Since online shopping becomes a very common way of purchasing products and services, more and more business owners are looking to establish their own online presence. However, launching a full-featured online store and developing your business on the Internet can be a rather costly venture. Can’t afford to pay a fortune for an online shopping cart program at the moment? There are plenty of free eCommerce applications allowing you to build a web store and start trading online. But how to find an eCommerce solution that won’t compromise on quality, reliability, and features while being super affordable?
If you want to start trading online without spending a fortune on an eCommerce solution, check out our TOP-10 free shopping cart solutions:
What is Shopping Cart Software?
Online shopping cart platform is a web application for selling products online. It’s like a computer program but it is installed on a server that is available online rather than locally. eCommerce software is a sales system that not only includes sales tools but also functionalities for promoting your products, optimizing your eCommerce website for search engines, keeping track of your customers, and more.
To get your free shopping cart up and running, you install the platform to your hosting and gain access to the backend panel, which is usually called the admin panel, and the storefront. The online shopping software storefront is literally the face of your eCommerce store—it’s the contact point with your customers.
Free shopping cart solutions usually have all the essential features of paid online shopping carts: the admin panel, the storefront and basic tools to sell and market your products. Free solutions are usually open source shopping carts, so if the platform doesn’t offer some features out of the box, you can hire a developer to program more functionality.
In this article, we will briefly review the best free shopping cart platforms. Some of the reviewed online shopping carts are 100% free, and some have a free trial period. We’ll start from the latter.
Difference Between Shopping Cart Software and eCommerce Software
Free shopping cart solutions are self-sufficient solutions for building traditional eCommerce websites with one seller—the store owner. The owner is the only seller and the admin on such a website. He or she takes care of stock, marketing, order shipping, payment processing, and so on.
eCommerce software is a broader term. This type of software can be multi-vendor marketplace software, online shopping cart system, self hosted eCommerce platform, SaaS eCommerce solutions, free shopping cart or paid one, eCommerce widgets to embed sales functionality into an existing website, and so on. eCommerce software includes open source shopping carts and closed cloud eCommerce systems.
For example, the Magento is intended for building single-seller stores. And it is eCommerce software. And CS-Cart Multi-Vendor is a multi seller marketplace solution, which is also eCommerce software.
How Does the Shopping Cart Software Work?
An online shopping cart is like a checkout in a brick and mortar store. While in physical stores customers walk along the shelves and put products to basket, in an online store customers do it all in their web browser. Once a customer fills the basket, he or she proceeds to checkout where they pay for the products.
Remember how you make purchases offline: you see price tags with discounts, ads and promotional posters all around the store that convince you to buy a certain product. The same can be implemented in an online store: the storefront can have promotional upselling and cross-selling offers, a section with on-sale products, and so on.
Offline stores usually offer loyalty programs—you can get a discount card and collect bonus points or increase your personal discount by shopping in this store all the time. Free shopping cart offers the same: customers can earn reward points to spend them on products or become privileged customers and benefit from special personal discounts.
So, an website with eCommerce features works just like a brick and mortar store: you have a backend to operate the store, keep track of purchases and customers, and your customers add products to the basket on the storefront and proceed to checkout where they pay for orders via a credit card or online payment methods such as PayPal. Simple as that.
A great benefit of eCommerce solutions is that you fully control every aspect of your store via a single laptop or even a smartphone.
Criteria To Choose The 10 Best Free Shopping Cart Softwares
We know how it is hard to pick the right software for your business. And it’s not only about free shopping carts. It’s about any software, on which your income and your business will depend. So, to pick the right eCommerce platform and build a website for online sales, you need to consider certain criteria.
Before you dive deep into online research to find out about how to add an eCommerce functionality to a website, check out the criteria for choosing the right website eCommerce platform:
- Quick start. It’s important that you can launch your online store as fast as possible. eCommerce trends are changing really fast, and more and more online shops are opening in different niches. You don’t want to spend a year on webshop development—you need a simple and quick eCommerce platform to deploy the eCommerce website in a day and start selling while enhancing the store.
- Feature-richness. The more features the free shopping cart script has, the less you’ll need to spend on extensions and custom development (if it’s even possible with the platforms you’re choosing from). Unfortunately, some eCommerce software such as free WordPress plugins don’t have many features by default and can’t be extended very much in terms of functionality. So, bear feature richness in mind.
- Customizability. This is super important. Once you launch your online store, the standard features and design will probably be enough to generate first sales and stabilize the revenue. But in the future, you will definitely need more specific functions or features unique to your business. Yes, you can always add extra functionality via extensions, but you will also need a unique design and some special functions for your business. To make all these upgrades, you will need access to the platform’s code. So, give preference to free PHP shopping cart scripts with open source code.
