If you plan to sell physical products, digital products or even a large number of services from your website, you might be considering setting up a shopping cart. Many large eTailers offer checkout solutions for their websites, and as the Internet has grown more “mature”, there are an increasing number of shopping cart solutions available.
However, before outright buying a shopping cart system for your website, there is something that you should consider. Mainly, whether you will run the shopping cart from your website or whether you will purchase, or “rent”, a shopping cart system from a third party website.
Remotely hosted shopping cart solution
Usually a hosted shopping cart solution requires little technical knowhow and less setup time than a shopping cart that you would run from your own website. Other than adding products, defining prices and setting up the shopping cart template, if this is an option, you’ll be up and running in a few days to as little as a few hours.
Some hosted shopping cart solutions offer optional marketing packages which may (or may not) help you drive targeted traffic to your shopping website. While these all-in-one shopping cart packages are normally pricey, they can certainly help the new online shop to get the most out of their new website right away without having to take the time to learn how to market on their own.
Remotely hosted shopping carts may also include, or optionally include, a payment gateway, meaning that you can accept credit card payments with their software. If a shopping cart solution does not offer this, you will need to acquire a merchant account on your own.
Hosting your own shopping cart system
While generally seen as a much more affordable solution for website owners to add the functionality of a shopping cart to what they have to offer, running a shopping cart on your own website will have its share of challenges if you are technically deficient.
What you need to run a shopping cart on your own website
1) A domain name. This should be an obvious step, but this is the first part of the process.
2) A hosting account that allows scripts to get executed and supports for one or more databases. Probably the most popular hosting accounts run with these basic configurations:
- Linux web server with Apache
- Php/Perl script execution
- MySQL databases
Because this is a very common setup for web hosting accounts, many free and paid shopping cart systems will run on hosting accounts with these features.
3) A shopping cart system. There are a lot of different types of eCommerce software and here are a few of the more popular open-source shopping cart solutions:
Zen Cart is a well-known provider of a free shopping cart system. While the administration back-end can be confusing because of the amount of options available, once you get the hang of things, Zen Cart can be an asset to your company because of its feature rich interface.
Much like Zen Cart, Os Commerce is a feature rich shopping cart that also happens to be free. Released as Open Source software, Os Commerce has a solid community of supporters that help with the creation of plugins and modules, making this a feature rich shopping cart solution as well. Need a unique design for your eCommerce store? There are thousands of premium osCommerce Templates available online.
Cube Cart is another free, yet versatile shopping cart system. Requiring only PHP and access to one MySQL database, the minimal requirements for this shopping cart solution are easily met by most paid web hosting accounts online today.
4) Payment processor / merchant account. If you’re catering to an online audience, you need to have a way to accept digital payments, such as credit cards. Depending on how you want to run your business, you can have all of the transactions handled online, such as through companies like PayPal.com, Moneybookers.com, Charge.com, Authorize.net and so on.
Some of the listed companies will also offer what is called a “virtual terminal” where you have the ability to key in your customers’ credit card information yourself, which would allow you to take phone orders. Even though this is turning into a digital world more and more, accepting checks as payment will help you to reach a greater number of people. Because the Internet is still relatively new, there are many people who don’t trust technology enough to input their credit card information into a website; offering to accept checks as well as credit cards may be a worthwhile consideration.
5) SSL – Encrypted website pages. When you accept credit card payments on your website, you are obligated, at least ethically if not legally, to protect your customers’ financial information. With some payment processors all credit card information is entered on a third party website where you should not have to worry about protecting credit card numbers and such. However, if your customers key their credit card numbers into a form on your website, you need to have security measures in place so that the transmission of their credit card information is encrypted during transmission.
Setting up encrypted pages of your website requires a bit of technical knowhow, so this is something to consider when you are weighing out whether you should acquire the use of a remotely hosted shopping cart system or setting one up one your own website.
Running a shopping cart system is easily seen as a convenient solution when you are offering multiple products or services online. Choosing the right setup for your business needs should be weighed out with not only your budget in mind, but your decision should also be based on your technical capabilities as well.