What Is An Ecommerce Shopping Cart?

April 18, 2022

The Bolt Team

ecommerce shopping cart

The ecommerce shopping cart you choose has a huge impact on your success. There are a variety of options out there, but not all of them are created equal. 

In this article, we’ll define what an ecommerce shopping cart is and how to choose the best cart for your needs. We’ll also look at ways to maximize your conversions using your shopping cart. 

Bolt One-Click Checkout

Start treating millions of shoppers like returning customers and make their checkout easier than ever.

Try Bolt Today

What is an ecommerce shopping cart?

An ecommerce shopping cart is software that enables customers to make purchases on a website. It takes the customer’s payment, verifies the payment method, processes the transaction, and completes the checkout process, all in a matter of seconds. It also collects the customer’s data for the receiving merchant’s records. 

An ecommerce shopping cart acts as both a catalog and a checkout, bridging the gap between “just browsing” and “just purchased.” But the real test of an ecommerce shopping cart is how well it facilitates the interaction between the user and the website.

For example, a good ecommerce shopping cart needs to manage product details, manage payment information, and be able to distribute that information to relevant parties. But it also needs to provide a frictionless shopping experience for your customers.

Shopping carts and websites that deliver on that expectation earn customers’ loyalty as well as their recommendations. That’s why choosing an ecommerce shopping cart is one of the more crucial decisions you can make for your business. 

Why do shopping carts matter?

Shopping carts make ecommerce work. They simplify the checkout process, but they also help the merchant and shopper manage other tasks, such as: 

  • Storing unique product information for the customer (the product name and SKU, size, color, and other details)
  • Storing and managing customer details and order information 
  • Letting merchants create inventory and add details to each product in a way that browsers and mobile devices can easily render 

Ecommerce shopping carts go much deeper than the traditional shopping cart used at brick-and-mortar stores. They aren’t simply a basket to hold customers’ items until they’re ready to buy. Ecommerce shopping carts take the place of a product display, the cashier, the checkout, and the credit card reader.

Additionally, they often handle shipping information, inventory management, and customer details; so you can retarget customers, optimize your product pages, and deliver an impressive shopping experience. 

As an ecommerce merchant, your primary goal is conversions. That is getting potential customers to make a purchase on your site. But for that to happen, you need to choose the right shopping cart for your situation and ensure it has the features you need. 

What shopping cart options are available?

There are two main types of shopping carts. The first is a “licensed” shopping cart. With this type of ecommerce shopping cart, you pay a one-time fee for the software and then install it on your web-hosting server. 

Many licensed shopping carts are open source, which means the merchant can edit the shopping cart’s source code to add or modify certain features. 

Examples of licensed shopping carts include: 

  • OpenCart
  • Magento
  • PrestaShop

The second type of shopping cart is a “hosted” shopping cart. With hosted shopping carts, the cart itself sits on a central server and you pay a recurring monthly fee to access it. You cannot modify the code and are limited to whatever customization or branding options it provides. 

Examples of hosted shopping carts include:

Pros and cons of hosted vs. licensed shopping carts

Both ecommerce shopping cart models have their pros and cons, and you’ll want to decide which best suits your needs before you begin exploring and comparing specific shopping cart services. 

For example, hosted shopping carts are beginner-friendly. Although you can’t modify them or install them on your server, you don’t need to. That’s because all updates and edits are handled on a centralized server. 

In addition, many hosted shopping carts include additional features designed to integrate your shopping cart into their ecommerce ecosystem. They may incorporate features like store building and customer management as well as payment processing. 

Licensed carts are tailored to ecommerce sites that need advanced functionality unavailable in hosted versions. Be aware, programming and development expertise is needed to install a licensed cart on your server and modify it to fit your shop. But in the long run, it may save money. 

Choosing the right ecommerce shopping cart

Before deciding on an ecommerce shopping cart, identify your needs. Carefully consider what you sell and what your must-have features are. This will help you rule out some choices you’re evaluating.

With so many options available, it can feel overwhelming to compare them, but as a general rule, you’ll want to consider the following: 


Some shopping carts are free, and some cost thousands of dollars per year. Choose a shopping cart with pricing that fits your budget. You can always upgrade later. And remember, free isn’t always better. 

User experience

Visit sites that use the shopping cart you’re considering so you can experience it as a customer. As you review the cart, consider: 

  1. Do they provide the user experience you want for your customers? 
  2. Is it easy to navigate? 
  3. Is it easy to find products on it? 
  4. What is the search process like? 
  5. How seamless is the payment process?
  6. Can a customer continue shopping after viewing their cart?
  7. Does it create any friction for the customer?

This is a good way to narrow down your list of preferred shopping carts. If you like the experience of shopping on another site, you’ll know you can create that same experience for your customers.  

Admin control

Once you’ve narrowed your choices to one or two, take a test run. Either sign up for a demo or a trial account. Then take the admin control panel for a spin. 

  • Does it have the features you need?
  • Is it easy to navigate?
  • Is it mobile friendly? 
  • How much control does it give you over the look and feel of your shopping cart?
  • Does it allow the integrations and extensions you need?


Pay attention to the analytics available in the admin section. Shopping cart analytics should tell you how many conversions you have, but they should also track your total profit, abandoned carts, popular products, and more. 

Different carts focus on different metrics. Be sure the analytics available reflect the data you need to make confident business decisions. 

Customer service

Don’t forget about customer service. If you have questions or concerns, how easy is it to contact customer service for support? And how is support handled: email, live chat, a ticketing system, or can you speak to a real person?

Optimizing your shopping cart for conversions

Now that you know how to choose an ecommerce shopping cart that fits the needs of your business, it’s time to optimize it for checkout conversions.

One of the biggest issues for ecommerce sites is shopping cart abandonment. Nearly 70% of ecommerce carts are abandoned before a sale is completed, according to Baymard Institute. They also report that most large ecommerce sites could improve conversion rates 35.26% through better checkout design.

To optimize your conversion rate, focus on removing friction in the buying process. Here are a few way to do that:

Streamline the checkout process as much as possible. For that, nothing beats one-click checkout. It allows buyers to get in, check out, and go on with their business. Bolt currently offers an industry-leading one-click checkout experience, with thousands of retailers already using the service for their checkout needs.

Remove account friction. When your ecommerce store is part of a large network of merchants, your customers don’t need to remember passwords or fill out endless forms. With one customer account, they can shop in any network store and pay with their preferred method. As part of the Bolt Network, you and your shoppers would join thousands of retailers selling to tens of millions of shoppers worldwide.

Allow purchasing on any platform, on any device. Shoppers today are looking for convenience. Allow them to buy on your website, in chat, or on social media, wherever they see your products.

The key is to make your storefront customer-centric. Think about the customer experience as people explore your products, navigate your shop, and check out. Give them an experience that makes them want to come back.

That’s where Bolt can help. With features like one-click checkout for new and returning customers, Bolt helps remove friction that could drive away your customers. And merchants who use Bolt see a measurable increase in conversion rates.

Getting started with Bolt

Beyond adding a seamless and user-friendly checkout process to some of the most popular ecommerce shopping carts, Bolt also integrates with a variety of other third-party services. These include “Buy Now, Pay Later” services like Affirm and AfterPay, as well as alternative payment options like PayPal, Apple Pay, and Amazon Pay.

In short, Bolt decentralizes the ecommerce shopping cart checkout process, using a variety of technologies at scale to help merchants of all sizes grow and thrive. 

ThinkShop by Bolt does not constitute professional tax or financial advice. Contact your own tax or financial professional to discuss your situation.