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Shopping cart: free, hosted or premium?

online_shoppingPros and cons of different types of e-commerce solutions

When you decide to have an e-shop, one of the most important things you should consider is the platform you’ll use for it. Online shopping activities need to be managed correctly and efficiently, and after you choose an e-commerce solution, you most likely won’t change it in the future. Luckily, there are a lot of shopping carts out there, coming with a variety of functionality and prices. Take your time to go through different solutions and choose the one that best suits your needs, capabilities and budget.


There are several key factors that you should consider before making your final decision. First of all, think about your level of expertise – can you do the design yourself, or do you understand something about programming? Will you be the administrator of your e-shop or do you not have a clue about administrating web pages?  When deciding which part of your e-shop you can do yourself and which part you’ll have to rely on other people to do, knowing the answers to these questions will make your choice easier. The next step is to determine your budget. The budget amount and your skills will help you decide which group of e-commerce solutions to look through. In general you can choose between three groups of solutions: hosted, open-source and premium shopping carts. Each one of them has its advantages and disadvantages. Which group you choose a solution from depends on your specific needs; there is no right or wrong choice.


Hosted solutions

Usually these e-commerce solutions are provided in the same way as hosting services – users have predefined packages to choose from. The plans differ by number of products, features, monthly bandwidth, etc.



  • No technical skills required. The setup is done by the host, and you get everything that you need on the back-end, so you won’t need to do any programming. And you won’t be required to provide a security certificate, so you can set up your shop and start doing business right away.
  • Little work for you. Many of the hosted solutions provide a great experience for your visitors without your intervention. The vendor of the cart takes care of your e-shop and provides you the opportunity to customize the things that really need to be customized.  Hosted solutions are in most cases easy to use and administer from your side, as the “hard work” is done by the host.
  • Security. Hosted solutions will give you the benefit of working with a secure and stable e-shop. And you can rely on the host’s on-going support.



  • Monthly fee. You should pay for your hosted solution, usually on a monthly basis.
  • Less control. You may be given less control over your website, so it may be difficult to design your e-shop as you wish. Check the design options before you decide to use any e-commerce solution. At the end of the day, you want your online store to look like you believe it should look like, right? Usually, with hosted solutions you’ll have only limited access to the source code, so you won’t be able to modify the functionality.
  • Risk losing the e-shop. If the host closes its business, you’ll be left without a shopping cart. So if you choose a hosted solution, do your research and pick out a reliable company which is less likely to stop working.


Hosted shopping carts are preferred by e-store owners who want a solution that’s easy to set up and administer, without requiring technical skills. Choosing a hosted solution will give you more time to develop your business instead of developing your e-shop.


Note: Assure yourself that your host provider is not accessing your customer sensitive data or your database of e-mails, as these kinds of actions will reflect badly on your reputation. Check their privacy policy.


Open-source solutions

Usually, these solutions are free and they come with all the pros and cons of open-source software.



  • Free. But they still cost something to run. You need to have your own web server. The cost and challenges of maintaining it and making sure that your e-shop runs as fast and securely as possible sometimes make this benefit a con.
  • A lot of customization. It’s not even a customization; you develop your e-shop according to your needs and wishes. Designers and developers prefer open-source solutions because of their flexibility.
  • More control. You’ll have more control not only over the e-shop and its design, but also over other areas.  For example, moving to another web host will be easier in the event that you need to move, and your shop can be more cost-effective – because you can avoid transaction and listing fees.



  • No technical support. The support you can rely on is usually done in a forum by other users of the solution. If you have no or few programming skills, open-source solution is definitely not the right choice for you.
  • Not a full package of features. In most cases, paid shopping carts have more features. Do proper research to find out what functionality each solution offers and confirm that they meet your requirements.
  • Security risks. You’ll be working with online payments, so there are many security risks to consider. You’ll need to regularly update the shopping cart scripts and if you’re not comfortable with taking responsibility for the security, it’s better to choose a hosted e-commerce solution.


Premium shopping carts


Premium shopping carts have mainly the same pros as hosted solutions – they’re secure, require no technical skills of you, and by using them, you can focus on the actual business. Differences are that they are paid at the beginning – a one-time fee for a lifetime license. You’ll get a software package, which should be installed on a compatible server. Usually you’ll get access to the source code, which can be modified according to your needs. If you have the required budget, premium shopping carts are the best decision for you – at the beginning the investment is big, but thereafter the costs are lower. You’ll have the freedom to own your e-shop, more control over it, and the possibility to customize it the way that you want – and all with technical support from the shopping cart producer at the same time.


Regardless which option for an e-commerce solution you choose, there are a couple of other factors that you should consider. You’ll need to be sure that the shopping cart can be used with your merchant account. Check if third-party vendors offer modules or services related to the solution you want – this will give you a choice of extra solutions. Consider the integration options with external systems. Not every operation can be done in your e-shop; external services are used for real-time shipping rates, payment and order processing, affiliate and statistics software.

Read more about the most popular and commonly used hosted, open-source and premium shopping carts in the next series of posts. 


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About Lili Petkova

Enthusiastic young online marketing professional. Fully engaged in the way how people communicate and react on different situations – both online, and offline. Living in Bulgaria - a country of contrast, where life is somewhere in the middle of Western countries and Asia. Love to travel, meet new cultures and friends. Blogging about how online tools, social networks and internet advertising can help small businesses to benefit from their online marketing.
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  • Halyna Yefymchuk

    Thank you for the post. I’d also like to add the comparison of open source and hosted shopping carts on the examples of specific platforms – OpenCart and BigCommerce.
    It reveals the difference in shopping cart functionality and the specific benefits the merchants can get with each option,