Third-Party Integrations Make Shopping Carts Easier To Use
By day Sean Dupuis is a courier for FedEx. By night, he sends out packages of his own: boxes of boots and moccasins and sheepskin bags for his bustling website business called Sheepskin and Things. Stretched thin, he’s able to get it all done because his shopping cart and its third-party integrations do much of the work for him.
“You get home, you check your email, it tells you if there’s a new order, you log into your control panel, you print out the completed invoice and completed airway bill for UPS, you pull the inventory and apply the invoice and airway bill to the package, and out the door it goes,” says Dupuis, age 36.
Multiple integrations into the shopping cart
In the process he’s using seamless 256-bit encryption from Starfield Technologies and shipping from UPS. He’s using payment transfers from PayPal and credit card processing through an international gateway. He’s using sales leads from Google Product Search and web analytics from Traffic Facts. And he’s doing his search-engine submissions through Traffic Blazer. Each third-party service came with Dupuis’ Deluxe Quick Shopping Cart from GoDaddy, requiring a simple click by Dupuis to set up.
Soon, Dupuis will be adding the GoDaddy option to allow cart-synching with QuickBooks Pro. “We just set up our [QuickBooks] account and we’ll be integrating bookkeeping directly from the cart, very soon, with our accountant,” Dupuis says. “It’s going to save us money, and will make everyone’s life easier.” Plus, the QuickBooks’ product finally comes with FedEx integration, something Dupuis, especially, is eagerly anticipating.
Avoids multiple log-ins
Many of the services used by Internet merchants can be integrated into shopping cart software. That way, instead of logging into separate accounts to perform needed online services, the shopping cart program does it for you. There’s everything from shipping software that automatically computes shipping costs for orders, and prints out labels on the merchant’s side that comply to USPS or Federal Express guidelines, to software that seamlessly takes order information and feeds it into QuickBooks for bookkeeping and inventory control. The integration simply assures that the shopping cart software can accurately transmit its data to the add-on functions and features. That’s a tall order when working with multiple vendors with multiple requirements.
Merchants can go through the integration processes and coding on their own, or can work with a shopping cart service that has already done this legwork for them. “This is one of the ways to quickly weed out the entry-level from advanced e-commerce software platforms,” says Massimo Arrigoni, a 10-year veteran of web software development. “The ones that have taken the time to get the certifications and integrations are more than likely the ones that are tried and true.”
Indeed, even big-name domain reseller GoDaddy had to wade its way through the certification process when rolling out its Quick Shopping Cart. “We had to go through programs with both eBay and Google, UPS, USPS, Google Product Search,” says GoDaddy President Warren Adelman. “We integrated a QuickBooks’ product that we developed through Intuit, and we worked with PayPal to offer that as a payment option, in addition to a pretty wide variety of gateway products. When you’re looking for your shopping cart merchant, you want a product that provides a wide array of capabilities that will meet a good portion of your needs, and that includes third party integrations. You certainly don’t want to have to work through your own process with QuickBooks or UPS.”
Seven most important integrations
With that in mind, here are Dupuis picks of the seven most important integrations for merchants like him:
Security protections – Some carts automatically come with what’s known as a SSL certificate, which encrypts data (such as credit card numbers) transmitted from a customer to the merchant’s shopping cart pages and adds the “s” to “https.” On their own, SSL certificates can cost up to several hundred dollars per year. “SSL certificates allow you to process credit card payments and add credibility,” Dupuis says. “Having this come with the cart [versus purchasing it separately] is very, very helpful.”
One often overlooked area in website security is the shopping cart product catalog photos. Some carts “have an online photo file, which allows you to upload your photos into a photo filer; when you’re in the photo filer it automatically creates links to that photo, including security links,” Dupuis says. “If you’re in the secure part of the site, in the checkout process, if any photos are in that area that don’t have a security link a warning will pop up—and that makes people worry about the security of the whole page. You lose sales that way, drastically. You need a secure link to your photos, and [a cart that] provides that.”
The second layer of security certifications is through integrated hacker-protection programs, like McAfee Secure or Trust Guard. These services remotely scan site pages for known vulnerabilities daily. Case studies of carts using the Hacker Safe logo, for example, show 14 percent more sales than carts without visible anti-hacking certification.
