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Online Shopping Cart Software

If you are trying to set up a complex, full-featured online store, then you need good ecommerce solution. But if you are only selling a small number of products, a simple Shopping Cart application might be enough for you.

There is no universally agreed upon distinction between ecommerce applications and shopping carts. But, generally speaking, apps which are described as shopping carts tend to be simpler than full featured ecommerce systems.

Features (sometimes) lacking in Shopping Carts

Compared to more complicated ecommerce applications, shopping carts may be missing some of the following features common to online stores:

  • Gift Cards
  • Returns Management
  • Shipping Cost Estimator
  • Packing/Shipping Management
  • Inventory
  • Wish Lists
  • Recommended Products
  • Advanced Search
  • Product Categories
  • Tiered Pricing
  • Subscription Products
  • Downloadable Products

Why use low-featured shopping cart?

If the big difference between a shopping cart and an eCommerce application is that a shopping cart has fewer features, why should anyone ever use one?

It boils down to two things: simplicity and cost.

If a shopping cart app provides all the features you need there is no reason to get bogged down with additional features that you don’t need and won’t use.

In some cases the extra features don’t really matter — if you don’t add a coupon code, it doesn’t matter than the system can handle coupon codes. However, sometimes extra features can get in the way. If adding a product requires the selection of a large number of options and settings, then this can make it managing the online store very difficult and time-consuming. Sometimes, simpler is just better.

The other big issue is cost. Simple shopping carts can often cost much less than a complicated eCommerce system. If you need the expanded features, you shouldn’t just go with the cheap option, but if you don’t — there’s no reason to pay for something you won’t use.

Choosing between Shopping Carts vs. eCommerce Systems — Which is right?

It can be hard to know which way to go. Here are a few pointers:

  • If your business is not primarily about selling products online, but you want to sell products online as an additional enhancement to your business, then a simple shopping cart system might be best.

  • If you only have one or two products to sell, and there are not many options within those products, a simple shopping cart system might be right for you.

  • If you only have a few items currently, but are planning to expand in the future, it may be tempting to go with a cheap option now, and expand to a more robust system in the future. This is usually a bad idea, though — the point at which you’ll need and want to upgrade (when you start to be successful and busy) is exactly the point at which you do not want to be worrying about your online store’s software. If you have plans that require a complete system, go ahead and start with a complete system.

  • If you have a specific need that is often not found in simple shopping cart systems, you might need to go for the more robust system. However, you might not. Every shopping cart app has a different set of features, and you might find what you are looking for in a simpler system.

Researching and making a decision

The common advice is to start with a list of features and then research options until you find the features you are looking for. That’s good advice, but it can be improved a bit.

Start by simply looking at the options for ecommerce and shopping cart solutions. If you begin without doing that, you won’t know what features are available. Begin by simply familiarizing yourself with the different types of applications that are available and looking at available features.

Next, figure out what you are planning to sell. You probably have done this already, but take the time to really think through what you plan to sell and how that product will interact with the types of features you have seen in your initial research.

Don’t forget to take into account future growth. - You may not plan to sell downloadable (or, conversely, physical) products at first, but is there a strong chance you will want to do that in the future? - Will you offer more options in the future? - Will your delivery or inventory system change?

Now you are ready to make up a list of features you really feel you need in your online store software. Once you have done that, you can compare options and make a decision.

The most important feature in online store software

You need reliable support. This might come in the form of an actual customer support department (in the case of purchased applications) or simply good documentation and a viable user community (in the case of Open Source projects).

This software is going to be a critical part of your business. Do not choose software that you can’t get help with.

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