Practical eCommerce counts over 300 different shopping cart systems. In this ongoing “Cart of the Week” feature, we profile a specific cart, asking the cart’s owners and users about its strengths and weaknesses.
Here we profile UltraCart, a California-based hosted cart solution that was founded in 1996. Pricing for the cart starts at $49.95 per month. UltraCart typically hosts only the shopping cart portion of an ecommerce site, although it can host the entire site if needed. We interviewed R.J. Sakson, Vice President Sales and Marketing, to explain the benefits of his company’s cart. We then asked Cathy Bujold for an evaluation. Bujold uses UltraCart for her online store, Hobbyzone.com.
PeC: Please provide some general background on the cart.
Sakson: “We are a hosted shopping cart and content management system, basically a complete ecommerce solution for everyone from small mom-and-pop shops to multi-million dollar merchants. The benefit of having a hosted shopping cart solution is that we upgrade the system on continual basis.
“We’ve been around for 13 years. We came around just before Authorize.net burst onto the scene. It was the wild west days back then. The only real payment option at the time was CyberCash. We started out as a very simple hosted checkout process. Now we offer folks the ability to use us as a hosted cart, dynamic catalog, or complete online and ecommerce solution.
“When we say hosted we mean that at the point that a customer presses one of your buy buttons it will launch the transaction onto UltraCart’s secure servers and handled from there. Our typical $49.95 a month client ($49.95 for anyone that has 0-250 items) uses us in that way by just populating the buy buttons on their site with the UltraCart generated buy links. Larger merchants would rather us host their complete online system through our CMS. In those cases we become both the hosting company and the ecommerce platform and then the charges for storage and bandwidth come into play more significantly. We’ve seen tremendous increases in sales from merchants using UltraCart to host their whole online experience.
“Since we started in 1996, the applications have improved tremendously. We have one of the most robust shipping systems with 68 different integrated fulfillment partners, 79 payment gateways, and eight 3rd party marketing partners. One of the major benefits of having so many different partners is that UltraCart can be the hub of your ecommerce wheel. Our merchants don’t waste time logging into multiple systems for an integration that we can give them right in their UltraCart account. We also have some APIs [application programming interfaces] so people can do custom integrations.”
PeC: What are the cart’s biggest strengths?
Sakson: “We talk and play really well with others in the ecommerce ecosystem. Since our mindset is to give our merchants best of breed, we won’t waste our time or theirs on overly complicated developments that we can achieve by partnering with another company. We can be the best ecommerce platform and let our partners be the best auto-responders, advertisers, marketers, and so forth. The result is an ecommerce platform that creates seamless connections through the ecosystem without trying to control every piece of information that moves across it.”
PeC: What are some of its weaknesses?
Sakson: “Since we are one of the few carts on the market that offer merchants the ability to customize the cart with new features, reporting, add-ons, and integrations, we are constantly backlogged in our custom development requests. Our email system is also in need of a revamp. Recognizing what our merchants were truly interested in regarding email marketing and the time it would take to build that out we decided to partner with some of the best companies in the email marketing space and keep our email marketing system for the typical monthly newsletter broadcasts that most merchants use it for. We’re also probably not the greatest cart for someone who has never experienced ecommerce.”
PeC: What plans do you have for future cart development? How does that compare to your competitors?
Sakson: “A lot of enterprise features are rolling down the pipeline right now. You’ll see a lot of features that are important to larger clients like Salesforce.com integration, more flexibility in the checkout configuration process and tools for internationalizing your cart. We constantly push the envelope by working on the feedback of our merchants that are in the trenches fighting every single day.”
PeC: How specifically would using UltraCart improve a merchant’s business?
Sakson: “We actually talk to our clients, then we research and launch their ideas right away. Since we keep building our platform we figure if you don’t come to us today and you come to us tomorrow, you’re going to find a better cart.”
PeC: Any other thoughts for our readers?
Sakson: “If you’re doing something in house right now and you have a developer or two on staff, a lot of that can be replaced with a good web design firm and a hosted ecommerce platform like UltraCart. If you’re using any of the open source carts, it’s a constant investment of time and resources for you to make sure each iteration that comes down the pipe still works for all of your custom developments. In UltraCart we handle all the ongoing development as the cart grows, it’s all done for you.”
A Customer’s View
Cathy Bujold owns Hobbyzone.com, Minnesota-based online retailer of remote control airplanes and helicopters that utilizes UltraCart.
PeC: What are UltraCart’s biggest strengths?
Bujold: “We are quite pleased with UltraCart. The custom development they’ve done for us really matches what our business is about. We can handle multiple distribution centers, and we’ve requested all kinds of data reporting. We do everything in catalog groups dynamically generated in UltraCart. We used to have a website where we had a lot of HTML pages we linked to the cart. We built a new site where it’s all within the catalog and so fast to update. All of it was dynamically generated because of the cart.”
PeC: What are some things it could improve?
Bujold: “Customer wish lists. Another nice thing to have would be customer reviews. Sure, there are always features that we would like, but we don’t see our competitors doing them either.”
PeC: Do you plan to continue using UltraCart? Why or why not?
Bujold: “Yes. We’ve basically got two websites now. Our first one was tedious in generating HTML content. Now with our second site, it’s all dynamically generated, and it went up so fast that we’re considering doing other websites. There are some other categories of hobbies we can address quickly now because we use UltraCart. We’ve shortened the lead time to do any product area we would want to get into.”
PeC: Any other thoughts on shopping carts for our readers?
Bujold: “I would recommend UltraCart. At the time we chose it two or three years ago, we did a really careful side-by-side study to get to the point where we made that decision. I feel like we’re pulling ahead, and our competitors aren’t doing that with the shopping cart they’ve chosen. We’re in an industry that would be affected by the economy, and we’ve seen growth this year.”