- Integrations with popular payment and shipping services. In different countries, customers prefer different payment options. For example, in the US, customers prefer to pay via credit cards and PayPal. In some countries PayPal is not even available. So, it is critical that the eCommerce solution supports as many payment and shipping options as possible, out of the box. The best free shopping carts always have integrations with the world’s popular payment gateways such as PayPal, Stripe, Amazon, SagePay, Braintree, Authorize.net, eWay, and others.
- Support. Under “support" we mean not only technical support but also how regularly the developer releases updates and fixes bugs, closes security flaws, and updates the documentation. Unfortunately, it is a frequent case that free shopping software is not well-supported and updated. But anyway, keep this in mind and give preference to the online shopping carts that offer support.
- Search engine optimization. More than half of the traffic comes to an online store from organic search. Of course, in case your shop is well-optimized for SEO. It would be a great advantage if your online shopping basket software supports basic SEO tools to help you enhance your SEO.
- Business models. Before starting an online store, you should decide in what segment you will work: B2C, B2B, or both. Usually, best free shopping carts for small businesses are for B2C-stores only. To sell in the B2B segment, you will need a special website builder with an eCommerce functionality that supports specialized B2B functionality. There are several solution such as CS-Cart that can be used for B2C, B2B or even for hybrid B2B&B2C stores.
- Multiple languages and currencies. To sell internationally, make sure the best free shopping cart that you can find supports multiple languages and works with several currencies that can be selected on the storefront.
- Multi-channel commerce. Some free shopping carts offer you the ability to synchronize your product catalog with large product aggregators and recommendation websites such as Google Shopping. Some open source shopping carts like CS-Cart also allow you to export your products to eBay. This way you will get more customers from these extra sales channels and a larger coverage for your online business.
These are the main criteria for choosing an online shopping cart solution. Below, we’re briefly reviewing popular free shopping carts and eCommerce software with a free trial period according to these criteria. Of course, not all of them will hit all the spots. But if you choose wisely the most balanced solution for your online store, you will definitely benefit from the software you pick.
Let’s start our list with commercial online shopping carts with a free trial period or free community edition.
CS-Cart is a commercial platform that has been around for more than 15 years. This is a professional eCommerce system, whose main advantage is versatility and feature-richness. CS-Cart once had a free community edition but now it is a paid solution with a free trial period of 30 days. It is an affordable eCommerce system—the price starts from only $385. For this price, you get a fully-functional top shopping cart.
While using the CS-Cart affordable PHP online shopping cart system, you can easily take advantage of all eCommerce features it offers:
Convenient Admin Panel: the solution features a straightforward admin panel. All the menus are conveniently placed and any setting is maximum 3 clicks away.
- Promotions: In the Promotions section of the admin panel, you can construct promotions with lots of different conditions. Set the conditions a customer must meet to get a bonus, and the promotion is ready.
- Reward Points and VIP User Groups: It’s important to keep your customers by your side. CS-Cart has a built-in loyalty system—Reward points. Give your customers points for purchases and they will return to your store again to spend them.
- Visual Layout Editor: What if you want to rearrange information blocks on your store pages: move product filters to the right, add banners to the top, or show product reviews at the bottom? In most cases, you’ll have to pay a coder for this work. Not in this case. The platform’s visual layout editor allows you to build page layouts by simple drag and drop. Experiment with layouts and save money.
- Multiple Storefronts: With the CS-Cart’s multi-store feature, you can open more web stores without too much trouble. Add extra storefronts and manage them all as separate shops from a single admin panel.
- All the Payment and Shipping Services You’ll Ever Need: over 70 popular payment services such as PayPal, Authorize.Net, First Data, 2Checkout, SagePay, and eWay. Eight world’s most trusted carriers, such as USPS, DHL, FedEx, and UPS with dozens of shipping variants are present in the system out of the box, too.
- SEO Tools: the platform has all the SEO stuff that Google loves: SEO-friendly URLs, canonical URLs, 301 redirects, Google rich snippets, and more.
- Super Adaptable: It’s an open source solution. It means you can adapt this platform to any needs: develop more features, your own storefront theme, integrate with new payment and shipping services, and more.
- Supported and Frequently Updated: 6 upgrades are released per year in average. Patch releases fix issues and minor (or major) releases both fix issues and add new features. We keep CS-Cart up to date, protected from hackers, and compatible with the latest server technologies.
- Fully Controlled by You, the Owner: Once you buy CS-Cart—it’s all yours. You own it like you own a house and a car. No monthly payments. You have access to all the functionality: turn it off and on when you need it, add more features, and decide when to upgrade.
