Today we are going to discuss the top shopping cart platforms for 2020.
As e-commerce continues to see incredible growth, it has become much more difficult to identify the right shopping cart software for your online or local small business.
By the end of this shopping cart comparison, you are going to understand the key features of important e-commerce platforms, which platforms you can start for free, and which ones are going to be right for your specific industry.
Let's get selling.
How does a shopping cart software work?
Before we dive into the specific options for selling your products online, it's important that we cover the basic function of shopping cart software.
There is a wide variety of possible functions within your ecommerce software platform, but the following feature sets are most common and should be part of any software that you consider for selling online.
Securely Accept Payments
This may seem unnecessary to say, but your shopping cart platform is how you get paid for selling your products online.
Shopping cart platforms do this by integrating with payment gateways, which are systems that connect to your bank accounts to securely transfer funds.
The most popular payment gateways for online ecommerce are PayPal and Stripe, but there are a huge list of payment gateways depending on your country, industry and other specifics.
Before you select your ecommerce platform from the list below, be sure to double check that your country supports their payment gateways!
And to maintain the security of your customer's information, you also want to ensure that the platform you use is secured online through SSL, which is the little lock you see at the top of the browser window:
Automatically Deliver Your Products
In the world of on-demand video and Amazon Prime, the last thing any customer wants to do is wait for anything.
So it is important that your shopping cart platform is capable of instantly delivering the digital items to your customers as soon as their purchase is complete.
Depending on what you are selling, there are a few common ways of doing this:
1. Delivering downloadable files with a special link.
Most common is to simply send a download link to deliver the ebook, printable, or other digital content to your customer.
Advanced platforms like you will find below also have unique features built in to protect your business, like:
- Limiting the number of times the product can be downloaded
- Adding an expiration timer to the links so products can only be downloaded for a week or two after purchase
- Adding unique water marks or labels to identify the purchaser's information to deter spreading the information
2. Granting Access to "Membership Areas"
Not everything is best delivered with a single download link. Dynamic products like online courses, communities, or challenges are generally protected using membership plugins or learning management systems which lock down certain areas of your website to paying members only.
This is great for products that continue to evolve and members need to continually log back in to continue their journey.
3. Launching special automations
Challenges are becoming more common, which essentially drips out an experience over a period of time. An easy way of accomplishing this is to simply add customers to a special mailing list that get communications over a period of time to follow along the challenge.
4. Integrating with a fulfillment service
And even if you aren't selling digital products, the best shopping cart platforms can automatically communicate all the details needed to your fulfillment service to instantly kick off the delivery process of your physical products.
All of this should be handled through your online checkout software.
5. Collect Customer Information
It's important to keep a detailed record of your customers, their purchase history, and other details to segment your own customer database. This allows you to send more targeted offers to the right audience over time.
6. Handle Tax, Shipping, Inventory, and other Logistics
Selling your products globally can introduce tax and accounting issues. Things like EU VAT tax, shipping rates, and more can become very complicated, very fast. The best shopping cart tools will automatically handle all of these details for you with only minor set up required.
7. Manage Joint Venture or Affiliate Relationships
If you don't already have a massive audience to sell to, creating joint venture partnerships with others in your industry is one of the best ways to increase your sales.
But how do you pay them? How do you set their commission rates? Is it super manual?
With some platforms it can be a complete headache, but several on this list make their affiliate platform very easy to use and automatic.
How do I safely sell things online?
By now, most people have grown to trust shopping online, but there are still a few things to keep in mind to ensure safety online for yourself and your customers.
As I mentioned before, you want to ensure your site reads secure using an SSL certificate.
The most popular is Let's Encrypt, which most web hosts install automatically on your site.
You also want to include badges and seals on your checkout page to put your customers at ease:
And if you decide to host your shopping cart on your own website (instead of using a hosted solution), you must make sure to keep your plugins updated!
WooCommerce powered websites often have many plugins installed to make everything work properly, and if your plugins get out of date, it can put your site at risk, and potentially your customers as well.
If that idea makes you a little nervous, you might consider looking at some of the hosted solutions in the list below and avoiding selling on WordPress.
What Makes the best shopping cart in 2020?
The best shopping cart solution is going to make the checkout process easy, fast, and fun for your customers, while optimizing revenue for you.
The features I look for in any checkout solution include:
- Ability to streamline checkout experience
- Accept PayPal, Credit Cards, and optimized for mobile with Google Pay and Apple Pay
- Built in and easy to manage affiliate program
- Strong list of integrations with email marketing platforms and other business tools
- No transaction fees (on top of the normal payment gateway fees)
- Offer bump offers, upsells, and downsells in a customized sales funnel
- Include coupons, inventory management, and payment plans
Your needs may vary, but it's important to look at the functionality you need today AND in the future to ensure that you pick a platform that you won't outgrow quickly.
