- Intuitive design tools
- Highly customizable
- Expensive customer support
- Annual upgrade fee
CS-Cart is fully licensed, self-hosted software that comes in two forms: a shopping cart software (build your own online store) and a multi-vendor solution (build your own online marketplace–think eBay). In this review, we will be covering the shopping cart software exclusively.
CS-Cart has been around since 2005; it is a part of the Simtech conglomerate, which is also behind Merchium and Searchandise. In the past thirteen years, the company has sold 35,000 copies of their software to merchants in 170 countries.
One of CS-Cart’s largest selling points is that you only have to purchase their software once. After that one time purchase, you own the software, and you’ll never have to worry about the kind of subscription restructuring we often see with SaaS solutions (ahem, BigCommerce, ahem, Miva Merchant).
Unfortunately, as downloadable software, CS-Cart comes with its own limitations. You have to pay to receive updates and upgrades beyond the first year. While daily use of CS-Cart’s admin is fairly straightforward, support is limited. When you do encounter an issue, it may be difficult to resolve without spending significant time or money.
In my opinion, the biggest perk of CS-Cart is the drag-and-drop layout editor, which lets you change the structure of your storefront without ever touching the code.
For a full unbiased review of CS-Cart, keep reading.
Table of Contents
CS-Cart is a self-hosted solution, so you only pay once and then the software is yours. The price for the shopping cart software is $385 for one storefront and $865 if you want to run unlimited storefronts from the same admin.
CS-Cart also offers a Multi-Vendor solution for $1450. Multi-vendor solutions allow you to create your own marketplace (think eBay). We won’t be covering this solution in detail here, but you should know that it is available.
You can also view a side-by-side comparison of CS-Cart’s pricing options. CS-Cart offers a 30-day money back guarantee on their CS-Cart and Multi-Vendor licenses.
Although CS-Cart’s software is a one-time purchase, you will still have to cover ongoing expenses in order to maintain your online store. In addition to purchasing the software, you must pay for web hosting, an SSL certificate, and web development assistance.
Finally, in order to continually receive software updates and upgrades beyond your first year with CS-Cart, you’ll need to pay for an upgrade subscription plan. You can view the prices for those plans below.
Fortunately, security patches and service packs are available for free.
CS-Cart now also offers a cloud-based enterprise version of this software. This version is designed for Salesforce users and is billed monthly. To learn more, take a look at this article about CS-Cart Enterprise and view the Enterprise page on CS-Cart’s website.
Specific Size Of Business
While CS-Cart states that it is an excellent solution for startups and mid-size businesses, I disagree on the first point. I just don’t see CS-Cart as a viable platform for smaller businesses. CS-Cart requires a bit more technical experience than many small business owners have at their disposal.
Web-Hosted Or Licensed
CS-Cart is a fully licensed, self-hosted platform. You are responsible for finding your own web-host and maintaining your site’s security.
Hardware & Software Requirements
In order to use CS-Cart, you need to run the following.
- PHP versions 5.3.6, 5.4, 5.5, 5.6, or 7.
- MySQL version 4.1 or greater (MySQLi or pdo_mysql should be supported)
- CS-Cart recommends a Unix-like operating system for your server.
View CS-Cart’s full list of requirements on their website.
Ease Of Use
The easiest way to test out CS-Cart’s storefront and admin is to access the demo. You won’t be required to submit any information at all (so you avoid accidental credit card charges and annoying sales calls). With the demo, you’ll be able to tour the back end, view your storefront, and make changes to your layout using the drag and drop tool and the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor.
When you do purchase the platform, you’ll have to download and install it on your own server (take a look at the installation guide).
Daily operations are simple and intuitive on the CS-Cart platform. Upon accessing your demo (or downloading and installing the software), you’ll encounter your dashboard. From here, you can navigate to every aspect of your store.
You can easily add and edit products. Use the navigation bar to enter advanced features like attributes and SEO-friendly meta descriptions.
Creating order discounts and catalog discounts is relatively simple as well. CS-Cart lets you create discounts that apply under a number of conditions. Here are a few of your options:
I was pleased to discover a built-in blog feature (available via a native application). The blog feature was easy to use. I created a new post in minutes.
While I did not encounter any issues in my trial, I have read a few reports of buggy sites. Although CS-Cart resolves all bugs on their end, if your error occurs from any third-party integrations you may have added, you’ll be responsible for resolving the issue. To do so, you can solve the problem yourself, use your CS-Cart support credits (more on this in our Customer Service section), or hire external support.
In summary, although CS-Cart ranks highly in ease of use for daily operations, it presents more of a challenge on the web development side.
CS-Cart offers plenty of features to meet your businesses needs. You can find this software’s full feature list distributed across seven web pages, or you can take a look at my condensed list below.
- Drag & Drop Editor: Easily update your content from the admin without touching any code.
- Product Filters: List attributes for your products to simplify searching within your admin.
- RMA (Return Merchandise Authorization): Let customers create return requests from their profiles.
- Multi-Language & Multi-Currency: Sell across borders in 10+ languages.
- Multiple Storefronts: Add on additional storefronts at an additional price (or purchase the Ultimate license to create an unlimited number of storefronts).
- Product Options: List images for each product option, and apply weight and price modifiers according to the options selected.
- Track Product Inventory: Stay on top of inventory by monitoring how many products you have in each variable category.
- Sell Digital: Market and sell downloadable products on your storefront.
- Bulk Import & Export: Use CSV files to make migration easier.
- Real-Time Shipping Rates: Integrate with major carriers like FedEx and USPS to provide accurate, live shipping rates.
