An ecommerce shopping cart is the heartbeat of any online retail site. When shopping for a shopping cart, it's important to choose one that can be customized to match your business and be flexible enough to grow with your business.
Shopping cart software serves a number of roles on a business website. It acts as an online store product catalog, provides the customer user interface, handles the ordering process and is the interface among the company website, the back-end inventory infrastructure and the payment gateway.
Some small business merchants, when venturing into the world of ecommerce, will start with hosted ecommerce software. These fully-featured and hosted platforms provide everything from domain name registration to the tools you need to build an ecommerce website, all from one vendor. While hosted ecommerce is easy and secure, it doesn't give online retailers a lot of control, since most functions are managed by the ecommerce service provider.
If total control is what you want, an option for tech-savvy business owners is to integrate a standalone shopping cart to add ecommerce to a business website. These shopping carts are a good choice for small businesses that already host their own secure websites and have in-house technical expertise to configure and manage ecommerce operations.
Here are six fully-featured options for anyone investing in ecommerce shopping cart software for a small-to-midsize business (SMB). Most carts can be either integrated with existing websites or used to create a new site or storefront.
1. 3D Cart: Design Templates, Business Management Tools
3dCart shopping carts serve as ecommerce storefronts. If you already have a website, 3dCart can import the existing design or migrate your business from Yahoo Stores, Miva, X-Cart and others. 3dcart provides customizable design templates as well as business management tools for order processing, shipping, sales reporting and other business functions.
3dCart Pricing starts at $19.99 per month, which is suitable for low-traffic websites with up to 100 products. A Gold account for medium-traffic websites with up to 1,000 products will cost $49.99 per month. All accounts include free technical support.
2. AgoraCart: A Secure, Open-Source Shopping Cart
AgoraCart can support your own code base or can be built using a series of templates. AgoraCart features include customizable store designs, unlimited products, multiple tax rates, more than 10 payment gateways and PCI compliance. The free community edition (version 5.2.x) is supported only though online community forums. Meanwhile, the Gold Version of AgoraCart (6.x Gold) is available for $49.95 and provides additional features and support.
3. Avactis: The Visual Shopping Cart
The Avactis ecommerce shopping cart requires no programming skills to set up or manage— when designing or customizing your website, you use a visual CSS Editor and visual layout editor.
Avactis can be integrated with existing websites or used to create a new website and storefront. The shopping cart software offers a number of management tools and useful ecommerce features for merchants, including price-based discounting, customer reviews, and Facebook integration.
The free Avactis shopping cart software is PHP-based and is embeddable in existing PHP sites. You can upgrade to obtain additional features; one-time payments for Avactis shopping carts range from $249 to $449.
4. CubeCart: Reporting Options, Sage Integration
CubeCart gives small business owners many reporting and customer management options. The store administration dashboard lets you set product options, view sales and inventory data, manage customer accounts and view sales reports. The sales reporting tool, meanwhile, allows you to display and export custom sales reports for third-party spreadsheet software and integrates with Sage Accounting software.
CubeCart Lite is a free cart that can be used for up to 100 customers and 250 orders. The paid version, CubeCart Pro, offers all features with no limits and provides access to the code for a one-time payment of $180. Other services, including copyright removal and upgrade services, are also available.
5. ProductCart: Hundreds of Shopping Cart Features
EarlyImpact's ProductCart is PCI compliant and features hundreds of ecommerce shopping cart options for design, functionality and back-end management. If you're just getting started with ecommerce, you can use ProductCart's design tools to create a new online store.
Highlights of the cart include advanced order management, store administration tools and marketing features. To help businesses better manage an online ecommerce presence, ProductCart integrates with a number of applications, including FedEx label printing and QuickBooks.
The license for ProductCart (Standard version) is $695. The Build to Order version, which includes a product configurator for more complex products and services, is $1,495. Other services for installation, technical support, hosting and mobile commerce are also available.
6. Zen Cart: Community-Contributed Additions
The open-source ecommerce shopping cart known as Zen Cart provides community-contributed additions to the software than can be applied to your shop. Plenty of documentation and help with your cart is readily available in the community forums, too.
Designed by shop owners, programmers, designers and consultants, this cart features a template-based system to select a design for your cart and to configure product categories, sales discounts and shipping and payment options. Nearly every piece of information about your products can be customized and managed within the Zen Cart Admin view.
Zen Cart v1.5.0 requires PHP 5.2.14, MySQL 4.1.3 and Apache 2.0 (or higher). It can run on Windows/IIS servers, but Linux/Apache servers are recommended. For those who need help with ZenCart, the product's website provides a list of affiliated service providers.
Based in Nova Scotia, Canada, Vangie Beal has been covering small business, electronic commerce and Internet technology for more than a decade. You can tweet with her online @AuroraGG. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, on Facebook, and on Google +.