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Online Shopping Carts and Payment Processors Explained

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online shopping carts

Shopping carts and payment processors… they aren’t just for brick and mortar stores! 

If you’re new to launching, let me explain how they are different, and how they work together. 

A shopping cart is how your customers view your products and confirm their purchase. I’m sure you’ve shopped online before and this probably isn’t an unfamiliar concept to you. Shopping carts can be beautiful and complex or clean and simple. Many of them can transition from clean and simple to beautiful and complex as your business grows. When you’re just starting out, go with simple.

For many Launchers, especially those just starting out, a shopping cart probably isn’t even necessary. You want a very minimal purchase process: as few clicks as possible. You’ve already done all of your selling via your email sequences, videos or webinar.

Contrast this with a traditional online store (think of where you are browsing products, choosing colors and sizes, adding things to a cart, reviewing the cart, and then making the final buying decision.

As an online marketer, your customers go through a little bit different process. When your customer decides, “Yes, I want that!”  you want him or her to click on one button, and the sale is complete. (This is the ideal… in reality there are usually at least two clicks, and probably entering some payment information, but this isn’t always required.)

The payment processor is used AFTER the customer clicks the button to buy. The payment processor collects the credit card info, checks to make sure it’s valid and then sends the payment to your bank account. Sometimes called a merchant account, the payment processor is easily the least glamorous and most important part of your checkout process.  

When considering shopping carts and payment processors, you need to think about your options ahead of time. I’m not sure if it’s just me or not, but it has happened more than once that I’ve been all ready to start my launch only to realize that I didn’t have a way for people to actually buy the product.

In a quick moment of desperation, I’d figure out the fastest way to solve my problem without derailing the launch. I always defaulted to a simple PayPal “Buy Now” button on my page. Maybe not the most elegant solution, but certainly quick and easy. 

And the PayPal button still works. It’s still what I’d do if I was offering my first product and didn’t have to worry about payment plans and other options. You can set those up with PayPal too, but there are other, better solutions when you start adding those types of options.

One caveat with PayPal is that if you expect to have a high volume of sales or if you are selling a high ticket offer, you must notify PayPal before you launch. Failure to do so could get your account frozen or shut down. Nowadays (yes, I’ve been at this for a while), PayPal even has a WordPress plug in you can use. I’ve not used it, but I’m guessing it makes the process even simpler than it was before.

Stripe is another good option. Clean, simple and easy to use, there is also a plug in for WordPress that makes set up really quick. 

Shopping Carts: 

Online shops come in a variety of sizes and shapes. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll be discussing those that work with WordPress. Wordpress has many integrated (plugin) shops: WooCommerce, WP EasyCart,  Easy Digital Downloads.


WooCommerce  is absolutely free, and very very full-featured and customizeable.  However, it comes with a price – additional plugins are usually paid versions.  Want to accept multi-pay?  That’s a paid plugin.  Want to integrate with Stripe?  Paid plugin.  The good news is, you only have to buy the plugins you actually need.

WooCommerce is a good default solution to use while building your business, as you’ll certainly have the flexibility to do what you want, and can add plugins as you go.  Once your business is up and running, you can look at other options to see if there’s a better fit with your mature business. My biggest frustration with WooCommerce is that it’s hard to actually see what your cart will look like before you start customizing. I’d love a way to look at various carts and say, “That’s what I want!” and then have Woo tell me which plug ins I need. I haven’t found that option yet, so if you know of a way I can do that, please let me know.

WP EasyCart 

WPEasyCart is also free, and comes with more features out of the box than base WooCommerce, but also comes with a $50 license fee for the Professional Edition, which most entrepreneurs will want. However, there are no additional plugins to cost you money later.

It also includes some features not in WooCommerce, including social sharing options and sales analytics

Easy Digital Downloads

If all you’re offering is e-products for download, Easy Digital Downloads might be a great option. This plugin is free, integrates with all of the payment gateways, and gives the user a great experience in buying and managing their digital downloads. Don’t use it for things like classes or membership however, it won’t support those types of transactions well.


