Q&A: I’m setting up an online store. What shopping cart software should I choose?

March 19, 2014

What shopping cart software should I chooseThe explosive growth of eCommerce is making business ownership a reality for even more aspiring entrepreneurs, which means I get a lot of questions about what’s the best shopping cart software for you to set up your online store with.

I know many of you use sites like Etsy and Artfire to sell your products, but opening your own store with its own shopping cart will help you get the most out of your online business by letting you control how your customers shop.

To help you make the choice that’s best for you, here is my take on choosing the right shopping cart software:

1. Shopping cart plugins for WordPress or other CMS

If you want to set up your site in WordPress, using a shopping cart plugin in (a lot of which are free) might seem like the best way to go. Here are some pros and cons:

Pro: For the non-tech savvy, WordPress and other CMS (Content Management Systems) make starting your own online store easier (and more affordable) than ever. The WordPress interface is easy to navigate and a range of customizable shopping cart software plug-ins make getting your first sale a breeze.

Con: There are a LOT of WordPress plug-in out there in the world, and you may have to try (and buy) a few before you find the one that works for you. For the best results, choose only WordPress approved plug-ins like WooCommerce or Cart66 and read users reviews thoroughly to decrease your chances of buying a clunker.

2. Hosted Shopping carts

A hosted shopping cart is one where you pay a monthly fee to host and run your online store.

Pro: Big Commerce, Volusion and Shopify are three of the most popular hosted shopping carts on the market. The biggest pro of using a hosted cart is that it keeps your entire store in one place, from invoicing to shipping, and all of the programing work is done for you. You also have access to their customer service, which is like having an IT person on staff should something go wrong.

Con: Those who have more than basic programing skills may find the templates available on hosted shopping carts a bit limited, which make them better for those who are unfamiliar with web programing. If you want to customize your shopping cart, you’ll most likely have to hire a programmer/designer to do it for you. And the monthly fee can increase if traffic to your site increases, too.

3. Self-hosted shopping carts

Pro: Using a self-hosting shopping cart, like Zencart, offers the most control and flexibility for those with programing  skills. Because you’re uploading your cart to your webhost, you don’t need to worry about price increases or the host company making changes that will effect the look and feel of your cart. And you don’t have to pay any monthly fees for your shopping cart.

Con: The learning curve can be a little steep for those without any programing skills, so you’ll have to rely on your programmer or web designer to keep your cart up to date with any enhancements or security updates, which can be very costly.

My bottom-line recommendation

If you’re serious about having a successful online store, I recommend going with a hosted shopping cart like BigCommerce or Shopify. While WordPress is great and I use it to run LaunchGrowJoy.com, it was built as a blogging tool, not as an e-commerce tool. Yes, there are a lot of e-commerce plugins available, but I know many entrepreneurs who have had to switch from WordPress because there were too many issues with the e-commerce plugins.

On the other hand, hosted shopping carts were built specifically for e-commerce, so all the features you could possibly want (like zooming in on a picture, tracking shipped orders, offering gift cards, or selling your products wholesale) make it easy for you to run your online store. And your store is automatically upgraded if there are any security issues or if there are any new features available (like a Pin It button, for example). And having a dedicated customer service line available to help you if you have any issues is a lot more reliable (and quicker) than always reaching out to your programmer or web designer.

Which shopping cart software option do you use? Tell us which and why in the comments section.

43 Comments. Leave new

I used to use a ‘private label’ shopping cart — an entrepreneurial company owner had it developed for his company’s use, and was making money off it by licensing it to others. Terrible decision… it was hard to understand and use, impossible to customize, and expensive, to boot. Finally we switched to a hosted shopping cart – GoDaddy. The switch was a lot of work… we have nearly 100 items for sale, so loading all that information and photography was a pain. But making changes or additions is super easy. I do feel frustrated with the GoDaddy templates, though. I would love to be able to customize a bit more, or have more options to pick from. And the “how to” information in the GoDaddy help system is confusing and at times outdated. So on the one hand I am way better off than before, but it’s far from Nirvana.

Great break down of shopping cart software! I use the Self Hosted method and use 3dcart as I can program and there fore completely customize my site. As someone who used to design web pages for a living I recommend never having to rely on a designer to maintain your website. Take the time to learn to upgrade, as many designers are tough to schedule for maintenance and it will save you so much time and money if you do the updates yourself.

Big Cartel is another site that many use and love if you’re looking for a Hosted Shopping Cart!

