#1 Shopping Cart? "Seven Key Questions to Help You Find the Cart That Can Potentially DOUBLE Your Sales!"
I've been getting tons of phone calls and e-mails lately
from people who are going crazy trying to figure out what
kind of shopping cart is best for their businesses. I want
to address this very important issue, especially since the
right shopping cart has the potential to MORE THAN DOUBLE
Many people don't know this, but "shopping cart abandonment"
is a serious problem -- 55% of online shoppers have abandoned
carts. And the main reason these folks desert their selections
before actually completing their purchases is because they
are frustrated with the shopping cart itself.
Shoppers abandon carts when...
- They can't browse through your products freely
- They can't find pricing and product information easily
- There are too many forms to fill out and the process takes
- The cart loads too slowly
Obviously, if you want to streamline your ordering process
by adding a shopping cart to your web site, then it's critical
that you choose one that will be user-friendly for shoppers.
The "right" shopping cart can result in 55% more shoppers
actually completing their purchases! And this means
55% MORE PROFITS IN YOUR POCKETS!
However, choosing a shopping cart can be an extremely
difficult (and confusing!) decision, especially for those of
you who are just struggling to understand what one actually
SO, WHAT EXACTLY IS A SHOPPING CART?
A virtual shopping cart is a lot like the metal one at the
grocery store -- with a whole lot of features added on. The
virtual cart collects the products that visitors to your
site have an interest in purchasing, and shoppers can "add"
or "remove" items as they please, just like with a real
But then the virtual cart takes on other duties. It first
calculates the total of the customer's order, including
taxes and shipping costs. Then, when the customer is ready
to make a purchase, the cart passes all of this information
over a secure site (a "payment gateway") to your merchant
account, where credit cards are approved or rejected.
Once the shopping cart hears back from the merchant
a) Generates a customer receipt and e-mails it to
b) Sends you a fax or an encrypted e-mail that contains
the customer details and order information.
... And at that point, you can fill the orders.
If you sell only one or two items and don't plan to add
more, you don't really need a shopping cart -- you can use a
simple order form instead. But if your e-business is just a
bit bigger than this, or if you plan to expand at any time
in the future, you'll want to have a good shopping cart in
ARE THERE DIFFERENT KINDS OF SHOPPING CARTS?
Yes! There are literally hundreds of shopping carts available
for you to choose from; however, they all typically fall into
one of the following three categories:
1) ASPs (Application Service Providers) provide the shopping
cart as a service to you. The ASP hosts the cart on their
server and gives you everything you need to run it. Signing
up with an ASP is like paying someone to take care of the
whole process for you.
2) SHOPPING CART SOFTWARE is just what it sounds like --
software that you pay a flat fee to license. In this
case, you are responsible for installing and hosting
the application yourself.
3) CUSTOMIZED SHOPPING CARTS are ones that you build yourself.
In my opinion, there's no need to write your own shopping
cart software unless you have VERY specific needs and TONS
The average small business web site doesn't typically need
this level of customization. And given the wide-range of
cost-effective software and solutions that are now available,
there's certainly no need to go through all the trouble and
expense. So we'll leave this option out for the rest of
Of course, knowing that you can choose between software and
ASP shopping carts doesn't really help you select the right
one for your business. You still need to understand the
fundamental differences between ASPs and software (why one
might be better for your business than the other), and then
you need to know how to choose from the hundreds of shopping
carts available in each category!
So to make this decision a bit easier for you, I've developed
SEVEN KEY QUESTIONS that will help you find the cart that's
perfect for your online business -- one that will streamline
your ordering process and potentially double your sales!
WHAT DO SHOPPING CARTS COME WITH?
The options that come with your shopping cart can vary widely,
based on the package you choose. However, both ASP and
software typically include:
- A SHOPPING CART that tracks products selected for purchase
by your customers and calculates total purchase price,
including tax and shipping costs.
