E-commerce – the art of selling online – is becoming ever more popular as a viable business opportunity. Compared to setting up a physical store, the barrier to entry is far lower. Without needing to rent shop space or hire floor staff, business owners have fewer upfront costs.
What you do need, however, is a good website and quality shopping cart software. Without these, you will quickly run into problems maintaining your e-commerce business, and could soon find yourself losing customers faster than you gain them.
What is shopping cart software?
Shopping cart software is invaluable to business owners who sell multiple products online. The software enables site visitors to search your online catalog for different items, add them to an online shopping basket, then purchase them. All these features are integrated with your website, so the customer experience is seamless!
In addition to the website features, shopping cart software also helps you manage stock and your customer’s information. You can keep track of your inventory, create sales reports, and create databases of customer information using the software, which saves you having to do these things manually.
Services like PayPal and Google Wallet allow you add checkout buttons to your website, however they don’t provide any of the administrative features that full-featured shopping cart software do. If you only sell a handful of products through your website, you can get away with using only basic payment services such as PayPal and Google Wallet. If you sell more than 5-10 products, however, a full shopping cart software will save you a lot of time and energy!
Licensed vs Hosted shopping cart solutions
The first decision you need to make is whether to use software that is hosted by the developer (hosted software) or software that you host on your own server (licensed software). Depending on your resources and needs, each type of software hosting solution comes with its own pros and cons.
Hosted shopping carts
Hosted shopping cart software usually incurs a setup fee, a recurring monthly subscription and commission on sales.
The advantages are:
- The initial setup cost is lower.
- You can set up your e-commerce store in a shorter amount of time.
The disadvantages are:
- The medium- and long-term costs are higher than with licensed cart solutions.
- You are committed to a contract with that service, so it is difficult, if not impossible, to move the cart contents to a different service if you don’t like it.
- You can’t customize the shopping cart’s source code.
Licensed shopping carts
This is software you buy – either through a single payment or annual fee – and host on your own server or using your own hosting package.
The advantages are:
- You incur lower medium- and long-term fees compared with hosted shopping cart solutions.
- You can take the software with you if you decide to change web hosting company.
- You can access and customize the source code.
The disadvantages are:
- The initial setup cost is higher than it is with hosted shopping cart software.
- The start-up period can be longer, however you can usually ask the software vendor to help you get the software up and running.
Top 6 shopping carts
CS-Cart is a popular shopping cart software solution, with over 30,000 online stores already using this service. Built to support online stores of any size, the software offers support for different payment and shipping options, full inventory control, unlimited products support and it even comes with a full range of promotional tools. The software is fully search engine optimized so your content stands the best chance of being indexed by search engines.
CS-Cart publishes a list of compatible hosting services, including two of my top recommended services, LunarPages and SiteGround. Using SiteGround in particular can save you time with CS-Cart, as this hosting service offers free CS-cart installation and very helpful tutorials.
CubeCart is a hosting service that works with simplicity. Using one straight forward price and package for all e-commerce providers, you can access unlimited features and services for a one-time payment.
CubeCart have partnered with HostGator to provide you with compatible shopping cart software hosting solutions. HostGator is also one of my recommended web hosts, and they provide very reliable hosting service for excellent value! Checkout my recently updated HostGator review.
With big brand names like Toms and The North Face using this software for their online stores, Magento has become one of the leading e-commerce solutions in the market. The company offers different packages for small, medium-sized and large companies and their e-commerce solutions can be as simple or as complex as you need them to be.
Magento offer in-house hosting, but you can choose to host the software through a separate hosting company too.
Shopify is a hosted e-commerce solution that enables you to set up and run your own online store with minimum fuss or cost. The service provides over 100 e-commerce store templates that you can choose from and install quickly and effortlessly. The hosting packages contain unlimited bandwidth, so you don’t have to worry about customers being unable to access your website because it’s out of bandwidth!
Shopify is a great solution for you if you want to setup your online store with minimum fuss and hassle!
Zen Cart is unique on this list as it is both free and open-source. Like other software, it offers a range of payment and promotion options, and it supports popular payment processors like PayPal, Authorize.net, MoneyBookers and Nochex. The software is easy to install and you don’t need to know any HTML to be able to add product information and data to your store.
Zen Cart requires third-party hosting, and they recommend BlueHost as a fully compatible host. This is also my number one recommended hosting service for its reliability, extra features and value!
With over 3 million customers, 1ShoppingCart is one of the largest e-commerce solutions around. 1ShoppingCart provides an all-in-one e-commerce solution, including hosting. You can choose from three different monthly payment plans depending on the size of your business and which features you need.
1ShoppingCart supports a variety of payment gateways, including PayPal and Authorize.net. You can also accept payments via Visa and MasterCard. The company also offers a range of extra features, from targeted advertising, to outsourced call center support on behalf of your business.
As you can see, each shopping cart software offers a variety of solutions that are designed to suit different businesses. I hope with our shopping cart discussions above, you can make an informed decision about the e-commerce software that’s right for your website.
Out of the 6 shopping carts discussed, my favorite is CS-Cart which is trusted by many e-commerce website owners with their feature-packed solutions and affordable one-off pricing. From my own experience with the various carts, I can assure you that CS-Cart is the best. You can read a detailed review and discussion why I highly vouch for CS-Cart.
Don’t forget to check out my hosting deals and reviews so you can find a web hosting package that will complement your new server, and complete everything you need to run your online store.