Beware of 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.
Should You Use Freeware?
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 a point, and then must be purchased or licensed beyond that.
The difference between free and premium plans is often based on a limit of some kind.
For example, many freemium shopping carts are free up to a certain number of products or transactions, but if you exceed that limit, 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 Fight 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 the 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 Source 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 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.
What are the Best Free Shopping Cart Options for an E-Commerce Store?
If you’re looking for a free shopping cart to build out your e-commerce store, then it probably makes the most sense to use an e-commerce builder that has a bundled shopping cart.
Below we look at some of the most widely used e-commerce builders, and open source shopping carts available today.
- Ecwid is a very versatile e-commerce tool. You can easily add a shopping cart to WordPress, Facebook, and most existing sitebuilders. It’s widely used and has a large and supportive community.
- ZenCart is a free open-source shopping cart software that’s quite user-friendly. It has plenty of built-in payment gateways and works with most existing hosting companies.
- WooCommerce is a free open source e-commerce solution that will help you build out a feature-rich e-commerce store. The free option will allow you to build a basic store but expect to pay for advanced upgrades.
- Webplus Shop will help you get started selling products online for free. The software is very simple to use and will help you start selling your products in minutes.
- Magento Community Edition is another robust e-commerce tool that’ll help you build a complex e-commerce store. It’s not as beginner-friendly as some of the other tools, but you can accomplish a lot with this e-commerce solution.
- OpenCart is a globally-used open-source e-commerce tool. It’s equipped with thousands of themes, so you’ll be able to quickly customize your storefront to suit your niche.
- PrestaShop is a full-fledged open source e-commerce solution that’s equipped with plenty of templates, website builder tools, and built-in payment support.
What to Look for in Free Shopping Cart Hosting
Ultimately in choosing a free shopping cart host, you’ll want to find a hosting provider that will make it easy for you to host, build, and grow your new online store.
Or, even just make it easy for you to start selling products through your existing site.
- A few different free shopping cart options to choose from
- SSL certificate included, or available as a paid add-on
- E-commerce templates to help build out your store
- Additional marketing features like search engine optimization to help your site get traffic
- Multiple payment gateway options and credit card support
Will It Grow With You?
Finally, when choosing a shopping cart host you’ll want to think about the long-term goals of your site.
For example, just because you’re only selling a few products now doesn’t mean you won’t grow into a medium-sized business in the future.
Choose a shopping cart host that can scale with your site as your traffic and inventory grow.
Top 3 Hosts for Free Shopping Carts
Looking for the best host to park your site? The following three hosts are strong contenders for your needs.
SiteGround is a solid choice for beginners. It’s cheap, super fast, and equipped with tools like WooCommerce and WordPress e-commerce integration.
It also offers top-notch support, which can be super helpful if it’s your first time selling products online.
iPage is another solid beginner-friendly option. For selling products it offers its own solution called ShopSite, which can help you build your store and start selling online in record time.
Plus, it integrates easily with most other popular shopping carts available today.
If site performance is one of your biggest concerns, then consider using A2 Hosting.
A2 will not only give you a speedy storefront, but it includes various e-commerce software like Magento, OpenCart, and Prestashop. Plus, it’s starter plan is incredibly cheap, so you won’t break the bank.
Other features in E-commerce
Free Shopping Cart Frequently Asked Questions
- What is free shopping cart hosting?
Shopping carts are an integral part of practically any ecommerce site. They allow people to choose products for purchase, and place orders and pay.
Numerous commercial and open-source shopping carts are available, and many of them are offered in hosting plans, either as pre-installed features or as one-click installs. Many ecommerce hosting plans come with a choice of several pre-installed shopping carts, along with other software commonly used on ecommerce sites.
- How good are free ecommerce applications?
In many cases, these free shopping carts are good as good as commercial shopping carts for the uses of less demanding sites.
- Are free shopping carts bundled in ecommerce plans actually good?
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 ecommerce 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 ecommerce site. Also, commercial shopping carts often have specialized features that aren’t available in free shopping carts.
- 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.
- What are the most popular open-source shopping cart applications?
There are dozens of open-source shopping carts, but some of them are more popular than others. The best-known 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. Freeware and 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.
- 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 applications have big communities and are well documented, so most users can get by without professional support.
- How much do commercial shopping carts cost?
There are a number of big, professional solutions and prices vary depending on your needs. Some cost only small amount one time and others cost hundreds of dollars per 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 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 as my business grows?
Most free shopping carts are quite 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 ecommerce. 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.