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How to add a shopping cart to your existing website

Let’s assume you already have all the underlying components (domain name, hosting, email accounts, etc) in place and you’re in the happy position where your website gets plenty of traffic. You see you have the potential to sell and you can bolster your revenue, considering your website enjoys the right kind of traffic.

In this case, you’re not likely to choose a hosted service such as Shopify. Assuming you also don’t want to redevelop your site, what are your options if want to add ecommerce capabilities to your existing site? You’ll be glad to know that you can convert your site into an online store without changing your existing web design or anything.

Of course, the gamut runs from coding your own shopping cart in HTML 5 over to just adding a PayPal button to embedding a few lines of code. If you’re running a WordPress site, you can install a plugin. As you see, you have lots of choices.

Understanding how an online shopping cart works will help you pick the right one for your business. Look for the one that gives you the most flexibility and the best features that you need to grow your business while also being easy to use, so potential buyers of your website are not deterred.

So, what is an online shopping cart?

It’s a program that makes up all the necessary pieces so that your customers can shop for products from your website. It will keep a tab of the items your customer has “picked up” from your website and display a checkout to accept payment.

Some shopping cart software is quite basic, providing only the bare essentials such as the buy now button and checkout page. Others include all the features you could think of that would make managing your online a breeze store such as customer relationship management or abandoned cart recovery.

There is an abundance of shopping cart catering to different needs that you can embed. Some of the most popular choices are:

Bricks and mortar shopping compared with online shopping

Before much shifted online due to Covid, you would (or could) go shopping. You’d enter a store because the display window caught your eye. You take a look in the store, maybe something else takes your fancy. You take your items to the cashier’s desk, hand in the money, and leave the store with your new shiny things. Most likely, you didn’t take note of the backroom where all the goods and items are kept.

An online shopping cart works quite the same as a brick and mortar store. It (should) also has a display window, a storefront, and a backroom. The display window and storefront are the customers facing frontend where your customers browse your products. The backroom is analogous to the business-facing backend that includes the dashboard or the control panel. You execute all your behind the scenes tasks in the dashboard before your customers can enjoy perusing your online store.

The frontend is what entices your customers to browse and buy from your website. As such, the following features can help increase the attractively of your store

  • Individual product page including product description and images
  • Individual product pages with customer reviews and ratings
  • Category and subcategories of product
  • Other pages such as bestsellers
  • Store policies
  • Search
  • Blog
  • View cart page for reviewing selected items
  • Multiple product selection before checkout

Backend features will help in your everyday tasks to run a store such as

  • Inventory management with quantity alerts
  • Order management
  • Invoice management
  • Customer relationship management
  • Real-time prices including shipping calculation
  • Shipping rates
  • Label printing
  • Tax calculation
  • Integrations with other tools such as accounting or social media
  • Payment gateway options
  • Email notifications
  • Marketing and promotional options such as email marketing
  • Discount codes
  • SEO for the products
  • Sales reporting and analytics
  • Support for different languages

Payment gateway options

A payment gateway is a system that allows you to receive payments from your customers in a secure way while also protecting you from fraud and chargebacks.

You’ll need to open a merchant account with PayPal, Square, or Stripe, which will act as your payment gateway.

Every time a customer clicks on the buy button, the shopping cart sends the payment to the payment gateway. This in turn will find the correct bank account or credit card company. It sends a request to charge the credit card for the total amount of purchase. The bank or credit card company validates the account and decides to approve or deny the charge. Should the card not be approved, it will send a message back with the reason why it couldn’t be processed.

By approval, the gateway sends a message back saying the money can be transferred and notifies the shopping cart that the transaction was successful. Lastly, the gateway sends a request to the store’s merchant account requesting the bank account or credit card to add funds to the store’s merchant account. Until you can access your funs, it generally can take 3-7 days.

How to choose?

When making a decision, first take stock of what and how much you’re going to sell. Look at the size and scale of your online store and factor in where you want to be in 6, 12, 24, and maybe even 60 months. If further down the road you plan to sell your products internationally, you need a shopping cart that supports multiple languages.

Do you know what framework or content management system you use? This may help in adding the one but not the other cart to your site. You’ll want to look for a shopping cart that’s easy to set up for the system you’re using.

Do you have a favourite way of allowing checkout or do you have constraints with receiving payments?

We assume that your existing website is secured with SSL and if not we recommend doing so as soon as possible. Not only will it signal trust to your customers so that they will be more inclined to shop at your online store but also will it help with your SEO. If you have not done so yet, then go for a service that will transfer all sensitive information via SSL. That is to say that the service has secured the checkout process.

Now take another look at the features of both the frontend and the backend (you may want to download the feature list). Do you need each feature? And if yes, what is your priority?


Setting up an online store needs a lot of separate tasks. The following checklist is included in the download helps you not miss a task:

  • Decide on your shopping cart
  • Install shopping cart
  • Design your storefront
  • Design the checkout process
  • Set up payment gateways
  • Write product descriptions
  • Images of products
  • SEO keywords
  • Shipping rates
  • Currency options

These checklists can also help you when you’ve decided to take the hosted shopping cart route and work with a service such as Squarespace. Good luck!

Let us know in the comments below which shopping cart you chose and why.

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