Shopping Carts 101

Shopping carts are software applications that most commonly run on the computer where your website is located. These applications are a critical part of the e-Commerce shopping experience as it’s the functional part of a website that enables a customer to become an actual shopper as opposed to just browsing. Shopping carts allow users to hold on to specific items and compare and contrast different products to ensure they’re able to find what they want.

How does a Shopping Cart work?


Typically, shopping carts share a consistent structure, here is a brief breakdown:

  • Database that stores information such as product details, customer data, order information, etc.
  • Storefront that displays this information to store visitors (e.g. product detail pages, search pages, checkout pages, etc.)
  • Administration area that allows management of the overall store For example, this is where you add products, set up shipping & payment options, process orders, etc.

Because most of the information is contained in a database, the shopping cart creates pages in "real time" when a customer visits an ecommerce store and requests a specific page. Unlike the HTML pages that likely make up most of your Web site, the shopping cart pages don't exist until a customer requests one.


The page is dynamically generated by the Web server by retrieving data from the database. So a store that has 4,000 products, does not actually store 4,000 product pages on the Web server. The pages are created on the fly when a customer visits the store and, for example, looks for a specific product.

What Should I Look For?


Shopping Carts, very much like the checkout pages are just one piece of the whole puzzle that builds an e-Commerce experience. Whichever shopping cart you decide to go with make sure there is at least a modicum of flexibility so you’re able to tailor it to your specific needs. Do your research; there are numerous options available so don’t just at the first option you see. Below is a list of some of the features you should consider requirements for any shopping cart product.


  • Customizable
    • Both with and without a programmer (this depends on the resources you have at your disposal)
  • Integrated Store Search
  • Inventory Control
  • Catalogue Manager
  • Accounting Integration
  • Back Orders and Partial Shipments
  • Support for both Hard (physical products) and Soft (downloadable content) goods
  • Real time credit card processing
  • Alternative payment integration capabilities
  • Customizable checkout and shipping pages
  • Promotional capabilities
  • Encryption capabilities
  • Fraud Prevention function

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