Comparing the best Online Selling Platforms in 2020
It's time to get our hands dirty and take a look at some top recommended selling platforms.
For each product I'll give my personal experience with it, the major standout features, and some solid recommendations on whether it will work for your specific needs.
I also have detailed head-to-head comparisons, detailed reviews, and other related content included for each tool if you'd like to get more info.
SendOwl is one of the simplest to use online shopping carts available. It is a hosted solution that allows you to set up and sell your digital products in about a minute flat!
It is not the most feature-rich platform, but if you are looking for a simple and affordable way to dive into digital product selling, SendOwl is an interesting option.
What I love about SendOwl
I believe SendOwl is nicely positioned for the beginner digital product marketplace.
It has just enough features to allow you to sell effectively, but it breaks down a lot of the complexity that tends to come with e-commerce platforms.
Some of the features I like about SendOwl (read more in the full review):
- Starts at $9 - perfect for beginners
- Allows you to upload your digital download product and get it ready to sell in just a couple of minutes
- Integrates with a good number of email marketing platforms
I just don't think SendOwl offers enough functionality for most growing online businesses. As your business begins to scale, it is likely that you will need to undergo a huge project to replace SendOwl with a more feature-rich platform like Thrivecart.
It is a big project to make such a change, so if your budget can afford it, I would much rather you make the right investment in the beginning and save the trouble.
Is SendOwl Right For You?
SendOwl is great for beginners who only plan on selling digital products, and they are on a tight budget.
If you want to have the flexibility to sell physical products as well, or if you want to have a full e-commerce experience with adding multiple items to a cart and checking out, SendOwl will not give you what you need.
Sendowl offers 4 main pricing levels:
The Basic Plan for $9 per month:
- 10 Products
- Limited Customisation
- 1GB Storage
The Standard Plan at $15 per month:
- 30 Products
- PDF Stamping
- 3 GB Storage
The Premium Plan at $24 per month:
- 100 Products
- 1 Subscription
- Cart Abandonments
- Video Streaming
- PDF Stamping
- 5 GB Storage
And their Business Plan at $39 per month:
- 250 Products
- 3 Subscriptions
- Cart Abandonments
- Video Streaming
- PDF Stamping
- Multiple Users
- 15 GB Storage
All of SendOwl's plans come with a 30 day free trial, so there is no risk in trying the platform to see if it will give you exactly what you need!
Learn More About SendOwl
Thrivecart is an excellent shopping cart platform for selling anything online. It is a hosted solution, so you don't need to worry about slowing down your website (or having anything crash on you).
It also has an incredible lifetime deal that can save you thousands of dollars over the course of your business.
What I love about Thrivecart
Thrivecart has found a unique blend between simplicity and power.
Creating products is done in a very intuitive, step-by-step wizard. This makes it easy to use for beginners as well as advanced users.
It also has a powerful set of integrations, including every popular email marketing platform, as well as several WordPress Membership Plugins as well as Teachable for hosted course selling.
Thrivecart has responsive support, but you may never have to reach out to them. Whenever you reach a tricky part of the platform (like integrating different systems together), they have intuitive videos right where you need them so you know exactly what to do.
Last but certainly not least, Thrivecart's pricing is hard to beat. While investing hundreds up front might seem expensive at first, you need to realize the thousands of dollars you can save every year with this initial purchase.
Is Thrivecart Right For You?
Thrivecart is great for anyone who wants to sell their products using powerful sales funnels.
Because Thrivecart supports both physical and digital products, you really don't have many limits to how you sell your products.
Thrivecart is especially powerful for online course creators, coaches, and consultants because you can set up your funnels quickly with upsells and downsells, which can greatly increase revenue in these niches.
Thrivecart currently has a lifetime deal available, which means you can pay once and have access to the platform forever.
That means unlimited products, unlimited funnels, unlimited transaction, unlimited customers, for life.
You also get unlimited affiliates, subscriptions, and more.
And if you have multiple brands or want to support clients as well, their pro plan gives you access for up to 5 clients / brand accounts.
Thrivecart's standard pricing is 5 for life, but the absolute best deal is to get their pro plan for $690.
I only offer bonus offers for products that I absolutely recommend. And Thrivecart is one of those rare products. So I've put together a ,000+ bonus offer that you can only get while Thrivecart has their lifetime pricing.
Learn more about my Thrivecart Bonus Offer and redeem it before it's gone!
Learn More About Thrivecart
I've only brushed the surface of what Thrivecart can do for your business. Be sure to check out more on this shopping cart platform and sign up for your account before their lifetime pricing ends!