- A MAINTENANCE SYSTEM that allows you to easily add new
products, remove old ones, adjust prices, and set up
- An ORDER-RETRIEVAL SYSTEM that provides you with all the
information you need to fulfill orders (like name, mailing
address, product ordered, etc.).
On top of these fairly standard features, ASP carts and
software packages can also include a variety of other
options (some which you may have to pay for, and others
which may be included free as part of the package) such as:
- Storage of customer information
- Revenue tracking
- Inventory management
- Advertising capabilities
- Permission marketing
One of the key differences between ASP and software shopping
carts is that ASPs also come with a MERCHANT ACCOUNT AND
PAYMENT GATEWAY (for which you may be charged additional
fees), while software packages typically do not.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Whether you're considering using an ASP
or software, before you make your final purchasing
decision, you'll want to make sure that your shopping
cart is going to be compatible with your merchant account.
This is absolutely critical because NOT ALL shopping carts
and merchant accounts will WORK TOGETHER! If you already
have a merchant account, contact your provider and ask for
a list of the shopping carts they are compatible with.
HOW MUCH CONTROL DO I HAVE OVER HOW MY SHOPPING CART LOOKS
You want to make sure that you have the option of customizing
your shopping cart software to include logos, graphics, and
colors that match the overall look and feel of your web site;
a shopping cart that looks drastically different from your
site may confuse potential customers, causing them to leave
before completing their purchases!
Whether you choose an ASP or software, you will be offered
at least one (or a combination) of the following three
options for customization:
- WEB PAGE TEMPLATES that you can just fill in with your
product information, prices, descriptions, etc. You don't
need to know (or even see) HTML.
- "COPY & PASTE" HTML PAGES that have all the coding in
place, so all you have to do is copy and paste the code,
then add the details you need to create your web pages
(you can usually modify the code if you want).
- An EASY-TO-USE WIZARD that leads you step-by-step through
creating and customizing your cart.
... Each of these three options is pretty user-friendly;
however, if you're not comfortable working directly with
HTML code, you should probably stick with the Wizards and
On the other hand, if you plan to customize your cart beyond
these standard options (i.e. if you want to integrate other
software or alter the cart's functionality to fit your
specific needs), you may need access to the source code.
With software, you tend to have more control over customization
than you do with an ASP -- you will usually have all the source
code you could ever want, and if you're the technical type, you
can go nuts!
ASPs, however, may not offer you the option of customizing
their source code, or they may offer code that is quite
complicated. Because ASPs host carts for many different
clients, it's usually easier for them to maintain control
over the way the carts work. This is something to watch for
if you are interested in customizing your cart to any great
HOW DO I MAKE CHANGES TO MY SHOPPING CART?
Obviously, your inventory and your offers will never remain
exactly the same, so you'll need to make changes from time
to time. All shopping carts will provide methods of making
changes to pricing and product descriptions, updating your
You can make the changes using either "browser-based" or
"database" maintenance, depending on what your package
BROWSER-BASED MAINTENANCE is the easiest way to go. With an
ASP cart, you'd make changes by logging onto the ASP's web
site and going to an administrative options page that allows
you to update prices and inventory. With a software package,
you'd go through your own "back office."
DATABASE MAINTENANCE is a little more difficult. It lets you
maintain a database on your desktop computer and upload
revisions on a regular basis. While this can be convenient,
it's really only needed if you are dealing with hundreds of
HOW DO I MAKE SURE MY SHOPPING CART IS USER-FRIENDLY?
Your customers don't care about the behind-the-scenes
function of your shopping cart -- they just want quick,
Keep in mind that many people are still a bit wary of
shopping online, so you'll want to lead the customer by the
hand through the buying process, explaining each detail (such
as site security when they're entering credit card information,
and how billing and shipping will work) along the way.
It is a good idea to KEEP YOUR CART AS SIMPLE AS POSSIBLE.
The last thing you want to do is confuse your customers or
make them waste their time.
If your cart has all kinds of fancy images, it will take too
long to load; if it has an array of pretty pages, it will
take too long for the customer to get through... Net result:
you will lose customers. Keep it simple.
