14-day trial. Attractive templates. Excellent SEO and email marketing tools. Straightforward dashboard. Supports multiple administrators on account.
No built-in point-of-sale system. No free shared SSL certificate. Bandwidth and storage limits.
- Bottom Line
PinnacleCart makes it easy and enjoyable to design, manage, and market your online store, though it lacks a point-of-sale system.
You have plenty of options if you're interested in setting up an online store. You can open up a storefront on Etsy or Squarespace, install shopping cart software on your website, or manually set up merchant accounts and payment gateways to collect online payments. If you choose to set up your own shopping cart software, then PinnacleCart (which begins at $29.95 per month) provides a good mix of advanced and basic features out of the box, and it doesn't overwhelm you with options. New sellers may find PinnacleCart's pricing more palatable than that of our other Editors' Choice Shopify. Modern templates, an easy-to-use site builder, and excellent search engine optimization (SEO) and email marketing tools make PinnacleCart an Editors' Choice for shopping carts, though it's best for online-only shops. If you want to tie into a point-of-sale (POS) system to also sell goods in real life, then you're better off with Shopify.
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For this review, I signed up with the Start Up plan to set up an online storefront on an existing domain called "Super Fun Tech Cart." This cost me $44.90 because I had to pay for a separate SSL certificate to be able to accept credit card payments. You don't pay for the certificate each month, so subsequent monthly bills drop to $29.95 per month, assuming you haven't installed any add-ons.
Shopping Cart Packages
PinnacleCart offers a 14-day trial, which gives small businesses the opportunity to actually set up a store and test transactions before committing to the platform. PinnacleCart accepts all major credit cards and integrates with 30 different payment gateways. As with most shopping cart platforms, it charges no setup fee.
PinnacleCart offers four different packages: Start Up ($29.95 per month), Small Biz ($59.95 per month), Entrepreneur ($94.95 per month), and Enterprise ($149.95 per month). The main differences are the disk storage and bandwidth limits. Start Up offers only 1 GB of storage and 2 GB of bandwidth per month, compared to Small Biz's 3 GB of storage and 8 GB of bandwidth per month. In comparison, Shopify has no bandwidth limits. The lack of transaction fees, however, makes PinnacleCart a cheaper option right from the start and there are no limits on the number of products you can include in a PinnacleCart inventory. There is other shopping cart software that doesn't have transaction fees, such as BigCommerce but PinnacleCart remains the cheaper option. You do have the option to add bandwidth and disk space to your account on a monthly basis. Keep an eye on that because, if you have enough sales traffic, it may just be cheaper to upgrade to a higher tier than to keep expanding bandwidth. You can also consider services with no bandwidth limits, such as Shopify, or open source platforms, such as Magento.
Each PinnacleCart tier allows a limited number of email addresses as administrators on the account. If you don't plan on having more than one or two admins, then a Start Up plan may be sufficient. The ability to assign multiple admins on an account is very useful, and I wish more services let you do this. PinnacleCart charges a one-time fee of $14.95 for the most basic SSL certificate. Since you are collecting payment information, getting an SSL certificate for your site is critical. The alternative is to use services that rely on a free shared SSL certificate, which is what Shopify offers in its lower tiers.
If you decide you don't like PinnacleCart, make sure to cancel your account with at least 10 days notice or you will be charged for the next cycle. Like Shopify, PinnacleCart doesn't offer refunds because payments are made month-to-month. Annual plans are available, but there no refunds with these, either.
Setting Up a PinnacleCart Store
I started with a trial of the Start Up plan. The first thing I did was pick a theme from the list and click on Activate. Each theme had several images showing me how the category and product pages would look, along with mobile versions of each. This let me visualize what each page on my store would look like. As soon as I selected the theme, I was directed to the Pinnacle Dashboard, which used the custom URL super-fun-tech-cart.mypinnaclecart.com.
The dashboard is where you do all the work, and it's straightforward, with a way to see information about existing orders, product inventory, and customers. You can use third-party apps to add enhancements such as discounts, recurring billing, and loyalty programs to the store. The five-step Quick Start Guide takes you through the process of adding products, setting up payments, and defining shipping options before officially launching the store. You can step away from the Quick Start Guide to dig deeper through the menu areas Orders, Customers, Products, Reports, Marketing, Content, Design, Apps, and Settings, and then easily return to where you left off in the wizard.
I was happy to see PinnacleCart offered sample products to make the process of setting up the store easier and faster. Instead of waiting for me to enter products manually, PinnacleCart populated my database with test data automatically, so that I could try out the software without getting bogged down trying to come up with entries.
