In the phenomenal growth of technology, merchants have a myriad of eCommerce platform choices to turn their brick-and-mortar store into an online one. If you’re at the dawn of building an online store and you’re on a shoestring, it may be a bit steep for you as running an online business can be expensive.
The good news is that you can build an online store for free. If you’re looking for it, then your arrival here is definitely the right decision. The article you’re about to read is the result of our painstaking research and analysis, intertwining with years of eCommerce-related experience. We’ll bring you:
- Criteria to choose the 5 best free shopping carts
- Top 5 best free shopping cart solution for you
- Which one is a good choice for your business?
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Criteria To Choose The 5 Best Free Shopping Cart Softwares
Most people looking for free shopping cart softwares usually put their thoughts into several indispensable criteria. In this article, we will introduce the 5 best free shopping cart softwares that have already undergone thorough research and been proven to hold eCommerce must-have features:
- Customization: Customization is important if you do not want to pay so much for third-party plugins. If a platform allows customization, you can design your store as you wish and create any function you want, but of course, technical skills will be required in this case. In view of the fact that most of the platforms we chose are open-source softwares, they are able to deliver a high level of customization.
- Product types: These free shopping cart softwares allow you to easily sell both digital and physical products.
- Various payment gateways and shipping methods: They integrate with various online payment gateways (Square, Stripe, or PayPal, etc.) and shipping methods which makes the paying and shipping process more efficient.
- Search engine optimization (SEO) capabilities: All chosen platforms offer you built-in SEO tools that help to enhance your Google ranking.
- Multichannel selling: Merchants can sell on different channels, which helps diversify the marketplace.
- Multilingual websites: These website builders enable merchants to display their store in various languages, which is a great approach to attract customers from all over the globe.
These aforementioned features have sketched an overarching picture of what these 5 free shopping cart softwares have in common. However, we all know that each of them comes with its own ins and outs. Without looking into it, your decision won’t probably hit all the right spots.
Right now, let’s see the best 5 free shopping cart softwares, the advantages and disadvantages they have, and whether any of them could be able to cater your business the way you want.
5 Best Free Shopping Cart Softwares
Since the establishment in 2009, Square has become a household name in payment processing and technology for small businesses. With the relaunch of the Square Online Store in early 2019, Square has allowed merchants to sell their products online.
What are the advantages of Square Online Store?
- Developed POS system
Square possesses many renowned products, one of which is the free and powerful Square POS. Therefore, Square Online Store can take great advantage of this. It is easy to integrate your store with a robust point of sale system. Orders, items, and inventory stay in sync between your online and physical stores to ensure streamlined inventory management.
Especially, if you are already using Square POS, you can just sign in to your account and your items will be automatically transferred to your online store. Then, you’ll be able to select which items you want to sell online.
- Ease of use
It is really quite simple to start an eCommerce business using Square Online Store. The platform makes eCommerce approachable for business owners of all backgrounds, you don’t need any technical experience to get started. On the whole, the interface is intuitive, clean, and gives you the prompts necessary to edit, customize, and publish your online store.
See this video to learn more about how easy it is to get around with Square Online Store.
- SEO & marketing
Square has abundant marketing features to help your business grow. It provides built-in SEO functionality with basic options such as permalink, and SEO title and description, both of which will improve your appearance in search engine results.
You can also create online coupons and utilize pop-ups for advertisements and gather a lot of email sign-ups. One of the most fantastic tools the platform offers is emailing, which gives users a number of options to optimize their sales process and promotion campaigns. Sellers can set up automatic emails with custom content and templates for order confirmation, shipment, cancellation or refund.
What are the weaknesses of Square Online Store?
Some people find this aspect of the Square Online Store to be the most frustrating. You’ll have to choose either free shipping for every item in your store or set a flat rate for all of your products upon setup. That’s a major problem if you’re selling pieces of a different weight or size, where the price may vary.
- Limited customization
With Square Online Store, when you go to edit each content block, you’ll notice some limitations. For example, you cannot adjust the size, shape, or location of text boxes. That makes it very difficult to fit text into your site in the exact way you had in mind. There will also be times that you probably want to bold the text, but you won’t be allowed to.
There are a few other limitations that you should keep in mind as you consider Square Online Store. To add a piece of content to your site, you have to select one of Square Online Store’s premade content blocks. You can’t simply add a text box to your website; you have to add an entire block. Also, there are no tools available for editing HTML or CSS. That means you cannot use web developers or designers to adjust the code of your site. You need to make all of the changes in the design tool.
Who should use Square Online Store?
