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What is Free Shopping Cart Hosting?

You'll find nearly as many free shopping cart solutions online as products that can go in them. A shopping cart is an essential part of any e-commerce site. Without it, your customers can't actually shop, which means you can't make any money, which kind of defeats the entire purpose of having an e-commerce site in the first place.

Why a free shopping cart?

It's important to think about why you are looking for a free shopping cart system, before deciding on which one is right for you. Price is certainly a factor when choosing business tools, and a small company or startup might not be able to afford a commercial solution, so "free" is an attractive choice.

On the other hand, if you are looking to launch a serious business, it's worth taking a moment to think about whether you really value your business model if you aren't willing to invest in a shopping cart solution.

But on the other hand, paying for something doesn't guarantee quality over a free option. You might be willing to pay for a premium shopping cart product, but you may not need to. In fact, there might be a free one that is better. To understand why, we have to look at different types of "free."

Freeware Shopping Carts

When some non-technical people talk about "free software," they often are talking about freeware. This is software that is given away at no charge, usually in some sort of cross-promotional deal, or for some other business reason.

While there are certainly exceptions, freeware is usually not particularly high quality. It is often little more than an "off-brand" version of better, premium software. Frequently, they were unsuccessful commercial software programs that were bought out (or purchased wholesale) by distributors who wanted to have something to offer free or very cheap.

Freeware Shopping Cart Downsides

The problem with freeware is that it is usually poorly designed software, and there is frequently no support for it at all.

Freeware Shopping Cart Hosting

Many (not all, but many) of the "Free Shopping Cart" systems offered by discount hosting providers as part of their low-cost solution bundle fall into the category of freeware.

Freemium Shopping Carts

Freemium is a combination of "free" and "premium." Freemium software is software that is available for free, up to some point, and then must be purchased or licensed beyond that.

The difference between free and premium plans is sometimes based on a limit of some kind. For example, many freemium shopping carts are free up to some number of products or monthly transactions, but if you need more than that, you have to pay.

In other cases, the free version has a limited set of features. For example, a shopping cart might be free to use for normal sales, but the ability to set up recurring subscription payments might be a premium-only feature.

Freemium Shopping Cart Hosting

Freemium shopping cart plans are often available as one-click install solutions on web hosting control panels. Part of the reason for this is that hosting companies have marketing agreements with the shopping cart providers.

Is a Freemium Shopping Cart right for me?

Freemium shopping carts are especially good for businesses that need or want the premium service, but can't afford it yet. Typically, if the free plan is limited by things like number of transactions or number of customers, you hit the point where you need to pay for it at about the same time you start having enough revenue to make it work.

Just be sure that you are aware of the limitations, and aware of what the cost will be when you need to surpass them.

Free and Open Shopping Carts

The last category of free "Free and Open Source " is free in the fullest sense of the word. It is free in cost, and you are free to do whatever you want with it (re-brand it, modify it, add new features).

Free and Open Source solutions are often the most fully featured ones available, and tend to be higher quality software overall. (This is not absolutely true, just a general tendency.)

Open Source shopping cart solutions are frequently a part of larger Open Source Content Management Systems, like WordPress and Drupal. This is particularly useful if you want to integrate a shopping cart with a new or existing content-based website, like a blog.

Open Source Shopping Cart Problems

The problem with Free and Open Source software is that there can sometimes be setup and configuration problems or development needs that you may not be prepared to handle.

Open Source and Free Shopping Cart Hosting

Because Open Source shopping carts are often part of larger Content Management Systems, you can usually find support and one-click installation for them from your web hosting company through their install wizards, like Simple Scripts or Softaculous.

Free Shopping Cart Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is free shopping cart hosting and how good are free e-commerce solutions?

    A shopping cart is an integral part of practically any e-commerce site. Numerous commercial and open-source shopping carts are available, and many of them are offered in hosting plans, either as preinstalled features or as one-click installs. Many e-commerce hosting plans come with a choice of several pre-installed shopping carts, along with other software commonly used on e-commerce sites. In many cases, these free shopping carts are good enough for most users.

