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If your online store offers more than a few products, an online shopping cart is important for the convenience of your customers. What is an online shopping cart? It's a method that allows a customer to click on a product, keep track of their purchases and when they're ready, use their credit card to buy the products and pay for shipping.
Think of your online store from your customer's point of view. It's annoying to have to complete a separate transaction for each product you purchase. Sound complicated? If you don't have an online shopping cart function that's what you're asking your customer to do.
The shopping cart software, or script, talks to the payment gateway software and tells it the amount of the purchase, name and credit card information, all in a completely secure manner. The payment gateway then transfers that information to the financial institution that holds the merchant account. When the purchase is approved the procedure is reversed. The payment gateway tells the shopping cart software, which tells the customer. If the product is a downloadable the cart will also tell the customer where the download link is.
It's important that the shopping cart, payment gateway and merchant account work together. Not all shopping carts will work with every payment gateway. And keep in mind you need all three. Just shopping cart software isn't enough.