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So, you are exploring opening up an eCommerce store and wondering whether it is worth it to get a hosted shopping cart or whether you should use stand-alone shopping cart software.
Well, the truth is that this is going to be a very personal and individual choice.
It will ultimately depend on the goal of your online store, how much time you'd like to spend working with the design and customization of the ecommerce website, and what kind of shopping experience you want customers to have in your online shop.
It also depends on which shopping cart platform you're thinking about using.
The good news is that most online shopping cart software will help you with a lot of the nitty-gritty of setting up an online shop, such as which payment processor to use, how to handle order management, what the checkout page will look like, how to apply coupon codes, how to mitigate shopping cart abandonment, and even which checkout process leads to the most purchases.
But more on that in a bit. First, let's start with the basics.
Standalone Shopping Cart Solution As An Open Source Application
Standalone shopping carts are made by an open source application that requires web hosting to function. Therefore, with a standalone shopping cart solution, you’ll have to purchase a hosting package and install WordPress.
Don't worry, it's not as difficult as it sounds.
A non-hosted online shop requires that you install a platform for your ecommerce website which can be tricky for some people. Luckily, most stand-alone online shopping cart software function as a plugin on a Wordpress site, making it super easy to install and use. By working with a hosted solution, the store owner can easily automate their online business.
One of the benefits of selecting an open source ecommerce platform is that you’ll know exactly what you are getting. The most popular platforms are well documented and you or your developer can make any changes that you require. There is a great degree of control with standalone platforms. If you need additional features, you can either find plugins and extensions to add them, create them yourself of hire someone to build them for you.
With standalone shopping carts, you’re free to select your preferred hosting service. This means that you aren’t tied to a centralized service. You can move your store if you outgrow your provider or find a better deal somewhere else. While this sounds complicated, most hosts will walk you through the setup.
What is Stand-Alone Shopping Cart Software?
Stand-alone shopping cart software refers to the software that enables you to make purchases on your website that doesn’t include hosting and customer service in the package.
It does mean that you have full access to the code that runs the website, which you don’t have when you opt for a hosted shopping cart. Typically, you own the code or pay a license for using the code and any modifications to that code. You or your developer can make any modifications to that code.
On the other hand, hosted solutions do not give you access to the code. You usually only have access to make template and design changes when you use a hosted solution. For business owners looking to build a highly customized enterprise or eCommerce website, this can feel very restrictive and limiting.
Some top ecommerce shopping cart non-hosted solutions include:
I break each of these options down in the section below. Jump ahead: Selecting a Standalone Shopping Cart Solution
Why Do You Need Shopping Cart Software?
The main purpose of stand-alone shopping cart software is to support online merchants who have larger customer databases and to enable a simplified self-service method.
Let’s face it, you don’t want to be calling and asking each and every customer to send you a check. Instead, online shopping cart software includes a payment option right within the checkout page.
And that's not all.
Shopping cart software can not only process payments, but it can also automate transaction fees, add customized taxes based on where the customer is located, send notifications when shopping cart abandonment occurs, and help with inventory management.
Overall, it makes the entire checkout process super smooth, which ultimately improves customer experience.
And that's (partly) what keeps customers coming back to your online business.
The shopping cart is one of the elements that instills trust in the ecommerce store and the online shopping process. It lets the customer know that they are dealing with a professional provider.
For the ecommerce store owner, it leads to an accelerated checkout. It also can provide additional opportunities to cross-sell related products and make further sales.
Here are some of the shopping cart features that make it most worth your time and money.
Stand-alone Shopping Carts Give You Unique Design
When it comes to business, you want your company to stand out. Having a unique and memorable design is important. And that's what a stand-alone shopping cart software can do for your online shop.
When purchasing a shopping cart system from a hosted solution, such as with Shopify or BigCommerce, you have a number of different templates to choose from. This means that your website will end up looking like 100 other sites, maybe even 1,000 others.
Looking like everyone else doesn’t help your brand and it may not position your company where you’d like it to be.
With a stand-alone shopping cart solution, however, you can select how you want the images to appear on your website and where the layout should be. You will also be able to select the colors of the buy buttons and how the checkout page will appear on your site.
They Have More Flexibility And Functionality
As you run your online business, you want to ensure that the shopping cart is functional and meets your needs. At some point, you’ll need to add different functions as your business grows.
You may not need all the bells and whistles right now, but in the future, you may want to add some unique functions that will improve the shopping experience and take your business to the next level. And what will happen when you outgrow your eCommerce cart?
Some questions to consider as you're choosing your ecommerce shopping cart platform are:
- Who will be making the modifications for you?
- Will your hosted shopping cart offer the solutions that you would like?
- At what cost?