Square Online Store is suitable for those who want to build an eCommerce store for free but still love to experience the most basic eCommerce features. The platform is not only able to offer them but also excels at a POS system and SEO & marketing tools. The gentle learning curve of this platform also helps you start your eCommerce experience easier, within a breeze.
Launched in 2011 by WooThemes developers, WooCommerce is a free open-source plugin for WordPress designed to quickly turn an existing WordPress website into a functioning online store. Developed by a very respectable company and backed by huge developer communities, WooCommerce possesses a various set of powerful built-in features & tools that help you deliver an engaging shopping experience to customers.
Its popularity is blossoming with each passing day. Up to now, WooCommerce is widely regarded as one of the most popular eCommerce solutions with 3,252,126 live sites, taking approximately 26% market share.
What are the strengths of WooCommerce?
- Easy installation
As WooCommerce is a plugin for WordPress, you can simply install it just like any other plugins.
It’s easy as a piece of cake to install WooCommerce. Simply head to “Plugins” in the left sidebar, search for “WooCommerce”, and click “Install Now”. Having activated the plugin, you’ll be then led to the setup wizard which will request you to fill in some basic information about your store. Once it completes, you’ll be navigated to your online store.
- Integration with WordPress
The integration with WordPress is very earthshaking to the success of WooCommerce. Besides its own resources, WooCommerce can reap the benefits from 56,640 robust plugins, 32,100 well-designed themes, tutorials, and values being constantly developed by the WordPress community. WordPress themes and plugins support the same PHP structure as WooCommerce, which means in most cases, WordPress themes or plugins can work with WooCommerce.
Moreover, WordPress has a huge developer and store owner community, therefore, WooCommerce users can ask for help there. You can visit the WordPress forum, or in the Facebook group “WooCommerce Help & Share” to see how they considerately give each other a helping hand.
- Powerful SEO
URLs in WooCommerce are flexible, which means you can always make URLs edits to optimize SEO. Go ahead and enable WordPress permalink to make sure your URLs are accessible to visitors and search engines alike. If you’re good at coding, you can also add alt text to images to boost SEO.
Besides, if you want to better crush the competition with your Google rankings, WooCommerce will have you covered. There are tons of extensions and plugins you can take advantage of to experience a variety of SEO functionalities. For example, WooCommerce’s users are able to experience Yoast SEO – the #1 SEO plugin, which assembles more than five million site users.
- REST API
If you’re confident with your technical skills, then you can turn WooCommerce REST API into a powerful tool for customization. The REST API provides a deeper level of customization than what you would get by just adding extensions. You can access the REST API via the settings tab, then read and write different parts of WooCommerce data, such as shipping zones, products, orders and coupons.
What are the weaknesses of WooCommerce?
- Speed performance
According to an insightful study conducted by Quanta, WooCommerce is bad at loading speed. The average page load time takes up to 776 milliseconds, and the average cart page loads in 1.32 second, which is a lot higher than the ideal response time recommended by Google
“There have been studies by Akamai who found that two seconds is actually the threshold for e-commerce site acceptability. Meaning that that’s what users like to shop with. At Google, we aim for under a half second.” (Maile Ohye, Google, 2010).
Remember that customers nowadays are impatient, so the more sluggish your website, the higher the chance that they will leave your site.
- Associated cost
Although WooCommerce is a free open-source solution, you still need to pay attention to the additional costs when getting a complete store running, such as hosting ($5-100 per month), a domain name (from $10 per year), an SSL certificate (free to more than $1000/year) and any additional extensions as your store grows.
- Potential coding conflicts
It’s awesome that there are tens of thousands of plugins that can serve different purposes. That said, there is nothing that guarantees that what one developer has created won’t conflict with something else on your site. These conflicts usually come about as a result of a conflict between two plugins, a conflict between your theme and a new or updated plugin, or a conflict between a plugin and your site’s current WordPress version
Resolving the problem requires a little patience and technical knowledge to identify the source of it. Thus, if you’re incapable of doing that on your own, you may pay for hiring someone to solve the problem.
Who should use WooCommerce?
WooCommerce is the right solution for you if you want to kick-start your business with a breeze. It is also a great option if you are a seasoned techie who would unhesitatingly do extra research to discover WooCommerce’s elaborate features and customization options. A lot of both free and paid extensions & plugins backed by a hugely supportive community will definitely help you effectively run your business.