WooCommerce is the free ecommerce solution that is built completely for WordPress.
It is owned by Automattic, the same company behind WordPress itself, so it is a natural option if you want to sell products from your WordPress website or blog.
What I love about WooCommerce
WooCommerce is great for a number of reasons:
- The base plugin is 100% free and can be downloaded in seconds from the WordPress repository
- It has a ton of customization options with thousands of extensions already built for WooCommerce
- It is very developer friendly if you need functionality that doesn't already exist
- You can access the platform directly from your website, which is really convenient!
While all the points above make WooCommerce seem like a total no-brainer, it's important that we peel back the onion a bit more, because WooCommerce also has several downsides...
While the WooCommerce core plugin is 100% free, it is very limited, and you will likely need to add several additional plugins to your site to give common functionality, like:
- Offering an affiliate program (extra $150 per year)
- Selling monthly subscriptions (extra $199 per year)
- Integrating with many popular email platforms (Up to $100 pear year extra)
And all the customization options of WooCommerce also come with the risk of slowing down or breaking your site. WooCommerce-powered websites often require dozens of plugins to function correctly, and if any one of those plugins gets out of control, it can spell trouble for your entire site.
This is one of the major benefits of hosted shopping cart solutions like Thrivecart - because your payment processing is taken completely off your site, you don't need to worry about plugin conflicts causing failed payments and unhappy customers.
Is WooCommerce Right For You?
WooCommerce is a solid choice if you want to create a classic ecommerce solution, where your customers can browse through several products, add them to a shopping cart, and checkout all on your website.
It can also be a nice option if you simply want to sell digital downloads, because you should be able to accomplish this with the free plugin alone.
But if you notice that your website is slowing down, or you find you need to add a lot of functionality to the built-in WooCommerce capabilities, it might be time to look for a different solution (or move your WooCommerce store to a separate subdomain).
The basic WooCommerce plugin is 100% free and available from your WordPress dashboard.
However, to upgrade the functionality to do what you need, you'll need to start hunting for WooCommerce extensions.
A good Google search and some necessary trial and error will help you find the right extensions for your WooCommcerce store.
Learn More About WooCommerce
I've done several tutorials on the site about WooCommerce, so feel free to read up to tackle this behemoth of an ecommerce platform!
Cartflows brings sales-funnel functionality to WooCommerce. So everything you just learned in the WooCommerce section above also applies to Cartflows.
The big attraction of Cartflows is the ability to completely customize the sales page & checkout page of your products, as well create customized upsells & downsell journeys for your customers.
What I love about Cartflows
Cartflows is a fantastic idea of a shopping cart platform. Take an already existing platform and just add some cool functionality on top.
The ability to use any page builder you want to build your sales funnel is a really nice feature, and Cartflows is great for existing WooCommerce sites.
The same downsides that applies to WooCommerce applies to Cartflows as well - complexity.
Because WooCommerce has so many options, and Cartflows sits on top of it all, it can take a good amount of trial and error to get everything working as you want.
And similar to WooCommerce, you will likely need to add several premium extensions on top of Cartflows to make things work as you'd expect, which can add several hundred dollars per year to your fixed costs.
Is Cartflows Right For You?
Cartflows is still a very new product, and it is developing quickly.
If you already have a WooCommerce store, and you'd like to create a funnel or two for your main products, Cartflows is an absolutely awesome option.
But if you are just getting started and don't already use WooCommerce, I would urge you to consider choosing a more simple and intuitive product like Thrivecart.
Cartflows is currently $299 per year. And while that is cheaper than other options like Thrivecart, you must also factor in the additional costs you will need to get the functionality for your site.
And in my Cartflows vs Thrivecart comparison post, I cover these costs in greater detail to show an apples to apples comparison:
Total: $690, one time
Total: $1,439 per year
Learn More About Cartflows
Cartflows is a very powerful platform and can unlock a ton of options if you are tech savvy or very patient! Learn more here:
Kartra is a different breed of shopping cart platform. It is a full all-in-one marketing solution that covers way more functionality than simply selling products, such as:
- E-Commerce selling
- Landing Page Builder
- Email Marketing Platform
- Sales Funnels with Upsells, Downsells & Bump offers
- Membership site builder for online courses and communities
- Video hosting suite with integrated marketing tools
- Customer support helpdesk feature with live chat, ticket system, and wiki functionality
- Calendar booking system for coaches, consultants, or freelancers to easily sell their services and simplify scheduling
- Affiliate program to build your own sales army
- Site builder to build a full business website and not just landing pages
In this article I'll focus on just the selling aspect of Kartra, but because it is such a swiss army knife of functionality, I'd recommend you check out the full review to get an idea of what Kartra can do for you.
