Much of the competition in our online shopping cart review roundup has been aimed at folks new to e-commerce trying to realize their web store project quickly.
X-Cart, however, goes the other way.
This solution (which begins at $495 for a lifetime license) offers most of the bells and whistles of the competition but adds more flexibility at the cost of ease of use.
That may throw some folks but, if you're not afraid of HTML, then X-Cart could be a great solution—especially for those looking to customize their existing storefronts.
Those looking to just start out, however, will likely be better off with our Editors' Choice winners Pinnacle Cart and Shopify.
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X-Cart maintains two versions of its software: X-Cart 4 Classic and X-Cart 5, with different tiers for each numbered version.
I downloaded and installed the free version of X-Cart 5 Business for this review.
I also stepped through X-Cart's comprehensive Demo site to get a feel for what is available in X-Cart 4 Classic.
Try out all of the versions and consider the different pricing packages before making your buying decision.
One thing to remember about X-Cart's self-hosted software: You are responsible for purchasing from X-Cart (or a third-party provider) everything you need to set up the web host VPS is recommended over shared hosting), buy and install an SSL certificate, hook up to a payment gateway, and integrate additional services.
This might be more work than you are willing to undertake.
If you aren't used to configuring your own website software, then you may want to consider getting a developer or designer to help you get up and running.
X-Cart's pricing scheme requires a bit of explanation.
X-Cart 5 Business and X-Cart 4 Classic are similar to Magento in that you download the software and install it on your server.
You pay for a lifetime license and you own the software outright but, remember, the license restricts you to one X-Cart on one website.
For the first year, you get free upgrades to new features.
After the first year, you need to pay an annual subscription fee, which ranges from $99.95 for X-Cart 5 Business to $5,995 for X-Cart 5 Ultimate to continue receiving upgrades.
Don't assume you won't need those upgrades—you may want some of those features down the road, and it will cost more to reinstate your plan then.
X-Cart 5 Packages
There is a free version of X-Cart 5, which has all of the essential features for getting started with an online store, as well as such advanced features as newsletters, social-commerce sharing, and a sitebuilder for tweaking themes.
X-Cart will provide free core upgrades for the free version.
It also includes free extensions such as ShipStation to generate shipping labels, Magic Slideshow to create a slideshow on the site, and Diib Analytics—which provides predictive analytics for your store.
For the paid tiers, X-Cart 5 Business comes in three versions: Business, Multivendor, and Ultimate.
The Business version ($495) offers advanced options such as discount coupons, volume discounts, product variations, feature comparisons, multi-currency support, the ability to edit orders, and two-factor authentication.
This version also has its own set of free modules, such as the ability to add Previous and Next buttons to product pages, to let customers attach or upload files before placing an order, and to generate a Sitemap for the site.
The Multivendor version ($1,495) lets you set up a single marketplace with multiple vendors using a single checkout page and centralized order management.
Administrators can manage the marketplace to see what each vendor is selling as well as track all customer orders.
The Ultimate ($5,995) version offers even more advanced features, such as abandoned-cart reminders, product feeds, loyalty programs, the ability allow customers to call for pricing, and wishlists.
You also get premium support.
Remember, X-Cart's self-hosted version may feel expensive, but that's only because it's a one-time payment and not a month-to-month fee.
Test out the free version and necessary modules for as long as you like, or download the generous 30-day trial and test out a specific package.
I also liked the fact that X-Cart offers a 30-day refund.
X-Cart 4 Classic Packages
You may also want to consider X-Cart 4 Classic, the older version of the software, which is also available as three different packages.
Like X-Cart 5, you pay for the lifetime license upfront.
Gold ($195), intended for small businesses and startups, comes with basic shopping cart functionality and such advanced features as SEO tools, a Facebook Store app, surveys, and multilingual support.
Like Ecwid ($15.00 at Ecwid) , X-Cart offers responsive design, which means the site looks great no matter what device you are using—critically important in these mobile-centric days.
