There are more than 350 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 Josh Jones, owner and developer of Level Four Storefront, a Flash-based ecommerce solution founded in 2005. The company’s headquarters is located just outside of Pendleton, Ore., and its cart has several hundred users in over 25 countries.
We’ll also hear the views of Colton Curtiss, owner of WanaRyd, a Level Four Storefront user.
PeC: Please provide some general background on the cart.
Jones: “The history behind Level Four’s shopping cart began several years ago when I realized how tired I was of traditional multi-page shopping cart systems. I was doing web design on the side and the project idea just began to grow and take form.
“[I chose] Flash for the platform because it allowed for the single-page checkout process I was looking for and a feature-rich set of options for the future. The shopping cart was developed with designers and developers in mind, and the entire storefront is based around having maximum flexibility in design and code customization.”
PeC: Is the cart hosted, licensed, or both?
Jones: “We offer three different options: monthly payment plans that are hosted; [licensed] versions of the software that can be hosted by us or on your own server; and the developer series with full source code.”
PeC: How much do these plans cost?
Jones: “Monthly plans start at $49.99 and are specifically hosted with Level Four. The [licensed] solution is a $499 one-time fee. We offer development studios the full source code for customized Flash sites for $2,499, with discounts on extra licenses. [We also offer] hosting, installation, design services, and SEO [search engine optimization].”
PeC: What are the cart’s biggest strengths?
Jones: “The biggest strength right now is that Flash is a complicated technology to work with and we take that complexity out of the equation. A full administrative console is available so that storeowners can check orders and inventory. This helps alleviate all the complexities normally associated with Flash and a dynamic-driven site.
“Another advantage to being based on a single loaded Flash file is that our shopping cart is geared toward the next Web 2.0 application-driven technology. We are trying to look at what the Internet holds in the future and [we] believe that an application site is much more customer oriented than page-by-page.”
PeC: What are some of its weaknesses?
Jones: “Flash is not for everyone, and the complexity of developing in Flash means we do not have nearly as many credit card gateway payment systems as we would like.
“Our shopping cart does not use a web interface for designing the store, but rather Adobe Flash itself for designing. While it does offer maximum design capabilities, many storeowners would not have the software or the skill to work with it. We recommend our storeowners use a web designer for customization.
“Another weakness is we do not offer pre-built designs.”
PeC: What plans do you have for future cart development?
Jones: “We are now looking at ramping up our design templates, including some customer review tools for products and a five star product rating system. We also have a few new payment gateways coming, including PayPal Pro. We are hoping to offer several industry-specific storefronts in the future.”
PeC: How would your cart help an ecommerce merchant, versus the cart he or she is using now?
Jones: “Our storefront is popular with businesses highly concerned with visual aesthetics, custom animation and the need for a unique shopping cart. Our cart can help storeowners by allowing them to concentrate on marketing. In conjunction with Google Analytics, [storeowners] can see the details of every purchase, where they come from, and what keywords people are searching on.”
PeC: Any other thoughts for our readers, who are mainly ecommerce merchants?
Jones: “Many merchants want a shopping system that will be 100 percent automated and make money, but it requires time and resources to market, develop, design, and manage. Putting a new store online does not necessarily translate to instant sales, because [merchants] are now competing on a global scale.
“I would also suggest that merchants use traditional marketing tactics to sell their products, get the word out, and visit discussion forums. Don’t just rely on customers trying to find you through a search engine.”
A Customer’s View
Colton Curtiss is the owner of WanaRyd (pronounced “wanna ride”), a Charleston, S.C.-based online store that sells a variety of motorcycle wheels and parts. WanaRyd’s annual revenue is roughly $900,000, and Curtiss offers his thoughts on the cart below.
PeC: How long has your company been using the cart?
Curtiss: “Around a year.”
PeC: What are the cart’s biggest strengths?
Curtiss: “The ability to have a cart system and database backing for a Flash website. The administration is easy to use and update products and add images. Also, the Level Four platform is fully customizable and not limited at all by HTML or PHP design.”
PeC: How could the cart improve?
Curtiss: “I would like for there to be a similar products box on each product page linking to other products that are in the same category. Also, it could be more SEO-friendly.”
PeC: How would this cart improve another merchant’s business?
Curtiss: “It gives the customer a more visually appealing site because of how much you can customize it. In my opinion, online sales are driven a lot by how nice your site looks.”
PeC: Do you plan on continuing to use the cart?
Curtiss: “Yes, I will most likely never leave this platform.”
PeC: Any other thoughts for our readers concerning the cart?
Curtiss: “[Level Four personnel] are extremely helpful with everything concerning the cart. They are very nice and eager to answer any questions you may have.”