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Choosing the Right Online Shopping Cart

Are you a website owner or a web designer/developer? If either applies, I would venture to say that eventually you'll need an online shopping cart for one of your websites. In fact, almost all new websites today need some sort of ecommerce built-in, for the purpose of selling goods and services in the online marketplace.

The greatest challenge is to find the perfect ecommerce shopping cart solution for yourself and/or your client. This task can be very overwhelming, considering, if you type 'shopping cart' into Google.com, this search alone returns over 14.4 million hits! Most of us don't have the time to sift through more than a few pages of a search engine to find what we're looking for.

For the last 3 months, much of my time has been devoted to researching as much shopping cart technology as I could get my hands on. In general, shopping cart software ranges in price from free to over $2000 for a single license and web hosted carts range from $5 to hundreds of dollars per month. The studied carts cover the spectrum of all web programming languages (ASP, ASP.NET, Cold Fusion, Flash, Java, JavaScript & Perl shopping carts) and provide limitless features as a whole. The problem is that locating YOUR perfect cart with YOUR specific features can be a big task.

But no fear, just follow this guaranteed step-by-step guide to locate it:

The Top 10 Steps to Finding the Best Online Shopping Cart

Cost

How much money do you have to spend on an internet shopping cart? The nice advantage is that there are shopping carts with hundreds of features and they don't cost you a dime. They are generally open source products. The only problem is that these same "free shopping carts" can take hours of installation time and be fairly difficult to configure. For a monthly fee, web hosting shopping carts are made for users with little programming experience and allows them to have an online storefront presence in no time.

Hosting vs. Software

There are two options in selecting your overall shopping cart solution. Either you get shopping cart software, download it, install it on your web server, then configure the shopping cart OR you get an online storefront (aka a hosted shopping cart) where the configuration is very basic and the required setup time is minimal. If you have some programming skills, I recommend buying a script and installing it on your own. The nice thing is that you pay a one-time fee for shopping cart software and the license is good for a lifetime. It's approximately the same price to have a hosted solution for a year compared to most one time shopping cart license fees.

Supported Gateways

What do I mean by gateways? Gateways give shopping carts the ability to connect and securely process credit card orders in real-time. Not all shopping carts are created equal. Make sure that your client's merchant account is supported by the cart you select. I have found that almost all carts support the larger online payment processing companies, such as Authorize.net, PayPal and Verisign.

Shipping Options

Will you be shipping physical products? If so, there are shopping carts that have built-in real-time shipping options through DHL, UPS And USPS. Often times, the cart gives the user the ability to view tracking orders and order status all from within your secure shopping cart web interface. Also, there are shopping carts with options to ship digital goods as well (files, programs, pictures, music and others).

Technical Support

What kind of technical support does your shopping cart offer? If you choose to purchase a script, be sure to also subscribe to the shopping cart creator's newsletter, so that you can stay on top of future updates to the software. Be aware that technical support is generally available on a pay-per-incident basis, as a yearly fee or in the rare case, free. Be sure to know what kind of customer support guarantee the shopping cart comes with.

Security

Please, only buy a shopping cart if it supports SSL (secure socket layer), with 128-bit encryption. As an online storefront, remember that you are responsible for the safe transfer of sensitive information (credit card and bank account information) that is processed through your store. If any of the sensitive information is accessible (stolen) from your website, you could be liable. Be sure that you're purchasing a secure shopping cart solution. Ask the creator's of the shopping cart what they do specifically to protect the secure transfer of sensitive information.

Style Compatibility

Can you customize your shopping cart to look like your website? There needs to be a seamless transition between your website and your shopping storefront or your customers might get hesitant in purchasing your products. There should be similar colors and style layout to look professional and believable.

Extra Features

I just wanted to mention some of the other features that I have discovered, which might be a critical point in determining the shopping cart you want.

Affiliate Program - Offer your own customized affiliate program through your shopping cart software. Quickbooks Integration - Many carts allow direct integration with Quickbooks.

Newsletter & Mailing Letter Managers - The ability to stay in touch with your current customers and keep them returning to your online store.

Custom Taxing Options - Create taxable or tax-free products and have the ability to add various global tax options at checkout.

World Languages & Currencies - Shopping cart language translation and support for world currency might be a necessary feature for your cart.

Error Free

You mean shopping carts can have errors? Of course. A private UK-based web testing firm found the following, after studying a large group of UK online shopping carts for a period of one month (24/7):"The majority of UK web sites are guilty of leaving e-consumers stranded at the checkout empty handed, once they have already spent valuable time browsing and selecting goods to purchase. This is due to erratic functionality within shopping carts, at a critical step in the online purchasing process."

"E-consumers are prevented from making purchases on UK web sites for 9 hours and 30 minutes a month on average, (115 hours a year)." "80 per cent of web sites perform inconsistently with widely varying response times, timeouts and errors - leaving consumers at best wondering what to do next and at worst unable to complete their purchase successfully. This is potentially costing e-retailers millions in lost sales from consumer frustrations." (http://www.scivisum.co.uk/report/ecommerce/)

Be sure to see what other users are saying about a shopping cart that you might be interested in purchasing. Any shopping cart errors could cost you thousands of dollars in sales. Get a stable and secure cart.

Shopping Cart Directory

The following is a link containing a directory of shopping carts that are categorized according to each of the above-stated steps. Make shopping for shopping carts a breeze!

Shopping Cart Directory

If you have any questions or comments about this article, please contact the author.

About The Author

Evan Stevens (http://www.evanstevens.com) is a professional web developer. This article reviews ecommerce online shopping carts.

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