A shopping cart is an essential component of every e-commerce site. Although there are literally hundreds of shopping carts to choose from, only a few stand out. PHP is the preferred shopping cart language because it is the most popular web development language on the Internet. When combined with the MySQL database, PHP is unbeatable for cost effectiveness.
The selection of the best shopping cart for your web site is an issue that should not be taken lightly. The user-friendliness built into your shopping cart can be a major factor when it comes to retaining visitors and converting them into customers. Numerous studies have shown that the checkout process associated with a poorly designed cart can be a major factor affecting shopping cart abandonment during the checkout process.
The following is brief list of the most popular shopping carts that utilize both PHP and MySQL. Both PHP and MySQL are free (no licensing issues) and are offered with almost all non-Microsoft web site hosting. This gives this combination a low-cost advantage, both for the cost of obtaining, modifying and maintaining your shopping cart system. Indeed, many of the most popular shopping carts using PHP and MySQL are free and most have a wide range of support available through numerous forums.
All of these shopping cart options are complete e-commerce storefronts, complete with category pages, product pages, checkout processes and much more. All have a wide range of mods available that add functionality to the e-commerce sites.
First and foremost is osCommerce, the biggest player in open source shopping carts. osCommerce has been around for more than six years and includes a large community of users and supporters. osCommerce is a complete e-commerce storefront. The basic osCommerce download is very functional and there is a wide selection of plugin mods that add functionality and features. More than 100 templates are available that change the look and feel of a storefront.
When considering shopping carts, CRE Loaded has been referred to as osCommerce on steroids. CRE Loaded is built on osCommerce. Different versions include large collections of already-installed mods so that you have a highly functional and heavily equipped version of of osCommerce as soon as it is installed. There are small one-time fees associated with purchasing a copy of CRE Loaded, but the costs are minimal.
Zen Cart is a derivative of osCommerce. The group that focuses on this cart started with a version of osCommerce a few years ago and used it as a basis for building their own open source shopping cart. it is therefore similar to osCommerce in some ways, but has its own user and developer community. Support is provided through a very active forum where members help each other to solve issues related to e-commerce and the use of Zen Cart. The best part is that it is a very stable cart with loads of built-in functionality and it is free.
This is another contender when it comes to popular and very functional shopping carts. Cube Cart has both a free and low-cost version available. They are both the same, but it will cost you $89.95 if you wish to remove the Cube Cart copyright notice and link from the page footers. Sometimes this makes sense if you are in a competitive market and you do not want your competitors to know which shopping cart you are using.
Any of the choices listed above are good choices for an e-commerce web site. One thing to note is that most of the systems have all of the functionality turned on when you install the cart. This tends to degrade speed performance due to numerous unnecessary database lookups. After installing one of these shopping cart systems, you need to become familiar with the administration area and then should turn off every feature that you really do not need. Most of these systems have manuals available, either in hardcopy or downloadable format. Your learning curve will likely be shortened if obtain the manual and go through it in great detail.
Which one did we like best? We decided to go with Zen Cart due to the very active user forum and the superior support we see from the development staff. You should, of course, make your own decision. You cannot go wrong with any of these PHP shopping cart choices.