With the advent of the Web 2.0, the online marketplace has become a highly competitive advanced industry. The days of simple websites that bring money in with very little effort are gone. Instead, with the various types of web applications available, the online business world has been transformed into a massive collection of visually aesthetic ecommerce websites that lure the customer into making purchases with feature-packed, user-friendly interfaces. Out of all of the features included on a successful ecommerce website, one seems to demand the most consideration; the shopping cart.
The shopping cart is perhaps the most important feature on your ecommerce website, as it will be the last thing your customers interact with before making a purchase. Your profits solely depend on a reliable and convenient shopping cart. Many people do not realize that all shopping carts are not the same, and there are certain attributes that one should look for when selecting the perfect shopping cart for their online store. The shopping cart you choose is a decision that can either make or break your online business. In many instances, the difference between a successful e-commerce store and a failure is not the actual products or services, but how the products and services are sold. To keep you from falling on the unfavorable side of things, we have provided some important features to look for in your shopping cart application.
Customer Feedback and Reviews
Generally speaking, people are more apt to purchase a product if they are able to read and look over user reviews from your past customers.
It is important to remember that above all “word of mouth” is still your best selling tool, even with an online business. If customers can become confident that others have found your product and services satisfactory then they will feel more at ease shopping with you. This is why having a shopping cart feature that allows users; not only to read previous reviews but to leave their own is so important. In addition, user reviews are often indexed giving your site an even higher probability of receiving traffic.
Remember! Real, genuine customer reviews make a great way to encourage more sales. These reviews are like having a peer recommend your store to potential customers. Think of it as a way of allowing your customers to market for you. A good shopping cart equipped with this feature should either support a review system from within, or allow you to connect to a third-party tool such as PowerReviews or similar.
Sharing and Recommendations
Any potential customer visiting your website should have the ability to share product details via email or in other ways. Let’s say a teen is interested in one of your products and wants to let their mom or dad know they really want this particular item as a birthday gift. To make this a seamless process, your store should provide the teen with any easy way to send notification to their parents without having to cut and paste the details.
A good shopping cart application will include a sharing feature, typically as a part of wish list system that calls for the customer to complete some type of registration in order to use it.
The most important attribute your shopping cart can have is convenience. If the shopping cart is not easy to use, then you’ll undoubtedly lose a large portion of your customer base to frustration and disappointment. The ultimate shopping cart will accommodate the customers needs without asking too much of them.
The main reason why your customers shop online is to avoid the hassle of going to the store. Therefore the entire online shopping experience relies upon convenience. Since the item obviously takes longer to get to the customer, the only thing that’s keeping them form going to the store is either price or convenience. Even if you have the lowest price, an inconvenient shopping experience will almost always drive the customer to the nearest competitor.
To ensure your shopping cart is easy-to-use try using it a couple of times yourself. Make sure the shopping cart does not require too much info before checkout. You want the process to be as seamless and simple as possible.
Perks and Discounts
Shopping online for most people is a method of purchasing things at the best price possible. There are a wealth of websites on the internet that are specifically designed for the purpose of providing customers with discounts and coupons of a variety of services and products. If you are promoting a product that is featured on other sites then it is imperative that your shopping cart come equipped with a bot that enables coupon and promotion input to be utilized.
If people come to your site and are unable to use their coupons then there is a very good chance they will go somewhere else that will allow them to. Remember, as an online business owner you are facing a lot of competition. When you run an online business you are competing with thousands of other vendors that sell the same product as you. Make sure that your shopping cart can keep up.
It doesn’t matter what you sell, it is almost guaranteed that your customers are looking for a deal. The best way to attract this type of audience is with coupons. Numerous reports show that customers are increasingly on the hunt for online coupons, so a shopping cart that supports coupon codes will likely do you some good. Without this feature, you are doing nothing but limiting your potential.
Ability to Up-sell
Anyone who has had even a small amount of experience in the retail or food service industry will already understand the importance of up-selling. When you up-sell you are offering customers something more than what they came for by enticing them to do so. For instance, if a customer comes to your website to purchase a .com domain name then a good up-sell would be additional domain extensions or optional WHOIS Privacy.
When the customer has reaches the check out point then everything the customer has chosen will be totaled up neatly and payment will be quick and easy. This feature is vital to providing your customers with the service they need but will also help to increase your sales.
The shopping cart you choose should offer cross-selling functionality as an either a semi or fully automated process. The best e-commerce platforms have systems that associate products and dynamically place related items on the corresponding product and checkout pages.
Your customers must be able to rely upon your shopping cart, therefore it is important that you give each shopping cart a test run before activating it on your website. A single glitch could result in the loss of a sale, or even worse, the loss of a long term customer. One way to ensure the reliability of your shopping cart, is to make sure it does not rest itself automatically. There is nothing more frustrating than filling your shopping cart with goods only to have it all erased before checkout.