  • If they are good, why are they bundled in e-commerce plans free of charge? What do paid solutions bring to the table?

    Just because something is free doesn’t mean it is not good. Take WordPress for example – the most popular content management system on the internet it free. That said, if you are building a very big e-commerce storefront, you may want to consider paid solutions, because you might need a lot more support than a small, family-owned business creating its first e-commerce site. In many cases, it will boil down to support.

  • How many different types of free shopping carts are there?

    We can divide them into three distinct groups: freeware, freemium and open-source solutions. Freeware carts are available at no charge, and they tend to emulate commercial solutions. Freemium shopping carts are usually “lite” versions of commercial carts, lacking a number of features which can be unlocked by buying the full version. Open source shopping carts are the most popular option because they can be freely distributed and modified. Many are available for leading content platforms such as WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla, and many are bundled in hosting packages.

  • Can you list the most open-source shopping cart solutions?

    There are dozens of open-source shopping carts, but some of them are more popular than others. The best-known solutions are Zen Cart, Agora, Broadleaf Commerce, osCommerce, Magento, OpenCart, Prestashop, Zeuscart, Commerce.CGI, Spree, LiceCommerce and Loaded Commerce.

  • Are free shopping carts really free or will I have to pay later on?

    It depends on which you choose. A freemium cart is free, provided you are willing to live with its limitations – if you need more features and functionality, you will have to pay to get it. Open source shopping carts are completely free and won’t add to your hosting bill.

  • What about hardware and software requirements?

    Free shopping carts are designed with compatibility and interoperability in mind. Most of them are designed to be integrated into popular content management systems like WordPress. As long as your server can host a standard CMS, you should experience no compatibility issues, so there is nothing to worry about.

  • My host offers a few e-commerce packages. Should I get one of them if I decide to expand my business and launch a storefront?

    It all depends on what sort of plan you use right now. Most hosting plans specifically designed for e-commerce tend to offer a number of free shopping cart solutions, as well as other preinstalled software you may need. A lot of one-click installs are available as well. However, if you are happy with the plan you have right now, and if you think it is good enough to keep up with the load, you can simply install what you need on your current plan. In most situations, this should not be a problem, although getting in touch with your hosting provider is a good idea.

  • Is FormBuilder actively updated? How many people use it?

    FormBuilder appears to be regularly updated. It is a relatively new plugin and it made it out of beta in 2014. Upwards of 200,000 downloads have been recorded so far.

  • What is the biggest downside to using free shopping carts?

    Lack of commercial support may be a problem in some situations. Luckily, the most popular solutions already have big communities and are well documented, so most users can get by without professional support.

  • If I choose to get a paid shopping cart instead, how much will it cost me?

    There are a number of big, professional solutions and prices vary depending on your needs. You can get a paid cart for $15 to $50, but in case you want the most comprehensive packages, you could be looking at a few hundred dollars a month.

  • Can I use free shopping carts in a Windows environment?

    While most free shopping carts are designed with Linux Apache platforms in mind, most of them can run on Windows IIS servers as well. They usually require certain versions of PHP and MySQL to work properly, but as long as you have a properly maintained server, this should not be a problem.

  • What about migration? What if my business grows and I need to get a professional shopping cart?

    Most free shopping carts are very scalable and should be able to meet the needs of most merchants. However, in case you expect to grow rapidly, and want professional support and extra features, freemium shopping carts could be worth considering. You don’t have to pay upfront, but if your business grows, you can simply pay for a subscription and get access to more features and full support.

  • Are free shopping carts secure?

    Security is always a concern, especially in e-commerce. Luckily, shopping cart developers take it seriously and most of them update their products on a regular basis. Still, it is always a good idea to do a bit of research and look at the track record of each shopping cart under consideration.

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