In early 2022 X-Cart made a major change to their business model. Instead of downloading the code, paying a one off licence fee (c. $500) and ‘off you go’ the new setup requires a $199+ monthly subscription. That’s a major on cost for some businesses.
With X-Cart now effectively costing $2,400+ per year is it the best option for businesses who rely heavily on SEO to get their traffic?
The short answer, if you don’t want to read the detail, is ‘Yes’ if:
- you have a $100k+ turnover and/or
- you operate in a competitive market and/or
- your website set up includes communicating with third parties (e.g. real time shipping rates from the likes of UPS)
The basic requirement of any SEOable eCommerce platform
Ecommerce platforms come in two forms:
- The software is held on a server which you do not have access to. You may be able to tweak the visual look but the actual code which runs the site is out of bounds. These are ‘closed source‘ platforms.
- The software can be downloaded by you and set up on almost any compatible server where you can customize it to your heart’s delight. These are ‘open source‘ platforms.
If you have many online competitors then advanced SEO is key to your success and advanced SEO requires access to the code which runs the store. Such access allows you to do all sorts of things such as:
- Change the data that is pulled from the databases to create bespoke product pages.
- Add/Create/Edit tables within the database to create better bespoke product content.
- Change the way product searching on the site itself works.
- Dynamically generate pages from database content.
- Create scripts which can download data for third party applications such as Google Ads.
Now there are a whole host of Open Source eCommerce platforms out there but most of them only have limited numbers of users. That means communities in support forums and developers familiar with the code are few.
This leaves you with three main options
- Magento Open Source (now Adobe Commerce)
- WordPress with WooCommerce
Magento Open Source is completely free. Download the code, put it on your server and off you go. Even the default theme looks pretty good but there are a whole lot more to choose from on the open market – Envato lists 377.
The code is your own so no matter what you want to achieve you, if you have the coding skills, or a developer can achieve it for you.
Magento’s Open Source weak point is in its technical support. In essence there isn’t any. You can visit various Magento forums to seek out help or hire a Magento developer if you get stuck. However there is nothing to say that developer won’t get stuck as well or perhaps even damage part of the site (every developer has a different skill level/competancy).
This is especially true of work on ‘server-to-server’ code such as when your website needs to talk to a shipper like UPS in order to get rates or a payment gateway like PayPal to process orders. Here the pool of available Magento developers drops even further.
Now if you put that into context. Imagine your payment gateway stops working. First you bang heads in a forum to see if anyone else has similar issues but as almost all Magento stores are heavily customized the issue may well be down to something you changed (even if that change was years ago).
Next you need to track down a developer, or use one you have built a relationship with. But what if they can’t find the bug and you have to search out someone with more advanced skills? All the time your store is effectively closed and you are losing sales.
This spread of support across hundreds of (mostly freelance) developers also fails to create a ‘pool of knowledge’ that you get from a platform that uses the coders who made the software as the coders who fix issues or create bespoke solutions.
The developers who made Magento are not around for hire so the fixers, the freelance developers, fill the gap but it is never as robust or reliable as having a permanently paid team of developers on hand whose sole focus is on one eCommerce platform.
Now don’t let me mislead you. Adobe (who now own Magento) do have such a team but to access them you need a license which starts at $22,000 a year – about ten times the starting price point of X-Cart. This makes little sense.
Put this into a real life scenario – let’s say PayPal makes an update and your Magento website suddenly can’t process orders you have an issue which is going to take time to solve.
Even with the wind behind you, your site could be down for a week and if you have an annual turnover of $100,000 that’s $2,000 in lost revenue straight away – not to mention lost future customers and a possible kick down the rankings from Google because it sees your website as ‘unreliable’.
WordPress with WooCommerce
For Start Ups or Mom and Pop business this is a great option. Companies like BlueHost will set up a server and WordPress for you so there is nothing to ‘download’, ‘upload’, ‘configure’ or ‘install’.
You can then add WooCommerce just by clicking buttons in the Admin area of WordPress and … hey presto … you have an online store.
The popularity of WordPress and WooCommerce means the number of ready made themes to choose from runs into the tens of thousands. Unless you have a very specific look in mind you will probably find something off the shelf for less than $200.
This popularity also means that if you want some bespoke functionality, say a change in the way products are listed, there are huge communities of users just like you where you can go in search of help.
There is also a vast number of developers out there who can make it happen. This also helps keep such costs down as those developers are working in a competitive market of their own.
Again though this support set up is not ideal because there is no central point of knowledge and you might end up using a developer that implements a bespoke fix only to damage another functionality of the store. The ultimate “I can go there and know I’ll get it done properly” solution does not exist.