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The Importance of SEO
Search engine optimization is absolutely vital to your online business. If people cannot find you then they are not going to shop with you, it is that simple. This is why it is so important to be sure that your site is rich in high quality content with the right keyword density. But it is equally important to be certain that your shopping cart includes a feature that will enable it to automatically generate URLs that use the right keywords in order to index your site properly and bring you to the top of the list when it comes to searches. If you have good SEO with your site and your shopping cart is designed to automate this process then your chances of achieving success are far greater.
As an online business owner, SEO (search engine optimization) should be one of your top priorities. While most site owners have a part in creating intriguing content, they often have less impact on the design and search engine indexing. If this sounds like your situation, then choosing an SEO-friendly shopping cart is essential. Signs of a good cart with these qualities is one that automatically produces keyword-rich URLs relative to your site or items.
Customer communication is perhaps one of the most important aspects of successfully running an online business. You’ll need to know what your customers are thinking to accommodate their needs properly. This means you’ll need a shopping cart that gives users the option to leave detailed feedback and contact customer support.
Communicating with your customers in return is just as important as receiving the message, so you’ll also want to have a shopping cart with an autoresponder and integrated support email client.
Open-Source Shopping Carts
The number of available shopping carts is tremendous and even better, some of the best software is of an open-source variety and totally free to use. While you can probably pay for something better, numerous users are doing just fine running their store with these free versions.
Here are some of the most common open-source shopping carts you may encounter on the market.
PrestaShop is a comprehensive, professional-grade shopping cart that is easy to use and setup. The software offers a fully featured back-end interface to maintain your inventory, orders, shipping options and customers in real-time. It is also highly customizable as you can incorporate your own modules. PrestaShop keeps security in mind but securely transmitting customer payments directly to your bank account.
Magento is one of the latest open-source shopping cart applications. This e-commerce platform offers a lot exclusive features geared towards managing customer relations and marketing your store. The user-friendly interface allows you to control virtually every aspect of the store from listing and organizing products to setting up browser options and special promotions. This shopping cart software sets itself a part from the competition with built-in analytics, reporting and promotion tools. Magento is completely scalable and backed by an extensive support team. Though cost effective in comparison to premium shopping carts, Magento isn’t free like the other software mentioned in this article.
Magento is a robust e-commerce solution that offers unparalleled flexibility and control. This software is so well designed and functional that you would never think it came from an open-source project. Unlike other shopping carts, this one gives you clean URLs and SEO-friendliness right out the box, bypassing the need to make additional configurations. Magento has a scalable architecture and seamless integrate with various third-party applications. Additionally, it gives you the benefit of both community and professional technical support.
CubeCart is one of the most popular shopping carts around. Although it is free to download and use, you are forced to leave the developer’s copyright notice in your footer. That disadvantage aside, CubeCart offers a plethora of features with support for most of the major gateways and shipping options. The software comes with decent support from an active community that regularly contribute plugins to the cart.
Written in the Perl programming language and driven by a MySQL database, Agora is another popular choice for open-source shopping carts. Very customizable, it features a built-in CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) manager that lets you control the look of the shopping cart as well as setup options ranging from a simple template-based storefront to more complex visual designs. Agora supports unlimited products, a wealth of shipping and payment options, up to four tax zones at once and much more.
Zen Cart is another open-source shopping cart freely distributed under the GNU General Public License. This software was designed with simplicity in mind but offers some very powerful features. Zen Cart lets you set up an unlimited amount of products and organize them in numerous categories. The program supports multiple payment options and different currencies as well as top-notch security mechanisms such as SSL certificates. The built-in control panel allows you to mange products and all related items from a centralized area.
Zen Cart is a user-friendly shopping cart that caters to beginners. This is one software that actually focuses on the shoppers and store owners opposed to developers. Zen Cart is easy to use and supports multiple shipping and payment options. It also allows you to easily provide discounts and coupons to your customers.
As open-source software, the osCommerce shopping cart is free to use. The program is integrated with a number of features that can easily be enabled and configured. The osCommerce shopping cart gives you the ability to add multiple items to your store, organize them in categories, give out discounts, run special promotions and much more. It also offers built-in shipping and tax capabilities to ensure accuracy. With this shopping cart, you can set prices in different currencies and accept payment through methods such as credit cards, Payal and e-checks. osCommerce is extremely popular and currently powers a large number of stores on the web.
The wide variety of features in osCommerce enables you to set up an online store fairly quickly. It supports multiple currencies and also lets your customers print their invoices directly from the order screen. osCommerce gets the backing of a superb community who provide ongoing support and make contributions to the project.
