Selecting the Best Shopping Cart Software for Your Ecommerce Store

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The global ecommerce market is set to jump nearly 50% by 2025 as business owners and consumers alike turn increasingly towards ecommerce

If you’re looking for shopping cart software, you’ve already recognized that online sales and omnichannel commerce will likely continue growing into the future. To capitalize on this shift in consumer behavior, you need to be able to accept transactions online.  

The right shopping cart software solution can help make that happen.

However, with so many options available, how do you select the best shopping cart software to enable online payments, prioritize customer experience and ensure the security of transmitted information? 

Let’s look closer at the options for shopping cart software and how to select the one that works best for your business.

Why Do You Need Shopping Cart Software?

If you want to start an ecommerce business, the ability to accept transactions is a must. 

In the earliest days of ecommerce, developers had to build bespoke software for every store. Now, a broad spectrum of software helps to support secure online transactions, with a wide array of capabilities and features — even including plugins that can add commerce functionality to an existing website.

You may also want additional functionality from your shopping cart solution to help you:

  • Simplify marketing: Built-in SEO, email marketing and easy optimization allow online stores to rank higher in organic search for increased discovery and lower customer acquisition costs.
  • Automate shipping and taxes: Some shopping cart software options offer functionality for printing shipping labels, calculating sales taxes based on customer location and sending notification emails to customers.
  • Manage products: From SKUs and variations to product names and images, shopping cart software allows an online store manager to get a high-level view or drill down to the specifics without any technical knowledge.
  • Manage customer information and orders: Managing an order from inception to delivery is crucial to the success of any business. Shopping cart software lets you filter by customer, check order status and make changes on the fly. Integrations with email platforms provide another medium for managing customer communications.
  • Integrate back-end systems: If you run brick-and-mortar operations, you can integrate data from your point-of-sale systems and online storefront to gain a holistic view of customers’ shopping behaviors and inventory. Use the resulting insights to boost loyalty and personalize your marketing. 
  • Remain compliant: Keep your financial data neatly stacked for audits and mitigate compliance risks associated with non-secure payment options or data misuse according to regulations like GDPR.
  • Enable extra features: Apart from checkout, most solutions also include native and third-party features, such as cart abandonment recovery, discounts and an array of pre-built and custom integrations with other business systems.

Main Types of Shopping Cart Software

Today’s vendors offer a broad spectrum of capabilities, and each shopping cart software option will have different features, modules and functionality. 

Web hosting is one of the primary differentiators between types of shopping cart software. It can significantly impact how your online store is established, managed, and maintained long-term. 

SaaS shopping cart software.

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) shopping carts are owned, maintained and upgraded by an ecommerce vendor. For an annual or monthly fee, you get access to all the vendor’s core commerce features, hosting for your site, bandwidth, managed security and continued software upgrades.

SaaS solutions offer a balance between flexibility and ease of use. They have evolved to the point where customization and flexibility previously exclusive to on-premise is available — making it more than sufficient for most online retailers.

Some of the popular providers of SaaS shopping carts are:

  • BigCommerce.
  • Shift4Shop (formerly 3dcart).
  • Shopify.
  • Volusion.

Open-Source shopping cart.

Open-source shopping carts require merchants to host their site themselves or through a platform provider.

Often distributed for free as open-source software, such carts provide a base level of checkout functionality. Extra functionality and integrations with other systems will need to be developed or purchased as a third-party subscription. 

Self-hosting your ecommerce store using open-source software can give you near-limitless freedom when it comes to the entire shopping experience. It also requires more time spent on the technical — rather than operational — aspects of your ecommerce business.

Some of the popular providers of open-source shopping carts are:

  • WooCommerce.
  • PrestaShop.
  • OpenCart.
  • Adobe Magento.
  • WordPress.
  • X-Cart.

Shopping Cart Software Features You Need

Whether you are shopping for a SaaS ecommerce solution or a self-hosted shopping cart product, make sure that your choice of somewhere includes the following features: 

Robust discounting features.

In 2019, 92% of US shoppers used at least one coupon, while 45% used them always or very often. 

Selecting shopping cart software that provides discounting features is necessary for a modern-driven business. It can help you promote a variety of offers to increase sales, from product or order discounts to coupons and BOGO offers. 

Offering discounts to customers in the digital market is a fantastic way to drive business and build a rapport with your customer base. 