The wheels start to come off the WordPress/WooCommerce approach as your store becomes more complex. Do you want real time shipping cost calculations from the likes of UPS, Fedex and USPS? OK, that’s $70 per month. Do you Drop-Ship some of your products? OK, that’s $79 per year. Do some of your products have options that customers must select? OK, that’s another $99 per year.
You get the picture. I sometimes get clients coming to me who are spending hundreds of dollars per month for all the plugins and extensions they need to run their store.
Also within this lies the problem that WordPress updates often conflict with plugins causing the entire website to crash. Now 10-15 years ago the need to ‘update’ WordPress was a rare occurrence. Today, in the constant battle between hackers and platforms, updates are a regular feature everywhere.
And the more plugins and extensions you have, the more likely there is to be a conflict with any one update. At this point all the plugins have to be disabled so they can be turned on one by one to see who is the guilty party. From there you’ll need to see if the plugin or extension can be fixed or is going to be fixed by the person or company who provided it.
Your now in the same situation as I described with Magento. Looking for a fix while your website is not able to process orders. For every passing day you are losing revenue, customer confidence and a potential to lose Google rankings for being ‘unreliable’
Now don’t get me wrong. Because most of these plugins are popular they are normally fixed within days, an update is provided and you are back up and running. It’s not as big a headache as Magento to resolve but the effects can be the same.
This leaves us with X-Cart. Now costing $2,400+ per year it is completely over the top (both in costs and features) for a very small business (annual turnover of less than $100,000). That budget is far better spent on SEO than on access to a vast array of eCommerce options which you really don’t need.
For example I set up eCommerce websites using WordPress/WooCommerce where we have a simple standard shipping cost per item and it works fine. Alternatively we can create systems where different shipping cost options per item can be set at category or product level.
X-Cart comes into its own when you need all or most of the bells and whistles required for large scale eCommerce. Real time Shipping costs from the major shippers in your country, complex product options with blocking until the customer and selected what they need to select, related products popups once a product is added to the cart, mixes of Drop Shipping and Self Shipping, tiered pricing depending on volume purchase or the customers membership level, etc. etc.
Here X-Cart does not rely on plugins. They are baked into the cake. Yes, there are more plugins (known as modules) you can add but almost everything you will need is part for a complex, feature rich store are in the basic set up. That means the chance of your website crashing after an update are almost zero. I’ve never seen it happen.
Now, if you need bespoke functionality added to the site or a bug bubbles up, you are going to need technical support just as you do with any other Open Source platform. This is where I think X-Cart wins through. They have a dedicated team of engineers available for hire.
The great news here is you get the best of both worlds. You don’t have to use their engineers. You can go and hire your own … but you know that if you or whoever you hire really gets stuck … there is somewhere to go where you know the issue will be resolved.
There is of course a large community of X-Cart users in the X-Cart forum so the option of talking things over with fellow store owners is also open here.
So let’s go back to that failed payment gateway example. This is an issue that needs to be resolved fast and something that X-Cart engineers can handle as a ‘rush’ job limiting the time your store is effectively closed.
More often than not though their engineers are aware of the problem ahead of time due to their contacts within payment gateway providers and they will install the appropriate patch before you see an issue.
This technical support is all included in the monthly subscription. They’ll keep your website code up to date which means no lost revenue, security breaches from old code, etc., etc.
X-Cart pricing in perspective
$2,400 per year is stark when compared to the previous set up – a one of payment of c.$500 for a license and then technical support only if you needed it. In these terms it is a bit of a kick but consider this:
- Shopify (closed source) is $3,600 per year and many of the plugins included in X-Cart are paid extras. Like for like Shopify is far more expensive when you need a feature rich website … and that’s without technical support.
- Shopify Plus (closed source but customizable) is from $24,000 per year.
- Magento (closed source) pricing starts – as I mentioned – at $22,000, more than four times the X-Cart pricing. Magento can cost up to $190,000 per year, X-Carts most expensive package isn’t more than $5,000.
In other words within the eCommerce market place, on a like for like basis, X-Cart is still exceptionally good value for money even if it is marginally less acceptable to the wallet than it used to be.
I should also point out that it remains the most SEO-able platform on the market. Yes you can achieve all the SEO features in WordPress/WooCommerce or Magento but that is all bespoke coding (and bespoke coding costs) that X-Cart has ‘out of the box’.
For advanced SEO you are going to need access to the source code and the databases of the platform.
- If you have a turnover less that $100,000 and your products are relatively straightforward (in terms of presentation and shipping) then go with WordPress and WooCommerce.
- If you have a turnover of more than $100,000 or you want full features like real time shipping quotes go with X-Cart. It will cost you the same or less than WordPress/WooCommerce and your site will be more reliable (less crashing during updates … and reliability is a key SEO factor)