Review of Three Leading Shopping Cart Solutions

The shopping cart used for your Internet store is a significant decision for any online business.  Like the purchase of a brick-and-mortar store, the chosen store software must meet the business’ needs for today and the  for the next few years.

I want to provide a comparison of three shopping-cart solutions.  This comparison is not be a tabled list of features and function, but rather a comparison of three different approaches to shopping carts that fulfill different business needs.

OS-Commerce Magento are two open source shopping-cart solutions and because they are both open source solutions (free).  Some may see them as too similar to be used in this comparison.  But they differ significantly in their  feature set and, in my opinion, their target business.

The third shopping-cart solution is a software as a service solution (SaaS).  A SaaS shopping cart is provided by businesses such as Volusion to provide a turnkey shopping-cart solution.  They include the shopping-cart software, web hosting and support for a monthly fee.  The SaaS model is available for a number of software packages.  As an example, Microsoft will host their Exchange software for email and group scheduling  as a SaaS.   Others offer project-management and contact-management solutions.  Constant Contact is an example of SaaS.

OS-Commerce is a no-thrills  open source solution.  The shopping cart has all the basic features you would expect from a shopping cart such as multiple price levels, support for foreign currencies and a good selection of add-in modules to extend the features when you need them.  OSC is written in PHP and uses the MySQL database, which makes it highly customizable.  So if you want to create a custom feature or interface, it is very easy to change with the right technical skills. Although there is a good number of plug-in modules to extend the features of the core software, not all of the modules will work together, or they may need some custom changes to make them work as a seamless solution.  The software does not require a lot of server power and can be an excellent solution for a startup Internet store or a store with a limited number of products.

Magento is one of the premier shopping-cart solutions. It is available as an open source solution (community version), a professional version and an enterprise solution.  The costs vary from free to an annual  price that starts at around $12,000 for the enterprise solution.  Lowe’s, Ford Motor Company and Dockers  use Magento.   Magento was introduced after OS-Commerce and, as a next-generation solution, it provides considerably more features than OS-Commerce.

Like OS-Commerce, Magento is written in PHP and uses the MySQL database.  Magento’s many  features do have a cost. The shopping cart is more complex and the database resource requires a larger web-hosting server.  Magento will not run well on most entry-level hosting solutions.  To be done right it needs to be on a dedicated web server, which drives the cost up.   The software has an excellent developer community with a wide range of add-on modules to extend the product.

Volusion is a popular SaaS shopping cart.  The feature set will meet the requirements of most small to mid-size Internet Merchants.  The shopping-cart fee is based on the number of products in the catalog.  The more products you have, the higher the price.   Pricing varies from $29 to to $179 per month.  The top-level package will support an unlimited number of products and has a few additional features.

Volusion has some noteworthy customers, such as Disney, National Geographic and Motorola.  The primary reason to go with a shopping cart like Volusion is to have a fixed monthly cost for the shopping cart, hosting services and support.  It removes the need to have a technical person to manage and customize the Internet store, because there is very little that can be done outside of the look and feel of the store.   Volusion wants to be the center of your business.  It  wants to manage your inventory and be the sole repository for your product data.  Data can be imported and exported from Volusion, but the ability to automate the transfers is limited.

Which solution is right for your business?

If you are a startup Internet retailer with a limited budget, consider OS-Commerce or Volusion.  OS-Commerce is fully customizable and can be hosted at almost any web-hosting provider, so it is one of the lowest-cost solutions that can be customized.   Select a SaaS solution like Volusion if you want to focus on running your store and not dealing with backups, website viruses and needing a custom solution.

If your store requires a robust feature set to start with and the business budget will support it, Magento could be a good fit.

If you sell products with multiple sizes, flavors, colors or other product attributes, then OS-Commerce is not a good choice.

If your store will have frequent product changes, inventory sourced outside of the store or daily product feeds to other websites, consider an open source solution that will make these custom changes easier to implement.

Business growth is also a consideration.  If you think your online business is going to grow, consider a solution that will be able to grow with you.  Magento would be my first choice for a business that can afford the financial cost and effort required to get the shopping cart up and running.  It is a good solution that has one of the best feature sets and the ability to grow with your business.