Platforms & Apps

Ecommerce Know-How: Picking the Right Shopping Cart

An online retailer is an online marketer. Often the difference between a successful online business and a failed one is not the product or products available for sale, but how the product is promoted.

As an example, consider the case of Marcel Salathé, a Swiss artist and theoretical biologist, who painted the numbers 1 to 1,000 in blue ink on white canvases. Salathé has sold nearly 800 of his numeric masterpieces for several hundred dollars each, thanks to fantastic marketing.

Salathé’s marketing focuses around an unusual pricing model that makes his numbered paintings more expensive as more are sold. The model invests buyers with a sense of urgency and a willingness to pay extremely high prices for rather simple artwork. This pricing model was intriguing enough to capture global media attention. Wired magazine featured the artist’s work and the story of how Daniel H. Pink paid almost $600 for the number 41. And, promotional guru and author Seth Godin has blogged about Salathé’s marketing.

Once we recognize, as I think Salathé did, that the ecommerce task is very often a marketing task, we begin to make better choices, including how we select a shopping cart.

In this edition of “eCommerce Know-How,” I will share eight shopping cart “must haves” that I believe can help you select the proper ecommerce platform for your business and your marketing plan. If the cart you’re considering doesn’t have these must-have features, keep looking. I’ll also quickly mention how I define shopping carts.

Video: Choosing an eCommerce Platform for Marketing Sake

No. 1: Pick an SEO-friendly Cart

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the first order of business in ecommerce marketing. While there are a lot of things that site owners can to do create interesting content, they have less control over technology’s effect on search-engine indexing. So choosing an SEO-friendly ecommerce content management system (CMS) becomes essential. A telltale sign of a good SEO-friendly CMS is how it rewrites URLs (web page addresses).

Take note of the URLs here on Practical eCommerce. They include the title and provide a rich source of keywords. Your shopping cart or ecommerce platform should do the same.

No. 2: Coupon Code Support

Nothing attracts customers like saving money, and coupon codes are a great way to promote your store. As I reported in January 2009, online searches for coupon codes are on the rise, and it is clear that customers value, share, and use online coupons.

A good shopping cart platform should support coupon codes or other adjustable rate models right out of the proverbial box. Don’t use a cart that doesn’t offer coupons.

No. 3: RSS Capability

RSS, which is most often defined as really simple syndication, is simply a set of data formats that make it easy to syndicate page content.

This technology is a powerful tool for marketing. You can offer discount feeds that customers and potential customers will use in a reader or news aggregator. You can submit RSS feeds to Twitterfeed and have all of your new products, coupon codes, inventory alerts, or other specials effortlessly posted on Twitter, Facebook, iGoogle, MySpace,, or just about any other social networking site you can imagine. And you can even use RSS to generate alert emails using services like MailChimp.

Choose an ecommerce platform that generates RSS feeds for new products, special or discounted products, coupons, sale items, and product categories. Don’t consider a cart without RSS capability.

No. 4: Cross-selling Functionality

Cross selling is simply the idea of selling a customer more and related products to increase total per-checkout revenue. We’ve all seen cross selling done well. As an example, when a toy store recommends batteries to go with a battery-operated Elmo doll, we appreciate the reminder. Or, when an online fashion shop recommends shoes to accompany a suite or dress purchase, we appreciate that, too.

Your shopping cart should offer cross selling as an automated or semi-automated process. The best ecommerce platforms will have a system to associate products and then dynamically place related items on the proper product and checkout pages. If a cart doesn’t cross sell, don’t bother.

No. 5: Customer Reviews

Customer reviews encourage more sales. Psychologically, customer reviews are akin to having a peer recommend the product and the store. Think of it as a way to let your customers market for you — plain and simple.

Your shopping cart should integrate customer reviews, either supporting a review system itself or easily connecting to a third-party customer review tool like PowerReviews or similar.

No. 6: Product Sharing and Recommendations

A customer visiting your site should be able to email or otherwise share product details. Imagine that a teen is searching for clothes at some hip online shop. The teen finds the perfect pair of pants and wants to let, say, Uncle Bob know that this is what she really wants for her upcoming birthday. No smart ecommerce marketer is going to get in the way of that sort of communication. Rather, a good store should give the teen an easy way to send her important message to Uncle Bob without any messy cutting and pasting.

The best of carts include this sharing feature, usually as part of a wish list function that requires some form of registration.

No. 7: Multiple Images, Image Zooming

Sometime the very best ecommerce marketing you can do is to have great pictures of the product. Nearly every product detail page should offer several images of the product from different angles, and when it makes sense, include image panning or zoom to show specific details.

Your shopping cart should support multiple image and image manipulation; or at the very least, it should easily integrate with a third party product image solution like Zoomify.

No. 8: Manage Campaign Landing Pages

Pay-per-click advertising dominates many ecommerce marketing budgets. Marketers want to refine their ad copy, scrutinize keyword selection, and squeeze every ounce of ROI from their campaigns.

So don’t consider a cart that cannot manage campaign landing pages. Your shopping cart or platform should support custom, non-catalog pages. Some carts refer to these as “CMS pages,” others call them “landing pages,” but, regardless of what you name them, make sure your cart offers them.

Picking the Right Cart

So I have pointed out eight cart features that I believe are deal breakers. Of course, there are a lot of other things to consider when you select the web platform for your business. But with hundreds of carts to choose from (and dozens that include all of these features and more), you can be very selective.

What Is An Ecommerce Shopping Cart?

I also wanted to describe what a shopping cart is. I think there is a significant amount of ambiguity in the term, and since I just outlined eight “must haves” that I think will eliminate many weaker carts, I felt like I needed to do some defining.

An ecommerce “shopping cart” can be defined as just the portion of your website that manages transactions, or the term can describe an ecommerce-specific content management system that stores product catalogs, monitors sales, and serves up database-driven content for just about every page in your site.

It is the second of these possible definitions (an ecommerce CMS) that I really had in mind in this article. You can think of ecommerce platforms like Magento and GoodBarry as the specific sort of shopping cart in view.

By contrast, I have recommended Instinct’s WP e-Commerce to folks on Twitter. This cart is really an add-on to the WordPress CMS, which itself does not have all of the features I describe here. It fits the first definition of “shopping cart,” but when combined with WordPress it is even more able.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
Bio   •   RSS Feed