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Following up on the earlier article Starting an Online Shop, we’ll discuss the several widely available free shopping carts – CubeCart, OSCommerce and ZenCart. Before going into those three, we’ll take a minute and mention several other free carts.

Like cars and rock stars, everyone selling online with a cart has a favorite, and there are literally hundreds. There are a few that bear mention before moving on to the main three.

PrestaCart is a fairly new one, but takes more knowledge of editing files and general “coding” than most people are comfortable doing. And another new one is Magento, a totally comprehensive cart, but it also virtually demands a coder and is geared more for multi-store chains.

You may have people recommend these, but some do it just to show their superior coding ability, not as a viable solution for a first time cart owner.

Now for the Big Three. It’s actually 2 and ½, since Zen is a takeoff of OSC. There are actually 2 versions of CubeCart. The older Version 3 is free and comes with an “auto-installer” with the Fantastico bundle of free software from hosts who use the cPanel brand Control Panel. We won’t go into that here, just keep in mind that all of the Big 3 can be installed with a couple of mouse clicks.

For a first time user CubeCart is by far the easiest to set up. Once installed there are only a few settings and entries such as company information, shipping rates, payment methods, etc. to set up. Of course, with all three you will need to have your About Us, Contacts, Policies, etc type pages ready, All three are blank in this respect.

Adding inventory is also simple, fill in a few things like product name, code, price, taxable, etc. and you are almost done. You will want a good Description of your product, and you will have an editor similar to MS Word with icons for bold, font types, colors, etc. About anything you can do with a word processing program you can do with your descriptions.

Then the last step to add inventory is to upload your product images. You do this as you are entering the items. There is a Browse button that takes you to your PC, so you simply choose the images you have on your PC that you want to go with that item and you click and upload them. It’s truly that simple.

As far as the design, or “looks” of the cart, CubeCart comes with 3 included designs. You’ve seen them if you’ve spent any time on the net, some people just use what is offered. Others choose to have someone design a special look just for them, or choose from a number of pre-designed options that are available. Some of these “templates” or “skins” are free, some a relatively low priced and a truly custom version can cost hundreds of dollars.

There are a couple of negatives in the eyes of some concerning CubeCart. While it is legal to modify the cart to make it do things you may need that are not there when it’s installed, there are a number of people who sell these “mods”. There are some free, but many cost from $10 to $25, with a couple up to $50.
Another drawback is there is no Import option, which allows you to have your inventory in let’s say an Excel file on your PC and bring it directly into the cart. (Well, you can, but that’s one of the $50 mods.)

Now for OSCommerce and ZenCart. The basics are the same on both. Zen has some additions and is more user friendly, with a nice menu system. Both have about 300 or so settings that have to be considered when setting them up. I often say it’s possible to be selling with CubeCart before you’re done with the settings with OSC and Zen.

And adding products is a little longer process, if only because you have to go through a double check before they are actually added. But, that can be offset by using the optional free importer that allows you to have your data in an Excel spreadsheet and bring it into your cart with a couple of clicks.

As with CubeCart, OSC and Zen are never complete for every user. So there are also any number of mods available. Big difference is they are all free, unlike CubeCart, where you must pay for many.

One consideration you must make is which payment processors you will want to use. All three work very well with PayPal and a number of others, but they do not all work with everything. And neither works “out of the box” with Google Checkout. Both have mods available, but they must be added to the cart.

And area they differ widely in is Options. If you are going to be selling products with options like clothing colors and sizes, you should spend some time giving serious consideration to which best suits your needs.

Demo programs are available, where you can try before you install, so spend some time doing some “What ifs?” and “How abouts” and “Here’s what I’d like to dos” and see which will best suit your particular needs.

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