Should You Buy Software or Use a Free Shopping Cart?

Let’s take a look at Paid vs Free Shopping Cart Solutions.  Are there good options in the free market or is this one of the ‘get what you pay for’ situations?

free shopping cart
Avoid headaches by researching the pros and cons of free shopping cart solutions vs paid.

When you go to open your ecommerce storefront you will have to decide if you want to try and use open source shopping cart software (ie a free shopping cart) or pay a monthly fee for a hosted shopping cart (or one-time fee for a licensed cart). While there are some benefits, there are also a lot of negatives to open source software, unless you have a lot of extra time and have programming experience. Many online ecommerce stores are small operations with not many employees and sometimes run by one person, so it may be difficult to handle with most free shopping cart solutions. This is why it is important to decide what is right for your business so that you can work to make it as successful as possible.

Free Shopping Carts vs. Paid Ecommerce Solutions: What’s the Difference?

There are some vast differences between a free shopping cart and a paid ecommerce solution. The most important differences to consider include: Security, SEO, flexibility, investment, and your knowledge.

Security: Free shopping cart software is not always secure, which can be problematic for some merchants. Because free shopping carts usually run on an open source, community driven platform, they are more vulnerable to hackers in search of credit card numbers. To protect against this, you will need to make sure your online store is hosted on a server with Secure Socket Layer (SSL) technology, which can cost you a hefty fee each year. In addition to needing SSL, you will need a PCI compliant shopping cart if you choose to accept direct credit card payments rather than using a payment gateway like PayPal. PCI compliant shopping carts have undergone a rigorous process to ensure that their entire platform is secure from identity theft and fraud. There are very few PCI compliant free shopping cart solutions and if you accept direct credit card payments from a non-PCI compliant cart, you may be fined by the credit card company.

SEO: SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and refers to a search engine’s ability to review and rank your online store in search results. Having an optimized storefront helps you stay ahead of the competition by moving up in rank on important engines like Google. Many free shopping carts are not highly optimized for search engines, because they run off of an open source script that often creates dynamic URLs which are hard to read for search engine spiders. Sometimes it is hard to navigate through a free shopping cart to customize meta tags, title tags, keywords, and image attributes, which are all highly important elements of a fully optimized site. The top ecommerce software available takes SEO to heart. When you are paying for a shopping cart solution, you are often paying for the details, and all of the necessities of SEO require a lot of attention to detail.

Flexibility, Investment, and Your Knowledge: With an open source shopping cart platform you will have to install it, develop it, and maintain it yourself. This also means that you have greater flexibility since you are able to customize the shopping cart application as needed for your ecommerce storefront. One downside is that you have to constantly monitor the shopping cart provider’s web site for security news and will need to manually update the free shopping cart software every time a new security patch is released. This requires a large investment of time and code knowledge. By using open source, this also means that you are in charge of hosting the store yourself. When you host your own ecommerce store you must ensure the security and integrity of your back end databases, other resources on the server, as well as monitor the system for attacks. Not doing this could cost you a great deal in legal fees if secure information like credit card numbers, addresses, and the like were somehow made public.

Managing products, inventory, and marketing can be very time consuming if you do not have a general knowledge of PHP, when using an open source shopping cart. Some free shopping cart solutions include an easy to use admin panel to do all of this, but they are usually not as robust as an open source cart that can be customized with PHP and MYSQL expertise. Free shopping carts make up a very small percentage of the market because the majority of online businesses see how beneficial it is to have a hosted or managed ecommerce solution.

If you choose to go with a hosted shopping cart, you lose some of the flexibility but gain a variety of benefits because of what the shopping cart software companies provide you with. All of the customization options are provided and, depending on your needs, you can definitely find the right ecommerce solution that has the features you need. Another big plus is that the updating of the software and securing of the servers falls to the developer, not to you. This can really save you a lot of time on monitoring the store so you can spend your time making your online ecommerce business a success. You will need to do the research to find out how much the provider will stay on top of the security of the services, but all the ecommerce software solutions on this site monitor security as part of your hosting package.

Are There Good Free Shopping Cart solutions?

While licensed or hosted shopping carts tend to be the top choice of many ecommerce merchants, the fact is that some startups do not have the budget for a monthly fee. Because of this, you may still want to find the right free shopping cart for your needs. There are a variety of free carts out there, but few are easy to use if you do not have a background in development. If this is you, then consider Vendio to run your online store. Vendio offers a free PCI Compliant shopping cart that requires no knowledge of code, includes free hosting, is 100% customizable, and provides almost all the features of a Top eCommerce Solutions solution that you would normally have to pay for.

If you have a background in development, and don’t mind putting in the time to build and customize your entire storefront, then Zen Cart and osCommerce are great options to build an online store. Just know that you will need to pay for your own hosting and you will be in charge of whether or not your storefront is secure. JustHost and DreamHost are great hosting companies that offer cheap hosting and one click installs of both Zen Cart and osCommerce, should you decide to go that route.

Choosing the right shopping cart software can be overwhelming so the first thing you want to do is write a list of what you need and then research providers. You can compare which of them have the right tools and features. Not all shopping carts are the same, some are suited for certain products and some are best suited for small medium or larger businesses. Some solutions do not allow you to sell digital products and some do not have real phone support. So make sure you choose a reputable partner by doing a thorough Top eCommerce Solutions to determine which is best to power your online storefront. This will help make sure that you will feel confident in the site and the shopping experience you create.

Do you use a free shopping cart solution or other freeware?  We’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below!

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