have a reasonable budget I would also checkout Volusion. We have worked with a number of these carts and they all have their pros and cons. Here is an easy to use web cart comparison page thats updated constantly and pretty accurate it should definitly help you pick a cart: http://www.mailware.com/mailware/integration/cart-comparison/

    If you are not particularly tech savvy and have some sort of budget I would suggest a hosted cart (Volusion,CS-Cart,Shopify etc.)
    If you are tech savvy,are comfortable setting up a website yourself and looking for something free I would use a self hosted solution (Magento, ZenCart etc.)

    Let us know if theres anything else we can do to help.

    -Mailware

  9. Adam_next November 23, 2011 Reply

    I love Avactis. It has Free edition in case if you don’t want to spend money on shopping cart software. But I would suggest owned version. It has all necessary features including Facebook integration, built-in css editor, it allows create new pages, move blocks, it includes content managment system and a lot of other useful things. The greatest thing is that it can be integrated with an existing website. I’ve never seen a shop cart before that allows it. If you have a web site and don’t want to change its conception, just insert Avactis tags in an appropriate part of your page and you will see your products, checkout etc.

  10. cartinfo June 29, 2012 Reply

    OK, I got all the carts mentioned here through my hosting company, Web Hosting With $1 (WHW1.com), but I am getting information overload. Help. I can even have them running at the same time and play with each, but still requires some customization for my specific use, and so I really need to pick one and go with it.

    Zencart, prestashop, oscommerce…and all the rest mentioned here…… AH! too much info.

    1. Which one of the carts at WHW1 should I really choose for just about a dozen digital downloadable items to sell with paypal payments (CCs handled through paypal.com[PP])?
    It is great that I am getting everything at WHW1, but I am seeing a big list to choose from and time is limited. I cannot do a learning cure on each one. It takes too much time to investigate each one too.

    2. On top of that suggestion has been made for usage of wordpress via plugins….. ok, sure I got that too through WHW1.com, but the plugins you say to use are not free, right?

    At the moment I am thinking of doing the site with either Sitebuilder (SB), or WordPress (WP) or Concrete5 (C5), and then adding one of these carts to complement my design.

    3. However, am I getting the correct impression with Prestashop that it can handle my whole site creation with the shopping cart included?

    4. If so, then can I just use it alone without using something like WP, C5, or SB?

    5. Am I going to run in to cost after I start using prestashop or zencart? To what extent are they free?

    6. Does either one have a limit on how many items I can sell? Just considering future growth.

    7. Which is truly easier to make use of with PP and selling of digital items? Such as ebooks, videos, and other digital downloadable items.

    I am anxious to point the traffic from my current domain registrar to my hosting at WHW1, and I know how to handle the design fine using any of the above free site building softwares (meaning WP, C5, SB), but this information overload with the carts is holding me back. The first 3 I mentioned, ZenCart, PrestaShop, OsCommerce all look good, but I want to start with one and go with it, and not change later.

    Your responses will be appreciated.

  11. cartinfo June 29, 2012 Reply

    Mailware, I just saw your list. If you could add prestashop in that comparison too, it would be good. It seems the list was last updated in 2010.

  12. andruj3k August 20, 2012 Reply

    I am using Quick.Cart http://opensolution.org/ and it is good alternative of those big and less efficient scripts.
    Maybe this will help too: http://whichshoppingcart.com/

  13. Alex July 3, 2015 Reply

    The problem is that there are tens of seem-to-be-worthy solutions and it’s difficult to make the right choice. I’ve recently came across a feature comparison site http://www.pick-a-cart.com that helped to narrow a search to 2 shopping carts. Then I simply tested 2 demos and plan to launch my store soon.