By Ricky Bracken
Open source software has taken the marketplace by storm. Small business owners and multinational companies alike are using open source software to run their daily business operations. Today, open source software can meet the needs of various industries and market segments including those requiring an application server, web server, productivity suite, CRM tool, project management, integrated development environment (IDE), point-of-sale software, enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and ecommerce shopping cart software just to name a few.
Community developed software provides a low cost alternative to traditional proprietary software. Merchants have the ability to customize community based products to meet their specific business requirement. When trying to select a shopping cart system, to run your online store, business owners must evaluate and assign value to the technical and operational specifications before deploying to production. Since one size does not fit all; merchants must choose the best product based on their unique requirements.
So how do you choose the best open source shopping cart software? First we’ll start by listing the major players in the small business market. In order to make my list the open source shopping cart must meet the 10 minimum requirements listed below.
1. Centrally controlled source code
2. An active developer community
3. Mature third party extensions (including PCI Compliant payment gateway extensions)
4. Support Linux and Microsoft Windows hosting environments
5. Software download must include all features listed on website (e.g. not crippleware or demoware)
6. Well written installation guide and user guide. Documentation may be available as a PDF document or as an HTML file.
7. Installs on a standard SSL certificate
8. Provides a custom notification email to the merchant and customer
9. Provides timely bug fixes and safe upgrade path
10. Installs in a dedicated and shared hosting environment
Now that we have our minimum requirements list we can begin to look at the top free shopping cart programs. In my opinion, the top free shopping carts for the small business market are:
• Magento Commerce
All of the free shopping carts listed above can be downloaded, installed and configured at no cost to the merchant. However, since most community based product installations come with a standard (non commercial quality) user interface most merchants will want to upgrade the GUI (graphical user interface). In order to upgrade the GUI and improve the end user experience merchants can choose to hire a web developer or simply purchase a custom template from sites like templatemonster. Template Monster (and others) provides thousands of affordable custom templates so merchants can easily deploy great looking online stores.
In order to ensure you’re selecting the best shopping cart for your business merchants should consider the following:
Capacity – The merchant must know and understand the product capacity limitation. For example, if you have a product catalog of 1000 products but the shopping cart has a 900 product limitation then that solution is not for you. Note: All of the open source products listed above have an unlimited product catalog.
Performance – If your ecommerce web store is slow customers will simply shop someplace else. Therefore, you must check performance with high user loads and with increased data loads. Both scenarios can bring a web store to its knees.
Community Support – Verify a strong development community exist. Review the online forums to see if the product has an active community of developers. Look for online questions then see how long it took for the user to get a response.
Technical Support – Ensure technical support is available via an active developer community or as a fee paid contract. There is nothing worse than having a production issue and waiting 5 days or more to get an answer.
Payment Gateway Support – In order to accept and process credit card payments the open source shopping cart must provide third party payment gateway extensions. The leading payment gateway services provide secure payment modules for many open source shopping cart programs.
Search Engine Friendly URL – Once you deploy your ecommerce web store you must submit your web store to the top search engines. In order to be indexed by the search engines your online store must have search engine friendly URLs.
Ricky Bracken is President & CEO of SaleManager Merchant Services. SaleManager Merchant Services provides enterprise class payment solutions to small and mid-size businesses. Our payment solutions include PlanetAuthorize Payment Gateway, Certified Shopping Carts, CRM Payment Modules, POS Terminals, Mobile payment solutions and Merchant Accounts.
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