Gold Plus ($395), intended for mid-sized and growing businesses, integrates with MailChimp, supports multiple currencies, sends product-notification emails, and supports customer reviews.
Platinum ($1,795), intended for large businesses and multi-vendor shops, lets you create online marketplaces.
Platinum users also get one year of premium support and assistance installing the software.
When you look at the prices, getting X-Cart 4 Classic instead of X-Cart 5 seems like a no-brainer.
Why pay so much more when you can do pretty much everything with X-Cart 4 already? Well, Upgrades are tricky with Classic, since you have to perform them manually via patches (as opposed to X-Cart 5's automatic update system).
I would really only consider X-Cart 4 Classic if there was a feature I needed that X-Cart 5 doesn't have.
X-Cart 4 Classic is tremendously rich in features—thanks to its 14-year history—some of which have not yet been implemented in the newer X-Cart 5.
For example, the RMA module, which lets you process returns and refunds, and Wishlists are both available in X-Cart 4 Classic but only as paid extensions in X-Cart 5.
Or if you want real-time shipping calculators for DHL or Intershipper, you will need to use X-Cart 4 Classic for now.
There are also many third-party extensions and modules that have not yet been ported over to X-Cart 5's codebase.
If you need them, consider X-Cart 4 Classic.
On the other hand, Amazon S3 integration is built into X-Cart 5 and offered as a paid extension for X-Cart 4 Classic, so there are plenty of new features in X-Cart 5 that aren't in Classic, too.
If the thought of managing your own X-Cart software on your site makes you nervous, then you may want to consider X-Cart Hosting.
Hosting makes X-Cart more like Shopify and Pinnacle Cart, as everything is managed for you on a virtual private server and you don't have to worry about upgrades and configuration.
X-Cart, if installed on your site, doesn't have its own bandwidth or storage restrictions since everything is on your own infrastructure.
If you go the hosting route, you have limits, but they are generous.
If you exceed the available bandwidth for your tier, you pay a fee of 30 cents per extra GB.
The Starter plan ($29.95 per month) installs X-Cart on a VPS with 512MB of memory, 1 core processor, 20GB solid-state drive, and 1TB transfer bandwidth.
Basic ($49.95 per month) installs X-Cart on a VPS with 1GB of memory, 1 core processor, 30GB solid-state drive, and 2TB transfer bandwidth.
The Standard plan ($89.95 per month) installs X-Cart on a VPS with 2GB of memory, 40GB solid-state drive, and 3TB transfer bandwidth.
All three plans rely on a shared SSL certificate, although you do have the option to buy your own.
There are more advanced plans with X-Cart installed on even more powerful servers.
Those plans also include phone support.
If you already have a store on a different provider, X-Cart will migrate your store for you when you sign up with a hosting plan.
Honestly, by the time I made sense out of the pricing plans, I was ready to just go to Magento, which lets you download the software without so much confusion.
Or to a hosting plan such as BigCommerce ($29.95 at Bigcommerce) to get all these advanced features without having to deal with self-administration.
Setting Up an X-Cart Store
Getting started with the self-hosted version of X-Cart is not as simple as spinning up Ecwid, which lets you set up a store just by cutting and pasting the appropriate lines of code into your website.
With X-Cart, you install the software on your Web host, load the browser to log into the application, and then start designing your store.
You need to enter the database information, the location of your website directory on the server, and other server-specific information.
Once it's installed, you go to the administrator zone to log in and manage your storefront.
X-Cart provides a map of sorts to help you with store setup.
You use the pre-launch checklist to specify store-specific details, add products, set up address zones and tax rates, configure shipping rules, and set up the payment gateway.
It's not as slick as what Pinnacle Cart or BigCommerce offer, but it is straightforward and handy.
The Store Setup page is fairly easy to fill out with the store information, shipping details, and payment details.
While you can get a store outline more or less ready within minutes, you should set aside a few hours to get all the back-end systems configured and customized to your needs.