SamCart is one of the quickest and easiest solutions out there. A lot of online marketers I know are using it and loving it, but it is a bit expensive. If you want to offer payment plans, which is one of the reasons most people use a cart in the first place, SamCart will cost you $90/month.

PayPal and Stripe

PayPal & Stripe: Just a simple button, no cart.

This is maybe the simplest approach, as it’s using the payment gateway you’ve already selected, and simply adding a button to your site for users to make the purchase. There’s no real “store” here at all. If you’re looking to sell just one thing to get your business started, and don’t want to mess with setting up a store, this might be the best solution for you. It worked for me for years.

Payment gateways:

Remember, the payment gate way is the “how” behind collecting money. Think of this like the Bank that’s connected to your store.


PayPal is the largest, most recognized name in online payments, but it comes with some detractors who have had bad experiences. Most of the time these bad experiences come about when launches go much, much better than expected. PayPal tends to freak out in these situations a bit and could shut down your account. In some situations tens of thousands of dollars have been tied up while they investigate. That’s the bad news. The good new is, PayPal has great integration with just about every shopping cart solution you’re likely to find.

PayPal is an entry-level solution, they take great pains to make everything simple to use. The simplest version of PayPal (Standard) requires the customer to leave your site to finish the purchase. PayPal Payments Pro allows the customer to complete the transaction without leaving your site, but this is an additional $30/month. You need to manually request a transfer from PayPal to your bank – this is where some people have had issues in the past, with PayPal refusing to send them their money because of a potential violation of the terms of service, or an unexpectedly large transaction volume.


Stripe is a new contender for the default solution, but many of the features will require more knowledge of eCommerce, and may not be easy for a non-techie to install. The base level of Stripe allows you to accept payments directly on-site, like PayPal Pro, but without the $30 monthly fee. Money moves into your bank account automatically after two days with no need to request a transfer.

Amazon Payments

Amazon Payments is a newer name in the online payments discussion. With this service, customers can pay using their Amazon account. As long as they’re logged in to Amazon, they won’t leave your site. Amazon Payments has free plugins for many eCommerce sites, making this the lowest-cost option overall.

Merchant Accounts

You can also accept payments directly, and not use another service.  To do this, you need a Merchant Account with a bank, and need to pass an underwriting review.  You’ll also need, in most cases, a business license.  Merchant accounts come with a monthly fee for use, but a lower fee for each transaction.

Merchant Account services will save you money if you consistently have sales of $2000 or more per month, but they may not be as easy to integrate with your shopping cart, and they have restrictions on card not present transactions, which almost all of your transacations will be if you’re selling online. Bottom line; a merchant account isn’t the right solution for most online entrepreneurs.

My recommendation is to start simple. If you’re only selling one product, if you’re not even sure that you have a product that will sell, the last thing you need is an expensive shopping cart system to collect money that may or may not come rolling in. Start with the Stripe or PayPal button or plug in and consider it done.

Make sure you also check out other services you’re already using. LeadPages for example, can now accept payment at its upper tier levels. If you’re using a membership site or have certain themes or plug ins already installed on your site, you may also have access to a shopping cart through them.

The key is to plan, but not over-think. As with all parts of setting up an online business, any decision you make now can be changed or upgraded later. Best to choose the minimum solution for what you need at the moment with an eye towards how easy it will be to upgrade later. Save yourself time, save yourself money and most importantly, save yourself frustration.

If you have a shopping cart or payment processor you adore, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

This article is part of a series called the 7 Tools You Need to Launch Online. 


  1. Kami McBride says:

    This is super useful info to have the shopping cart info all in one place. I am going to share this. Thanks so much!

    1. Tracie says:

      You’re so welcome, Kami! Let me know if you have any questions!

  2. Melissa says:

    So helpful and right on, Tracie.

    1. Tracie says:

      Thanks, Melissa!

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You NEED this!

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