I’ve been using a Go Daddy hosted shopping cart for 5 years. My techie skills are limited & I love the availability 24/7 as well as their patience to walk me thru steps. They have been great! I also added additional pages & links thru Webs.com- a free service, done with help of a techie friend & so my shopping cart template has more of a ‘real’ website look. Very happy. I use WordPress for my Blog & everything is linked. I was very happy to read your pros & cons of each option. Thanks.

Karen Cunningham
August 9, 2012 11:25 pm

Hi Andreea! I’ll be using Shopify because of the great looking templates and the ease of use – I’m a designer so that’s very important to me. I do need a good shopping app for my Facebook page to sell a few products while I get the site organised… do you have any recommendations?

Sheryl Checkman
December 3, 2012 9:06 pm

I use CoreCommerce. I used one of their templates but I was easily able to make it my own and have it look good (granted I’m a designer). Their customer service is excellent. I do have my blog on wordpress so I guess I am losing out on the SEO I could be getting but I still don’t quite understand all that. I wrote a blog post comparing a number of carts when I was trying to decide. Here is a link to it if you want another two cents:
http://blog.lifeisbalance.com/technology/confessions-of-a-shopping-cart-a-holic

Christina Daves
March 19, 2014 7:47 pm

You didn’t even address having someone design a cart for you and then host it. That’s what I did and it is probably one of the worst decisions I made. I’m ready to start over with something I can control, change, etc. Thanks for posting!

launchgrowjoy
March 19, 2014 7:51 pm

Christina, great point… I didn’t mention it because it’s not something that I would ever recommend, for many reasons. Sorry to hear about your negative experience… I hope you find a great solution for your store!

Like Sierra, I use 3dcart for all of its features and flexibility. Even as a programmer and web developer, the learning curve was pretty steep. However the 247 online tech support and very granular level of control, make it very worthwhile.

My etsy store is more expensive, more restricted, and less branded than my self-hosted site.

:-)
Bits

launchgrowjoy
March 19, 2014 8:01 pm

Thanks for sharing your experience! I’ve heard great things about 3dcart, too!

Thanks for mentioning 3dcart. I’m wading through the use of that one myself and it does entail quite the learning curve, but I am much happier with it than anything else I’ve tried…even with the learning curve and resulting slow progress with it. I like the ability to have password protected wholesale pricing separate from the retail, etc. Currently my blog is separate and set up to look like a website with page links to my 3dcart shopping cart and etsy shop, which doesn’t help my SEO for the shopping cart. So far the SEO is my biggest challenge with 3dcart. It looks like the tools are there, I just need to figure out how to use them all.

HI Andrea, This was a great Blog.

Although I had struggled a lot last year to research these platforms. i finally decided to use “MAGENTO GO” coz of several reasons eg: currency exchange, hosting and shopping cart all in one. I had to learn some CSS to make some corrections.. which wasn’t bad.

launchgrowjoy
March 19, 2014 8:15 pm

Glad to hear that it’s working out for you, Jinal!

Yes, Bits, I use 3DCart myself. After ten years of using other software, we are switching all our sites over to 3DCart.

One of the main reasons why is because it will allow you to integrate BOTH wholesale and retail price sets and shipping info. But it has many more useful features.

You can read more about 3DCart here:
http://sellingtogiftshops.com/2013/11/09/amazing-e-commerce-shopping-cart-software/

And my story with 3DCart here:
http://sellingtogiftshops.com/2014/02/11/update-3dcart-website/

Sandy Dell
‘Gift Rep Sandy’

In the past few years I’ve started out with Bigcommerce,then switched to WordPress which became a big of a nightmare for me with all the glitches and updates so now I’m switching back to a hosted cart. This time using 3dcart. I’ve gotta say this one has become my favorite so far. I hired a graphic designer who is doing an amazing job plus it really is super easy to make changes once you familiarize yourself with the platform.

launchgrowjoy
March 19, 2014 8:50 pm

Sounds like 3D Cart is a great option for many business owners! I’ve never personally tried it, but it’s getting great reviews!

Michelle L @ Baby Bump Bundle
March 19, 2014 8:40 pm

Great post Andrea! I have tried volusion for a few months which was easy to maintain but it really looked pretty blah because i used the free template. then i switched to network solutions with ultracart and a relative of a friend wrote it all in html and it was impossible to maintain! So i recently made the switch to wordpress with woo commerce (stayed on network solutions) and i am thrilled! i used to pay 50 dollars a month with ultracart and now woocommerce you pay for extra add ons and plug ins and templates but you dont need to if you dont want! you can just set up paypal and your products and be done. I highly recommend it especially if you are like me and and also want to have a blog PLUS your store. http://www.babybumpbundle.com

launchgrowjoy
March 19, 2014 8:50 pm

Thanks for sharing, Michelle!!!!!

