Shopping cart in the cloudImage credit: Mykl Roventine

One of the first decisions an online retailer makes is selecting a shopping cart platform for their eCommerce site. With the chaos of the holiday season behind us, several long time retailers also look to revisit this decision.

While there are numerous shopping cart choices available to merchants, one choice that they need to make is whether to go with a hosted shopping cart or a licensed/open-source shopping cart.

I have had this conversation several times with both, experienced and newbie online retailers. Today, I had another interesting discussion with one such long time retailer who switched from a hosted shopping cart to an open-source cart and then back to a hosted cart, all within the span of six months.

I had a chance to think about it some more and here is what I feel are some facts about hosted shopping cart platforms that are often misrepresented or just plain untrue.

Myth 1: A hosted shopping cart is not cost-effective

I want to address this first simply because making a decision based on price alone is the biggest mistake a merchant can make. Most merchants are attracted to licensed shopping carts because they are either free or have a fixed upfront cost. But here are some costs that they do not take into account:

Non-hosted shopping carts still need to be hosted. It’s just that you are bearing the cost of hosting it- either by running your own server (if you do that, you probably have made it to the big leagues) or by selecting a hosting provider.
When something goes wrong on your webstore, you are responsible to fix it. This may involve purchasing service contracts from the hosting provider or keeping developers on your payroll.
If you ever want to get that “one new feature” (say, that will protect your SEO from Google’s ever evolving search algorithm), you will probably have to upgrade to the next version. Which is not just painful and time-consuming but may also need you to bring down your site.

Myth 2: You lose the flexibility of customizing the cart to meet your needs

Open-source shopping carts, in theory, do let you customize your shopping cart to your heart’s content. (Heck you can rewrite the whole code base just the way you like) But then, listening to your heart is hard when the brain is thinking about the time and cost of development.

Given that we are now in the 2nd decade of the 21st century, most hosted shopping carts have public APIs that you can use to customize to your heart’s content. And if your brain starts turning scrooge, you can pick from the several hundreds of apps that have already built out the customization you are looking for.

May I take the liberty of mentioning one such app? Ordoro – The smartest shipping app!

Myth 3: Hosted shopping carts have limited scalability

The argument here is that since you own the hosting responsibilities, you are in complete control of ensuring that the website scales for traffic, visitors and eventually customers. And so you can add the resources – memory, processing power, bandwidth, etc necessary to handle the load.

But that assumes that you actually know what it takes to predict and accommodate the increase or spike in traffic to your website.

Popular hosted shopping carts have tens of thousands of successful businesses. They have seen and managed these problems hundreds of time year over year. They are in the business of managing visitor traffic increases and spikes. Most shopping carts have uptime guarantees and show history of service interruptions to build trust.

Myth 4: It is hard to port your website on a hosted platform

I beg to differ. Hosted shopping carts are more than happy to port your website from a competitor (hosted or licensed) – for free. They either have experienced onboarding experts who have do this on a daily basis or they have apps that let you port over.

Here’s the bottom line- it will cause you just as much pain to port a licenced shopping cart from one host to another as it takes to move your website from one hosted solution to another hosted.

Myth 5: Your options for 3rd party app integrations are limited

Someone recently pointed out the app marketplace of a popular open-source shopping cart and compared that to the app-stores of the popular hosted shopping carts.

To this I say – quality over quantity.

This one is near and dear to us here at Ordoro. In our experience, it is much easier (less painful) to build a robust, predictable integration with a hosted shopping cart. This is because when a 3rd party app interacts with a hosted shopping cart, it deals with a single entity (the host is the shopping cart) and hence a finite set of variables (read: things that can go wrong).

Which is unlike a licensed/open-sourced shopping cart. In addition to the variables of the licensed shopping cart, every host has its own variables (different versions, rate limits, firewalls, etc), thus compounding the complexity to establish a robust connection.

To summarize- If I were starting an online store for the first time, I would not touch a licensed shopping cart with a 10 foot long pole.

If I were a long time retailer, I would do my due diligence before being swayed by the sound bites we hear about the benefits of licensed shopping carts.

Here’s a follow up blog post – In defense of licensed shopping carts