All too frequently nowadays I see posts on forums of this type”I wish to open an ecommerce store, what cart should I use?” Then there are scores of different responses from people all advocating their favourite solution. Rarely does anyone ask the original poster what they’re planning to sell, how many products they’ve and a plethora of important qualifications needed prior to a suitable recommendation is made.
Obviously if a new company relies on arbitrary answers on a forum because of their strategic planning, then the company is at risk!
There are 3 general answers, or rather there are 3 general solutions.
- A hosted cart, such as Magento Go or Bigcommerce
- A open source cart such as Magento or Open Cart
- WordPress using a cart expansion.
Each have their strengths and weaknesses, but none of them should be advocated without understanding more about the planned website.
This is an easy choice to take for the less technically minded. A 1 stop solution. You register, pay a monthly fee, and the server provides a shopping cart, templates, service, etc. all in one easy ready to go package. The software is kept current and security patches always applied. You’re typically paying more monthly than with the other solutions. However as a 1 stop solution there can be no doubt who to blame if things go wrong.
The drawbacks are several.
- As it’s a hosted solution, professionally endorsed, the server would like to make sure that all of the stores are running the same software. Thus the size of customisation is restricted. All the stores will have similar capabilities. Further there’s a propensity to limit the amount of templates available. This means it’s harder for your store to stick out above the crowd. This could hinder your search engine optimization options.
- Your ability to grow and expand is similarly hindered. Whilst the host may allow busier and busier shops they’ll surely charge more per month and the additional costs make the solution even less attractive. Further if an operation develops then the odds are the systems behind the operation will likewise grow with a growing number of interface requirements. Sooner or latter the hosted solution will be too costly to continue with, or really be impossible as a result of core business interface requirements.
- Moving away from a hosted solution can be hard. It’s certainly harder than simply moving hosts. This is because it’s a virtual certainty that you’ll need to not just move hosts but also carts at exactly the exact same time. This is where the largest (and often forgotten) investment you’ve made can be dropped. This investment is in your articles; your catalog. All of your product descriptions, product images, customer information, product reviews, mailing lists etc.. It’s easy to forget that this content has almost certainly cost you more to create than the whole of the rest of the web site.
- Some hosted solutions tie you into a lengthy contract. There could be penalty clauses and additional fees to leave and move elsewhere.
For a small website when you’re only beginning, then the benefits of a pain free store would likely outweigh the disadvantages. It would leave you with additional time to develop the company as opposed to waste time becoming an online expert.
WordPress using a cart extension
I see this being advocated a lot more frequently. I can understand why. WordPress is a really user friendly content management system. It’s very great for non technical people to set up and really upgrade. There are thousands of fantastic WordPress templates so it’s relatively easy to find one to fit your requirements. WordPress is also simple for developers/designers to tailor and improve your design. The huge majority of decent shared servers will readily support a WordPress solution.
Additionally it is easy to move hosts from 1 WordPress installation to another. So you become independent on hosts and can proceed if one needs to let you down.
In my view however the drawbacks are crucial.
- Its a blog. It’s made for blogs and comments on the sites. It’s very very good at this. It’s not designed as a cart. Whichever cart extension you use will remain a bolt to a blogging system. The weaknesses are going to be from the product search, the stock management, the order management. A busy site with many goods and tons of orders will most likely be very costly to administer in guy time.
- It’s a short term solution. If you would like your website to grow then sooner or latter you’ll need to migrate to appropriate cart. Again this is when the issue of transferring the content will appear.
Whilst I can see the sense of using WordPress for a small site with a few products, I’d tend to prevent it.
Open source carts.
These are created from the ground up to be ecommerce carts. Thus they remain the best alternative for Ecommerce shops. Carts like Magento and Open cart have a massive base of consumer and third party extensions. This means that you are likely to get an extension to do virtually whatever you require. Additionally, it means that anything goes wrong it’s very likely that somebody else has done it and they’ll be a solution posted on a forum somewhere. However this is a practical approach, and a number of your time will be spent doing technical things rather than simply selling.
Utilizing an open cart means that you could have an independent server. It means you could take your cart and catalog from host to host. Additionally, it makes it easier to migrate onto another cart as there are tons of services and tools available made to transfer the data from cart .
A popular cart will have thousands of templates available, so you should be able to find one to match your shop. Magento templates, however are more complicated than WordPress and thus more difficult to tailor.
The downsides of using an open cart are
- It would probably cost over a WordPress site to establish and run.
- More technical knowledge is required for both the setup and the continuing maintenance.
- Magento requires a more expensive server as it enjoys resources.
- Support is limited.
Overall I would always suggest a cart unless you’ve got a very few of goods or expect tens of thousands of orders. If you believe future growth and expansion a cart will provide you a firm foundation.