You have several options for adding products. You can upload a comma-delimited file of your entire product database or add each product individually. BigCommerce also lets you populate the database by uploading a file, but Shopify doesn't. On the Add a Product page, you enter the product name, ID number, price, category, SKU, weight, and a description. You can also enter sales prices and offer free shipping. I particularly like the fact that you can enter products and not have them appear on the site yet. Finally, PinnacleCart lets you organize products as tangible, virtual, and digital goods. Depending on what you are selling, being able to classify products this way can be useful.
I set up the variations, such as size, materials, and colors. I was able change product pricing based on the variations the customer selected. Additionally, I could automate the process of creating variations in the cart using "Product Families" which allowed me to create one variation and apply to as many products as I'd like. The drag-and-drop page for designing my storefront was easy to use, and I was satisfied with the resulting storefront. You can also create photo galleries.
PinnacleCart has better tools for SEO and keyword searches than Shopify or 3dCart. BigCommerce surpasses PinnacleCart in SEO tools, so if this is a big part of your online strategy, keep that in mind.
An online store isn't just inventory pages and order forms. PinnacleCart lets you create a blog to engage with customers as well as static pages such as an About Us page from the same tool. You can also capture customer data via user accounts, which customers create in order to track order status or enroll in a loyalty program. PinnacleCart offers an extensive array of email marketing tools, which makes it easy to keep in touch with customers. It's very similar to BigCommerce and Volusion in that sense.
You can use an existing domain or register a new domain through PinnacleCart and let the company act as your registrar and web host. Prices begin at $9 per year for common domains such as .com and .net. I used an existing domain for this review and followed the instructions to modify Domain Name System records. If you don't want to deal with modifying DNS records, register the domain through PinnacleCart and let the company handle it. You can also just use the auto-generated URL if you don't care so much about having your own domain. Note that 3dCart offers domains for free.
The easiest shopping cart software is worthless if the customer finds it difficult to find products and pay for them. I found the user experience easy and seamless, both as a customer trying to buy the product and as the seller managing the transaction. Some of the other interesting marketing features include live chat, automatic email reminders to customers who have abandoned carts (drift marketing), QR code generators, widget creation for online advertising, and an in-house newsletter wizard.
The main page also features a brief overview of daily sales totals, new orders, orders to fulfill, and a monthly statistics graph. Every PinnacleCart storefront is fully equipped for mobile commerce on Android, Blackberry, iPad, and iPhone devices. I didn't see any documentation relating to Windows Phone, which is a pity. The site looked fine on a web browser from a Windows Phone, though. PinnacleCart also lets you easily translate your storefront right onto your Facebook page where customers can directly purchase items and share your products.
Payments and Customer Service
Unlike Shopify, PinnacleCart does not support point-of-sale systems, so you cannot use PinnacleCart to process both online and physical transactions. PinnacleCart integrates with 30 other payment gateways, such as Amazon, NetBilling, and others, but starts off by offering PayPal and Stripe. For this review, I set up PayPal Express Checkout. Remember that PayPal sets its own credit card transaction fees. Unlike Shopify, PinnacleCart doesn't charge transaction fees.
The service's manual is easy to use, but PinnacleCart also offers 24/7 phone support when email is not enough and you need a person to help you out. I found it easy to get someone on the phone even at 1 a.m., and the representative was very helpful answering questions about the different options available in each package as well as in walking me through the process of setting up the DNS on my domain.
Not A Lot of Options But a Solid Offering
When compared to other shopping cart software such as 3dCart or BigCommerce, PinnacleCart doesn't integrate with as many payment gateways or offer as many themes, but it offers a lot of standard reports, provides very good SEO, and doesn't have an inventory limit. Instead of presenting a lot of different choices that might confuse the seller, PinnacleCart focuses on giving a handful of solid, easy-to-use options that should satisfy most sellers. PinnacleCart is a solid Editors' Choice for shopping cart software, especially for online-only storefronts. PCMag's other Editors' Choice, Shopify, is the one to choose if you need more options or plan to also sell goods locally through a POS system.
Fahmida Y. Rashid is a senior analyst for business at PCMag.com. She focuses on ways businesses can use technology to work efficiently and easily. She is paranoid about security and privacy, and considers security implications when evaluating business technology. She has written for eWEEK, Dark Reading, and SecurityWeek covering security, core Internet infrastructure, and open source. Follow me on Twitter: zdfyrashid More »
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