- Single Page Checkout: Make checkout easy to increase conversion.
- Tax Calculator: Set up your admin to automatically calculate sales tax at checkout.
- SEO-Friendly URLs: You can also write SEO-friendly titles and meta descriptions.
- Export Products: List your products on Facebook, eBay and Google Shopping for more views.
- Multi-Channel Selling: Use the “Widget mode” to plug your store into another site like WordPress and Facebook.
- Log In From Social Media: Let customers log in to your site using their Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare accounts.
- Product Reviews & Ratings: Establish trust with future shoppers by letting your current customers rate your products.
- List Best Sellers & On-Sale Products: This up-sell and cross-sell feature is available as a free, built-in add-on.
- “Buy Together” Bundles: Suggest that your customers purchase additional related products in a bundle for a discounted price.
- Abandoned Carts Tracking: View carts that customers left at checkout.
- Promotions & Discounts: Set discounts that are based on an order, a flat rate, or a percent.
- Integrate With Email Marketing: Connect your store to Mad Mimi or MailChimp to automate your newsletter system.
- Lazy Image Loading: Images load as your customers scroll to them for faster load times.
- Gzip: Gzip reduces file sizes so that files are delivered to your customers’ browsers faster.
- CDN Support: A CDN (Content Distribution Network) from Amazon CloudFront helps your site load faster everywhere.
- Built-In Caching: Your store will load even faster the second time a customer visits a page.
CS-Cart stores come with a handful of preinstalled themes which are non-offensive overall, but a little boring. If you want a spicier theme, take a look at CS-Cart’s marketplace. You’ll find a wide range of third-party themes. Some of these are decent…
…while others could use a little improvement. Here’s a prime example:
CS-Cart offers a wide variety of customization tools. You can edit the HTML/CSS in your admin. You can also make changes to the overall layout of your site with a simple drag and drop function. Or, you can use the on-site content editor and the style editor to quickly make changes to your site’s logos, colors, fonts, and backgrounds.
Integrations & Add-Ons
CS-Cart has a few add-ons available in their admin. All you have to do is click to activate them. I figure this sort of add-on is really just like a native feature that was banished to a separate page in your admin. My guess is that CS-Cart didn’t want to overwhelm new users with too many features at once.
You can find additional applications in CS-Cart’s marketplace. These applications include a few (though not all that many) popular options. You might recognize a couple of the following:
- MailChimp Connect ($75.99): Integrate with automated email marketing service.
- Facebook Store ($130): Feature products on your brand’s Facebook page.
- Whatsapp Share Add-on ($15): Share products through popular messaging service, Whatsapp.
- Aftership (Free): Shipment tracking and notifications.
Additionally, your own developers can build custom connections for you, or you can hire one of CS-Cart’s affiliated developers to take care of it.
CS-Cart integrates with over 50 payment solutions, so you’re certain to find the payment gateways you need. Here are a few of the most popular gateways:
Customer Service & Technical Support
When you sign up for CS-Cart’s single storefront, you receive 50 support credits. Those credits can be used to contact CS-Cart representatives, ask questions, and have your issues resolved. CS-Cart says that the number of credits a request required depends on the amount of work necessary to answer the question and resolve the issue. You can see CS-Cart’s breakdown of support credit charges on their site.
When you run out of those initial support credits, you can purchase more at the following prices:
CS-Cart Ultimate (CS-Cart’s unlimited storefront option) and Multi-Vendor plans both come with 30 days of free technical support. You will not receive any support credits with these software options.
Currently, technical support is available only during the day at GMT+4. If you find yourself needing support outside of those hours (or without any remaining support credits), you can try one of the alternative support solutions below:
- Contact Portal
- Help Desk
- Official documentation
- Sales email: email@example.com
- Download and Installation Instructions
- User Guide
- Developer Guide
Negative Reviews & Complaints
There are very few comments online about CS-Cart. Here are a few of the negative comments I eventually managed to dig up:
- Some Technical Issues: Customers occasionally run into issues with bugs. Read about CS-Cart’s Bug Fixing Policy.
- Paid Customer Service Model: Customer service is not free. After you’ve used up all of your support credits, you’ll have to continually pay to have your questions answered and your issues resolved.
- Expensive Development: One customer mentioned that he paid for the development of a few costly add-ons, and they never worked.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
Again, it was difficult to find any reviews of CS-Cart. Here’s what I did uncover:
- Feature Rich: Customers state that CS-Cart comes with an extensive feature set.
- Open Source: Because the shopping cart is open source, it’s easy for the tech-savvy to customize their own sites.
- One Time Payment: CS-Cart is purchased; it is not leased. After your one time payment, you’ll own that piece of software forever.
- Good Support: While I’ve seen a few reviews expressing frustration with CS-Cart’s support system, I’ve seen an equal number of reviews praising it.
- Visual Editor: The visual editor is, in my opinion, one of CS-Cart’s strongest features. Merchants who know very little about web development can restructure their site’s look without any external help.
As CS-Cart is a self-hosted solution, you are responsible for your site’s security. You’ll need to ensure your site’s PCI compliance and purchase an SSL certificate.
For more, read CS-Cart’s guide on how to make your site more secure and take a look at CS-Cart’s security forum.
After much consideration, I have reached the conclusion that CS-Cart is a good shopping cart solution, although it isn’t my favorite. The software does have a couple good selling points (one-time buying and a decent drag-and-drop editor). However, those positives are countered by limited customer support and continued payment for platform upgrades.
However, if you’ve decided that CS-Cart fits the needs (and budget) of your company, go ahead and try out that demo. Get the feel of the platform and see if it’s right for you.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.