Practical Ecommerce

Shopping Carts: Features to Consider

A shopping cart system should be able to accommodate a business’ needs, rather than requiring the business to adjust goals and strategies to match the capabilities of the shopping cart. We’ve put together a template of sorts that you can use to help decide on a shopping cart system based on six considerations: functionality, shipping, payments, support, technology and reporting.

Shopping Cart Functionality

Probably the most important consideration when choosing a shopping cart system is the functionality of the cart itself. Not only should customers have access to the features they want, but the shopping cart system needs to account for the needs of the business as well.

  • Is there a limit to the number of categories or products?
    If there will be a large number of products or product categories, it would be wise to find out which shopping carts have limitations in this area.
  • Does the shopping cart support inventory tracking?
    Along those lines, will inventory be tracked, and how? Many shopping carts have the ability to track inventory automatically, although make sure to understand exactly how this works and if it will integrate with your accounting system.
  • Does the shopping cart have an affiliate program?
    While an affiliate program may be the last thing on your mind when first selecting a shopping cart, it can be an important consideration over time.
  • Does the shopping cart have gift certificate or discount coupon functionality?
    Discount coupons and gift certificates are also something to think about, as these can be effective marketing tools.
  • Is the cart search engine friendly, and can it be improved?
    Since almost every online business relies to some extent on traffic provided by search engines, to remain competitive it is imperative to examine how search engine friendly a shopping cart system is. Look for features like unique title and description tags for each page, effective use of header tags, clean URL generation and standards compliance.
  • Is there a quick-buy feature or do customers need to register
    Customers like the convenience of online shopping. This includes the ability to establish an account with an ecommerce store such that purchases can be made at the click of a button. This type of feature is often referred to as a quick-buy or fast-buy feature.

Shipping Considerations

Shipping capabilities should play a large role when deciding upon a shopping cart. Oftentimes, the type of products sold will dictate the shipping strategy that a business needs to pursue.

  • Do you need to determine shipping based on weight or by price range?
    Some retailers need to calculate shipping charges based on the weight of the products they are sending, while others use price ranges.
  • Does the cart have UPS/USPS/FedEx integration?
    In addition to the method of calculating shipping charges, integration with various shipping companies is also an important consideration. At the very least, you will probably want to make sure that your cart integrates with UPS, USPS, and FedEx.

    Payment Considerations

When it comes to the role of payment considerations in considering a shopping cart system, it really is more than just the options you allow customers in paying for goods or services.

  • What kinds of payment gateways are supported?
    While it may seem obvious that any shopping cart system should accept online payments, pay close attention to which payment gateways are available with each shopping cart. Common gateways include Authorize.net, PayPal and Verisign.
  • Can the cart support non-credit card and offline payment options?
    Some customers may prefer other options for payment, such as offline checks. It’s estimated that up to a quarter of online transactions are done with something other than a credit card. That could mean that your shopping cart system allows for ACH transactions; however, it might also mean that the system allows for a shipping delay so that the customer can order a product online but pay for it conventionally, with a paper check sent through the mail, for example.
  • How does the cart determine sales taxes?
    You’ll want to make sure whichever shopping cart system you choose can integrate with sales tax modules and software. (Check streamlinedsalestax.org for a list of vendors.)

Support

You’ll need help and support from time-totime, if not everyday.

  • Does the cart manufacturer provide a customer support forum on their website?
    Some shopping cart systems offer only a customer support forum on their website, while other systems include free technical support or even premium support options available for a fee.
  • What are your options for getting support if you need it?
    A good rule of thumb is: the more options for customer support, the better. That could include an online forum, frequently asked questions (FAQs), a 1-800 phone number and e-mail support.

Technical Considerations

More than likely, you’ll hire a programmer or work with a firm to implement your shopping cart. Before picking a shopping cart system, you’ll want to consider your current site, web host and the technical limitations of each.

  • What is the operating system choice that you need (Linux, Windows)?
    A quick email to your hosting provider will clear that up.
  • Programming language required by you or your developer (PHP, ASP, etc)?
    Consider picking a shopping cart system whose programming language is the same as the rest of your site. If the dynamic parts of your website were done in ASP, for example, it would make sense to give weight to a shopping cart developed in ASP.
  • Database software requirements (MySQL, Access, etc)?
    Again, ask your web host what’s available to you, and consider where you’ve stored other data. Find out what type of database that is, and stick with it if its features match your business needs.
  • Is the shopping cart solution a hosted one or a licensed one?
    How you pay for a shopping cart system might be a matter of convenience to you or a matter of what you can afford. Some shopping cart solution providers sell their wares like software. For a fee to purchase a license, the code is yours to implement and use as you wish. Other shopping cart providers only offer access to their shopping cart application. It lives on their server, and although it can be customized to integrate with your ecommerce site, a hosted shopping cart isn’t really yours per se. The advantages of having a licensed shopping cart system include functionality flexibility. Your programmer will be able to dig in and change things up to fit your business a bit more readily than he or she will be able to do with a hosted system.

The advantages of having a hosted shopping cart system is that the provider bears the responsibility of making sure it works properly all the time. That includes specific functionalities and uptime in general. They host it. They manage it. They’re responsible for it. In a licensed environment, it will be solely up to you to ensure that the cart works properly. In a hosted environment, you forego some control but the provider bears the brunt of the responsibility.

Reporting Considerations

Before committing to any shopping cart, take the time to preview the administrative reporting features. Look for a cart that is able to provide you with the reports that you need.

Conclusion

Finding the shopping cart system that will best work for your business can be a tough proposition. Try to narrow it down to three or four choices based on your business and marketing plans. Make an effort to speak with users of each one to determine what their experience has been, and if they have any advice to offer.

Brian Getting

Brian Getting

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Comments ( 2 )

  1. Legacy User May 25, 2007 Reply

    One other thing to consider is fulfillment. When thinking about shipping integration, keep in mind that this rarely means you'll be able to process an order from start to finish in your cart. You'll likely need to jump out of your cart into USPS/UPS/FedEx or some 3rd party system to generate shipping labels.

    Also along these lines, will the cart then send out an order confirmation email once the order is generated? Will it only authorize the card and allow you to bill the cart once inventory is picked and packed, ready to be shipped? Once shipped, will the cart send out a shipping confirmation email?

    Many lower end, entry level carts discussed on this site generally will not handle these types of processes. Additionally, I would be very careful before relying too heavily on the cart to track inventory. Most carts have no cost tracking, so you can't use average cost, FIFO or LIFO.

    — *Nathan*

  2. Legacy User September 26, 2007 Reply

    Another consideration is can it handle drop shipping and shipping from multiple warehouses. This factors into shipping cost calculation and often a simple charge based on weight or price range is not sufficient. Often you need the ability to use a table (or related tables) to calculate shipping costs based on what is shipping from where to where.

    Of course this can also impact sales tax info. The sales tax is really critical for those states that have multiple tax rates and being able to figure it on a more granular level than state may be critical. Even if you are a small startup getting the tax right is essential. States are really looking at this now that online sales have cut into the local andState sales tax revenues.

    — *Walter*