One Hacker Safe-certified cart is the 15,000-subscriber 1ShoppingCart, which “can now proudly display that Hacker Safe badge with the check-out page of every one of our merchant’s sites,” says Justin Bell, 1ShoppingCart’s director of client services. “We’ve done the work to do that and display the badge—saving them from having to go to Hacker Safe and apply and get certifications or monthly fees.” 1ShoppingCart starts at $29 per month.
Shipping – “When you set up your product profiles, the cart asks for each item’s description, dimensions and weight,” Sheepskin and Things’ Dupuis says. “The certified shipping providers will use all of that information to calculate the rate, importing it into the online airway bill.”
There are integrated real-time shipping certifications from the United States Postal Service, UPS, DHL (offered on only a few carts, such as SalesCart, AmeriCommerce and Fortune3), and FedEx. Note that FedEx has certified only three carts, as listed on its website—Squirrel Cart, Nexternal E-Commerce Software and ProductCart—plus ShipRush for eBay and Intuit QuickBooks. Why so few, when USPS and UPS can be found in scores of carts?
“It really varies as far as what [you] have to do to get a certification,” says Arrigoni, who’s now CEO of Early Impact, maker of the multi-certified ProductCart storefront management software. “FedEx was an absolute nightmare. Since we’ve gone through the certification with them I think they’ve changed some of their procedures. It took our team something like five months. With FedEx you do all the software-based integration: write the code to connect to their API and so forth. Then they do, first, interface validation to make sure you’re presenting things the right way. That makes perfect sense. When that’s done, they require that you submit, manually, a shipping label for every scenario that they can come up with (and there are a few hundred). You create a dummy account at your store and mimic a shipment to Canada, for example. You create all these labels, and send them to FedEx, where a person scans them individually to make sure that all of the labels are correct. It’s just an extremely time-consuming process.”
Certifications include automatic rate calculators and, usually, shipping account registration wizards. With certified shipping options, customers in a set-up shopping cart can choose the shipping method and then rates are automatically calculated.
Shopping search – “We use Google and Yahoo! feeds directly through our cart,” says Dupuis, of Sheepskin and Things. “It’s very hard to track how that’s working for us, but it doesn’t hurt us to use it. The option is there.”
GoDaddy’s Quick Shopping Cart automatically creates Google Product XML feeds sent to Google for processing. “This feature is a huge time saver, because otherwise a merchant would have to duplicate data entry for every single product in their catalog within the Google Product Search ‘Add a Product’ web form on the Google side,” says Adelman at GoDaddy. “This is extremely time-consuming for merchants with a large product catalog. The automatic feed from [a cart] eliminates the need for that data entry and only requires a minimal amount of setup on the Google side to accept the feed file.”
Note that Google Product Search is the new name for Froogle, Google’s flagship shopping search engine. Merchants must have an account on the Google side before they can submit their products in bulk from their certified-shopping-cart control panel.
Other popular search integrations are for Yahoo! Product Search and eBay. “With eBay there is a formal process for shopping cart integration, too, and it’s not easy,” Arrigoni says. Indeed, Dupuis says his eBay integrated cart requires additional inputs on the eBay side, along with an eBay account setup and fees, before products can really go live. “It wasn’t worth it for me,” he says, “but it could be for any regular eBay seller for sure.”
One cart that has actively gone after shopping search integrations is the hosted cart AmeriCommerce ($39 per month to $3,000 per year). It offers “Set It and Forget It” automatic daily product feeds from its merchants’ carts to Google Product Search, Google Base, Yahoo Shopping, ShopZilla and BizRate. The AmeriCommerce service also automatically embeds tracking codes into the links it provides to the shopping portals, so merchants know where every sale is coming from.
Bookkeeping/inventory control – Merchants who use or plan to use such accounting software as QuickBooks or Peachtree may want a cart that’s integrated to export transactions directly into the respective accounting-software fields. Only a few carts—such as Fortune3’s hosted cart, ComCity-hosted SalesCart, and Peachtree’s $400 per year WebsiteTrader software—offer Peachtree integration, while at least 100 carts integrate with the various QuickBooks programs.
