Much like the shopping cart in your local grocery store the e-commerce shopping cart holds your items until your ready to pay for them. For example you can add a widget to your shopping cart and continue to browse the site add more items then pay for them all at once. When the Internet was just getting started e-commerce consisted of finding an item then being directed to a payment page and paying for it. This had many draw backs the main one being that you couldn't pay for more than one item, for goods to be shipped this was an even bigger problem since shipping costs couldn't be consolidated. The electronic shopping cart changed all that.
Database driven shopping carts
So lets go back again, the web was great at displaying a static web page. The page could include a picture showing the product with some helpful text telling what it did or why you needed it so badly. What about if you have 25 products, no problem you can put more than one product on a page. When you started getting into 50 or more products you might start pulling your hair out. When your supplier changes prices or UPS ups their price you wouldn't have any hair left. Here comes the database. The database allows storage of your products and more importantly allows the creation of dynamic pages. These dynamic pages are built using the data in the database.
Shopping carts support a number of different databases depending on the one you choose. For example OsCommerce supports mySQL. ASPDOTNET storefront supports MSSQL. The database only really matters when choosing a host. Since mySQL is an open source database the hosting is generally cheaper.
Shopping cart features
There are many many shopping cart features. The ones that are important to you depend on your business. Some of the more important ones would be.
- Which payment processors or gateways are supported
- What are the shipping options
- How may products does it support
- How easy is it to customize
- Does it offer search engine friendly URLs
Probably the most important question to ask is, does it support my payment gateway? The payment gateway service should be included with your merchant account. Every shopping cart should have a list of gateways supported. This just means that they have programmed the cart to work with the payment gateway out of the box. For example Zen Cart supports a number of payment processors. For example you, with a simple change of a setting send your payments to the Authorize.net gateway. That is all that is required to start taking orders on your site. The cart already knows where to send the transactions.
Keep it simple
Choosing a shopping cart doesn't have to be difficult. Do you homework upfront and you should be fine. Changing shopping carts is not something you want to do because you'll have to re-enter all your products. Don't enter all your items until your sure your going to stick with a shopping cart. Also remember free shopping carts are supported by developers, so getting technical support could be a challenge. We've had both free and paid versions of shopping carts and it seems free shopping carts offer greater flexibility when it comes to payment processors and other features.