Shopping Cart Software: The Basics

Shopping cart software offers more than just payment processing. Most programs come packed with a variety of features to enable you to create and manage an online store. Options include everything from webpage and storefront design, shipping and tax calculation, inventory and accounting functions, promotional tools such as coupons and gift certificates, security features, and even marketing services to help direct customers to your site.

Key parts of the equation are how many different products you’re selling, how much technical work you want to take on yourself and what your budget is. A merchant with a small line of products will have different needs and require different resources than a retailer with thousands of products. If you’re more interested in selling your product and developing your business than designing and maintaining a website, there are software packages that offer multiple levels of support. If you’re a web developer who’s not afraid to take on programming duties and code writing, there are options that can be extremely affordable.

A few considerations:

  • Scalability. You may be selling just a few items right now, but your needs may change as your business grows. You may need to add more bells, whistles and bandwidth as traffic increases. Find out what your options are in terms of additions as you grow – some programs start off inexpensively but become budget-busters when you need to add on other functions.
  • Marketing services to direct clients to your website. Some shopping cart software offers optional marketing support, including search engine optimization, paid search campaigns, comparison shopping engines (CSE’s). Consider how people will find your site and if it’s worth paying more for professional marketing help.
  • Security. E-commerce sites are required to meet the requirements of the Payment Card Industry – Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) for storing, transmitting and processing payment information (PCI-DSS compliance). In addition, you need to protect your site from hackers and oMether security issues. The solution comes from a couple of sources: consider the security features of shopping cart software along with the security features your hosting provider offers.





PlatformOpen source available for free; or paid subscription versions that build on open-source offering.Open source available for free download.Licensed; purchase software.Commercial SaaS. Monthly fee, determined by the number of products for sale in store. Also offers marketing service bundles such as SEO, PPC and analytics.
SupportFree support from active open source community; but no official product support unless you subscribe to one of the paid versions of the software.Lots of tutorials and forums, but because it’s open source, there’s no official product support.Professional technical support with software, installation and configuration; client-only community forums.Support comes from online training materials, product manual, video tutorials, FAQs on website, and 24-7 customer service staff by phone, live chat or email.
Custom Available?Yes, but best done by web designers and others fluent in the software; requires investment of time to learn.Yes, but best done by web designers and others fluent in the software.Yes, with moderate programming skills and knowledge, or with X-Cart’s professional programming services.Yes, through custom templates offered by Volusion’s professional services. Otherwise, free and premium templates can be purchases with very minimal customization.
Ease of InstallEasy if you know what you’re doing; otherwise, best left to professionals.Best left to professionals. Can be time-consuming and expensive to install add-ons; several osCommerce-based programs come packaged with additional modules.X-Cart professionals will help get you set up for a small fee.Store setup services, personal training available to get started.
Sample Websites

Best For…?The Magento website states their open source version is “for expert developers and technical enthusiasts in non-mission critical environments; intended for those with the time and resources needed to solve issues independently.” All others, consider the professional (paid) versions of Magento.A good basic shopping cart for experienced, professional web developers; too complicated for non-technical beginners, but could be a good starting point for having a pro customize a website.Software developers; store owners; anyone ready to create an e-commerce platform for their business and looking for professional support.With professional support services, this software is for virtually anyone who needs to get a store up and running quickly and simply. Ideal for non-programmers who do not have IT staff.
Bottom LinePopular for its strong feature set, but add-ons required for basic needs such as full security and PCI compliance. Takes some programming knowledge unless you’re willing to pay for professional level support.Good basic cart with many add-ons and modifications available (at extra expense), depending on your needs.Comprehensive package that’s easy to navigate once it’s setup. Strong in inventory management, customer service and security.Comprehensive solution for the non-developer. Comes with strong customer service and support and wide range of features, including multiple security options.

© 2015 Rackspace US, Inc.

Except where otherwise noted, content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

See license specifics and DISCLAIMER