What is an Ecommerce Shopping Cart?

An ecommerce site is a website for conducting business online, and there are a number of parallels between etailers, as they are called, and retailers. Retail customers may walk around a merchant’s establishment and collect merchandise in a shopping cart to present to a cashier for purchase. Similarly, customers at an etailer’s website use an ecommerce shopping cart to collect the merchandise that they wish to purchase, and when they are done shopping, present it for check out. An ecommerce shopping cart may not actually look like a shopping cart at all. The name makes the analogy for the customer, so that he or she can quickly and easily grasp how to select items for purchase.

There are two basic types of ecommerce shopping cart. First, there are carts that are available for free and designed in open source software. These shopping carts are meant to be altered to meet any needs that a website might have. For the programmer with the skills to build a site from scratch, this type of shopping cart provides maximum opportunity to tailor it to the merchant’s needs.

The other type of shopping cart is the type that comes with web hosting attached. Sometimes it is presented as an add-on to a business hosting package, and sometimes buying the shopping cart brings the web package along with it. In either case, the etailer ends up with a web site and a system by means of which customers can make purchases.

An ecommerce shopping cart works like this. A customer comes to the ecommerce website and sees a product or service that he or she wishes to purchase. Generally, the customer clicks an “add to cart” button to reserve the item. If the item has options, such as color or size, the customer may immediately be able to make these choices, as well as alter the quantity.

Once the customer adds an item to the cart, a display may show the cart contents and subtotal the cost. At any time after adding the first item, the customer can view the cart contents, change attributes of the items in the cart — such as color or size — and change the quantity reserved for purchase, including making it zero. The customer can continue shopping or present the shopping cart to check out at any time.

When the customer goes to check out, the procedure will partly depend on whether he or she has an existing account. If so, the process of identifying who is making the name, the billing and shipping addresses, the form of payment, and any gift specifications, may be very quick. If an account has to be generated, it may take a bit longer. During the checkout process, any tax will be computed, shipping and handling charges, if any, will be added, and an opportunity will come to apply any coupons or discounts that may be appropriate. Usually authorization of payment triggers an email to the customer, and when shipping is involved, a subsequent email often follows with shipping and tracking information, as well as a notice that the payment has been requested.