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What Is an Ecommerce Shopping Cart and Why Does It Matter? (2023)


Add to Cart is one of the most pivotal moments in a customer’s journey—the point when someone shifts from merely browsing to potentially making a purchase.

But choosing the wrong shopping cart solution or having a poorly designed checkout flow can deter potential customers before they complete the checkout process, which is why it’s important to create a great shopping cart experience for your ecommerce store.

Below, we define the meaning of a shopping cart for ecommerce businesses and explore how to add one to your website. We’ll also provide several top-of-the-market options, including Shopify’s shopping cart integration.

What is an ecommerce shopping cart?

An ecommerce shopping cart is a software that lets customers select, store, and manage items before buying them. It reflects the concept of shopping in a store. You can add items to the cart that you want to buy, change the quantity, and get a total cost before finishing the transaction.

There are two main types of ecommerce shopping carts:

  1. Hosted/self-hosted shopping cart. This type of ecommerce shopping cart is provided by a third party. Typically, it’s easy to set up and integrate with other business tools and platforms. Hosted shopping carts are great options for new businesses and businesses with limited technical resources.
  2. Licensed shopping cart. A licensed ecommerce shopping cart is completely custom. While you have more control over the functionality and design, it requires more technical resources for implementation and maintenance. Typically, licensed shopping carts are good for enterprise businesses or merchants with complex tech stacks.

How to choose the right ecommerce shopping cart

Consider the following factors when researching options for your online store’s shopping cart:

Pricing

All merchants need to consider budget when selecting an online shopping cart. And this goes beyond simply looking for the best price. Sometimes, the cheapest option isn’t the best option.

Typically, self-hosted ecommerce shopping carts are more affordable, but they’re not always the best. They have more limited functionality when compared to a full-featured option like Shopify, and you also need to invest in technical resources to build and maintain it.

When looking at pricing as a retailer, consider the following:

  • Monthly fees
  • Payment processing fees
  • Minimum transaction volume requirements
  • Transfer fees
  • Cancellation or early termination fees

Integrations

You’ll want to look for an online shopping cart that offers not only integrations with your existing ecommerce platform and tech stack but additional options as well. Chances are, your online business will grow over time—and you need business tools and ecommerce solutions that can adapt and grow with you.

Accepted payment types

It’s important to select an online shopping cart that works with a variety of payment methods, including debit and credit card, mobile wallets, PayPal, and buy now, pay later services, among others. 

Additional payment options can boost not only conversions but also average order value (AOV). One in four merchants using Shop Pay Installments double AOV when allowing customers to spread the cost over monthly payments, for example. Flexible payment options increase consumer spending power.

Customization

You want to be able to adjust the look and feel of your online shopping cart to both match your branding and optimize the user experience for the most sales. An estimated $260 billion worth of lost orders are recoverable solely through a better checkout flow and design. With some improvements to the checkout page design, a large ecommerce business has the potential to drive a 35.26% increase in conversion rate.

This might involve reducing the number of steps in your checkout flow to reduce friction. The average US checkout flow contains 23 form elements by default—that’s a lot of data to input. With an ecommerce shopping cart like Shop Pay’s 1-click checkout, you can simplify the flow and make it easier for shoppers to convert.

Shipping options

High shipping costs are a leading cause of shopping cart abandonment. Find an ecommerce shopping cart that allows you to customize shipping options and even let customers select how they want their orders shipped.

More importantly, ensure the shopping cart experience makes these costs transparent. Many shoppers abandon their cart because they can’t calculate the total order cost upfront. It’s your job to do this for them.

User experience

User experience (UX) refers to how easy it is for customers to interact with an ecommerce platform, including its shopping cart. Well-designed customer experience can directly influence a customer’s likelihood to buy and come back for more.

A cart that allows customers to easily add and remove products, view total costs, complete checkout securely and easily, and navigate between the cart and store is likely to increase customer satisfaction.

Analytics

An ecommerce shopping cart software can track, collect, and present data related to customer behavior and sales. 

Customers’ interactions with the shopping cart—such as products added or removed, time spent in the cart, and cart abandonment rate—can provide valuable insights for improving an ecommerce site. It could indicate issues like a complicated checkout process or unexpected shipping costs if the analytics reveal a high cart abandonment rate.

Best shopping cart software for ecommerce

It’s important to choose the right platform for your small business, today and in the future. It takes a lot of time and effort to implement business technology, and changing platforms down the line can be timely, costly, and stressful.

