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 Chuck Marier, CEO of Modular Merchant. He developed the Eugene, Ore.-based ecommerce solution in 2001 for a single client. Today the Modular Merchant cart has roughly 300 active user accounts.
We’ll also hear the views of Rozanne Paxman, CEO of Scrap Girls, a longtime Modular Merchant user.
PeC: Please provide some general background on the cart.
Marier: “In 2000, I was working for a game developer, making websites for video games. In many ways it was a dream job, but I became bored building websites that just sat there. I yearned to build web applications that ‘did something.’
“In 2001, I left the air-conditioned corporate world to start a web design company. The shopping cart that would become Modular Merchant began as a project for one of our first clients who needed a solution for securely selling downloads. Then, another client needed it, followed by another and another.
“Within a year, the company’s focus had become the Modular Merchant shopping cart software. The cart’s roots are in selling downloads and subscription products. While those continue to be the primary niches we serve, we also provide web design and custom programming.
“Today, the cart includes coupons, promotions, newsletters, autoresponders, upsell and cross-sell, a web page editor, and an affiliate program. And, we’ve just announced the upcoming release of Modular Merchant version 4, which will contain an entire salad bar of new features.”
PeC: Is the cart hosted, licensed, or both?
PeC: How much does the cart cost?
Marier: “There are several account plans, ranging from a shared hosting environment starting at $49 per month, up to dedicated servers starting at $689 per month. The differences between our account plans are the hosting environment, disk space and bandwidth allowance. None of our plans have restrictions on the number of products, customers or orders.
“We are developing a budget plan to be priced under $20 per month. The release is set to coincide with the release of version 4.”
PeC: What are the cart’s biggest strengths?
Marier: “Support for selling downloads and subscription products are among the cart’s major strengths. Users can sell downloads of any size that can be hosted on a remote server, automate recurring billing, daisy-chain products together, and more. The cart has evolved to the point where it is flexible enough to be used in ways we never imagined.”
PeC: What are some of its weaknesses?
Marier: “Since the original focus was on digital products, the store’s support for physical products has always been a bit limited. There are shipping tools available, but they’re not as robust. Version 4 will turn this weakness around into one of the cart’s strengths.”
PeC: Tell us more about your plans for future cart development.
Marier: “Version 4 is currently scheduled for release in the second quarter of 2010. In addition to improvements to the shipping tools mentioned above, the update is scheduled to include:
- Wish lists;
- Gift registry;
- Customer loyalty points;
- Customer piggy bank [store credit];
- WYSIWYG [what you see is what you get] editor for every store message, page and email;
- Options to bundle and group products together; and
- Provision of more bandwidth to our clients at reduced prices.
“Also, we release maintenance updates every three to six weeks. We post our development schedule in the store’s administration area so clients can see what we’re working on, and ask questions or make requests.”
PeC: How would your cart help an ecommerce merchant, versus the cart he or she is using now?
Marier: “For users who are comfortable working with HTML code, the cart’s template system is a definite benefit. It allows every page of the cart (shopping, checkout, and customer account area) to be edited just like editing any other web page. We try to give the user complete control over the design and behavior of the store.
“For users who don’t want to bother with web design, we provide a library of pre-made templates and web design services.
“For users who need a shopping cart that can they can customize, Modular Merchant provides flexible options for developing custom reports, integrating with third-party systems, and modifying the shopping experience to meet their needs.
“And, for all users, tech support is only a phone call away. We strive to make our tech support accessible and knowledgeable.”
PeC: Any other thoughts for our readers, who are ecommerce merchants?
Marier: “There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ shopping cart solution. Many of our clients say, ‘Your cart is perfect; I just need one little unique thing.’ Every business model differs. I tell users to select a shopping cart that can adapt to their business needs, because the longer a business sticks with an [inadequate] solution, the more difficult it will be to uproot and transplant the business to a better-suited solution.
A Customer’s View
Rozanne Paxman is the CEO of ScrapGirls.com, a Utah-based seller of downloadable scrapbooking tutorials, graphics and online classes. Scrap Girls has more than 13,000 SKUs (product codes) and hosts a large and active community of digital scrapbooking enthusiasts.
PeC: How long has your company been using the Modular Merchant cart?
Paxman: “Four-and-a-half years.”
PeC: What are the cart’s biggest strengths?
Paxman: “Its download module, subscription program, and security. Also, [good] support.
PeC: How could the cart improve?
Paxman: “[By adding a] wish list, search engine improvements, the ability to build gift certificates, discounts and promotions any way we would like, and loyalty systems. I understand that most (if not all) the features we wish for are going to be included in the next major release [version 4]. ”
PeC: How would the Modular Merchant cart improve another merchant’s business?
Paxman: “[With its] reasonable fees, and flexible designing solutions.”
PeC: Do you plan on continuing to use the cart?
PeC: Any other thoughts for our readers concerning the cart?
Paxman: “I have compared pros and cons of Modular Merchant with the features of other carts over the years, and I have never found anything that is as good.”