CS-Cart Review: A Solid Self-hosted Platform with Tricky Pricing

With CS-Cart, you receive a self-hosted ecommerce platform with marketplace functionality, excellent design tools, and a wide variety of marketing features. Started in 2005, CS-Cart is part of the Simtech conglomerate, and it's been known as a solid solution for those who want to sell on a self-hosted platform.

CS-Cart is great for designing, and you may have the opportunity to keep your costs low (since you only pay once for the downloadable software). However, there are some add-ons, upgrades, and customer support fees that you may end up paying for. Keep reading our CS-Cart review to learn more.

CS-Cart Review: The Pricing

The CS-Cart pricing is a double-edged sword. Since it is a downloadable ecommerce software, you're only paying a one-time fee to gain access to the software. We like this model compared to Shopify or Bigcommerce, since you're not getting looped into a monthly payment plan. However, this one-time fee doesn't include expenses like hosting, SSL certificates, and any web design assistance you require. This is no different than working with WordPress, but there are some additional yearly payments needed for upgrading your software on a consistent basis.

These payments aren't required, but I would assume that most serious businesses would at least want to receive the most recent updates every once-in-awhile.

The upgrade pricing is a little confusing, since CS-Cart actually gives you free updates for the first year. However, you need to extend that upgrade subscription plan before the first year passes in order to keep your rates a little lower. Here's how it works:

  • CS-Cart – $110 per year if you extend the subscription before the year ends. $160 per year if you extend after that.
  • CS-Cart Ultimate – $110 per year if you extend the subscription before the year ends. $160 per year if you extend after that.
  • Multi-Vendor – $245 per year if you extend the subscription before the year ends. $385 per year if you extend after that.
  • EBay Add-on – $45 per year if you extend the subscription before the year ends. $65 per year if you extend after that.

Service packs and security patches are all free throughout your subscription.

The only time you'll have to pay a monthly fee for a cloud-based solution is if you opt for the Enterprise version. The plan requires you to contact CS-Cart, so there's not much to say about the pricing.

The Software Pricing

Now that we've gotten past the upgrade fees, you probably want to know what the actual software is going to cost you. This part of the equation is pretty straightforward:

  • CS-Cart – $385
  • CS-Cart Ultimate – $865
  • Multi-Vendor – $1450

You can learn more about how each plan varies here.

CS-Cart Review: The Best Features

Support for Over 70 Payment and Eight Shipping Options

From PayPal to 2Checkout, the payment gateway solutions are reputable and expansive. This compares well to ecommerce platforms like WooCommerce and Shopify, so you're able to choose the payment gateway that works best for your company and not get restricted to one or two.

In addition, eight shipping methods are provided, so you have the choice to go with ones like DHL, FedEx, UPS, and USPS. The reason we like these partnerships so much is because you want to ensure that your transactions are secure and that products get to your customers without any hassles. With reputable partnerships like these, you shouldn't have any problems.

A Nice Drag and Drop Editor

Several pre-installed themes are already provided to you when starting with CS-Cart. However, you also have the option to find another theme in the CS-Cart Marketplace. Yes, you'll end up spending more money when getting a new theme, but most of them look really nice, and it's no different than grabbing a paid theme for WordPress or Shopify.

After that, the design comes easy for most people, even if you're a beginner. CS-Cart has many tools for customizing your website, but the most impressive is the drag and drop editor. This means that you don't have to mess with any coding. There's also a standard, visual content editor, which is great for making quick adjustments to logos, fonts, and colors.

Finally, you do have access to the HTML and CSS, so if you have experience, or you'd like to hire a developer, you can customize your website however you desire.

A Clean, and Intuitive Admin Panel

If you're familiar with WordPress dashboard, you should be just fine working with CS-Cart. The same goes for Shopify familiarity. I might even argue that the CS-Cart dashboard has less of a learning curve than some of the others I just mentioned. It's a beautiful control panel where you're able to manage your store from one place. It has a content management system for adding information to your blog, along with SEO tools for boosting your pages. I also enjoy the fact that you can edit every element of your website right from the dashboard. There's nothing confusing about it. If you do run into some problems, the CS-Cart documentation is there to help.

