How to Choose an E-Commerce Shopping Cart

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    Urban Shipwreck*

    I recently spent some time comparing current e-commerce platforms (a.k.a. shopping carts). It’s a complicated area, so I thought I’d share my findings here in case they can be useful to others.

    These are my opinions and analysis based on my own research and experimentation and are biased towards sites targeting a UK market.

    First Things First: What is an E-Commerce Shopping Cart?

    The name can be deceiving. E-commerce shopping carts are actually complete online shop sites. They allow you to set up various categories of products, set prices, calculate postage, tax and total costs, and send email confirmations to customers. More advanced systems provide features to help with marketing and customer relationship management (CRM).

    To actually take payments you also need an account with a payment gateway such as PayPal or SagePay.

    Hosted E-Commerce Platforms

    Using a software-as-a-service (SaaS) e-commerce platform hosted by someone else is a good idea if you want to avoid the technical nitty-gritty of installing something yourself. A number of companies offer hosted ecommerce services allowing you to get going very quickly.

    The downsides of hosted ecommerce solutions are the monthly fees and limited customisation options.

    EKM Powershop

    • UK-only
    • Tends to produce rather dated-looking sites with table-based HTML
    • Easy to get up and running
    • Good range of features
    • Has been running for a long time, so should be stable
    • Approx £50 setup + £20 per month

    Tiger Commerce

    • UK-only
    • Looks easy to get up and running
    • Approx £20 per month

    Internet Retailer

    • Appears to be a fairly small company
    • Looks to provide smart and simple e-commerce sites
    • Recommended for good customer support
    • Approx £20 per month

    Install-it-Yourself E-Commerce Platforms

    If you want lots of flexibility and don’t mind getting your hands dirty with technical details (or getting someone else to do it on your behalf), installing and customising an open source e-commerce platform can be a good choice.

    Bear in mind that if you’re not familiar with them, these do all require a considerable learning curve to get a shop up and running correctly with the various add-on modules you may want. Current shopping cart software tends to be written in php, so it’ll help if you know your way around that.

    OSCommerce

    • Open source
    • The most popular open source e-commerce platform for many years
    • Much of the community of this classic php shopping cart software has now moved on to other platforms

    Zen Cart

    • Open source
    • Originally derived from OSCommerce
    • Now seems to have a greater following than OSCommerce
    • Plenty of add-ons available
    • Keeping core platform and add-ons up to date can be messy

    Cube Cart

    • Open source
    • Seems less popular than Zen Cart

    Magento

    • Open source
    • Based on a more modern architecture than Zen Desk, Cube Cart and OSCommerce
    • Supports multiple stores from a single installation
    • Has become one of the most popular open source ecommerce platforms over the last year
    • Still quite new, so may still have a few issues to iron out

    Note: Magento is developed by a company that sells an expensive ‘enterprise’ version, however most users will be fine with the free version.

    Conclusions

    If you want a simple e-commerce site and don’t want the hassle of dealing with the underlying technology, go far a hosted e-commerce solution with good support.

    If you want more control over things, the increasingly popular open source Magento platform looks like a good bet. Although less mature than OSCommerce and Zen Cart, I think Magento’s more up-to-date architecture and sizable, growing community make it a good choice for someone starting out with e-commerce today.

    Have you looked into e-commerce solutions yourself? If so, do you agree with my findings? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

    Creative Commons License photo credit: MiiiSH

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      Comments

      1. I have to agree that Magento is definitely one best of the shopping carts available today. Though it may still have some glitches but its features and usability are great.

      2. Hi,

        Nice list. It is a very complex landscape out there, with hundred of solutions, but you have picked some of the best. Good choice.

        Being from UK, i would also have a look at thisispearl.com, pretty good offering, as well as venda for small business ofcourse.

        My 2 cents.

        Jon Hos
        Independent eCommerce Consultant

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