I have been very happy with Shopify. The available templates are sophisticated and make it easy to work with photos. The apps/plugins make it easy to add custom functionality — google shopping yotpo reviews (super promo) , justuno. Support is super responsive. Also thanks for the podcast with pr experts. Super helpful. Dan. thejimmyCASE.com

I made the switch from OpenCart to WooCommerce about a year ago. But I also have the benefit of a web design background and a coding husband. :)

While I love how my site looks http://www.seaponystudio.com — the recent upgrade that Woo made is very hard to coordinate between my plugins and my theme. I will eventually get there, but it has me weighing my future options.

The things I dislike about a hosted solution is the ongoing cost and the loss of flexibility. I have been able to add very flexible optins and custom forms to my site very easily. I also paid for very reasonably priced plugins that seem to be available only as monthly fee app on sites like Shopify.

I realize you pay for the convenience and piece of mind, but as this point my business is not making enough sales to sustain a hosted solution.

I’m probably going to do the free trial for Shopify just to see if I’ve got the wrong impression. But for the time being I’m happy with my Woo site. :)

Great wrap up, thanks!
Sara

launchgrowjoy
March 19, 2014 8:48 pm

That’s great, Sara! Sometimes it takes a few tries to discover what works best for you!

LeAllyson Meyer
March 20, 2014 5:45 pm

Sare – I really like the design and ease of use of your website. I have not tried WooCommerce. I recently opened my shop on Shopify, and I do like it. However, I use my WordPress site for the blog. It is a subdomain now since I used my primary domain name for the Shopify store. I am still trying to figure out if this is hampering SEO success.

LeAllyson – Thanks for your kind words. My site was definitely a labor of love. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I am being stubborn about moving to a hosted solution! haha

But I have heard so many great things about shopify that I’m guessing eventually I will dive in and really see how it compares. :)

I use hosted shopping carts. I use one on http://www.zibbet.com/HannahsGems ( similar to Etsy, Artfire and so on). I also use Weebly. I chose them for ease of use, pricing, and customization.

I have WordPress with woo commerce and like but as soon as I get established I am going to 3dcart.

Another option, that is slightly more complex but potentially very lucrative for volume sellers, would be a multi/cross platform package.
They are available in a wide range of cost and complexity, but even some of the lower end packages (less than $100 per month) offer not only a hosted shopping cart solution, but also simultaneously list your products on Amazon, eBay, Facebook, etc. and manage the inventory levels.
Probably not a good fit if your brand attracts your customers, but something to consider if your product attracts customers.

I am requiredto collect sales tax in my state. I currently use godaddy but they do not have a program to calculate sales tax using geolocation. I must imput the zip codes , but this is not an adequate way to calculate the sales. To be sure I am collecting the correct tax I must then manually imput the complete address into my state’s database. Is there a shopping cart that will avoid me having to do this?

Mary Ann Einarson
March 19, 2014 10:25 pm

I’m about to switch over to Squarespace. eCommerce/shopping cart hosting is new for them, but it seems to have the usual functions. My initial impressions is that it may be a little easier for customers, too. (I’m still testing it out – hoping to go live later this week). Can’t rave enough about the easy set-up for non-coders like me. Shopify was easy, but this is even easier!

I am currently in the process of moving over to corecommerce due to some costly mistakes I made last year with hiring marketing. Didn’t read the fine print after marketing was done that monthly fees are associated with the site they created. I am using Big Commerce and like it but it’s getting too costly for the products I have with the options included. CoreCommerce is almost like BC they have a great customer support.

On my designer site, I tried using a plug-in for WordPress and after installing it I found out I needed to pay extra to have Paypal as a payment method(even though Paypal was listed as a method my customers could select). They told me sure your customers can select it, after you pay for the upgrade! I ended up switching to a different host altogether where I could use Paypal without any problems.

Great topic Andrea, it’s so tricky when starting from scratch1!
I’m using WordPress with an eCommerce them (StyleShop from Elegant Themes) which is designed to work with WooCommerce. I love it! Has great flexibility for my specific needs, and I can change anything I want – I knew NOTHING about web anything last year, and have taught myself simple coding with google’s help. Plus Elegant Themes have a great support forum.
This option can take longer to set up and get it how you need. But you should ALWAYS buy a template that is eCommerce specific.