With a stand-alone shopping cart system, you’ll always have the ability to add functionality through plugins or developers that can create unique code for you.
Some functionality that you may want to include on your website:
- Managing membership sites
- Take appointments and bookings online
- Sell complex products like appointments or subscriptions
- Integrate shipping carriers
- Automate your taxes
- Customize emails and notifications
- Add social media integrations into your store
- Integrate Google Analytics of other reporting features
- Customize your product pages
- Add features to your cart and checkout
When choosing a stand-alone shopping cart software for your ecommerce store, you can add these features to your website by simply adding a plugin or extension when you need it. It is simple enough that you can do it on your own, but you can also delegate that task to your IT person if you have one.
They Have Better Search Engine Marketing & Optimization Opportunities
Hosted eCommerce shopping carts are really lacking when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO).
Search engine optimization is one of the best ways to get targeted customers to your website...
We've written a pretty lengthy guide on how to do SEO for your ecommerce website, so I won't get into it here. But having blog posts and product pages that are optimized for search engines is vital. And, unfortunately, many hosted eCommerce shopping carts (like Shopify) lack search engine optimization capabilities.
They may have too many clients who are selling the same items. When this occurs, you can end up with 50 websites selling the same items, using the same shopping cart platform, the same product images, and the same product pages as each other.
In the end, they all end up with pretty much the same website. And Google hates this.
In fact, they will penalize websites with duplicate content. Search engines look to see how unique your site and your products are. Websites that appear to be just like everyone else won’t stand out at all.
Custom designing the site allows for the ability to constantly use the latest in web code trends and search engine optimization techniques. You can update your website with the latest and greatest for the best search engine marketing around with a hosted site and a stand-alone shopping cart.
You Have More Control In The Future
Hosted shopping cart systems get you up and running quickly, but they don’t allow you to own your own code.
This is huge.
What happens when you become dissatisfied with your hosting provider and want to move your site? They own your code.
If you want to move your shopping cart to another developer or hosting plan, you don’t have access to the code. You will either have to stay with them or recreate your whole website, including the entire online shop.
So even if you can't imagine eventually growing big enough to need your own hosting, it's important to understand this limitation before you commit to a hosted shopping cart platform.
With stand-alone shopping cart software, one can easily integrate with the back end of your website, as well as connect with other business software like CRMs and fulfillment solutions.
You will have complete control over your online store, which is a major advantage.
The Cons of Stand-Alone Shopping Cart Systems
As a business owner, you always have to be aware of the cons of any potential decision that you're about to make. These are the negative aspects to stand-alone shopping cart functionality:
- They are usually harder to set up than their hosted counterparts. At the very least, you will need to find a hosting provider, choose your e-commerce platform, and go through an installation and setup process.
- In most cases, there is no centralized support system you can contact if you need help or run into an error. So you will need to become adept at looking through the documentation and searching community resources to troubleshoot problems for yourself or hire a qualified developer to help you.
- Depending on your hosting provider, costs can pile up once your store begins to grow. They also may decrease, depending on the traffic.
- Keeping your website updated with different applications is your responsibility.
- You are responsible for fixing problems with your website unless you have an IT professional on hand.
- Customized development can become expensive.
Selecting a Standalone Shopping Cart Solution
With the vast number of shopping cart solutions for e-commerce available, it is a tough question that has plagued many ecommerce store owners. There are just so many solutions out there! It is also important to remember that many of the top web hosting companies offer e-commerce tools and storefronts, so before you decide on a certain solution, you may want to check out your existing host's capabilities.
In researching the shopping cart solutions, I decided to do some research and figure out which ones were the most popular. I thought I'd look into Google Trends to get an idea of which shopping carts had the greatest search volume.
From this chart, we can see that WooCommerce and Magento are neck in neck when it comes to popularity and in keyword searches. There are some key differences between WooCommerce and Magento that are worth exploring and considering. WooCommerce is technically a WordPress plugin.
- WooCommerce has a team that will happily answer support questions through their help desk.
- Offers choice and flexibility of templates
- Advanced features and huge selections of extensions and plugins
- Wide variety of both free and paid themes
- Bundled with payment gateways … PayPal, BACS and Cash on Delivery.
- Gives the option to offer free shipping or flat rate shipping.
- Reports on incoming sales, inventory levels, and general performance.
- Configure tax settings with local tax rates and tax classes.
- Marketing campaigns such as discount options, limits, user restriction, etc.
- Free plugin. All you have to do is download it and start adding products from your WordPress dashboard.
- Comes with user reviews and ratings. Clients can easily vote every product by adding ratings to their comments.
- Even though WordPress is free, you will need hosting.
- You still need to take care of the setup on your own. This involves downloading and installing the plugin on your WordPress site.