PROVIDE PLENTY OF PRODUCT INFORMATION and prices up front;
in fact, make sure your customers have all the information
they need before they even get to your shopping cart.
Your web site should offer everything your customers need to
know, so that clicking the "Buy Now" button is the very last
decision they make after looking through your site.
But don't stop there! Make sure your shoppers can easily
move back and forth between the cart and your web site to
browse through your products and add more items to their
And when customers are ready to buy, DON'T LIMIT THEIR PAYMENT
OPTIONS! Most will pay by credit card, but other methods are
increasingly available. Consider options like virtual debit
cards and virtual checks (PayPal is a good place to start).
Lastly, keep in touch with the customer until the product is
delivered. If something is out of stock, let the customer
know when it will be available and how long delivery will
take. Your shopping cart should not only e-mail the customer
at the time the order is placed, but also when the product
WHAT SHOULD I BE CAREFUL OF WHEN I CHOOSE A SHOPPING CART?
Besides checking out consumer reviews of the shopping cart
you're interested in purchasing to make sure that others are
satisfied with its capabilities, you'll also want to make
sure the cart you choose gives you:
- CONTROL: The level of control you need will depend on
your business and your preferences. Make sure the cart
you choose offers the level of customization you need
and allows you to make changes and adjustments without
too much difficulty.
- SECURITY: Make sure the customer is always entering credit
card information over a secure server (SSL connection).
This can happen either in the payment gateway (which is
always secure) or in your shopping cart (which means your
cart needs to be hosted on a secure server).
- FLEXIBILITY: Your cart must not only be compatible with
your merchant account and payment gateway; it also needs
to be flexible enough to accommodate other programs you
may wish to run with it in the future.
For example, if you have an affiliate program (or are
thinking about starting one) you'll want to ensure that
your affiliate tracking solution is going to be compatible
with your shopping cart.
- WHAT YOU PAY FOR: You may run into ASP carts that claim
to offer total package solutions, but that actually
outsource different aspects of their cart to other
For example, the cart, merchant account, and payment
gateway could all be operated by different vendors,
contracted by the ASP. In a situation like this, if
anything goes wrong and you need questions answered,
you could find yourself getting the run-around.
SO WHICH IS BETTER, AN ASP OR SOFTWARE?
The shopping cart solution you choose, whether its an ASP or
software, must meet the needs of your individual business.
Are you selling a handful of products, with no plans for
expansion? Are you planning to grow in the near future? Are
you comfortable looking after the technical details (like
coding your own web pages) yourself? Or would you prefer
someone else looked after the design and implementation?
These are all questions you need to ask yourself before
making your final decision.
ASP shopping carts can be a great solution for those who may
not be technically inclined; they typically offer package
deals that ensure YOU NEVER NEED TO WORRY about issues of
compatibility (like whether or not the shopping cart is
going to work with your merchant account).
However, the drawbacks are that ASPs:
a) Generally OFFER YOU LESS CONTROL over the look
and functionality of your shopping cart.
b) MAY LIMIT YOUR GROWTH to a certain size, which can be
a real problem if your business suddenly starts to
take off. As well, if you already have your own
merchant account, you'll be limited to the ASPs
that your provider is compatible with.
Shopping cart software, on the other hand, typically gives
you MORE CONTROL OVER THE LOOK AND FUNCTIONALITY of your
cart and gives you greater flexibility to grow.
However, because you won't usually be getting a package deal,
you'll need to deal with ISSUES OF COMPATIBILITY. You'll need
to make sure that your shopping cart, merchant account, and
payment gateway will all work together (so make sure you do
Of course, while software may not be as convenient as an
ASP, it's actually LESS EXPENSIVE in the long run as you pay
a one-time flat fee for the software as opposed to a monthly
fee for an ASP.
HOW MUCH DO SHOPPING CARTS COST, ANYWAY?
Doesn't the old adage say that nothing in life is free?
