Online Shopping Carts for Your Business

So, your small business is getting into online sales. Of course, you want the transaction to run as smoothly as it does in-store. In this entry, we’ll have a look at the best online store shopping cart software available and see how this technology can enhance your customers’ online shopping experience. 

The shopping cart is as vital to your online business as it is to your brick & mortar storefront and performs much the same function. It is a place where customers can keep the items they wish to purchase while they shop. The online version also gives information about each item and the purchase as a whole.  

Finding the Right Shopping Cart
As all businesses are different and there is no, single “right” cart that will perfectly fit every business’ needs. The best you can do is determine your needs and find the cart that works best for you. However, there are some important features to look for in any cart. These include:

  • Security
  • Ease of use
  • Price
  • Flexibility 
Security
The most important feature is your cart’s security. This should be the first thing you look at because it’s a lot quicker to narrow down your choices this way. The last thing you want is easily exploitable software that compromises your customers’ personal information, not to mention your own. The software should comply with standard Payment Card Industry (PCI) Security Practices, have CVV2 fraud protection (where you type in those 3 numbers on the back of your credit card), pass Verisign’s fraud protection (or similar), work over a secure https:// connection, and have a Human Verification Image (where you type in the letters/numbers that appear in an image on screen). Make sure it offers these features or inquire with the support team about how it otherwise keeps your company’s personal information locked up safe. You may not need all of these security measures, but every bit helps. 
 
Ease of Use
Your shopping cart needs to be easy for your customers and for you as well. First, try learning by doing. Many shopping cart sites will offer you an example site, or a free trial, to let you work with and get a feel for how the software works, from both the manager’s and the customer’s point of view. If everything works intuitively, great! If you’re having an unusual amount of difficulty, maybe it’s time to shop elsewhere. 

Once you are satisfied with your ability to operate the software, the next most important thing to investigate is your customers’ shopping experience. From their shopping cart, can they see a preview image of the items they’ve selected? Can they easily remove or change the quantity of these items? Is the Grand Total calculated on the page? Can taxes and shipping be calculated, too? Is there a confirmation page, or email verification, or some other defense against errant keystrokes? These are all very important features to ensure a positive shopping experience, among a multitude of others, and they should be as easy as possible to use. 

Price
There won’t be a best price for everyone. Obviously, “cheaper is better” is a good rule-of-thumb, but you don’t want to sacrifice necessary security and ease-of-use. Most carts come with a fixed monthly rate, but some also include an upfront cost. Rarer options have just one bigger up-front cost, and nothing to pay month-to-month, which would conceivably be the best long-term solution. But if you’re not 100% positive that your online store will be dynamite, it may be wiser to start with a month-to-month and convert later. 

As far as the actual price goes, you’ll be able to find options ranging from under $30 a month to over a thousand dollars. If you’ve got a bit of computer savvy and are willing to learn and work a little more, there are a number of open-source options that you can use for free. Whatever the case, for a small business just opening up an online store, you shouldn’t need to spend more than $99/month. 

Flexibility
Flexibility is a two-fold issue. First, you ought to consider some of the more unique features offered by different carts. For example, some carts may allow users to pay by check, some allow you to sell (and later employ) electronic gift certificates or discount codes, some allow you to track inventory and block customers from buying out-of-stock items, and some may allow you to sell downloadable files to your customers. These may not be necessary for a smooth user experience, but could provide you with new options that would not have been possible otherwise. 

Second, you should investigate how easy it is to make changes to your cart. You may find it necessary or useful to add or remove items from your catalogue, change the features or layout, etc. You’re probably not going to have the same inventory or want the same style forever. Many carts offer you the flexibility of installing new add-ons to your current cart, and some of them will even support 3rd party applications if they don’t themselves have anything that fits what you’re looking for. 

These are just the basic things you should look for in an online shopping cart. There are carts out there that offer less, and many that offer much more. Which one you choose depends on your needs and your budget. That said; here are some of our favorites. 

Shop Site – http://www.shopsite.com
Shop Site’s website, like its software, is very straightforward and easy to use, even for beginners who, for now, just want to dip their big toe into the e-commerce pool. Its price and ease-of-use are both definite strong points: you can get your store up and running for as little as $9.00/month and in less than 15 minutes. The downside here is that if your site host is not a Shop Site affiliate, your shopping cart may push customers onto a different site—not great, but not the end of the world, either. You’ve also got to give your email to them and start talking to a rep before you can start really looking at which price package offers which features. But that said, what really sets Shop Site apart is the ease with which you can demo their software—both from the customer’s and the manager’s point of view. They’ve got a long, long list of all of the features available with each type of shopping cart software they sell, and to boot, each one links to a description page for any feature that you’re not entirely familiar with. It’s also open to add-ons, so if you see a feature in another cart that Shop Site doesn’t currently offer, let them know and they may be able to patch you up. Definitely give the demos a try here before you move on anywhere else. 

1 Shopping Cart – http://www.1shoppingcart.com
Like Shop Site, 1shoppingcart has a very easy-to-navigate site. Notable is the Features & Pricing page, which asks you four simple and clear-cut questions in order to determine which package best suits your needs (Do you need a shopping cart that can handle e-book delivery? Do you need it to send order notifications?). Unlike much of the competition, they also offer integrated marketing tools such as Ad Trackers, database management, and e-mail broadcasting. The starter shopping cart (no marketing tools) costs just $34 / month. 

Network Solutions – http://ecommerce.networksolutions.com
Something I really like about Network Solutions’ offering is that the Pro version ($99/month) is able to completely customize your shopping cart design template, product search, and feedback. While a custom design template might not entice a non-computer-savvy user, the other two certainly should. The custom product search lets you tailor search terms that customers may unwittingly use, and directs them to the products they’re probably looking for (for example, directing the search term “eyepods” to your selection of iPods). The custom feedback form gives you the option of asking for quick customer feedback or sending out bigger surveys, crucial because your customers will know better than anyone else if everything works to their satisfaction. 

PayPal – http://paypal.com
It’s hard to beat free—especially when it comes with a name like PayPal, that most consumers should already know and trust. Still, there are a number of downsides here to keep in mind. The customization element of PayPal’s cart consists entirely of putting your logo in the top corner—that’s it. It also pushes your customers onto a PayPal’s website, and off of your own, which may be an uncomfortable experience for users. Lastly, you might have to install the buttons and coding on your own. It’s not terribly difficult, and there’s a demo on the website, but still it be an arduous task for someone entirely unfamiliar with how it’s done. 

Zen Cart – www.zen-cart.com
Zen Cart is an open-source shopping cart software, which means a few things. On the plus side, it’s free, which is of course good. While there’s no professional customer service team, there’s a big community of users and developers who can usually help you out in a tight spot. The downside—and it’s a small one—is that you’ll need to put a reciprocal link to Zen Cart’s site at the bottom of your page. This is how they’re able to stay in business, and it costs you nothing in real terms. What have you got to lose? 

These were just a few of our favorite shopping cart options available to your online business. The truth is that there is a multitude of options available to you, the majority of which you can find through an aggregate site such as http://www.shopping-cart-reviews.com. Take your time, find the right one for you.