A Site That You Actually Own

Many people enjoy the idea of self-hosting with a SaaS solution like WordPress. It basically means that you own the entirety of your website, instead of renting the platform with a solution like Shopify. You don't have to worry about the monthly fees going up, since you're paying for one software and that's it. Now, CS-Cart isn't exactly like WordPress, because you still might be paying for upgrades and customer support. However, some companies might opt to skip out on these payments to save money.

Some other reasons it's nice to own your entire site is because you have full control over the code, you know the security is going to be top-notch, and you're also able to speed up your website and improve SEO without any problems.

Powerful Product Selling

The product options from CS-Cart are plentiful and flexible. You have the option to list images, weight, and prices for all products. You can also track your product inventory based on the product variants. Selling digital items is no problem, and you can combine both digital and physical products in one store.

Along with bulk imports, a tax calculator, and a single page checkout, CS-Cart looks good in the product department.

Marketing and Conversion Prowess

It's tough to cover all of the marketing features in one article, but you can look forward to all of the following:

  • Integrations with email marketing tools like MailChimp.
  • Bundling features.
  • Abandoned cart functionality.
  • Promos and discounts.
  • On-sale listings.
  • Best Seller listings.
  • Product ratings and reviews.

CS-Cart Review: Downsides

We'll talk about the quality of customer service in the Customer Support section below. For now, we want to outline how that customer support works, and why it's considered a downside. Most of the time when you pay for a software or service the customer service is included for free. That's not entirely the case with CS-Cart.

CS-Cart customer service runs on a points system. You receive 50 credits for free, which can be used to contact the customer support team and get assistance. CS-Cart states that the number of credits used each time depends on the amount of time and how difficult the process is. You can see some examples here. In my opinion, it's a little ridiculous that you have to worry about spending credits to speak with a representative. Not only that, but sometimes you contact customer support and you could end up spending the majority of your credits.

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After that, you have the option to purchase more credits. Here's the payment setup for that:

  • 25 credits – $45
  • 50 credits – $85
  • 100 credits – $165
  • 200 credits – $295

So, access to customer support is definitely a downside.

Another reason you might consider avoiding CS-Cart is because of the yearly update fee. These aren't exactly hidden charges, but you end up spending more money than you would initially expect from a downloadable, self-hosted software. The interface is solid, and you can make a wonderful website from the platform, but I wouldn't see it as the least expensive ecommerce platform.

CS-Cart Review: Customer Support

As mentioned in the Downsides section, customer support is only provided when you pay a certain number of credits from your account. 50 free credits are provided to you, but you need to purchase more once they run out. Furthermore, not every interaction with customer support costs the same number of credits.

Besides the cost, CS-Cart customer support is quite impressive. They'll help with development, answer questions about code modifications, and offer assistance in getting your site launched. You can read the blog for ideas on design and go to the customer forums to see what other users are talking about.

CS-Cart provides an email address and phone line for chatting with representatives. You can also find all sorts of documentation, user guides, developer guides, and a full help desk with articles on support materials. CS-Cart also has social media pages where you can follow along and learn about updates and new resources.

Who Should Consider CS-Cart?

I like CS-Cart best for those who would like a self-hosted ecommerce platform. There are plenty of benefits to this setup, since you're able to maintain full control of your site and the costs can be kept lower as long as you're not paying for constant updates or customer support.

Therefore, it seems like a great product for those who are willing to complete their own research instead of reaching out to customer support all of the time. CS-Cart is a solid choice for experienced developers, but it's still not bad for beginners.

If you have any questions about this CS-Cart review, let us know in the comments.

CS-Cart Rating: 4.5 - Review by

Joe Warnimont

Joe Warnimont is a freelance writer who creates tools and resources to help other writers get more productive and market their work.