What I love about Kartra
Kartra was built by marketers, for marketers. It was designed from the ground up to help you design, build, and launch your funnels fast.
Other platforms force you to bounce between 4 different systems to set up your sales process, or require a bunch of steps in hidden menus, but Kartra keeps things very simple and all in one platform.
You can do unlimited upsells and downsells, and they give you great analytics directly in the platform to help you analyze and improve your sales process.
With built-in A/B testing and tons of ready-made templates, you'll instantly feel like a savvy marketer when you use the platform.
Because Kartra is an all-in-one platform, you have to deal with the good and the bad of the platform.
Not that any one area is BAD... but sometimes Kartra feels like a jack of all trades.
Thrive Architect will always be a better page builder than Kartra's, and Active Campaign will always be a more powerful email marketing platform than Kartra's.
So you might find yourself looking on at other tools with a bit of jealousy, but remember that you have something that they don't: complete integration across your entire business. That can be priceless, even if it comes with some compromises.
Is Kartra Right For You?
Kartra is a fantastic option if you don't have a WordPress website (or if you have one and want something simpler).
You can build your entire site in Kartra, so long as you don't require a very advanced site with blogging and other features.
It's great for small businesses who want to focus on lead generation without the additional complexity of running a separate site and funnel builder.
It's also great for coaches and consultants who drive most of their traffic from social media or paid ads.
Kartra is very competitively priced when you consider that it is the only software you will need to run your business.
Pricing starts at $99 per month, and scales up as your contact database scales.
You can give the platform a 14 day test drive for only $1, which should be plenty of time to decide if Kartra is right for you.
Kartra Bonus Offer
Because I believe Kartra is a fantastic solution for entrepreneurs who don't want to deal with some of the technical hurdles WordPress can throw at you, I've put together a fantastic 7-part bonus offer to help you make the most of your Kartra experience.
Learn More About Kartra
Shopify is one of the largest E-Commerce platforms around, and it allows you to build dynamic e-commerce stores without the complexity of WooCommerce.
What I love about Shopify
Shopify builds most of the functionality and flexibility you need for your Ecommerce store immediately - so you can rely less on hunting for the right plugins for the job.
It is also a hosted solution, so you don't have to be quite as hands on for the maintenance of the server.
Shopify is built as a standard ecommerce store which means it's not made for optimizing sales funnels.
Is Shopify Right For You?
If you plan on selling both physical and digital products, and you want to have a very flexible and feature rich online store front, Shopify is a great option.
It keeps things a bit simpler than WooCommerce, and has the right integrations in place to extend the functionality to anything you need.
You can use Shopify for as little as $29 per month, and they offer higher packages as your business grows and needs more functionality.
How can I sell digital downloads on my website for free?
If you have absolutely no budget for your shopping cart platform, you can get started with WooCommerce on your own WordPress website for free.
All you will need to pay for is your hosting, which I assume you already have taken care of 🙂
Even on the free plan of WooCommerce, you will be able to create an entire online store that can sell unlimited digital products that can be instantly dowloaded by your customers.
Over time you will likely want to add some premium functionality to your store, but you can use your profits to fund those investments!
Do any shopping cart platforms have their own apps?
Great question! All the shopping cart platforms that are listed here can be accessed from any browser, so you can check on your sales while on the go.
The following ecommerce solutions have full iOS / Android apps as well if that's how you like to roll:
Which shopping cart is best?
This is a loaded question and I'd recommend you take a detailed look at my comparisons to learn more about the individual matchups.
But in general, I find Thrivecart to be the best combination of simplicity, power, and value that it takes the #1 spot overall.
That is why I put together my best bonus to help you succeed with Thrivecart - it's simply a fantastic option for selling online in 2020.
But if you need to have a full e-commerce store with tons of customization, I think Shopify does a great job of keeping things simple while maintaining that full online store experience.
Which Ecommerce Platform Is Best For Small Business?
If you are a coach, consultant, or service professional who needs a simple solution to allow you to get more leads and sales, I think Kartra is an excellent place to start.
Because it keeps everything in one place, Kartra feels instantly familiar, and allows you to stop thinking about the tech and focus all your time and energy on marketing and selling (which is the whole point!).
What Is The Cheapest Ecommerce Platform?
It's hard to beat free, so WooCommerce wins at the absolute cheapest option.
But to make it operate the way you need it to, you will likely have to purchase a few premium extensions, and spend valuable hours getting everything hooked up and troubleshooted.
So if you need a cheap solution, WooCommerce can work extremely well, but be prepared to monitor, update, and manage it more closely than the other solutions.
So there you go! Everything you need to know to confidently begin selling your products and services online!
Which platform do you think is right for you? Which ones should I add to this list? Let me know in the comment section below!