Is Free Shopping Cart Software Worth It?

People who say “Nothing in life is free” clearly haven’t heard about free shopping carts. As cost-friendly as they are, however, there are some major downsides. Check out this article to get the 411 on selling online for free.


It’s undeniable that free shopping carts are an attractive option when you’re deciding on an ecommerce solution. After all, building an online store takes a big investment, and you want to save money where you can. But before you decide whether to sell online for free, you’ll want to get a clear picture of what a free shopping cart means for you and the potential implications for your business.

Here are some pros and cons of free shopping cart software:




Often true to their name, free shopping carts won’t cost a dime to download their software and use. Although you may have to pay for hosting or payment processing, the cart software itself will be free, and that’s a pretty big plus.



One of the biggest advantages of using a free shopping cart is the flexibility it offers. Because there’s so much variety between free carts, you’ll be able to find some carts that will stand alone, and some that will integrate with existing websites, like blogs or other webpages, so you’re sure to find the right fit for your store.

Additionally, free carts don’t have as many limitations when it comes to customizing your store’s features. You can pick and choose what you want, leave out what you don’t and end up with solution that suits your business’ needs.


More control in some areas

When you have a free shopping cart, you’ll have a larger amount of control over your platform. For example, when your cart goes through an upgrade, you’ll have the choice to use the new version, or keep your old one.

Furthermore, if ever you decide to stop using your solution, you can uninstall it immediately without consulting any third party. With a free cart, you’re completely in control of how long you use their software from start to finish.


Of course, no rose is without its thorns, and free shopping carts are no exception. Because all free solutions are different, each con listed here may not be true for every cart. Nonetheless, these are issues that tend to crop up when you’re trying to sell online for free.



Lack of support

Because free shopping carts tend to have smaller staffs, their customer support can be scarce compared to hosted, all-in-one solutions. Many free carts offer forums, where users can trade tips, or knowledge bases, with articles on setup and other beginner aspects. But when it comes to live chat or phone support, they fall short. So if this kind of personalized, instantaneous support is important to your business, then you’ll need to look elsewhere.

There could also be a lack of support from the technology side. Most free solutions are open source, which means they don’t offer hosting for your store. So if you choose a free shopping cart, you’ll have to find your own hosting. In short, free carts aren’t very good about helping you along your journey once you’ve chosen their solution.


Security risks and liabilities

As it turns out, peace of mind comes at a price in the ecommerce world. Free shopping cart software has a reputation for having a couple exploitable, slow-to-be-fixed bugs that put stores at risk. And when you’re trying to start your business, the last thing you need is a major security crisis on your hands.

Another big security concern is how safe data is if you decide to process payments in your store. With a free shopping cart, getting PCI compliant or certified falls squarely on the shoulders of your business. This is in stark contrast to going with a hosted solution, where they would likely handle all of the security requirements and ensure your store’s data is safe.



In addition to the security responsibilities handed off to your business, many free shopping carts have features that you can’t implement without advanced knowledge of code. That is, although these carts are technically capable of doing these things, your store won’t be able to take advantage of that until you or someone in your business has done the research and has the knowledge to safely and successfully implement those aspects.

Furthermore, some free shopping carts are branded, and won’t let you remove that branding until you upgrade to a paid plan. Their branding competing with your own can work against your business, and give your store a less than ideal first impression. There’s also some inaccessibility in some free shopping carts when it comes to documentation or user manuals.


Development risks

Getting a free cart to suit your needs is much riskier than with a hosted solution. Should you choose to customize your code to include the features you want, most free shopping carts do not provide a warranty, or a guarantee that your software will work. So if there happens to be an error in your code and it takes your store down, your free cart won’t be obligated to help you get it back online. On top of this, free carts’ lack of personalized support means your store could be down for lengthy amount of time while you rewrite your code, since you’ll be in charge of fixing it on your own.

On an even larger level, the team in charge of developing the free cart’s software may just stop. Since they’re not making a direct profit from people using their software, they’re driven by other incentives. So if those other incentives disappear, then you could be left with a stagnant ecommerce solution that holds your business back while others rush ahead.


Although there are a lot of pros, there are just as many, if not more, cons to using a free shopping cart. Overall, only you can decide whether a free shopping cart is right for your business. Just be sure to think of the trade-offs while making that decision.

Happy selling!
-Gracelyn Tan, Volusion


Gracelyn was a Communications Specialist at Volusion. She has a BA in English and Philosophy from Rice University, and when not reading or writing, she's dancing, meeting new people or winning staring contests with her cat.

2 Responses to “Is Free Shopping Cart Software Worth It?”

  1. Zoplay

    It is a most robust and reliable platform and an excellent shopping cart software.
    Easier and better admin than Magento and with dedicated support and service.

  2. Sean McGown

    Good points, Gracelyn but I think that as an online marketer, there are a few points in favor of free (or nearly free) carts. In particular, it’s quite difficult to set up pages for SEO, have truly optimized URLs, there are problems with duplicate content because there isn’t the ability to use .htaccess universal redirects (implementing Helios would alleviate this) and finally product management for more than a few hundred parent items with their child products is really, really cumbersome.

    In addition, I can’t set up Google Analytics event tracking very easily as some of the items I’d like to tag are hidden in certain template files.

    These items aren’t trivial if you are in a highly competitive segment so perhaps power users could pay more or opt-out of the CDN to get more liberal access to currently hidden files. And please implement Helios.


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