Understanding the difference between a Multi-Site Shopping Cart and a Multi-Store Shopping Cart

Some e-commerce software companies are starting to offer multi-site shopping carts and multi-store shopping carts. Unless you’re steeped in the lingo, differentiating between the two can be difficult. The difference between the two, however, is profound, and buying a multi-store shopping cart when a multi-site shopping cart is really needed (or vice-versa) can abruptly prevent a retailer from growing its on-line business. After all, the purpose of both types of carts is to allow retailers to expand beyond the traditional equation that one e-commerce web site equals one shopping cart.

A multi-site shopping cart uses one software installation (that is, one copy of the code base and one copy of the database) to support an unlimited number of e-commerce web sites. Each web site comes with its own shopping cart. The rules of the shopping cart are specific to the web site. One benefit of this type of system is that a retailer can add e-commerce sites without growing their software infrastructure. More important benefits are that a retailer can share their product catalog between all their web sites, and each shopping cart is customized to the needs of the shoppers that frequent that web site.

A multi-store shopping cart allows retailers to create multiple stores, with each store using the same shopping cart. This type of system allows a shopper to pick an item from store 1, a different item from store 2, and then check out once. The rules for the shopping cart are the same across all stores. However, the look and feel of each store is different, just like the look and feel for each web site is different.

A multi-site shopping cart is best for businesses who want to operate multiple sites, with each site operating completely independently from its ‘sister’ sites. A multi-store shopping cart is best for companies who want to operate something akin to a web mall. That is, allow shoppers to visit lots of stores, put items they want in a single basket, and check out once. Very convenient, but each store has to play by the same set of rules when it comes to sharing the shopping cart.

Of course, if a retailer can get an e-commerce system with multi-site and multi-store capabilities, then they have complete flexibility in configuring their on-line business (perhaps the Holy Grail of multi-site e-commerce management).

In conclusion, if a retailer caters to multiple customer segments, carries multiple product lines, or has a need to create web sites that serve specific functions (i.e.: sell discontinued goods), then a multi-site shopping cart is probably the way to go. If a retailer is all about offering a broad array of products (perhaps from different vendors/brands), convenience for their customers, and minimizing the check out process, then a multi-store shopping cart might be the way to go. It all depends on what the business is trying to achieve.

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