The drag-and-drop editor simplifies the process for editing theme templates in X-Cart 5.
The process is much more manual than that of X-Cart 4 Classic.
If you have an existing store on a different platform, you can export the product database (if the feature exists) and import it into X-Cart.
The X-Cart administrator interface is on par for other website tools such as WordPress.
Everything is organized under the left menu bar, which displays Orders, Catalog, Promotions, Users, Content, Modules, Store Setup, Look & Feel, and System Settings.
There is a learning curve to learn where everything is, but it's not a steep one.
I felt like, in this respect, at least, X-Cart was much easier than using Magento.
I also used X-Cart's Demo tool to get a feel for X-Cart 4 Classic's dashboard (for the Gold Plus plan).
While the interface is more-dated and less-attractive than X-Cart 5's, everything is organized in more or lessthe same way.
Instead of a left menu pane, all the menus are shown as tabs across the top of the page in X-Cart 4 Classic.
X-Cart gives you features specific for marketing and search, such as being able to create widgets showing your bestselling products, letting users submit reviews and ratings, and using SEO tools to configure URLs and add metatags.
You can create one-page checkout pages, and set up order tracking.
There is a real-time shipping calculator and an option to include customer reviews and ratings.
You can also add variations such as sizes and colors with the Product Option module.
Another thing I like: You can set up multiple administrators so different staff members can securely manage the store without having to share passwords.
You can integrate with Google Analytics for detailed reports and generate a sitemap.
Customers can zoom in on images, which is a nice feature .
They can also drag-and-drop items into the shopping cart, a feature Ecwid also offers.
Merchants can integrate with MailChimp ($10.00 at Mail Chimp) .
Add-ons are available in the X-Cart marketplace.
Some of them require you to have a higher-tier license, but most are available for everyone, and some are free.
Support for lower levels is limited to FAQs, forums, and a knowledgebase.
You can buy a support ticket or use live chat.
I encountered difficulty getting live chat—sometimes I got the message that it was unavailable.
When I did get someone on the chat, I had to wait a few minutes to see each response.
I don't know if it was a network lag (X-Cart is based in Europe) or if the representative had to look up the answer before responding to my questions.
Either way, I felt like I had to rephrase my question multiple times to get the answer I needed.
The FAQs and knowledgebase, as well as the wiki, are fantastic.
Phone support is not available for lower tiers, which is disappointing.
X-Cart is difficult enough to use that it would have been nice to see more direct support options across tiers.
Developers will love working with X-Cart.
The company provides the following services to its customers: design creation and integration, migration services, hosting and SSL certificates, custom development with any size project, SEO service, system administration, and security audits.
You'll have to discuss pricing and timelines with X-Cart before taking advantage of these services, but it's nice to know there's someone to whom you can turn if you need added help.
X-Cart integrates with 122 payment gateways, including PayPal, Authorize.Net, 2Checkout, and Stripe.
Once you create a merchant account with the appropriate payment provider, you just select the payment gateway in the application, and X-Cart handles the integration.
If for whatever reason you selected a gateway X-Cart doesn't support out of the box, you can follow the site's guide and Help wiki to code a custom extension to connect the gateway yourself.
Of course, you have to be comfortable coding, or have someone who can do it for you, to be able to take advantage of this level of customization.
You can even set up the ability to pay with business and personal checks, money orders, and wire transfers.
X-Cart also can be used to process physical, offline transactions.
If you have a way to key in or swipe the credit card information, X-Cart can handle the transaction.
I like this feature in Shopify, and I'm glad to see it in X-Cart, too.
A Lot of Good, But Not for Everyone
X-Cart has been around for 14 years and it shows.
There are a ton of useful features which can be customized to meet your needs.
However, it requires a high level of technical competence, which may raise the barrier of entry above what many merchants can manage.
Don't forget to calculate the host of hosting, SSL certificate, and merchant account when considering whether the self-hosted version...