Commerce, Graphics, Hosting

Paid or Free Shopping Cart

"There is scarcely anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse, and sell a little more cheaply. The person who buys on price alone is this man's lawful prey." 1819

John Ruskin, respected19th century British critic, author, poet, social thinker, and essayist.

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 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 stores are small operations with few employees and often run by one person, so it may be difficult to handle with most free shopping carts. Even with a business with a good employee base it often comes down to one person to manage, populate, optimize and run the online part of the business. 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 carts are 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 cost a 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 carts 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, Bing and Yahoo. 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. Dynamic URL's are cryptic and resemble code words rather than the clean url's search engines like to see ending in .html. 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. When you are paying for a shopping cart solution, you are often paying for the minor details. Details that are often overlooked or not refined, or simply missing in the free cart systes.

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 online storefront. One downside is that you have to constantly monitor the shopping cart provider's web site for security news. You will also need to manually update the free shopping cart software every time a new security patch is released. Often, the patch is not made available until the flaw has been exploited and often its not even produced by the group behind the software, but form the community that uses it. This requires a large investment of time and code knowledge. 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 carts include an easy to use admin panel to do all of this, but they are usually not as robust as as other cart solutions 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 paid and managed ecommerce solution.

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 an all out site with all the options, bells and whistles. Because of this, you may still want to find the right package for your needs. Then, as your business grows you can update, upgrade and add on the modules required to optimize your business. Many free carts are unable to do this without seriously jeopardizing the core of the program - and if something goes wrong with the customization or the installation who do you call? The manufacturer? The person who offered to assist you on the forum for the software that has no incentive to improve other than the general public adding to the dynamics of the cart.

MudN'Works can work with many of the open source and free cart systems, however it all falls down to the first rule of economics: There is no such thing as a free lunch.