websites & programming

Choosing a Shopping Cart

Recently I worked with a client who needed a website to sell merchandise online. After learning about the intended purpose for the new website, I recommended using WordPress along with the WooCommerce plugin to handle the shopping cart functionality. But before implementing WordPress, we paused to discuss the broader issue of using a self-hosted, open source solution versus paying a somewhat larger monthly fee for a more proprietary solution, such as Shopify.

My own background is in software development, so I had been quick to recommend WordPress as an open source CMS that can be tweaked by developers to a significant extent. Further, WordPress’ wide array of available extensions often make any custom coding unnecessary. And WooCommerce is undoubtedly an excellent addition to WordPress for e-commerce. But looking at things from the customer point of view, there are definitely strong arguments for using hosted solutions. PCI compliance, in particular, is something that anyone selling online must consider and there is no doubt that the hosted e-commerce solutions eliminate or greatly reduce a merchant’s concerns in this area. Similarly, server maintenance and security updates with hosted solutions like Shopify is usually a non-issue. For merchants hosting their own shopping cart, many web hosting companies are also very good about maintaining their servers and WordPress’ auto update feature can help as well. But these are things the customer will have to at least be aware of and stay on top of.

Ultimately the client went with Shopify in this case. Setting up the online store with Shopify’s admin interface and setting up payment processing with Shopify Payments is very straightforward and definitely eases the burden on the web designer and customer a bit. Shopify themes can be tweaked using settings to control fonts, colors, images, etc. For Shopify customers using at least the “basic” plan, Shopify’s Liquid theming language can be used to further customize an online store, though my client did not yet need the “basic” plan and was just using the “starter” plan. Overall the decision between hosted shopping carts and self-hosted open source solutions can be a difficult one that depends on the needs and priorities of the client. But having choices is a good thing!