Kendra @PortaPocketGal
March 20, 2014 2:21 am

I had my http://www.portapocket.com site originally on bluehost and a webguy (who turned out to be a crook) then went on to another webguy (in India) with zencart which also turned out to be horrid as the webguy never delivered in a timely manner and the communication was less than stellar. Finally got fed up and moved to shopify 1 month ago and despite some minor issues have been very pleased. Much more professional looking and I’m much more in control than I ever was before which I like. NO more waiting days or weeks to get a new post up there. Hallelujah! yes, the templates can be a but cookie cutter and some limitations in what can be done, I am much better off now than I had been. Glad I made the switch.

Good breakdown, Andrea. I’m also a 3dCart fan. When it comes to the hosted solutions, I think 3dCart gives you the most features for the best price but it’s often overlooked. It’s also really customizable, as a designer/developer, I was able to control everything and have a personalized store front.

launchgrowjoy
March 20, 2014 4:10 pm

Nice to hear another “thumbs up” for 3d cart

I’m about to re-design my website using WordPress.org to have a more unified look (now I’ve got a blog there, photos on Flickr, my webpage in LiveJournal, etc.). Can using a a hosted shopping cart like Shopify be integrated into WordPress? be unified into it?

launchgrowjoy
March 20, 2014 4:09 pm

Dominique, Shopify is hosted on its own platform and it’s totally separate from wordpress – the two can’t be integrated. You go with one or the other. I hope this helps!

Our business plan clients have this question a lot, and I tell them to choose something with a checkout process that looks familiar to consumers. They are used to checkout systems like PayPal and Amazon. So your shopping cart platform needs to have a similar process, so that consumers don’t abandon their shopping carts because they think the site might not be secure. Shopify is an excellent option – very secure, and Canadian :)

I did not want to have to pay someone a monthly fee for an eCommerce store, and I did not want to be dependent on someone else’s infrastructure or customer base. (Lived off of Amazon book sales for 10 years, and then a few changes they made helped bankrupt me.)

Tried ZenCart, and didn’t like it. Then bought Shopify for $400 when you could get a standalone license. It was awful and the customer support was amateur at best.

I went with Open Cart, which is free, open-source software. Bought a template and a few extensions, one of them being single-page checkout with the ability to enter the card directly on the checkout page. Another extension was for creating newsletters.

My next step, when I have the funds, is to hire a professional graphic designer and programmer to spice up my site. Right now it’s pretty plain, but customers get around okay and I get good feedback.

Here’s my site, which has cost me around $200 and a lot of time, which is what I had in abundance:

http://nelsongemstones.com

I have to say that AbanteCart also looks like a cool open-source shopping cart.

Sorry, I want to correct this to say I bought SunShop for $400, not Shopify.

Hi Andreea,
I currently have EtsyPro by Fairground Media Linked to my WordPress Blog. I will be making the Big switch over to Shopify very soon!! It’s time to go Pro!!

Melissa
http://www.ColormehappybyMelissa.com
https://www.Etsy.com/Shop/Colormelissa

launchgrowjoy
April 1, 2014 3:04 am

I love it when entrepreneurs GO PRO!!!! If you need help to switch, check out Elto – https://www.elto.com/?invite=launch

As a web designer I’ve built with them all – and even I found most of them overwhelming and confusing! But ultimately I chose to only build with Shopify, and could spend hours defending the monthly hosting fees vs an open-source self hosted cart. Head. Ache. Free. Love it.

But it is an investment and while it certainly does benefit from a professional’s touch (to get the site looking and working the way you want) lots of people start out with the free templates until they get some sales to justify getting outside help. Did I mention I love Shopify? ;)

Hi. Initially, i had a very clear idea of how I wanted my website to look so I hired a developer for the creation of a website that would look how I wanted it to. Then, the site took forever to get made, partly my fault and by the end of it- the developer started taking too long to finish.
since i was running out of money and had no clear idea how much longer it would take, i checked out shopify and realised there was a theme that I really liked. And everything was built-in. I felt really crummy because if I had realised this 8 months ago, I would never have wasted time and money on getting a developer to create one. Also, he used Opencart to create the site, so I want to know- in the long run- is it more expensive to have a shopify store or one built on opencart? I like the design of the shopify one much more but realise there are hidden costs if I continue with shopify and the store does well.

karen @ Sugar Nest
April 16, 2014 5:02 pm

Now that I’m on my fourth website I can comment on this one…
The best and easiest that I’ve worked with is definitely Shopify. Everything can be in one spot – hosting, cart, blog, abandon cart, shipping notification, credit card service and more. A huge time saver!