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 Richard Grove, the owner and developer of Shop Maker, a hosted ecommerce platform with more than a hundred users. Shop Maker is a product of Red Eye Media, a web development and design company based in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, in the U.K.
We’ll also hear the views of Roy Hale, owner of Timezone Watches, a Shop Maker cart user.
PeC: Please provide some general background on the cart.
Richard Grove: “Shop Maker was created in 2002 when a client asked us to provide a shopping cart website. We searched and searched for a decent open source system that worked the way we liked, but there wasn’t one, which pushed us toward developing our own system. Shop Maker has developed a lot since then and is now in it’s fourth version. Shop Maker is constantly being upgraded and altered to move with trends and technology.”
PeC: Is the cart hosted, licensed, or both?
Grove: “Shop Maker is fully hosted on our Rackspace servers and fully supported by us.”
PeC: How much does the cart cost?
Grove: “£29.99 [$49.27 U.S.] per month.”
PeC: What are the cart’s biggest strengths?
Grove: “Shop Maker is extremely easy to use. With a few clicks and a little know-how, a client with no programming knowledge can put together a good looking and functional website in a short amount of time. Coupled with our support, it’s easy to set-up an online shop site.
“Another big strength is the way our system is optimized. Every single product page, category page and custom page uses the title as its filename. In the SEO world, this makes a lot of difference to the relevancy and score of a web page in the eyes of a search engine.
“The system also generates a sitemap behind the scenes which, once entered into a search engine, can be forgotten about. All in all, we cannot see any way to make Shop Maker more optimized so if anyone has any suggestions, please feel free to let us know.
“Another strength is the fact that the system is hosted on Rackspace servers. Our clients simply don’t see any downtime and (fingers crossed) won’t in the future. We constantly monitor our servers and will never overload them.”
PeC: What are some of its weaknesses?
Grove: “I would say our biggest weakness is that we have built-in design tools to change the look and feel of our shops, and not templates. To regular business owners who are setting this up for themselves, this is a plus. But to more experienced web developers who want to design using templates, this is a down point.”
PeC: What plans do you have for future cart development?
Grove: “We have a long list of customer suggestions that we are working on — lots of tweaks that will streamline the administrator work flow as well as new features. And, after answering the above question, I will look into adding template functionality for web developers.”
PeC: How would your cart help an ecommerce merchant, versus the cart he or she is using now?
Grove: “If the merchant needs reliability and someone on the phone to talk them through a problem, we offer this; but it really depends on what the merchant needs from a site and whether he or she is happy with their current service.
We always suggest that a person take a look at the Shop Maker product demonstration on our site before signing up, and ask questions to see if it does what they want and whether there is a good fit between our businesses.”
PeC: Any other thoughts for our readers, who are mainly ecommerce merchants?
Grove: “[My best] advice to anyone setting up an online shop is that you get what you pay for. If you are happy to put a free shopping cart onto very cheap hosting, it’s a false economy. A lost sale a day will cost your business much more than putting down decent foundations for your business.
“Investing in design for an online shop is worthwhile. Lots of small business overlook the impact design will have on their business. It’s all well and good spending lots of time and money on SEO, but if your shop doesn’t instill confidence into the shopper, it’s a waste. So concentrate on making your shop look and flow correctly before hitting the SEO. You will convert more.”
A Customer’s View
Roy Hale is the owner of Timezone Watches, a seller of fine watches located northwest of England in the U.K. The online store earns more than £100,000 [$164,290 U.S.] annually via Shop Maker, and Hale offers his opinions on the cart below.
PeC: How long has your company been using the Shop Maker cart?
Roy Hale: “Approximately four years.”
PeC: What are the cart’s biggest strengths?
Hale: “The main strength of the Shop Maker cart for me was the ease of use. If I can use it anyone can. This means that no special staff was needed to use the cart, therefore saving me considerably on costs.
“Another pleasing aspect is its SEO capability. All you have to do is enter the keywords for the product and the cart does the rest. We are very pleased with our rankings.”
PeC: How could the cart improve?
Hale: “This is difficult for me to answer as the cart does all we need and more. Sorry to be vague but that is the truth.”
PeC: How would this cart improve another merchant’s business?
Hale: “Other merchants would benefit from Shop Maker if they were looking to try out another product range and needed to keep costs down. Maybe they want to dip their toe into the water and go online for the first time. Shop Maker fits both requirements perfectly well.”
PeC: Do you plan on continuing to use the cart?
Hale: “We will continue using Shop Maker as long as we are selling online, which I suppose is for as long as we are in business.”
PeC: Any other thoughts for our readers concerning the cart?
Hale: “It does the job it is meant to do. It is very cost effective for a small business like mine. The support is always there. I cannot remember any down time on the site. And, as I said before, it is very easy to use.”