In the past several months, we had the opportunity to work with four different e-commerce shopping cart packages. We compared ZenCart, CRELoaded, OpenCart and Magento.

All carts are open source, meaning that the code is completely editable by professionals. CRELoaded is supported by a single company whereas the other three are supported by a community of volunteers. Entire communities of people and companies have sprung up around these software packages to provide direct support for the e-commerce software, and to build plug-ins which extend the functionality of the software. Some are free, some have a fee.

Each cart comes with an amazing array of features. How to decide which one is for you?

Step 1: Feature List
Start with a list of features that you want your cart to have. You’ll want to consider how you sell your product, how you ship your product, how you charge for tax, etc. Below is a fraction of such a list:

  • allow you to update content on your own
  • list products by manufacturer
  • track inventory
  • integrate with QuickBooks
  • accept credit cards
  • accept partial payments
  • group pricing
  • bulk discounts
  • bulk discounts across categories
  • mailing list sign up
  • mailing list export
  • integrate with a POS database
  • allow you to post specials
  • maintain a wish list
  • accept multiple currencies
  • provide different shipping rates depending on the area
  • prevent shipping certain countries
  • sign up to a consumer mailing list

Label your features with ‘must have’, ‘nice to have’ and ‘future wish list’. A helpful way to build your own list is to find a website that has a similar business model to you and see what features they have.

Step 2: Find your match
Compare your features list with the specs and features on the shopping cart software. In a perfect world, you’d look for software that has the highest number of matches. In reality, some priorities, even in the high-priority group, will be higher than others. Also, consider that there may be some tasks which a person can easily do manually that may be difficult to automate.

Step 3: Implement
You want get into the software as soon as possible and start adding products, categories, pricing, discounts, etc… everything that you would need to run your e-store. It’s far better to explore the software earlier on in the process before too much work has been done.

There are many other carts available, including ones for content management systems such as WordPress and Joomla. And there are options for putting cart-like features in your site without running the software on your website, such as PayPal and Google Checkout. The carts reviewed above all run on your website, so you have full control over their function. And the ongoing fees are little to none.

As you might imagine, there are many options. We find the more clear you can be up front with what you need, the easier it is to get what you want.