However, always stay alert to stop yourself from falling indulgently in using too many plugins, otherwise, your site will slow down and that’s the last thing you’d want. Am I right or am I right? An alternative to a WordPress plugin is StoreKit, a free mobile ordering platform that you can link to your WordPress website via a URL. It’s easy to set up and has a fast load speed, and you can get started risk-free
Having worked in eCommerce for roughly a decade, we can vouch that Magento is the undisputed king of the e-commerce shopping cart. Many businesses gravitate towards Magento because of its fully functional and rich features. In reality, there are more than 771,000 websites using Magento according to Builtwith.
Despite the fact that a lot of store owners favor Magento, this theme also brings a bumpy ride for them. Now, let’s discover its strengths and weaknesses.
What are the strengths of Magento?
SEO is where Magento shows off its muscles with an extensive suite of SEO customization features. Index management allows you to have control over the links that get passed on to the search engine. There are also a lot of standard discoverability features, like the sitemap in XML variations. XML helps search engines understand the site’s structure easier and allows the search engines to find all of the site pages while some of those might be missed when indexing. The Magento configuration includes settings to generate and manage instructions for web crawlers and bots that index your site. The instructions are saved in a file called robots.txt that resides in the root of your Magento installation. The instructions are directives that are recognized and followed by most search engines.
Your store is loaded with places where you can enter keyword-rich metadata to improve the way search engines index your site. You can easily set idea meta-titles, keywords, descriptions for products, CMS pages keywords, categories. Moreover, you can take advantage of the mass settings to save time when editing these attributes.
allows modification of URL prefixes and suffixes, plus canonical tags for products and categories.
Rather than that, you can capitalize on speed enhancement, page layout, and rich snippets. When you need additional SEO tools, there are various plugins available that include full-stack analysis and tweaking functionality.
- Improved performance and scalability
Having undergone many refinements, Magento has had an improved indexer to speed up query performance. The indexer works to make regular data updates, including catalog data, users, prices and stores, to improve the overall speed of your online store.
The core integration of Magento with Varnish Cache – the leading HTTP accelerator technology, will enable you to provide full page caching for your online store, thus accelerating the page load speed. In the study by Quanta, Magento’s online cart load time is acceptable with a result of 568 milliseconds. We consider it to be reasonable enough to keep clients until the end of the sales funnel
What if your store’s got to deal with tons of orders at a time? Not a big deal. Magento is optimized to process a large sum of orders simultaneously, effectively handle a large inventory, and offer all the major payment gateways. Magento can process 39% more orders per hour, which is quite an impressive feat.
- Built-in features
Magento has everything you need to start running your business right away. Developers packed it with various eCommerce features. We will only crack down on the most essential features that this platform offers, and they are:
- Integrated Checkout, Payment, and Shipping: includes more payment sources for greater flexibility.
- Mobile Optimized Shopping: provides an optimal viewing experience across a wide range of devices (from desktop to mobile phones).
- Global Selling: provides the ability to transact in multiple countries, currencies, and use worldwide shipping providers.
- Catalog Management: manages the creation of rich content across many types of products: simple, configurable, bundled, and customer-personalized.
- Extended Functionality via App Marketplace: easily add capabilities and connectors for a nominal fee using the Magento Extensions Marketplace.
- Instant Purchase: provides returning customers with a faster checkout experience.
- Site Search: comes with ElasticSearch, which delivers high-quality search results that help boost conversion rates.
It’s hard for us to list down all the features Magento can provide merchants, so to dig deep into it, please have a look at the Magento Feature General List.
What are the weaknesses of Magento?
- Require excellent development skills
The default dashboard of Magento online store is full of terminologies making it difficult for merchants without the developer’s expertise. Especially when it comes to deep and sophisticated customization, with over 20,000 files and 200 database tables, not all developers know how to manage, a user with a poor technical background will undoubtedly have a hard time.
- Associated cost
Although Magento offers a free open-source edition, you’ll still need to pay for some associated costs, such as hosting ($12 a month), a domain name ($12 a year), an SSL certificate ($37 a year), and extensions.
Who should use Magento?
Magento stands out as a great option for those who have strong technical knowledge and don’t mind tinkering around with code to discover all features of Magento. Besides, your store will one day grow on a bigger scale, requiring a robust platform able to cater to your needs. In that case, built on a robust microservice architecture and equipped with tons of advanced features, Magento allows wide scope for site improvements, so retailers can unhesitatingly scale up their business to any size.
OpenCart was launched back in 2008 as an open-source PHP-based platform, using MySQL database and HTML components. One thing that reportedly stands out about OpenCart is its overall user-friendliness compared to another of its kind and the ability to manage multiple stores in a single backend. Currently, OpenCart has empowered 924,024 websites all around the world, accounting for 4% of the market share.
What are the strengths of OpenCart?