- Customizable checkout page: Create a checkout page that will work best for your business.
CS-Cart is not a 100% free PHP eCommerce script. It will require a paid license after 30 days of free usage. With a lifetime license, you get 1 year of free updates and some support credits to spend on technical assistance. This is the best shopping cart platform if you want to start a hybrid B2C/B2B online shop with separate storefronts. None of the online shopping carts from our list can do that.
Shopify is one of the most popular eCommerce systems in the world. It is known for its user-friendly interface—literally anyone can create a store on Shopify without any coding or technical skills.
Shopify is also an old SaaS eCommerce provider that has been operating for 15 years or so. It is a cloud platform, which means it is not open source and quite limited in terms of customization. You can’t code your own functionality or design. But here are thousands of extensions and themes for Shopify, so customization is not really a problem here.
The real problem of Shopify is that it is not available in most countries. It only works in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Singapore, Puerto Rico, and a couple of other countries.
Shopify is quite feature-rich out of the box and includes all the essential features for electronic commerce:
- Multiple sales channel: you can sell via an eCommerce store, social media, and online marketplaces
- Built-in reports and analyzing tools to analyze campaigns on Facebook and Google
- A single backend panel to manage orders, shipping, payments, and customers. And of course, all the necessary functions to manage the catalog and marketing campaigns.
Shopify is not one of the free ecommerce softwares but it has a free trial period and a very affordable monthly fee of $29.
X-Cart is another standalone online shopping cart script that is not totally free but gives you free access to its source code. This system is quite feature-rich and highly customizable, which makes it one of the best shopping carts from our list.
One of the key features of this webshop builder is that it is really fast to deploy and launch a live eCommerce shop. The solution greatly withstands high loads and can handle large product catalogs.
Among key functionalities of this online shopping cart, we’d like to mention the following:
- You can build a super customizable responsive online store
- Includes over 80 eCommerce templates
- You can change the interface by drag and drop
- Has built-in real-time live search
- Supports over 40 languages
- Has built-in SEO tools
- Provides you with powerful marketing tools and social media buttons
- Features built-in promotion system
- Integrates with 3rd-party business applications such as Google Analytics and Mailchimp
What’s great about X-Cart is that you can build both B2C and B2B online shops on this eCommerce platform.
Alright, now we move from shareware eCommerce software to free shopping cart solutions. You should know that a free open source shopping cart is not always 100% free: the platform itself can be absolutely free but extensions, themes, and custom development and maintenance can cost you a lot of money in the long run.
The first, and in our opinion, the best shopping cart that you can download for free is Nopcommerce. It is a well-structured eCommerce software and popular eCommerce platform. Over 50,000 companies trust this shopping cart website builder. It was downloaded for 2,500,000 times! Incredible!
Nopcommerce is free for solopreneurs and small businesses but for large companies and enterprises, it is considered a commercial solution.
With Nopcommerce you can sell physical and digital products, and can customize it to sell services and operate in different market segments. It really can be scaled and can help you grow your business. The standard set of features includes the following:
- Responsive admin panel and storefront, which allows you to manage the online shop from a mobile device. You customers can also checkout on the go.
- A large number of product properties, which allows you to flexibly configure your product listings.
- Has a partly customizable checkout and offers a one-page checkout and anonymous checkout.
- Features built-in marketing tools and analytics
- Supports multi vendor functionality
- Supports multiple storefronts
WooCommerce is an online shopping cart plugin for Wordpress. It was developed in 2011 and since then it has become the most popular eCommerce solution for WordPress-based websites in the world. Over 2,500,000 online shops have been launched on WooCommerce since the beginning.
WooCommerce is perfect for solopreneurs, hobbyists, and small businesses as it is very easy to deploy and use. It has all the essential eCommerce features and more can be added by over 60,000 extensions. This free shopping cart solution has REST API, so if you’re familiar with coding, you can make integrations and minor modifications yourself.
In terms of advantages, WooCommerce has great SEO tools (and in general, Google seems to love WordPress websites). And it is easy to install and use.
Among the downsides are poor performance with a large catalog, zero scalability, no professional support.
Here are the key points:
- Powerful SEO
- Easy to install and use
- Convenient product management system
- Simple but working marketing features
- Great content management system
- Huge community of users and WordPress-savvy developers
OpenCart is a free online shopping cart with open source code. It was developed in 2008 as a simple eCommerce software based on PHP, MySQL, and HTML. Now, it is one of the most popular open source eCommerce solutions, counting over 970,000 websites from the beginning (411,000 of them are currently live).
OpenCart is known and praised by online merchants as the most user-friendly free html shopping cart solution. Unlike other free solutions, this one has a user friendly interface and great navigation. The dashboard has all the necessary information about the store performance—you don’t need to search for the sales reports or order statistics all over the administration panel.