Security and PCI compliance.

Online stores are an attractive target for hackers, and the move to shopping online during the pandemic made it an even more attractive venture. American online shoppers have lost over $800 million to COVID-related fraud since the start of 2020.  

Since a shopping cart is a critical component for processing sensitive customer data, it must be secure. When assessing different types of shopping cart solutions, ensure that it has:

  • PCI-DSS compliance: This is a globally-recognized standard for securely processing payments. Vendors pass rigorous testing to earn this status. 
  • SSL/HTTPS support: An SSL certificate is critical for encrypting sensitive data a buyer provides to your shopping solution during checkout.
  • Anti-fraud and data security tools: Make sure you can monitor suspicious user activity and block potentially fraudulent transactions and brute force intrusion attempts either natively or through an integrated third-party system.

Abandoned cart functionality.

Shopping cart abandonment is an issue that affects almost every industry, with nearly 80% of online shopping carts being abandoned in 2021. It costs businesses a significant amount of revenue every single year.

Selecting a solution with a built-out abandoned cart saver can help to alleviate the revenue hit. Automatic abandoned cart recovery can send customizable emails to shoppers who leave during the checkout process to remind them to come back and purchase the items they added to their cart.

With the right solution, you can even customize and personalize those emails to better tailor your messaging for each customer. 

Mobile-ready.

Mobile commerce is projected to bring in more than $710 billion in 202521.9% of total retail sales. If you don’t offer a mobile-friendly checkout experience, you could be hurting your growth prospects. 

Select a shopping cart that lets you create a simplified mobile checkout process. Think fewer fields, larger buttons, and integration of popular mobile payment methods such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal, Amazon Pay, etc.

Tax and shipping calculations.

Calculating shipping costs can be challenging for any software solution, especially as costs have risen due to supply chain concerns over the last few years

When selecting shopping cart software, make sure to find a solution that includes:

  • Calculations from tables set by different merchants. 
  • Real-time calculations that pull data from major shipping and courier companies.

Similarly, as a company grows, its tax calculations will only grow more complex. Handling taxes when working out of one state is a relatively simple process — but what about if it’s ten states? Several countries?

Shopping cart software with a built-in, automatic tax and shipping calculator can save you time while expanding the reach of your business.

Payment gateway options.

To gain real-time authorization of credit card purchases and transaction fees, you will need to select a solution that can work with the most popular payment solutions, from Apple Pay and Amazon Pay to PayPal and Stripe. 

By having an expansive roster of payment gateways, you’ll open your company up to a more diverse range of customers. 

Ensure that the online payment solution is designed to work seamlessly on mobile devices. As mobile shopping becomes more prominent, not having that available could lead to a missed opportunity. You’ll be able to streamline the process even further by using the latest digital wallets

Inventory management.

An inventory management system built into shopping cart software can save you a significant amount of time on your back-end. 

Imagine if, Instead of manually counting your inventory — and subtracting from it every time a sale is made — a program would alert you via email or notification when a low-inventory threshold is reached or when an item is completely gone. 

This will alleviate stress from you and, with real-time tracking, can help customers know if an item is still available for purchase prior to payment. 

Customizable.

Customer experience (CX) is a battlefield for ecommerce platforms, with the CX management market expected to reach $14.9 billion by 2025. Your shopping cart software should not stand in the way of delivering an on-brand online experience for shoppers. 

Assess each option from the perspective of customization: 

  1. Can we change the checkout flow or interface design to match our small business needs better?
  2. How many elements of the overall store design can we customize? Are the templates flexible?
  3. Do we need a coding team for quick updates, or is there a drag-and-drop builder available?
  4. What about integrations? How easily can we integrate into existing systems and business tools? Am I limited to pre-built integrations or can we build our own integrations?
  5. What existing development resources will we have access to? Is the platform developer-friendly? Does it have open APIs and developer documentation? How does customization impact future updates?

Easy to update.

Over time, your performance needs may shift, and security requirements may change. For that reason, open-source solutions especially need to be regularly patched and updated — something typically performed manually by developers.

With a hosted shopping cart, updates are performed automatically by the vendor. In most cases, you don’t even need to take action yourself or re-test anything. Note that you may need to configure any new features before taking advantage of them.

How to Choose the Right Shopping Cart Software

Now that you know what a good shopping cart software looks like, let’s focus on your business needs. How do you find a solution that promotes, rather than hinders, your growth? 