Magento is king of the custom carts – It is top, by far, according to Google Trends. It also powers over $50 billion in transactions per year. Some of Magento's features are pretty impressive and will be helpful for your business. Most people agree that it is a more robust platform than WooCommerce, even though it may not be as easy to pick up.
Magento is recommended only to users with at least some basic level of web development experience. The platform can be a bit complicated for first-time e-commerce users. It may be more than needed for small operations, but is a perfect solution for professional businesses.
- Allows you to fully control how you deliver your customer experience, without limitations
- Allows merchants to sell customizable products and digital goods online
- Allows merchants to handle the complexities of B2B commerce
- Ensures privacy and security for your site
- Responsive structure (it is available on the iPhone, iPad, Android, and mobile HTML5 is pre-integrated).
- Automated email marketing reminder.
- Ability to create multiple wish lists.
- Integrated content management system.
- Polls and customer groups.
- Supports expansion - Manage multiple stores, transacts in multiple countries, languages, currencies, and use several worldwide shipping providers, all within a single instance.
- Lots of extensions to add additional features and capabilities.
- The layout isn't very user-friendly. It can take many steps to customize the settings. The design has a classic old forum design.
- The premium plan is hugely expensive.
Prestashop has some great features and benefits as well. PrestaShop is run by a commercial company that focuses on competing at the top. Their built-in features are impressive and cover all the necessary sales tools like cross selling, coupons, etc. Most importantly, Prestashop has many high-quality yet low priced plugins along with reasonably priced professional themes.
PrestaShops' support for their product is great. They have localized support in almost every country. Many plugin descriptions are translated well across multiple languages. They provide a popular forum and also offer extensive documentation.
- Feature set that is comparable to Magento.
- Extensive documentation and support options.
- A variety of free and low priced plugins and themes of excellent quality.
- Affordable - Free to download
- Highly customizable
- Excellent support materials
- Strong user community
- Expensive customer support
- Developer skills required
- Limited integrations with the hosted version
OpenCart is a great standalone shopping market solution. It offers users more than 2,700 themes. It is used by over 500,000 ecommerce sites. OpenCart was created in Hong Kong, but the majority of its users are based in the United States. Therefore, OpenCart is multicurrency, multilingual, so it is perfect for stores that have a global market. It also offers more than 20 payment gateways as well as eight shipping methods.
- Simple store setup - no need to mess with code at the start
- Great performance and usability - lightweight e-commerce solution that reduces load time
- Simple admin panel
- Multi-store functionality - manage several stores from one admin panel.
- Ability to manage single inventory for multiple stores
- Free - OpenCart is an open source shopping cart.
- High level of functionality.
- 23 payment gateways
- Advanced reporting system
- Not nearly as many features as Magento
- Some basic functions, such as SEO, require plugins to deliver high performance.
- Lack of provisioning for cashing. Users need to install an extension to implement caching and improve performance.
- Simplicity and ease of OpenCart comes at the cost of customization. It is not easy to customize a store.
- Not advised for stores that require more than a simple, generic and basic options.
OsCommerce is a free ecommerce online store management software program. OsCommerce was the main ecommerce solution prior to Magento. It still offers some great features to the ecommerce store owner.
- Many modules broaden the scope of customization.
- Easy and flexible to administer.
- Translate and localize into any language (multilingual)
- Community forums for support and help
- The front end feels like a dated version of Amazon
- Only 13,300 stores currently use this platform
- Needs some major changes to compete in the modern ecommerce field.
Yo!Kart is another e-commerce solution for aspiring entrepreneurs to build online marketplaces. It is customizable and offers a simple vendor management system that tracks sales to credited to each vendor’s accounts. Yo!Kart users are primarily based in North America, Europe & the Middle east. The platform offers 1-year free technical support and a lifetime license on its every package.
- User-centered design
- Separate vendor store-fronts
- Multi-currency and Multi-lingual
- The global Product catalog module
- Multiple payment gateways
- Pre-Integrated APIs such as Stripe connect, TaxJar, etc.
- Abandoned cart recovery
- Ready native mobile apps for buyers
- Features for personalized marketing
- Fully customizable and scalable multi-vendor platform
- Product upgrades are paid
- Themes are limited
Magento Magento Magento! You should definitely first check out Magento to see if it will meet you needs. Not only is it the most popular, it has the most options and flexibility to grow with you as your business grows. If you are great with WordPress, you should definitely be looking into setting up WooCommerce. If that doesn’t meet your needs, the next in line are osCommerce and Prestashop.
There you have it. Recommendations based on some objective comparison between solutions, rather than your cousin’s husband’s colleague’s testimony. Of course this is just a quick and dirty analysis, but I think they’re good enough to serve as a starting point.