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How to Choose the Best Shopping Cart Software

Finding the best shopping cart software for your online store is a critical choice that needs to be given careful consideration. From hosted solutions to standalone installations, use our shopping cart guide to help you choose.

Choosing the perfect shopping cart software for your online store can be a challenging task. With choices ranging from open-source free shopping carts to complete ecommerce and customer management solutions costing thousands of dollars. How do you find the best shopping cart software for your online store? Here are a few tips and questions to ask when you get ready to build your online store.

Hosted or Standalone Ecommerce Solution

The first step in determining what shopping cart solution to use is to decide if you want to use a hosted solution or a standalone cart installation. A hosted shopping cart plan is one that generally includes your domain, website, and shopping cart in one all-inclusive package. Examples of this type of shopping cart include Quick Shopping Cart , 1&1 eShops , Yahoo! Merchant Solutions , ProStores and Network Solutions E-Commerce. Hosted ecommerce plans generally include everything you need to get an online store up and running quickly. By using website templates as the basis of the store design, layouts can be quickly customized with your company logo and information. SSL certificates can be easily implemented on hosted plans, and it's always better to have your own SSL certificate than to use a shared SSL.

A non-hosted, or standalone, shopping cart system is one where you have your own hosting plan and the shopping cart software is installed on the server where your site resides. Standalone shopping cart features vary widely, but some are very similar to a hosted plan with an all-inclusive approach. Examples of standalone shopping cart installations include Interspire Shopping Cart, X-Cart Gold , SunShop and ViArt PHP Shopping Cart. Standalone shopping cart systems may give you more flexibility and offer more options than a hosted plan. Higher-end shopping carts are generally standalone installations that include advanced control over your products, pages, customer information, inventory management, email marketing campaigns and much more.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Committing to an Ecommerce Solution

How will you handle customer payments to your online store?

Will you accept credit cards through your merchant or will you use a third-party processor? Will you allow customers to pay via check or money order? Make sure your shopping cart selection can handle all current and future forms of customer payment.

Are you planning on selling your product world-wide?

If international shipping is an option, how do you plan to ship your products? Your customer's location is not an issue if you are selling digital downloads such as MP3s, eBooks or software, but if you sell traditional physical goods, you will need to have a reliable shipping method to get your product to your customers.

Do you want to be able to export data to your accounting software?

Many shopping carts include the ability to interface with accounting software such as Intuit QuickBooks. If this is an option you wish to have, make sure your cart is compatible with your accounting software package.

Will you offer your customers promotions, coupon codes or discounts?

A popular way to keep customers returning is to offer special promotional codes or discounts that allow them to save money on their repeat purchases. Combining promotions and discounts with a good email marketing campaign is a great way to entice your past customers to come back and order again. Make sure your selected shopping cart includes this feature if you plan on using it.

Will you sell different styles or sizes of the same product?

If you have products that may have several different models, sizes, SKUs or variations, make sure your shopping cart software can handle multiple product variations. Even if you don't currently sell multiple variations of products, it's a good feature to have in case you expand your product offering down the road.

Do you want to pay monthly or a one-time fee?

Shopping carts have many payment plans associated with them, everywhere from free to plans costing hundreds of dollars a month. Most remotely-hosted solutions are charged by the month, where the free and one-time cost solutions will generally need to be hosted by you or a reliable hosting company. If you'd rather pay for your shopping cart one time and be done, look at Interspire Shopping Cart 3.0 as a viable solution.

How many products will you sell?

Shopping cart software varies greatly in the number of products that can be added to your online store. If you don't anticipate selling many products, but may have a need for more in the future, make sure your ecommerce plan can expand to meet your future requirements. There's nothing worse than investing time and money into developing your online store only to find out it won't adapt to your growing business.

Is organic search engine traffic desirable?

If you want free traffic from search engines such as Google, Yahoo! or MSN, you will want to invest in a shopping cart that is search engine-friendly. These shopping carts create catalog and product pages that are easily crawled by search engine spiders. The more friendly your META tags and URLs are, the better chance you'll have at having your individual product pages show up in the organic search engine listings.

Other Important Necessities of an Online Store

  • Analytics Software - Many shopping cart systems include statistics and sales reporting. If your's doesn't, take a look at the free Google Analytics
  • Merchant Account or Payment Gateway - Whether you have your own merchant account or use a payment gateway like PayPal, you will need the ability to process credit cards
  • Email marketing and subscriber opt-in list - Your shopping cart should include the ability to build an opt-in email subscriber list for sending out promotional emails and coupons. If your chosen cart doesn't include an email marketing solution, take a look at Constant Contact to fulfill your email and list-building needs.
  • Good product photography and website presentation - Don't skimp on your product presentation, as website visitors will judge your professionalism accordingly. Spend the money needed to create an impressive product display.
  • Toll-free phone number - Make it easy for visitors to contact you by getting a toll-free number.
  • Privacy Policy and Privacy Seal from TrustGuard - Many website visitors are educated on security issues and want to see a seal from a trusted source. This gives users peace of mind their private data is secure and enhances your chances of making a sale.