Here are a few steps to help you figure that out:

Determine your goals for your ecommerce site. 

The decision to sell online can be challenging — you don't want to proceed until you figure out the essential operational bells and whistles. 

To do that, start with why. Why do you want to sell online — to attract more business? How exactly do you plan to make this happen? 

  • Will you use ecommerce software as an avenue for direct-to-consumer sales
  • Do you want to drive online traffic to supplement brick-and-mortar operations? 

Apart from the baseline goals, think in terms of ecommerce metrics.

  • What kind of growth would you like to see post-launch, and how will you measure it?
  • Do you plan to sell locally or internationally? 
  • What's your plan for growing a customer's lifetime value? 
  • How many products do you plan to sell?

Choose the features you really need.

Based on your set goals and metrics, create a list of features your ecommerce website needs. These should be closely aligned with your customer lifecycle as features can substantially impact pricing. 

The easiest way to determine what shopping cart features you need is to work from general to specific:

  1. List all the general must-haves. For example, does it support your payment gateway of choice?
  2. Add extras that your business needs, such as automatic sales tax/shipping rate calculation.
  3. Prioritize all the nice-to-haves from 1 to 5, where 1 is a crucial feature for driving revenues, and 5 is a handy add-on that could make your day-to-day operations more efficient. 

Decide if you want a SaaS or self-hosted shopping cart.

As described above, hosted (SaaS) shopping carts and self-hosted (open source) both have their merits. However, each choice also comes with certain compromises. 

Open source and custom ecommerce website development can carry with it additional risks.

On the other hand, SaaS solutions pose some constraints to customization since not every vendor supports editing CSS/HTML code of the front-end design or checkout. While many platforms will allow design changes, you won't be able to tamper with the solution's underlying source code — limiting your ability to customize your store's functionality. 

In many cases, you will need to purchase extra apps from the vendor's app store to connect different marketing tools or order management functionality. Be sure to look into what options are available for custom development via APIs if you have specific needs.

Test ease of use.

Checkout is a critical step for conversion. 80% of shopping carts are abandoned — your goal is to alleviate as much of that friction as possible.

Make sure that the solution you are looking at is user-friendly. Baymard Institute runs an ongoing assessment of ecommerce UX checkout and strengthens the importance of following these best practices: 

  • Provide a prominent “Guest Checkout” option. 
  • Shipping options comparison should be visible.
  • Allow users to edit data directly during the order review step. 
  • All the optional and required fields have to be explicitly marked.

Use these points to assess how your top choices scored. Likewise, check if you can customize checkout settings and microcopy to decrease cart abandonment rates

Review customer support.

Having a support team within easy reach is handy because you will eventually have a question that you or your team can’t answer. If a critical part of your ecommerce site breaks, the last thing your team wants is to read pages of technical docs in search of answers. 

Many SaaS solutions offer 24/7 technical support, and they tend to react to critical issues fast. For example, BigCommerce responds to calls within 2 minutes on average and resolves 85% of customer queries from the first call.

Fast response time and multiple support channels are not a given with all vendors, so make sure to research how each one stacks up against others.

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The Final Word

There’s no one-size-fits-all shopping cart software option out there. That said, some cart software options pack a bigger punch for both features and cost. 

Ultimately, the right platform for you will depend entirely on how you want to run your business and what your online storefront needs to support. Remember, the shopping cart is where your customers will decide whether or not to make the purchase. 

Your job? Give them every reason to click checkout.

FAQs for Shopping Cart Software

What is the purpose of shopping cart software?

To put it plainly, online shopping cart software allows visitors and shoppers to make purchases from a website. 

It can be added to a pre-existing website or platform, or as an entirely new, all-in-one solution with its own website included.

Can I build an ecommerce shopping cart from scratch?

Yes, you can.

With the help of an ecommerce website builder like BigCommerce, you can build an ecommerce shopping cart from the ground up. Through the use of our proprietary API system, you can process payments, gain full access to cart data and customizations, and ultimately increase your sales.

What is the difference between shopping cart software and ecommerce website software?

The difference is that shopping cart software is a part of the ecommerce website ecosystem, not the entire product. 

The shopping cart aspect of your website focuses primarily on the online storefront itself, from payment processing and merchant tools to inventory management.

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