“The way QuickBooks works is that they’ve got a web connector that’s their web interface with ecommerce applications,” says J.D. Pohlman, product manager for ecommerce at Network Solutions, makers of the newly rebranded 10,500-subscriber MonsterCommerce cart. This cart is one of few certified QuickBooks Gold Developers to integrate with QuickBooks for accounting, QuickBooks Point of Sale for inventory tracking and QuickBooks’ Merchant Service for credit card acceptance.
“We sync up our cart to align with QuickBooks,” Pohlman says. “Right now we sync up everything on the sales order with QuickBooks as soon as the order is placed. With QuickBooks Point of Sale, we wait until the order is completely filled on the shopping cart end and then sync it up as a receipt that also updates the inventory within QuickBooks Point of Sale.”
Third-party payment processing – “PayPal charges a lot of user fees,” Sheepskin and Things’ Dupuis notes, “but it is one of the most popular forms of payment on the Internet. So that’s what we started with when we launched our store online.” The issue with PayPal integrations, says Arrigoni, is that “there are many different payment systems within the PayPal service.” There’s PayPal’s Express Checkout, Website Payments Standard, Website Payments Pro, Website Payments Pro for the U.K. and Payflow.
“It’s sometimes unclear for the merchant whether the cart they’re considering is set to work with PayPal Express versus PayPal Pro,” Arrigoni says. “Some carts will go to the extent to explain what exactly they support, but in other cases they’re just trying to get the sale and they just say ‘PayPal’ when it doesn’t tell you what you really need to know.”
Meanwhile, deferred-payment services offer consumers the option of ordering products and paying for them later. These services accounted for 14 percent of U.S. online sales in 2007, according to financial analysis firm Javelin Strategy and Research. They’re also processed without transaction fees or chargeback risks for merchants. Perhaps that’s why deferred plans ranked as a “most valued” option by one-quarter of The E-Tailing Group’s merchants completing its 2008 Merchant Survey Report.
However, deferred payment integrations are rarely found in today’s carts. Exceptions are the integration of Bill Me Later in X-Cart, AspDotNetStorefront, LaGarde’s StoreFront and Cart32, and the integration of eLayaway in E-Commerce Express, a free web-based cart provided by Mercantec.com.
Credit card processing – Security certifications such as PCI (Payment Card Industry Data Security) and Visa’s Cardholder Information Security Program are new cart integration features, recently mandated by the credit card industry. “They’re very expensive to comply with,” says Bell at 1ShoppingCart. “Going with a cart that provides it as standard saves the merchants thousands of dollars down the road.”
1ShoppingCart also recently launched a “3-D secure credit card verification program” that works through Verified by Visa and Master Card’s Secure Card. “If someone charges back a transaction that was run through 3-D secure code, the credit cart company in many cases ends up covering it,” Bell says.
Other carts, like SalesCart.com, boast directly enabled Verified-by-VISA and MasterCard SecureCode integrations.
Many carts now offer plug-and-play merchant account arrangements as well. A simple application on the cart side signs merchants up for their own merchant account, often with free set-up fees and discounts on monthly charges. The cart then automatically transfers credit card payments through the selected merchant account, with no further set-up involved.
Analytics – “At first we didn’t see the importance in using analytics software,” Dupuis, of Sheepskin and Things, says. “But this service lets you know where people are coming to your site, how often and how long they’re there and what they’re looking for.”
Google Analytics, ClickTracks and Omniture are popular analytics tools for integration. “With Google Analytics there is not an official process that you go through for certification,” Arrigoni says. “You just say, ‘Yes, we’re compatible.’” Carts like AmeriCommerce also include integration from Extreme Logging, a service that records every action from each and every visitor to your site—from shopping cart content to visited pages—and provides in-depth search and aggregation capabilities.
Greatly enhances shopping cart
In the end, it is Dupuis’ third-party cart integrations that have enabled him to go from full-time day job to, starting this summer, full-time web entrepreneur.
“A lot of people don’t realize that this is just a shopping cart,” says Dupuis, slipping on his own pair of moccasins to stretch out and wrap up work in his home office. “They think it’s a $40,000 website. I’ve seen people who use the same cart, who just haven’t gone in to see and use all that’s available. Don’t overlook the integrations. It makes everything easier to use and requires so much less work.”