When we think of shopping carts, many tend to imagine a traditional shopping cart with that awkward front wheel pushing us to the right side of the aisle. Thankfully, online shopping carts are not as rigorous, but metaphorically are used to collect items from the retail store, and then pay for them at the cash register. Online shopping carts are essentially the same experience in a digital format.

The eCommerce shopping cart in its very basic form is an online store you create where you can sell a single item or multiple products: from clothing to electronics to tickets to anything. However to create a functional system for your buyers, you need a framework, whereby you can present products, prices, establish a cart for multiple purchases, payments and gateways, apply taxes, coordinate inventory with vendors, calculate shipping and delivery, apply discounts. This framework is the shopping cart. A good shopping cart can support many all these functions. A great shopping cart do this, and makes this process easy, especially when you start to scale bigger.

The first thing you should know is that there are two types of shopping carts: Hosted eCommerce Stores and Licensed Shopping Cart Software.

eCommerce Stores: This is the most common form of owning a shopping cart. An eCommerce store is basically a shopping cart hosted on a vendor’s site. For a monthly subscription, you rent the store from which you display your products. The eCommerce service takes care of many of the aspects mentioned above. The store also provides multiple templates for how you want to display your items. But in exchange for this ease to use, one stop shop, you are within the realm of only what they currently provide. Notwithstanding, many eCommerce stores are in fact far from being constrained, having a breadth of functionality and shopping cart features. eCommerce stores tend to be plenty for newbies, or even experts that just want to test the waters with a new niche!

Licensed Shopping Cart Software: Rather than a hosted place to display your products, shopping cart software is software where you own the store (and the code, too). You can build it and host it wherever you want – ah, freedom! You are not limited by design, display or functionality. There are plenty of pre-assembled templates, where no technical programming is required. This doesn’t mean even “grandma” can jump in. But someone with limited technical knowledge or a self starter that doesn’t mind a little tinkering can achieve success. Most of the time, small companies and smart entrepreneurs typically hire this out using Upwork or Fiverr.

 In its simplest terms:

With Licensed Shopping Carts, you own the house.

With eCommerce Stores, you rent the house

But just like real estate, there are positives and negatives to both choices, and no one solution is best.

The optimal place to start is you. Here are some points to think about.

Goals: What are your short term goals, and long term goals for what you want to achieve (global domination is already taken and a vision board is way off topic – remember, what are your store goals?) First: Think about your customers needs or frustrations. Second: Avoid what you think is best. Third: Be careful to distinguish between what is nice to have vs. your customer’s genuine needs.

Skills: Do you have some meager technical skills (more than knowing how to turn on the computer)? For many shopping carts, you don’t need to know how to program, and you can always Fiverr a difficult task. But you have to be comfortable downloading “stuff.” However, if your best friend is the customer service agent, stick with an eCommerce store.

Costs: Many make the mistake of looking at up front cost. This is actually a vision or “big picture” question. While people tend to judge a meager monthly $30 – $70 eCommerce fee far cheaper than a $200 or even $1500 shopping cart fee, the true costs can me much different. Let’s look at the cost across a year’s time frame.

Choices                                                                         Time frame: 1 year

Most popular eCommerce Store                   $30 x 12 = $360/year for basic

Most meager Shopping Cart                           $199 one time

Of course, the better shopping carts are more expensive, but so are the better packages of popular eCommerce stores. So unless you just starting out or have a small web audience (which eCommerce stores are great for), costs should be less of a factor than you think. It comes back to what you want accomplish. The smart money is on the value you want to create and ultimately build for your site.

Cost wise, shopping cart software tends to be better if you expect to have a growing site years down the road.

Features and updates: This again is big picture thinking. Too many other writers will list reasons of Shopping Carts over eCommerce Stores, or eCommerce Stores over Shopping Carts. The truth is that both approaches are at a point where you can setup the basics and achieve decent functionality. Both are constantly improving their services to be better, so as long as you go with a well-experienced vendor, you find a Shopping Cart or eCommerce Store that have the features you want. And this is primarily why we write independent review articles on Shopping Carts and eCommerce Stores. Please check out article page here.

Flexibility vs Simplicity: I think this is one of the core difference when comparing Shopping Carts and hosted eCommerce store. eCommerce stores were initially targeted to those new to eCommerce, who wanted something simple to setup, while Shopping Carts were initially targeted to those familiar with eCommerce that wanted to do something on a more corporate scale. Today, both are merging to meet growing demands from customers with less technical skill and customers of great technical skill.  However, it doesn’t mean significant differences and advantages don’t exist.

The shopping cart world: Many shopping cart vendors offer their themes based on WooCommerce (WordPress’ version of an eCommerce store), Drupal, Magento or other work in concert as “extensions” of these platforms like vnecoms Magento Extensions, while some other shopping carts create their own proprietary platform like Dokan, CS-Cart, Yith, and X-Cart . This provides flexibility to design a better shopping experience for your customers.

The eCommerce world: The pitch for eCommerce Store is simplicity. You can go to one place and have all the tools you need that are available within their platform. A big advantage is that you have full 24/7 support, and hosting is also included in your monthly subscription. The most popular tend to be Shopify, Weebly, Volusion, and BigCommerce.

Below is a great breakdown of Shopping Carts and eCommerce Store from Builtwith.com showing a breakdown of the larger participants, but remember bigger doesn’t mean better or even safer, as we’ll learn in the next section.

Built with chart

Security: After big companies like Visa, MasterCard and many large governments have been hacked, it is easy to believe that your shopping cart or eCommerce store could be in danger. And it true, there could always be danger to this digital world. So how can you minimize this risk?

Most shopping carts and eCommerce provide a strong level of security. One may be slightly better than another, but Shopping Carts and eCommerce platforms take it seriously, and are just as concerned about security as you are. A break in security not only mean potential trouble for their servers, but a loss of customers, and customers are more difficult than servers to get back once they are lost. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Are there nightly backups, and how easily it is to be replaced and get back up?
  • Do the payment gateways are secure and compliant according to PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard)? If you are unsure, Visa and MasterCard keep lists of payment gateways and processors that are with PCI and meet their compliant secure.
  • Are there redundant servers, so if one server goes down in one location, will another come back up? How much time would that take?
  • Besides payments, what other risks would my customers be exposed to from using my Shopping Cart or eCommerce store?
  • What other security measures are there? Ask them before purchasing…

These are just some of the criteria you should look at before deciding on a Shopping Cart or eCommerce store.

Now that you have a better understanding of Shopping Carts vs eCommerce stores, I encourage you to look around our site, and check out some of the providers.