As an eCommerce website owner, your goal is to present your products and services in a manner that is convenient for the customer, has the necessary functionality to administer the web pages, and most importantly, to capture payment information efficiently. A website is nothing more than an image created in real time by accessing a database then transferring the pictures, descriptions and other information to your customers computer where the browser compiles all the information in a format that allows interaction.
In order to allow your customer to select items for purchase, you need a shopping cart software that will track your customers selections, allow the customer to continue browsing until they are finished shopping, then, allow you the website owner to capture payment information. Unlike most HTML web pages, the shopping cart system does not generate a page until after you are ready to select a product for perusal. This dynamic page generation concept saves vast amounts of server space as well as transfer time by only transferring a page when your customer needs it.
This makes it possible for a web site owner to catalog 1000s of products, but only needing 1 page to present all of those products as the shopping cart system merely uploads the image and description as requested by the customer.
Most shopping carts systems provide a back office for editing, adding and removing products. Also provided is one or more databases to store information like product details as well as customer and order information. Most of the closed source pages are built in to give you a mechanism to display information to store visitors, but only the content can change not the framework.
One notable feature to look for is which online storefront is being used. Examples are OS commerce and MIVA merchant. The OS means open source and is one of the oldest systems dating back to the first ecommerce websites. No web site would be able to complete sales unless a credit card payment gateway is used to transmit credit card transactions to the merchant.
Another helpful feature includes the use of connectors whereas the back office of your website can communicate with another one to post items for sale. This is commonly used when you desired to upload some of your website products to an auction site such as eBay, Amazon.com, shopping.com and others. Rather than having to rekey all of the information on your product such as description and price, the software communicates to these websites.