Free Vs Pay Monthly Ecommerce Shopping Cart Solutions

As a provider of several different ecommerce shopping cart websites to clients all over the world, there is one particular question that I get asked time and time again: "Should I use a free ecommerce shopping cart or a hosted solution?". My reply is always the same: "It will depend on your specific requirements".

I have always said that no one ecommerce solution can cater to every single customers individual requirements. We will all have different needs, and we will be trying to achieve different end results.

I wanted to take a look at the pros and cons of these two different types of ecommerce options.

What are the differences?

Usually with a free ecommerce shopping cart you will need to do everything yourself. From choosing your domain name, to selecting hosting, installing your ecommerce software, designing it etc.

With a hosted ecommerce solution provider many of the required steps are already taken care of for you. You still need to decide upon & register your domain name, but hosting is taken care of by the ecommerce company that you choose.

Hopefully taking a look at the pros and cons of each will help you to decide which best suits what you are looking for.


Free Ecommerce Shopping Cart

With a free platform you will first need to decide on platform you would like to use. Zen Cart and OS commerce are popular but are getting old and becoming less supported. Magento, Presta shop and X cart are the choice of the professionals, but have a steeper learning curve.


  • It's free! - You can't get any cheaper than getting something for free ay?
  • No tie-ins - There are no commitments with free ecommerce solutions. If one particular platform is not working for you, you can usually just start again on another ecommerce platform.
  • You have full control - The great thing about hosting and running your own ecommerce store is that you will have full control over all aspects of your store and so cn be a bit more flexible. Some people may find a hosted solution quite restrictive.


  • Little to no direct support - You are usually on your own support wise when it comes to free ecommerce solutions. So if something goes wrong, you'll need to either consult forums for the answer yourself, or outsource and hire a developer to fix things for you.
  • It's harder to install a new theme - Depending on the ecommerce solution you choose, installing a new theme can be a complicated process. You will usually need to access your websites core files and upload your new theme using FTP (File Transfer Protocol) software such as file zilla.
  • Updates - You will usually be on your own when it comes to ensuring your shopping cart software is up to date. Some updates for the software you are using could include important security patches or bug fixes.
  • Security - How secure your website is from hackers will rest with you and you alone.

Hosted Ecommerce Shopping Cart

There are several companies out there not that provide a hosted solution for a reasonable monthly fee. Each company also has their own pros and cons as well as differing feature-wise. You will need to invest time into deciding which best fits your needs. Big commerce, Volusion and Actinic are popular choices.


  • Free themes - Several free themes are available for hosted ecommerce solutions that are usually just one click away to install.
  • Better support - The majority of hosted ecommerce solutions will have a helpful in-house support team that you can turn to if you are having any problems with your store.
  • Updates - The ecommerce company that you choose will usually ensure all customers are running the latest versions of their software.
  • Security - No ecommerce company would want their platform - or a customers website to be hacked. The majority will do all they can to reduce the chances of this happening.
  • Easy installation - Most hosted solutions are very simple to set up. It's usually just a case of entering your details.


  • Not as flexible - Those who prefer to spead their wings and experiment with their store may find a hosted solution quite restrictive.
  • You're tied in to a monthly fee - Whether your website becomes instantly profitable or not, you will be tied in to paying a monthly fee that will range anything from $10 - $20PM.
  • No core file access - For security reasons hosted solutions will not give you access to your websites raw code. They instead make all aspects of your store editable by using the likes of a WYSIWYG editor ( what you see is what you get ).

So as you can see, the choice when it comes to ecommerce is not an easy one. I personally prefer the flexibility that the free ecommerce platforms can provide; but I can also see why hosted ecommerce solutions are becoming more and more popular.

Barry is an online Entrepreneur and the co-founder of a specialist Ecommerce shopping cart solutions company based in London

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