- An intuitive environment to get started
One of the things for which merchants praise OpenCart is its user-friendly interface. With a clean and simple dashboard, the learning curve in navigating the dashboard is virtually nonexistent, because all the information you need is accessible with just a glance.
The dashboard provides merchants with an overview of how your store is performing by the following data: Total Orders, Total Sales, Total Customers, People Online, Sales Analytics and many more.
- Great shipping method
OpenCart integrates the most common shipping methods that are available on all major e-commerce sites today. So you can use your national postal systems, such as the USPS, Australia Post, or Royal Mail. Also, it supports FedEx, UPS, and others. That way, you can make sure that your customers receive their purchases in a timely fashion using a manner that works with your current operations.
- Advanced multi-store capabilities
The multi-store compatibility is one of the biggest advantages of OpenCart. Normally, having and managing multiple stores can be very complex and time-consuming. However, OpenCart allows you to build multiple eCommerce stores and manage them from a single interface. You can evaluate your current orders, track your customers, sales, etc.
What are the weaknesses of OpenCart?
OpenCart limits its users to make certain important SEO modifications. For example, metadata adjustment as well as performing 301 redirects and canonical tags can turn out to be complex as they require PHP coding skills. What’s more, OpenCart doesn’t support individual URLs.
Although creating multiple stores is a strong feature of OpenCart, it can also be a drawback. When you begin to build multiple stores with OpenCart, you will find out that when you go through the design process, the same page on your website may have several different URLs. Hence, this creates an issue for SEO and forces you to handle canonization at a coding level to avoid spreading too much of your link equity.
Being a relatively light system, OpenCart isn’t able to provide great performance, and this isn’t ideal for scaling even on a strong hosting platform. One of the most notable performance-related issues OpenCart users usually encounter is the slow loading speed and check-out process.
A study of Quanta revealed disappointing results: websites using OpenCart are among the slowest of all platforms put into comparison, with an average load time of 831 milliseconds, which is more than 1.6 times higher than the Google guideline for SEO. Category pages are even slower with 936 milliseconds.
Who should use OpenCart?
If you own a small website with limited inventory and want to start your online business experience with a platform that has a short learning curve, OpenCart is a great option for you. Moreover, in case you wanna sell in multiple stores, OpenCart makes it easy for you with simple and seamless multiple store management. However, pay attention to the SEO-related issues, which is a serious matter of this platform.
PrestaShop is an open-source e-commerce solution, published under the Open Software License (OSL). The platform is written in the PHP programming language with support for the MySQL database management system. PrestaShop is currently used by stores worldwide and is available in 60 different languages.
What are the strengths of PrestaShop?
- Highly customizable
A PrestaShop store is the combination of two main elements: a frontend that’s easy to customize and a simple backend that’s simple to handle. All these make PrestaShop very user-friendly.
Once you have accessed the dashboard, you can easily get around with the daily operations. Right from the admin panel, you are able to easily add orders, edit orders, and apply discounts from the admin. You can also contact customers via email from the orders page.
- Strong user community
PrestaShop provides users with a strong community where they can get their questions answered. Particularly, the General Support Portal on the PrestaShop website offers you several support options, which include user guides and FAQs, contact details, user forums, and social media.
What are the weaknesses of PrestaShop?
- Extremely overpriced customer support
It’s inevitable that you’ll face problems that require you to look for support from the PrestaShop team. However, the number of hours you get for the support is unreasonably pricey. For only three hours of support, you end up paying $250 every month. Similarly, you’ll part with $399 every year for only six hours of support. For this reason, we consider it to be unaffordable for merchants running a business on a shoestring.
- Developer skills needed for deep customization
Being an open-source platform, PrestaShop is able to boast a dynamical level of customization. However, in order to maximize the functionalities of PrestaShop, you’ll need a strong technical background to tinker around with code. This means that if you have no technical experience, you’ll have to hire one.
Who should use PrestaShop?
If you are just a beginner in eCommerce, PrestaShop – with a short learning curve, will allow you to get to know the platform more quickly, so that you can start your online business just like a breeze.
Or if you’re technically familiar with CSS, PHP, and HTML (or can afford to hire a developer) you’ll find that PrestaShop is dynamically customizable. However, in hours of need for professional support, your budget may not be able to afford it.
If you’re starting an online store from scratch with a little budget, give your favor to one of those 5 best free shopping cart softwares. They offer all the necessary features to cater to your business. Knowing all your needs and requirements, you can find a good suitable one for your business.
Whichever route you decide to take when building your online store, always remember LitExtension is an optimal go-to choice when you’re in need of an eCommerce re-platforming tool to move your store to a new destination.
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