There are more than 500 online shopping carts. And each week we feature one, interviewing both the cart's developer and a customer. "Cart of the Week" is not a review or an evaluation, but rather an opportunity to learn about a shopping cart from the people who build it and use it.
This week, we'll hear from Bradley T. Bansner, president and web application developer for BB Design, the company behind LiveMerchant online shopping cart. The web design and development company is based in Wenersville, Penn., and currently serves approximately 30 ecommerce merchants.
We'll also hear from a LiveMerchant customer, Peter Schenk. He is the president and CEO of PCE Health & Fitness, a Salt Lake City, Utah-based company that sells LifeSpan exercise equipment and health club memberships. Schenk said, on average, the website processes about 850 sales per month via LiveMerchant.
Practical eCommerce: Please provide some general background on the cart.
Brad Bansner: "LiveMerchant was initially released in 1999. It was created to fulfill a need for an admin interface for an ecommerce website I was developing for my father's stamp-collecting business, and the original site is still in operation today. I soon realized that the custom admin screens I had created could be branded and reused for other client websites. I developed a server-wide system that used and reused various scripts and code in conjunction with custom programming to allow me to quickly and efficiently develop custom shopping carts for other clients, and I named this collection of ecommerce tools LiveMerchant.
“Coming from a graphic design background, I felt it was important for the user experience to be completely seamless when moving from the website to the shopping cart and checkout pages. Customizing off-the-shelf shopping carts seemed either difficult or impossible; or required reading through a lot of documentation to learn the interface screens. Much of my new business today comes from clients who share this frustration.
“LiveMerchant fills the need for a niche market: clients who want someone to simply make things work and make it look good. LiveMerchant is not an add-on component to a website, it is directly integrated with the website's product catalogs. In fact, it is the entire website. This is why we make the distinction between a shopping cart product that you would purchase or subscribe to, versus a custom-programmed solution such as LiveMerchant.
“There are basic shopping cart functions that are built-in. However, we can customize the screens to provide virtually any feature a client wants. We like to think of LiveMerchant as a hybrid between an off-the-shelf shopping cart product and a completely customized solution. Some clients require very little customization while others are nearly complete overhauls, and this flexibility is our advantage.”
PeC: Is it hosted, licensed, or both?
Bansner: "Hosted. However, we will occasionally install the cart on a client's server for the right project. LiveMerchant requires a Microsoft hosting environment.”
PeC: How much does LiveMerchant cost?
Bansner: "The typical range is $360 to $720 per year, with no transaction fees. [There are, however, ongoing design fees and customization fees.] This includes the LiveMerchant shopping cart as well as website hosting, a MS SQL database, traffic statistics, and more. There is a one-time website development fee, which varies depending on the client’s needs.”
PeC: What is your company doing to become PCI compliant?
Bansner: "We have a third party consultant, ServPure Inc., that assists with security on our own servers. We also work to keep up with PCI DSS requirements. The basic goal is to store as little sensitive data on our servers as possible, and for as short a period of time. At this time, we have no immediate plans to apply to Visa’s Global List of PCI/DSS Service Providers.”
PeC: What are the cart's biggest strengths?
Bansner: "Seamless integration to an existing website with total customization potential, without the client having to learn a complicated system or deal with complex admin interface screens.”
PeC: What are some of its weaknesses?
Bansner: "It’s not for companies who want to ‘do it yourself.’ Because it is a custom shopping cart, it doesn't have a lot of flexibility for the average user, but we provide customization for our clients when needed. We have very few users compared to most other shopping carts, but again this is a product designed for a niche market rather than for the masses.”
PeC: What plans do you have for future cart development?
Bansner: "Most improvements come from client suggestions or from the requirements of new website projects. For instance, we just did an upgrade to the integration with QuickBooks. But, currently, we’re caught up on new developments.”
PeC: How would your cart help an ecommerce merchant, versus the cart he or she is using now?
Bansner: "We are a good match for someone who is frustrated with trying to maintain their own shopping cart or receiving poor technical support. We handle all the technical details, installation and programming.”
PeC: Any other thoughts for our readers, who are mainly ecommerce merchants?
Bansner: "We definitely aren't for everyone, but many of our clients (and customers of our clients) have said the shopping cart and checkout system are the easiest they have ever used on any website.”
A Customer's View
Peter Schenk is CEO and president of PCE Health & Fitness. The company sells fitness equipment and health club memberships online via LiveMerchant ecommerce software, and Schenk provides his comments and opinions about the cart below.
PeC: How long has your company been using LiveMerchant?
Peter Schenk: "LiveMerchant has been our only shopping cart since 2003 when we began selling fitness equipment directly to consumers. We chose it because the software is powerful, flexible, easy-to-use and affordable. We were also looking for an order management system at the time, and the shopping cart integrated with the LiveMerchant database was also a selling feature.”
PeC: What are the cart's biggest strengths?
Schenk: "The LiveMerchant shopping cart provides our customers with an easy-to-use, reliable, secure online shopping experience. Shopping cart web page URLs all include the name of our web store and integrate transparently with our website. It adds to consumer confidence to know the shopping cart is an extension of our site. Consumer confidence is also boosted because LiveMerchant is an Authorize.Net-certified shopping cart."
PeC: How could the cart improve?
Schenk: "Our shopping cart is already highly customized to meet our needs, and there are no major improvements to be made currently. When an improvement is needed, we simply work with BB Design to enhance the cart.”
PeC: How would LiveMerchant improve another merchant's business?
Schenk: "Any business looking for a flexible, customizable shopping cart solution with a complete back-end management system should consider LiveMerchant.”
PeC: Do you plan on continuing to use the cart?
Schenk: "We plan to continue using it indefinitely. As our business grows and Internet sales grow, BB Design has been responsive to customize the cart and supporting order management system to meet our needs.”
PeC: Any other thoughts for our readers concerning the cart?
Schenk: "The system has proven to be accurate, reliable and secure. Improvements have been made over the years to make checkout simpler and easier for customers to use.”