Well, there are free carts out there that are offered by
various online organizations, but beware!
Freeware carts can be SURPRISINGLY EXPENSIVE in the long run.
You'll likely spend a fortune on programmers to make your cart
usable in the first place -- then, you'll lose out on the
documentation and periodic upgrades that are offered by
Freeware shopping carts will also limit you quite severely
in size, and switching to a new cart once you've grown can
be quite a hassle.
With an ASP CART, you'll pay a monthly fee of somewhere between
$30 and $60, and sometimes an initial or annual fee. You may
have to pay for your merchant account and payment gateway,
but you'll get a slightly lower price through the ASP (you
can get both for $150 to $200).
A SOFTWARE license will cost between $200 and $600. You can
also lease the software for about $40 a month (typically
with a two-year lease). You'll have to pay the payment
gateway fee (usually between $20 and $60 per month) and you
need to set up a merchant account (usually $300 or more).
RESOURCES TO GET YOU STARTED:
Have a look at a variety of carts and think about your
specific requirements. The fanciest of carts can be
impressive, but you might not need every option that's
out there. Focus on the needs of your particular business
and your potential customers.
Think about whether you want to have everything included in
one package or want to put the components together yourself.
If you want to have MORE CONTROL and a high level of
customization, then software might be your best option. If
you're not as technically inclined, and would prefer that
SOMEONE ELSE HOST YOUR CART and take care of compatibility
issues, then an ASP might be a better choice.
The following list of shopping carts covers a range of
options and includes the best I've found for compatibility
- SECURENETSHOP (http://www.securenetshop.com) is an ASP
that uses HTML pages for set up and offers a variety of
options, including customer tracking. Cost: $229 per year
plus $149 for merchant account and payment gateway.
- GOEMERCHANT (http://www.goemerchant.com) is another ASP that
does everything for you. The merchant account is included as
part of the package, and they provide custom "copy & paste"
tools that make set up relatively painless. Cost: $59.95 per
month plus $29.95 annual fee.
- MIVA MERCHANT (http://www.miva.com) is a software package
that can be hosted either on your server or on a remote
server. It offers browser-based administration, a wizard
set up, and pre-configured payment processing. Miva Merchant
provides plenty of room for expansion, and sells a variety
of compatible business-management programs. Cost: $595
- QUIKSTORE (http://www.quikstore.com) is a software package
that must be hosted on your server. It offers a wizard set
up, a configuration editor, a catalog wizard, and more.
You'll have to pay extra for the payment gateway, but
Quikstore suggests a compatible one. Cost: $199.95
Of course, if you're looking for a total package solution
that includes everything from your merchant account and
payment gateway to a flexible, easy-to-use shopping cart, I
would personally recommend the provider that we've been
using for years with great success.
They'll look after all the compatibility issues and make
sure that you have everything you need to get your cart up
and running immediately -- and they provide great customer
We have been extremely satisfied with them as have
our customers who have taken our advice and implemented this
cart, so if you'd like to check them out, just visit
http://www.marketingtips.com/creditcards.html and fill out
the form provided. They'll get back to you right away with
all the details.
FINAL SHOPPING CART THOUGHTS:
Finding the shopping cart that has the potential to DOUBLE
YOUR SALES shouldn't be too difficult now that you're aware
of the compatibility issues that you need to be on the lookout
for. And now that you know what your options are, you'll be
better equipped to choose a cart that suits the needs of your
particular business... and budget!
With the right system, you can set up your shopping cart so
that it blends into your web site almost seamlessly -- in a
way that makes sense for your business and your products. Not
only will this make it easier for you to manage your cart, it
will also MAKE IT EASIER FOR YOUR SHOPPERS TO PURCHASE from you.
Don't forget that for the online buyer, the shopping cart stands
in place of face-to-face interaction with a salesperson or
customer service representative. So make sure that your cart
represents you in a way that welcomes buyers and promotes your
business... and KEEP THAT 55% SHOPPING!