Home Advisor X How to Choose a Shopping Cart

How to Choose a Shopping Cart

by Amy Balliett, Co-founder, ZippyCart.com.

By 2014, ecommerce spending is projected to increase 98% in the United States and Canada, which equals nearly $203 billion of yearly ecommerce revenue in these two countries alone.  World-wide, ecommerce spending will reach nearly $525 billion.  In other words, now is the perfect time to start selling online, as the ecommerce industry is proving itself recession proof.

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Selling online is not as easy as opening up an account on CafePress or Etsy.  To truly be competitive in this growing space, it’s important to run your own online store, on your own domain, using an ecommerce solution that is focused on your success.  That said, choosing a shopping cart can be a bit tricky if you are just entering the space.  This is because the ecommerce software industry has grown rapidly, leaving hundreds of options to choose from, some greater than others. Luckily, there is a way to navigate these murky waters and come out on the other side with an ecommerce solution that fits all of your needs.

To find the perfect shopping cart for your online business, you just have to ask yourself a few questions:

1. What’s my budget?

2. What’s my level of expertise when it comes to technology online?

3. What features do I need to successfully promote my online store?

4. Can I give the ecommerce solution a try before I buy?

5. Do I envision large growth?

6. What’s the shopping cart’s reputation?

Let’s go through these questions one by one:

1. What’s my budget?

This is always the first question you should ask when searching for ecommerce software rather than your last.  This is because you don’t want to create a million dollar shopping list when you only have a hundred to spend.  Luckily, as the ecommerce software industry continues to grow, shopping carts are getting more affordable.  If you can only spend a small amount of money upfront, you should consider a hosted shopping cart, which will cost you around $49 to set up (some have no setup fee) and under $30 per month to maintain.’

If you are OK with spending a bulk amount upfront, you may consider a licensed ecommerce solution, which allows you to buy the shopping cart software for a one time fee without having to spend money later.  Licensed ecommerce software can cost you anywhere from $200 to $20,000 depending on the solution.  Finally, if you don’t have any money to spend, you’re still in luck as there are many free shopping carts available as well.  Just keep in mind that while a free shopping cart doesn’t require you to budget money, you will have to budget your time because these can sometimes be harder to set up, lack customer support, and require you to find your own hosting provider.

2. What’s my level of expertise when it comes to technology online?

Figuring out your budget helps you narrow down your options between hosted, licensed, or free shopping carts, but don’t get your heart set on one until you answer this question.  If you consider yourself a novice when it comes to technology online, then you should keep your eyes focused on hosted shopping carts only.  If you consider yourself to be very tech savvy, can code PHP and HTML, and know the difference between a VPS and shared hosting, then a licensed solution is likely right up your ally.  Free shopping carts like WP eCommerce, ZenCart, and osCommerce are also great options for anyone with some tech savvy.

3. What features do I need to successfully promote my online store?

This is where things can narrow down fast.  All ecommerce solutions may list hundreds, if not thousands of features, but if they’re missing just one of the features you need, then they aren’t worth the money.  Take a moment and write down a list of the features you need to run your online store.  For instance, do you need coupon codes, upsell and cross sell tools, and gift certificates?  Do you need reporting tools that will allow you to track your customers, sort them into groups, and provide specific promotions to each group?  Do you want to sell on Facebook, attach a blog to your online store, and tweet out promotions? Or maybe you need an always on-screen shopping cart so that your customers can always see what they are buying and how much things cost after tax and shipping.  One feature that should be a must have for anyone is PCI Compliance.  Make sure the ecommerce solutions you are looking at are PCI Compliant, or else you may end up having to pay fines to Visa for purchases made on your website.

The best ecommerce solutions should have features like this come standard in their software offering.  You’ll quickly find that while there might be hundreds of options, if you put together a list of must have features, you’ll quickly narrow your options down to 10 or less.  If you’re not sure what features are best, here’s a handy shopping cart comparison chart that includes the most requested ecommerce features and showcases top solutions side by side.

4. Can I give the ecommerce solution a try before I buy?

If you’re like almost anyone in this economic climate, parting with your money is not at the top of your to do list.  Because of this, you need to be certain of any purchase you make, and the best way to do this is to try before you buy.  Ecommerce solutions know that picking their software might be hard to do if you’ve never taken a tour of it.  Because of this, many of them offer free trials that allow you to sign up for 14 days and test out their solution.  When testing out an ecommerce solution, make sure it’s easy for you to use.  Go through the process of setting up a mock online store and make sure it has enough templates for you to choose from, great design options, and the ability to easily manipulate and customize your storefront look and feel.  Make sure the marketing tools available are vast and meet your needs, and also try them out to ensure they are easy to use.  Run through the reports and see just how deep you can dive into your store’s analytics.  Finally, check the shipping and tax rules to make sure there is enough customization available for you.

If a free trial appeals to you, make sure you try a solution that doesn’t require your credit card number when you sign up for your trial.  That way, you can sign up for multiple free trials and compare solutions side by side without worrying about being tied down to any of them when your trial period is up.  Here’s a list of ecommerce free trials that you can review to see which solutions provide this option without requiring your credit card number.

5. Do I envision large growth?

Almost every online entrepreneur will answer “yes” to this question, but their definitions of “growth” may be different.  If you are just starting your online store, you might look for an entry level package from a hosted shopping cart, or a lower priced licensed solution.  Switching solutions down the road might not be that easy if you have a lot of products and pages with your online store, so choosing right the first time will be a great benefit.  Look for a hosted shopping cart solution with multiple package levels and make sure they scale the way you envision growing.  For instance, maybe you only sell 20 products right now, but expect to sell over 2,000 in the years to come.  Make sure that there is an affordable hosted package level that includes 2,000 packages while also being able to maintain the traffic levels you expect to achieve.  If you’re unsure of your growth potential, then choose a hosted solution that includes a package with unlimited products and bandwidth, this will ensure that there is always scalability for your online store.

If you would prefer to use a licensed ecommerce solution, then consider what you’ll need to grow.  For instance, if you feel that you’ll need customer support, then find a licensed option that lets you also buy customer support credits.  If you feel that you will want the latest and greatest ecommerce tools in your arsenal as the years go on, then make sure the licensed solution you buy has a yearly upgrade option.  While you will have to pay for this upgrade each year, it will be worth it to stay competitive.

6. What’s the shopping cart’s reputation?

Finally, after asking yourself the above questions, you will likely have your options narrowed down to just a few shopping carts.  The next step is to determine whether or not other merchants have found success with the ecommerce solutions you are considering.  Go to Twitter and do a search for each solution.  You’ll quickly find out whether there are complaints and, more importantly, if the ecommerce solution providers did anything to fix the problems.  Read through merchant reviews of each ecommerce solution and reach out to bloggers or folks on Twitter to ask about their experiences with the shopping carts you’re considering.  It’s also important to test this out for yourself.  During your free trial, test out the customer support staff by giving them a mix of hard and easy questions.  Gauge their response time and attitude.

It’s also important to check when customer support is available.  This is because many online merchants also work a day job, so they need support in the evenings and weekends to ensure they can get help if any problems arise.

If answering all of these questions seems daunting and you are in need of an ecommerce solution sooner rather than later, consider using the shopping cart checklist on ZippyCart.com to get matched to an ecommerce solution in 3 easy steps.

Visit zippycart.com at http://www.zippycart.com/