Shopify

Shopify offers a Level 1 PCI-DSS-compliant (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) online shopping cart for new, established, and growing ecommerce merchants. Shopify handles payments directly over SSL encryption, no third-party accounts required. 

You can also use over 100 payment gateways and customize it for international selling, including more than 50 different languages, tax rates, and currencies. And if you depend on mobile commerce, it’s optimized for that too.

As far as shipping goes, Shopify’s online shopping cart lets merchants choose fixed-price, tiered, location-based, or weight-based rates. Advanced plan subscribers can also receive automatic shipping rates from major carriers like UPS, USPS, and FedEx.

With marketing tools, you can send automatic cart abandonment recovery campaigns via email, as well as create customer profiles with saved payment information for easier checkout.

Shop Pay checkout is the fastest and highest-converting online shopping cart out there. Websites that use Shop Pay convert 1.91 times more than regular checkouts.

Example of ecommerce brand Allbirds checkout using Shop Pay
Allbirds shopping cart and checkout process using Shop Pay

You can also add the Shopify Buy Button to other websites you might have, such as a blog, a landing page, or an online storefront on a different ecommerce site builder. This creates a seamless Shopify checkout experience outside of the Shopify ecommerce platform.

When you use Shopify, you get access to a whole suite of business tools to help you run every aspect of your business. With a library of thousands of third-party apps, you can create a well-rounded tech stack that meets all of your business needs for online or in-person selling.

Here’s the Shopify online shopping cart at a glance:

  • Pricing: Basic Shopify: $39/month; Advanced Shopify: $399/month.
  • Payment types: Credit and debit card; mobile wallet; payment installments; third-party integrations offer a comprehensive list of accepted and compatible payment types. More than 100 supported payment gateways.
  • International payments: Global currency conversion; 50+ languages; customizable tax settings.
  • Ecommerce integrations: Shopify; Buy Button compatible with a range of platforms.
  • Other business tool integrations: Works seamlessly with Shopify suite of business tools; thousands of third-party apps in Shopify App Store.
  • Shipping options: Automatic carrier rates (Advanced Shopify); fixed-price, tiered, location-based, or weight-based rates.
  • Customization: Match your Shopify site branding.

ShopWired

ShopWired is an online shopping cart and basic ecommerce site builder in one. You can create a customized and branded online store and sell on multiple channels.

Shopping cart features include free SSL security with 256-bit encryption, abandoned cart recovery functionality, and automatic sales tax calculations. ShopWired also allows merchants to customize shipping zones and rates, as well as offer free shipping.

ShopWired has a two-click checkout to reduce friction and integrates, with more than 60 different payment gateway providers. Customers can also use buy now, pay later options, and merchants can collect payments while offline.

All that being said, ShopWired lacks a companion mobile app, so it makes it more difficult to manage everything in your business while on the go.

ShopWired online shopping cart at a glance:

  • Pricing: Pro: $29.95/month; Advanced: $59.95/month; Premium: $119.95/month; annual billing gets 20% discount. No transaction fees. Free 14-day trial. No minimum contract.
  • Payment types: Credit and debit card; Apple Pay; Google Pay; PayPal; Klarna; Laybuy; Zip Pay; Clearpay; Stripe; more than 60 supported payment gateways.
  • International payments: More than 40 international payment gateways; customers can see product and shipping pricing in their currency.
  • Ecommerce integrations: Facebook; Instagram; Google Shopping; eBay; Etsy; Amazon; AliExpress.
  • Other business tool integrations: Klaviyo; QuickBooks; TaxJar; Reviews.io; Veeqo; Vend; Xero; and more.
  • Shipping options: Customize shipping zones and rates; offer free shipping; install free shipping apps to expand options. Integrations with ShipStation, ShippingEasy, and Shippo for label printing.
  • Customization: Match your branding.

OpenCart

OpenCart is an open-source ecommerce cart ideal for businesses with the technical expertise and resources needed to build and customize an effective checkout. This is an especially attractive option for budget-conscious merchants, as it’s free to download and use. But, again, you need technical resources to build an effective online shopping cart with OpenCart.

OpenCart online shopping cart at a glance:

  • Pricing: Free version available; Premium: $99/month; One Time Fix: custom quote; free trial also available; extensions may be free or paid.
  • Payment types: Credit and debit card; mobile wallet; Amazon Pay; PayPal; Klarna; Afterpay. Recurring payments also available.
  • International payments: Yes; global currencies; 40+ languages.
  • Ecommerce integrations: Amazon.
  • Other business tool integrations: More than 13,000 third-party extensions. Google Shopping; Facebook; Square; PayPal; Authorize.Net; First Data; LiqPay; Skrill; and more.
  • Shipping options: Integrations with Australia Post, Citylink, FedEx, Parcelforce, Royal mail, UPS, USPS, and more. Many third-party OpenCart extensions to choose from; may come with additional fees.
  • Customization: Discounts, coupons, and specials; overall, merchants have tons of flexibility, as long as they have the resources to take advantage of the platform.

