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7/28/2009
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E-Commerce Software for SMBs: Why Your Shopping Cart Matters

Your company's Web shopping cart can have a big effect on whether or not customers actually buy from your site. Here's how to find an online shopping cart that's right for your business.

Resource Nation provides how-to purchasing guides, tips for selecting business service providers, and a free quote-comparison service that allows business owners to compare price and service offerings in over 100 categories from credit card processing to Point-of-Sale (POS) systems.

As an ecommerce retailer, there are many ways you can drive traffic to your site, make it easily navigable, and process customer payments using secure mechanisms. But all that may not be enough.

According to BizReport and eWay Direct, a staggering 60% to 70% of all online shoppers "abandon" their purchases before they are completed. If your site traffic doesn't jive with your recent revenue, you may want to take a long, hard look at customer abandonment rates. If you conduct credit card processing online for your business, could your shopping cart software be the culprit?

What is a Shopping Cart?
The "cart" keeps track of items for purchase before a customer submits credit card information for payment. Some carts have advanced features, like automated e-mail responses, shipping calculators, and featured-product suggestions. The cart itself doesn't process the payment, but is the functional link between your site and the "payment gateway" service that connects to your merchant account. If the cart is confusing or difficult to use, not fully compatible with gateway software, or has technical problems, customers will navigate elsewhere -- resulting in lost sales, incomplete purchases, and fewer return visitors to your site.

Features
Choosing a shopping cart with advanced features not only cuts down on cart abandonment, it can also encourage impulse purchases and bigger-ticket sales. Helpful shopping cart features include

  • Immediate Processing: Any company that sells "soft" goods (downloadable programs, documents, etc.) should choose a cart with an immediate processing feature. This lets the cart "deliver" the download immediately after payment is approved.
  • Currency Converters: Businesses that sell overseas should choose a cart with a currency converter.
  • Shipping Calculator: It's a good idea for "hard" goods retailers to let customers calculate shipping costs before making a purchase. Studies show that one of the chief causes of cart abandonment is miscalculated shipping expenses.
  • Discounts: Allowing customers to input a discount code when checking out can help boost sales. When shoppers see their savings reflected before they're ready to submit credit card information, they may even decide to continue shopping and spend the savings!
  • Featured Product/Product Suggestion: You've seen the "you may also like" feature on sites like Amazon.com and iTunes -- it's a powerful way of recommending products that customers are likely to buy, and can be included on your site easily via shopping cart software.
  • Automated Mailing Lists: When customers enter payment information, some shopping carts can automatically add e-mail addresses, snail-mail addresses, and other information to a database for later marketing efforts, or for purchase follow up (i.e. e-mailing the customer a receipt).

Types Of Carts
Shopping cart software can be purchased (as standard, distributed software) or "leased" using a hosted option. Purchased software ranges in cost from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars for the program alone -- you may incur additional e-commerce Web design costs to integrate the cart into your site. A "leased" or hosted cart can range in cost from $40/month to hundreds of dollars per month or more, depending on the features you choose.

If you choose a hosted option, software is downloaded from the provider's Web site or integrated directly into your site. Typically with hosted software, there are no up-front costs, maintenance and upgrades are handled automatically, and you can save on bandwidth charges if you deliver a downloadable product to customers. Software is typically managed online so you can change prices, track purchases, and make adjustments to inventory directly. Choose a cart with templates that let you make changes to page appearance, especially if the cart re-directs to the payment gateway page. If the page re-directs to a completely different-looking page, buyers can get confused and worry about security.

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Proprietary software, on the other hand, is purchased once -- you own it, and can customize the program as you see fit. You manage the program yourself -- all configuration, maintenance, and upgrade costs are your responsibility. This makes for businesses that need a high level of customization, there is no need to transfer customers to a gateway page or away from a site page to enter payment details, because the cart is fully integrated into your site. But if your company is not especially tech-savvy, you may need to hire out maintenance and customization to a Web designer.

Hosted carts are popular among smaller e-commerce retailers because they are often easier for a lay person to use and administer. professional Web programmers, designers, and developers usually choose to work with purchased carts because they can create the precise look, feel, and functionality they want, and can integrate the cart seamlessly with an existing site.

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