How to choose a shopping cart and ecommerce platform – part one

shopping cart

Selling online is a great way to expand your business or start a new one. To do so, you need a website with a shopping cart, secure payment processing and a process to fulfil orders. This article, which will be spread over several posts, mainly focuses on the shopping cart, the main platform for an ecommerce site. There are hundreds of carts to choose from so this is not a straightforward choice. Shopping carts can be expensive and complicated to maintain but do not have to be. The right one for you will depend on the size of your business, the features you require, your basic technical proficiency and the money you are prepared to pay.

What features do you require?

A good starting point is to write a list of features you require and then decide which ones to prioritise. All singing, all dancing carts come at a price so it might be worth dividing the lists into ‘must have’ and ‘nice to have’. The following are some of the features you might be looking for on your wish list:

  • Order tracking and shipping
  • Customer communications and managemen
  • Payment Processing – security is a must
  • Webpage design and flexibility – the degree to which you can change the look and feel of the store
  • Product management/catalogue and inventory tracking
  • Facilities to offer discounts and gift certificates
  • Display of multiple images for products, and zooming-in facilities
  • Product reviews and ratings, wish lists
  • Suggestions for similar or related products – ‘you might also like …..’
  • Social network integration
  • Marketing and eNewsletter facilities to market your store and its products
  • Security – SSL secure checkouts, encryption and so on

Look carefully at the features the different carts offer and how closely they match your requirements. To some degree, you get what you pay for, so do not expect every feature to be available on a cheaper cart. Make sure you are comfortable using the cart and its features, and that the process of buying online is smooth and simple. Customers will often not complete an online purchase if the buying process is irritating or too cumbersome. Most carts offer a free trial or a demo so look at a few carts before deciding. Also, consider the level of support on offer.

What types of cart are available?

  • Marketplace sites – sites that you can use sell your goods such as eBay and Amazon.
  • Basic ‘add-on’ shopping carts – enable you to add shopping cart ‘buy now’ buttons to your existing website and process payments securely through trusted brands such as PayPal or Google Checkout.
  • Hosted Shopping Carts – online e-commerce packages that host your store for a monthly fee e.g. Shopify, ekmPowershop.
  • Shopping Cart Software – off the shelf, paid-for or free open-source carts that you install and add to your own site e.g. ZenCart or ShopFactory.
  • Plug-ins and extensions – such as WooCommerce and Ecwid for WordPress, Facebook and other sites.

full shopping cart

In the next post, we will begin to look at more detail at these various options.

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