What is shopping cart software?

If you are new to ecommerce and are looking to learn the ecommerce basics such as "What is a shopping cart?", you've come to the right place.

What is ecommerce?

The term ecommerce, also referred to as e-Commerce, is short for "electronic commerce", which is the term used when a business sells goods and services on the Internet to people who want to buy from their website.

Terms and phrases such as "online store", "online shop", "store front", "web shop", "web store", "eShop", "ecommerce website" are all just different ways of saying the same thing, a website that sells something online.

How can I turn a website into an online store?

Shopping cart software is used to turn a website into an online store, creating a new online sales and marketing channel for a business, essential in today's Internet connected online marketplace.

An online shopping cart, also referred to as an online shopping basket, is ecommerce software designed for selling online from a website and can be used to sell one item or thousands of items from an online store.

Shopping cart software has a wide range of uses for businesses looking to;

  • Sell products
  • Sell tangible goods
  • Sell digital products, e.g. selling PDF e-Books, music, audio tracks, software, multi-media and video.

  • Sell services
  • Sell personalised items
  • Collect online donations

How does shopping cart software work?

Buyers who visit your website need a way to purchase what you are selling and they do this by creating an order from your website, which is why ecommerce shopping cart software is needed.

Shoppers typically do this by browsing your web pages, looking at the images and descriptions about the products and services you are selling, adding different items to their shopping cart to create an order. When the buyer is ready to pay for their order, the shopping cart software allows them to checkout, which is the process of finalising the order.

The store checkout process is responsible for capturing customer details, adding any delivery and shipping charges and initiating the payment process. A business may choose to have their shopping cart offer the customer a choice of several different ways to pay for their order, such as the following online payment and offline payment options:

  • Online debit card or credit card payment
  • Pay by bank transfer
  • Pay by phone

  • Online PayPal payment or PayPal money transfer
  • Pay on collection
  • Pay on delivery

To accept credit card payments and debit card payments online, you combine your shopping cart software with an online payment processor, also called a payment gateway.

Why a shopping cart needs a payment processor?

A payment processor, also called a payment gateway, is an online service capable of securily capturing customer credit card details and performing the online payment transaction.

Your customer uses the online payment processor to pay for their order, initiating the transfer of money from your shoppers debit card or credit card issuing bank to your merchant account held at your businesses acquiring bank.

The shopping cart software handles the communication between your website's online store and the payment gateway, and can transfer your shopper over to your secure online payment processor for the buyer to securily enter their card details. The shopping cart software passes several key details to the online payment processor, such as the payment amount required for the order, customer details, such as name and address, and a unique order reference.

Once a shopper has completed their online order payment, your payment processor will communicate the outcome of the payment back to your shopping cart so it marks which orders have been paid for. This in turn can trigger any completed order events, such as automatically sending an email order receipt or order invoice to the customer, or automatically granting access to purchased digital content.

Each payment processor will have their own particular way in which they need the order details to be sent across to it. The ecommerce software needs to have been specifically written to make it compatible with each different payment processor that it connects with, as each payment processor does things differently.

Difference between hosted shopping cart and installed shopping cart software?

  • Hosted shopping cart software
  • Installed shopping cart software

Hosted shopping cart software : An ecommerce solution where you fully manage your shopping cart online. There is no software to install on your computer or your web host, instead it is hosted as a service by the ecommerce solution provider. This type of ecommerce solution avoids you having to perform the ongoing maintenance and upgrade process and avoids you having to get to grips with managing databases and allows you to focus on your business.

Installed shopping cart software : Ecommerce software that requires you to install the shopping cart software onto your own web host and sometimes install the online shop management software on to your own computer. This type of software requires more ongoing maintenance to run and it is your responsibility to ensure all the technical parts your online store function, performing any upgrades the software needs to gain new features you want or to fix any issues or bugs that are discovered in the version you have installed.

Different types of shopping cart software?

  • "Out of the box" or "Off the shelf" ecommerce software

"Out of the box" or "Off the shelf" ecommerce software is pre-developed by an ecommerce software company to meet a wide range of common business requirements for selling online. Typically, this type of ecommerce software is ideal for small to medium sized businesses (SME's) setting up an online shop.

  • Custom developed ecommerce software

Custom developed ecommerce software : Your exact online business requirements are turned into bespoke ecommerce software specific to your business requirements. Bespoke ecommerce software is often only affordable to large businesses and enterprises, or is a necessity for a smaller business with a very specific set of needs not served by an off the shelf solution.

There are various pro's and con's to both approaches and it depends on the specific requirements of a business, with a key factor being the budget available. "Out of the box" software will be a much more cost effective solution for a small business because it is already in-use by many many online stores, so the overall cost of development, support and maintenance is effectively shared by all the people using that ecommerce solution. A custom ecommerce solution, will have a much higher cost in both your time and money because the ecommmerce software is specific to you, so your business will need to pay the full cost of development and fully specify the exact requirements for every aspect of your online store.

Difference between e-commerce and m-commerce shopping cart software?

The term m-commerce is short for "mobile ecommerce". Both e-commerce and m-commerce involve buying and selling on the Internet. People conducting business with their mobile phone or other handheld wireless devices fall into the category of m-commerce.

A well designed shopping cart can be capable of handling both m-commerce and e-commerce payments for your online store. The needs of a shopper on a small screen mobile device are different to those on a larger screen computer, so a good shopping cart will automatically adapt to best meet the needs of the mobile shopper.

A shopper on a mobile device will want the shopping cart checkout to fit neatly into their smaller screen, making it easier to complete the checkout. Another consideration for the mobile shopper is that they will often be on a slower Internet connection, so a mobile optimised store checkout will be designed to be small and lightweight so it is fast to load.

Meeting the needs of the mobile shopper reduces the likelyhood of shopping cart abandonment because it was too slow and frustrating using your online store.