Weebly

Ecwid shopping cart example
Example of an ecommerce shopping cart using Weebly

Weebly is a basic online store builder with affordable pricing options. It’s owned by Square, so it integrates seamlessly with other Square-owned platforms. If you don’t have the technical know-how or resources, Weebly is a friendly entry-level online shopping cart to use.

However, it has its limitations. Weebly is more restricted than other online shopping carts when it comes to functionality and customization. Because it’s so affordable, it also scales back on features.

However, merchants can post store return and shipping policies, allow customers to add notes in a dedicated field in the checkout flow, and grow your email marketing list.

The Weebly online shopping cart at a glance:

  • Pricing: Free basic account; Personal: $13/month ($10/month billed annually); Professional: $16/month ($12/month billed annually); Performance: $29/month, ($26/month billed annually).
  • Payment types: Credit and debit card; Square; Stripe; PayPal; Apple Pay; Android Pay.
  • International payments: Depends on payment gateway.
  • Ecommerce integrations: n/a (Weebly is an ecommerce platform). 
  • Other business tool integrations: Square suite of tools and integrations.
  • Shipping options: Automatically calculate and display shipping costs based on weight, number of products, location, and carrier.
  • Customization: User-friendly drag-and-drop editing; add field for customer notes; automatic sales tax calculator; security badges; abandoned cart.

Ecwid

ECWid checkout process example 
Customer paying for products in an ecommerce store run on Ecwid.

Ecwid is a bit different from other options on this list because while it offers a dedicated online store builder, its main purpose is to turn a portfolio of websites into ecommerce sites. Essentially, you add Ecwid to your existing websites, landing pages, or digital entities and that allows users to add products to a shopping cart and then buy them.

Like Weebly, Ecwid is user-friendly and you don’t need technical coding skills to start selling online. Once you add it to your various digital properties, Ecwid syncs and centralizes all your order data to avoid discrepancies.

You can certainly use Ecwid’s online store builder, but it lacks the depth of features growing brands need.

Ecwid online shopping cart at a glance:

  • Pricing: Free to build and launch your store with up to 5 products; monthly paid plans start at $19 ($14.08/month if paid annually); no additional transaction fees.
  • Payment types: Credit and debit cards; Apple Pay; Google Pay; cryptocurrency; gift cards; promo codes.
  • International payments: Support for all official global currencies.
  • Ecommerce integrations: Ecwid; WordPress; Amazon; Wix; eBay.
  • Other business tool integrations: MailChimp; Google Ads; Facebook; Square; Clover; Vend; Alice; Instagram; Google Shopping.
  • Shipping options: Automatically estimate shipping costs when provided customer location.
  • Customization: Upsell related products; set minimum purchase amount; display or hide store footer.

Why choosing the right ecommerce shopping cart is important

Picking the best software will make the shopping cart experience seamless and customers more likely to buy. This is the last place a customer visits before they make a purchase. You don’t want to lose them here to shopping cart abandonment.

The average cart abandonment rate is almost 70%. When you choose the right ecommerce shopping cart for your online store, you can salvage many of these lost sales and boost your conversion rate.

Plus, you actually need an ecommerce shopping cart to convert online sales, accept payments, and process transactions. Without it, online shoppers would have no way of choosing items and paying for them. Your ecommerce site would simply be a website without ecommerce functionality.

Modern online shopping carts also store important data you can use for other purposes, including marketing, forecasting, and pricing strategies.


Ecommerce shopping cart FAQ

What is a shopping cart in ecommerce?

A shopping cart in ecommerce is a type of software that allows customers to purchase items from your shop or store a list of the items they wish to purchase in the future.

Who has the best shopping cart?

Shopify is the best shopping cart. Shop Pay is the fastest and highest-converting online shopping cart available.

How much does an online shopping cart cost?

An online shopping cart can cost anywhere from free to a few hundred dollars per month.

How do I make a cart for my ecommerce website?

You can make a cart for your ecommerce website via a self-hosted or licensed shopping cart. A self-hosted cart has fewer steps and relies on integrations, while a licensed shopping cart is built custom from scratch.

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