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Small Business Tips

How to choose an online shopping cart for your business

Lisa Steinmann

Are you happy with the way e-commerce works on your website? Is it simple for you and your customers? If not, consider adding a user-friendly shopping-cart application to your website.

What is an e-commerce shopping cart?

An e-commerce shopping cart is more than a virtual basket for purchases. It manages all aspects of the purchasing experience for you and your customers.

What exactly does a shopping cart do?

  • Bookmark products – customers place potential purchases in their carts and keep shopping
  • Collect customer information – gather needed information for communication, shipping, and payment
  • Process payments – in traditional and innovative ways
  • Manage shipping options – provide customers shipping choices, and store owners options to print labels and buy postage
  • Generate reports and analytics – examine customer behavior and store dynamics over time

Does my website need a shopping cart?

There are many ways to sell products online. Some businesses don’t sell through their websites. Their websites are online catalogs. They advertise products and direct customers to buy them via other methods.

Some websites ask users to contact the site owner to arrange purchases. Others re-direct buyers to online retail sites that sell their products. Some businesses only sell products and services at physical locations.

Operating without a shopping cart is problematic

Online shoppers like instant gratification. They want to buy immediately and know when their purchases will ship. They don’t want to talk to store owners or visit a physical storefront.

If you don’t own the site that sells your products, the details are beyond your control.

It’s up to another party to decide on formats for sales copy and photographs. They decide what your customer sees.

Will they place ads for similar products on the same page? Will they compare your product’s price or features to a competitor’s? You might lose your sale.

Selling through shopping sites can be costly. Listing, subscription, and fees based on a percentage of sales, lower your profits. These sites may increase or add new fees at their discretion.

Large shopping sites tend to frustrate small business owners. In the beginning, these easy-to-use sites seem to be on the side of small business owners. Over time, overhead costs seem to shift to sellers.

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Control your customer’s purchasing experience and data

You have no control over how other companies treat you or your customers. You also can’t control another company’s viability. A legal or investing scandal could close the company you depend on.

What if another company buys them and changes their business model? Could your online business be side-lined overnight?

Why risk it? Control the process with your own full-service e-commerce site.

Use your shopping cart to build a database of customer contact information.

Shopping cart applications collect your customer’s e-mail and physical addresses. Once you have those, you can build a customer database. Use that database to reach shoppers through e-mail marketing or direct mail.

In the long run, having a customer contact database is invaluable. Many shopping cart applications include customer relationship management (CRM). CRM features help you make effective use of your data.

How do I add a shopping cart to my site?

The setup of your current site affects your shopping-cart choices. If your website is custom-built, discuss your options with your website designer.

If you built your website with a template system, look for cart applications built for it.

Five types of shopping-cart applications

Shopping carts you host on your physical or cloud servers:

  • Licensed shopping carts – you buy a version of this software for a fee.
  • Shopping carts made with open-source software – program your cart with free code.

Shopping carts hosted for you by an e-commerce partner. They manage updates, technical issues, and security patches on their servers.

  • Hosted shopping carts – you pay to access this shopping cart, but you don’t host the software.
  • Hosted shopping carts associated with a shop-building platform – websites built on platforms like Shopify include shopping carts.
  • Hosted shopping carts associated with a complete enterprise software solution like Microsoft’s Azure. Enterprise solutions are scalable for companies of any size.

What about payments?

You’ll need to decide if you want to accept direct payments.

Do you want to collect sensitive payment information? It will be your job to protect that information for your customers.

It requires that customers trust you. If your business is new, they may not. Customers may be more comfortable with an established payment processor like PayPal.

Frequent innovations in payment processing occur as e-commerce evolves. Fintech (financial technology) start-ups and traditional financial institutions pursue online-shopping revenue.

Check with your bank. They might surprise you with a cutting-edge product.

Do you pay to process credit cards now? A shopping cart may be part of your current service package.

Sophisticated shopping cart options include many customization features. The evolution of these tools is constant.

If you aren’t a programmer, hire a professional to select your shopping cart. Consult with an e-commerce specialist or the support team at your site-building partner.

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