Another cool advantage of this system is that it supports all the major payment gateways integrations, such as PayPal. Shipping methods are also built-in: this free php shopping cart script works with USPS, Australia Post, or Royal Mail out of the box. Also, it supports FedEx, UPS.
OpenCart is the only free eCommerce script that supports multiple storefronts. This multi-store functionality allows you to manage several online stores through a single dashboard. It’s way less time consuming than managing separate stores with separate admin panels.
Among downsides of this online shopping cart system are poor SEO and performance. Not all the SEO tools are present by default and developing them from scratch will require a professional coder that is familiar with OpenCart's architecture. Also, it is not the best choice for scaling: it can’t handle high loads and slows down when the catalog and the traffic begin to grow.
Anyways, OpenCart is a great choice if you want a small to medium online store with built-in features, user-friendly interface, and flexibility:
- User-friendly admin interface
- Multi-store feature
- Open source code for extra development flexibility
- Built-in payment and shipping methods
- Lots of ready-made extensions
- Supports both physical and downloadable products
Magento is the real king of the online shopping cart solutions. It has been around for more than 15 years and it is now one of the most flexible and feature-rich opensource shopping systems ever. And it is free. Over 770,000 websites have been created on Magento since the very beginning and now, 200,000 of them are live.
Magento is loved for its powerful SEO. Magento websites are usually ranked very well on Google because this eCommerce platform features all the basic and advanced SEO tools, such as meta tags, 301 redirects, rich snippets, XML sitemap, and robots.txt. More SEO features are available with numerous extensions.
Another key advantage of Magento is its performance and scalability. It handles large catalogs and heavy traffic very well without significant slowdowns. And it can be scaled to even handle more of it. That’s why Magento is a preferred self hosted shopping cart among big companies that have resources to develop and scale Magento.
Besides SEO and basic eCommerce tools, Magento features many other functions:
- Integrates with major payment and shipping services
- Optimized for mobile devices
- Multiple currencies and languages
- Advanced catalog management
- Fast checkout
- The ability to be converted to a multi-vendor marketplace via an extension
- Advanced site search that helps to convert customers
- Hundreds of more features
Of course, because of its flexibility, scalability, and complexity, Magento has some downsides. Although it is an open-source solution, it will cost you a fortune to be adapted to your business. To manage and configure a Magento-based store, you’ll need a tech-savvy team of system administrators and developers. If you have one—no problem. If you don’t, then think twice—the development can be very costly. That’s why Magento is so popular among large enterprises that have in-house dev teams.
Zen Cart was developed in 2003 by a group of like-minded people—online entrepreneurs, developers and designers. It is a self-hosted open source online shopping software that is really straightforward to install and use for non-technical users. Over 600,000 online shopping cart websites have been built on this platform, and today there are 120,000 live websites based on this platform.
The key features of are as follows:
- Built-in basic marketing tools such as discounts, gift certificates, and banners
- The ability to integrate with popular shipping and payment gateways (not all of them are available out of the box though)
- Simple product configuration page
- The custom development doesn’t require deep PHP skills
- Basic SEO tools, such as meta tags
This eCommerce system is a great solution for small online shops on a budget. Especially if you know how to code and develop custom design, because the default design looks outdated. Also, Zen Cart is not suitable for large shops with heavy traffic and large catalogs.
Agoracart is a community-driven eCommerce platform built with Perl. Its design is outdated but features meet the modern merchant’s requirements. Agoracart can be customized to your business needs thanks to its open source code. The vendor can also offer you a hosted version of this eCommerce solution.
The key features of Agoracart are:
- Unlimited categories and products
- Flexible shipping rules
- Anonymous checkout available
- SEO-friendly URLs
- Compatible to SSL
As many free online store solutions, Agoracart is limited in one or another way. For example, its design requires renovation because the modern UI and UX standards are much evolved. Also, there’s no mobile optimization at all and a mobile application as well.
Commerce.CGI is a 100% free open source online store platform that first appeared in 1998. You can download the software installation package right from their official website for free. The installation process is not complicated—if you know how to install PC applications, you’ll nail it. This eCommerce system is compatible with Unix-based operating systems, so a Linux-operated server will be the best choice for it.
Commerce.CGI has all the basic eCommerce functionality and even integrates with popular shopping and payment systems such as FedEx and Authorize.net:
- Unlimited number of products
- Product variations, such as size and color
- Flexible product search
- Integration with major payment and shipping services
- Allows for designing via CSS
- Basic security features, such as MD5 encryption
- There’s technical support, which is rare for free software
Open Source Shopping Cart Software Comparison Chart
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