When I visit any of several e-commerce forums that I check out from time to time, one of the hottest topics is always about shopping carts. I am not talking about the physical carts that you see at your grocery store or the hardware store down the street. I am talking about software that you will need to install on your website if you want to sell items. Basically, the software version of a shopping cart is just the same as a physical shopping cart, hence the name. One is just “virtual” and not physical. But, it serves the same purpose – it allows customers to purchase a number of items all at the same time, then take them all up to the checkout to pay. It’s that simple.
Now, there are literally hundreds of different shopping carts to choose from. How will you know which is best for you? Well, trial and error will play a big role. Try a few carts out and see which you like.
I have a few tips, based on my 7 years in the e-commerce business, so let’s have a look:
- If you are selling just a few items in your store, your payment processor will probably offer a simple solution that you could take advantage of. If you use Paypal to process payments, they have their own shopping cart, and it works OK for a small store. I use a company called 2Checkout to process credit card payments, and they also offer a cart that works well for stores with only a few items. For larger stores with hundreds of items to choose from, I do not recommend these simple shopping carts.
- For stores from small to medium-sized, there is a service online called “Mal’s e-Commerce” which is a shopping cart software. This service (often called “Mal’s E”) is a good alternative. I used it for a while in the past. If you get too big, though, I recommend going with your own, self-hosted shopping cart.
- You can purchase shopping cart software from a multitude of suppliers. I have seen shopping cart software ranging from $100 to $5,000, and they do all kinds of cool things.
- You can choose a free shopping cart that is competitive to the “for sale” ones mentioned in the last point.
For me, after many years in the business, I have settled on a shopping cart software called “OS-Commerce.” OS-Commerce is a very robust solution, and I value it greatly. I will warn you, though – the learning curve for OS-Commerce is very steep. You can learn it, though, if you are willing to invest the time required. One of the great things about OS-Commerce is that it is free, no cost, nothing, nada! You can download it directly from the Internet and install it on your web server and start using it immediately. OS-Commerce is a widely used shopping cart system, so if you need help it won’t be hard to find somebody who you can hire to help get it going.
One of the things that I love about OS-Commerce is that it is open source software. You can go in and tinker with it, and customize it to do things that you want it to do. It is community supported, and when one person tinkers around with it and adds a new feature, they will often offer that enhancement free to the community as a contribution so that everybody can take advantage of the new feature if they choose. I have been using OS-Commerce for 3 years now, and I have been very impressed with it.
When you are ready to add a shopping cart to your website and start selling things to make some money online, you should shop around. Find out what shopping cart will best fit your needs. And, even after your store is open for business, always remember that as you grow, your needs will change. I upgraded to different shopping carts a number of times while my businesses grew. Now, with OS-Commerce, I don’t think I will ever need to change again, as OSC can be customized to do anything that I may need.
I noticed that some places have “wish lists” A person can put something in a wish list and return days later to purchase the item.
Is that part of shopping cart software?
P.S. Like the new web. Thanks for all the good info.
Hi Dan – A shopping cart can have many different functions, and a wish list is one of them. Not all shopping carts have wish lists, but some do. With OSCommerce, which is the cart that I recommend, a wish list is something you can add on to it.
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If I were just starting out with e-commerce would you recommend starting with OScommerce shopping cart and sticking with it, or starting with a basic one? I am wondering if changing things as you outgrow them is better than having one that you plan to keep for a long time.
Hi Phil – It’s a matter of choice and opinion, so no answer can be right. It’s only what you decide that is right for you.
My opinion, though, would be that if you are starting a store with 20 items or less, use the simple shopping cart that your payment provider supplies. If you are going to start out with more than 20 products, I’d go with OSCommerce.