Future-Proofing Your Shopping Cart

Max Vydrin
by Max Vydrin 03 Jun, 2013

Today there are dozens of online shopping carts on the market, and picking the right one ultimately depends on the level of sophistication an online merchant requires. However, the needs of an ecommerce site invariably grow as the business matures, requiring upgrades or replacement cycles that could have been avoided with greater foresight.

When evaluating a shopping cart, the points of comparison may seem endless and the differences aren't always clear, so it helps to consider the almost certain need for future modifications and extensions, and the latest higher-level innovations happening in this space. Here are some parameters to consider so you won't outgrow your software too soon.

Combining Flexibility with Ease-of-Use

To date, shopping cart providers have been segmented into two main categories:

1. Licensed software: The software is downloaded and then installed on a Web server. This is most often associated with a lifetime license and a one-time fee, although there are many free products available as well. The main advantage of this option has been that the online merchant can access the source code and edit it to customize his or her application, while the disadvantages include high maintenance costs (including servers, administrators and programmers).

2. Hosted service: This cloud option is never downloaded, but rather is provided by a hosted service provider and is generally paid for on a monthly/annual basis. Some of these services also charge a percentage of sales in addition to the monthly fee. This model often has predefined templates that an online merchant can choose from to customize look and feel, which may limit how much software modification is possible.

Downloadable solutions from a hosted shopping cart provider are often the choice for non-technical people who want to start selling today. There is no software to install and no lengthy set-up process. The drawback to this approach, of course, has been that customization options are limited. The fact is, though, that store features are changing all the time. Even though a chosen ecommerce platform may have a lot of features and suit a merchant's needs today, there will almost certainly come a time when the merchant needs to customize some business logic into the platform. In the past, if an online merchant using a hosted shopping cart needed to change a major feature like a shipping provider, they would most likely need to switch their shopping cart. Not an optimal solution.

Ideally, businesses should be able to modify anything in their stores, at any time. To this end, some hosted shopping cart providers have taken the innovative step of making source code available to developers and designers, giving them total control over the code and design of stores and the end-user experience. Developers can change anything they want to - Web design, extra features and even core functionality - as well as easily extend store capabilities. APIs and applications have always allowed organizations to build custom logic, but this is not the same as having the ability to change core functionality.

All of this means that online merchants no longer have to choose between customizing their storefront and enjoying the benefits of a hosted model, specifically instant and easy access to an online store. It is truly possible to have the best of both worlds - flexibility combined with ease-of-use.

Vibrant Partner Ecosystem

The enterprise software industry has long understood the value of a cohesive community ecosystem. Taking a page from this book, leading shopping cart providers are now organizing similar ecosystems, and the entire community benefits when there's a marketplace for shopping cart module extensions.

The shopping cart providers themselves don't have to build every single feature or function. Developers can have direct access to online merchants and can make commissions from sales from their extensions (in essence, shopping cart providers can do the marketing and advertising work for the developers). And perhaps most importantly, online merchants gain access to greater functionality quickly and easily, helping them be more successful.


Within the crowded market for shopping cart providers, there's good news: It's never been easier to create a compelling and convenient online shopping experience. Superior ease of use enabled through a hosted model and the flexibility to modify one's own storefront no longer have to be mutually exclusive. This, along with partner ecosystems that make new, innovative storefront enhancements readily available, represents the future of shopping carts. Online merchants should bear this in mind as they compare and evaluate all the options available to them. The result will be making a long-lasting investment, rather than one you'll quickly outgrow.