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Selling Online - Common Shopping Carts
by Eric Lester | Published Jan. 19, 2007
Article Rating: 3 Stars ( based on 3 votes)
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Selling online is virtually impossible without a shopping cart of some sort. This article provides an overview of two common shopping cart programs, Miva Merchant and osCommerce, their cost and support options.

Ecommerce hosting is filled with many choices. Unavoidable and undeniably important, the choice of shopping cart program is one that will effect every aspect of a store's future on the web. The shopping cart is how your customers find your products and ultimate pay you for them. That last part is, perhaps, the most important of all. Choosing one that is right for an individual's needs and can be comfortably administered is a step that can't be understated. This article will briefly review 2 popular shopping cart programs, Miva Merchant and osCommerce.


osCommerce is an open source shopping cart solution offered by many hosts. To the frugal, its most endearing quality will be the price tag, which is non-existent. Being open source, osCommerce is available free of charge for anyone's use. Simply jumping at the cheaper of the two solutions is not the ideal way to proceed. osCommerce provides all the basic functionality to run a store, add products, categories, and manage customer account information. The look and feel of the store can be modified somewhat through the use of templates, but the basic layout will remain fairly static. Visit one osCommerce store, and it will be fairly easy to identify the cart in the future. This is not necessarily a drawback, as some customers may appreciate using a familiar shopping cart if they have had good experience with another osCommerce store in the past.

As open source software, osCommerce's primary method of support is via its user community. There is no "official" support support channel, simply forums and user groups that discuss the program and even develop add-ons for it. This means the primary method of support in an osCommerce environment will be via your host's technical support department. This makes finding a host with reputable technical support very important. This is the primary trade off with most open-source software, economy versus supportability. Paying a large sum of money for any piece of commercial software not only pays for further development, but also for the software company to maintain support channels for that software. Open source programs don't have that luxury, they rely on the user community to provide a means of support.

Miva Merchant

Miva Merchant is a large piece of commercial software, and as such will require a more significant capital investment than osCommerce. Fortunately many website hosting companies offer what is essentially a "rental" of a Miva Merchant licence for a much smaller fee compared to an outright purchase direct from Miva Small Business. Anyone considering this option should be aware that using a hosting company's licence means that licence will remain with the hosting company even if they decided to leave. Miva Merchant does provide for import and export of customers and products, though, so a new cart can be setup at a new host with relatively little inconvenience.

Miva Merchant, in its basic form, provides a robust shopping cart environment able to handle a large number of products. Like osCommerce, it is software installed on the web server that is administered via a user's web browser. The browser based interface includes many "wizard-driven" processes to accomplish basic tasks, such as product and category setup, that ease new users into the administrative system. Once comfortable with the basic functionality, an advanced version of the administration system is available for more detailed and efficient management of the store. Miva Merchant is highly customizable, affording the ability to style the store to mimic the appearance of the parent website. More advanced store styling features have been added with the recent version 5 release.

Like osCommerce, support for Miva Merchant will come primarily via the hosting company, though Miva Small Business offers direct support channels for a yearly fee. Purchasing support from Miva allows users to bypass their hosting company's technical support and speak directly with a Miva Merchant representative. Also similar to osCommerce, Miva Merchant has a thriving "module" community. Modules are programs installed to Miva Merchant that offer increased functionality. If the core functionally of Miva Merchant "out of the box" lacks a required feature, it is likely that feature can be added by a module. Unlike osCommerce, these modules will come at a cost.


Miva Merchant and osCommerce are both powerful carts with strong, basic feature sets that will fit the needs of many online stores. The mostly non-existent cost of osCommerce provides a low barrier of entry for many smaller stores without a significant amount of capital. Though attractive for that reason, it is best to examine the feature sets of each cart and determine which one is most appropriate for the needs of the individual store. Making a wrong choice can have long lasting consequences. Switching between web hosts will seem easy after attempting to switch between shopping cart programs.

About the Author:

Mr. Lester has served for 4 years as the webmaster for and previously worked in the IT industry an additional 5 years, acquiring knowledge of hosting, design, and search engine optimization. Apollo Hosting provides website hosting, ecommerce hosting, vps hosting, and web design services to a wide range of customers.

Established in 1999, Apollo prides itself on the highest levels of customer support.

Note: These articles are provided for general interest and content purposes only, and should not be construed as "support" materials. Apollo Hosting does not guarantee the information contained within. All articles are free to reprint so long as they remain unchanged, the "About the Author" section remains, all hyperlinks are preserved, and the rel="nofollow" tag is not added to the hyperlinks.

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