These are just a few of several highly functional open-source shopping carts. Like most open-source technologies, these programs can be easily incorporated into your existing e-commerce site.
What to Look for in Your Shopping Cart Software
To try to do a comparison of the different shopping cart software packages in this small space would be an exercise in futility. There are just too many of them to even try to focus on the biggest ones. Instead we’re going to go over a brief list of features that you’ll want to look for if you are in the market for one for your business.
Eliminate the Basics
Let’s first go through a list of what features you should always expect. It should, for starters, place no limits on the amount of products and categories you can create: imagine getting 90% of the way through entering in your information and discovering that you can’t go any further. It also should be as easy to use and as cheap to purchase as possible: for the former, check web reviews, as this is naturally a thing you can’t know until you try it.
Now, the List
Even this is just a long list, so we’ll try to restrict it to ones that are important but that the software package you are looking for may or may not include.
- Customer product feedback – This is critical these days. Ecommerce is becoming more and more social, and one of the main elements that customers use to decide on their purchases is what others are saying. Most packages offer this, but not all. Check also to see if it supports product ratings and polls.
- Immediate shipping calculations – Only about half the packages on the market include this feature, and not all of them give you shipping amounts via different methods. Shipping rates for the United States Postal Service are common to find. For Australian and Canadian rates you’ll have to look harder. If you want Federal Express it’s even harder, and it’s rare to find the package that will give you shipping rates for DHL.
- Instant search – This is where you type something into a search bar and it makes suggestions before you even finish. It’s a wonderful little feature that we’ve already gotten used to, but only about half of the products we surveyed currently include it.
- Social bookmarking – Reference the above statement about the importance of ecommerce as a social event. The line between networking sites and shopping is so frayed as to almost not exist anymore. You’ll want this feature for now, and you’ll want it even more in the future.
- Returns – There’s one you might not think of, but is obvious once you hear it. Just try to picture working with a sales system that’s electronic and a returns system done on paper. This is another feature that you’re only about 50-50 likely to get.
- Larger images – Most of the available packages out there seem to have this, but that makes it all the more important to notice if yours doesn’t. This is when you click on a product image to bring a separate window up with a larger, more detailed picture.
Even among basics features there are still a lot more things to look for, such as site membership, coupon support, and site maps. As you are looking through each package, go through the full list of what they offer. You’d be surprised what good features exist that you may not have thought of, and what necessary features exist some products didn’t.
Adjusting Product Catalogs and Shopping Carts for Higher eCommerce Conversions
Building and optimizing a successful business website is an ongoing challenge that can be especially difficult for novice webmasters that are not experienced with e-commerce. Ultimately, the goal of an online store owner is to create a user-friendly interface that their customers can use to shop for products or services with minimal effort and maximum convenience. Unfortunately, accomplishing this is not as easy as it would seem, as there are many factors to consider when customizing the shopping experience of your site visitors.
Perhaps the most important aspects are those related to the product catalog and the checkout process, which is facilitated by integrated shopping cart applications. While the majority of e-commerce hosting plans include product catalog creators and robust shopping cart applications that can be installed quickly and easily on your site, most people do not know how to use such tools to improve their conversion rates.
Designing an Effective Product Catalog
Product catalog creators allow you to import hundreds or even thousands of product images, descriptions, and even reviews. However, if the product pages are not properly organized and categorized, the process of finding the right product can be very difficult for your site visitors, even with the use of a site wide search engine. When you add a product to your catalog you’ll have the option of adding keyword tags, which would cause the product to appear in search results if the specific keywords were searched for by one of your customers. Thus, it is imperative to add as many relative tags as possible to your products, to ensure that they will show up in search results when customers search for specific products, or related items. It is also important to enable features such as customer reviews, which will let your previous customers leave feedback about specific items, thereby increasing sales conversions by convincing future customers.
Setting up an Effective Shopping Cart
After creating a robust product catalog that is properly tagged, organized, categorized, and is easy to navigate, it’s time to set up a shopping cart that will allow your customers to purchase multiple items simultaneously upon checkout. Some shopping cart applications will even let your customers use issued coupon codes for purchase discounts, which you can grant to repeat customers for higher conversions and residual business. Shopping carts also give you the ability to accept multiple forms of payment by integrating payment processors such as PayPal, which will accept credit card payments from your customers on behalf of your business in a secure manner. After setting up the shopping cart, you’ll want to do a couple of test runs and proceed with the checkout process yourself to see how convenient it is, and to look for any errors that may be occurring.
Expanding Your Site’s Capabilities
Many shopping carts and product catalog creators are open source applications, which means they can be amended and improved by any developer with the interest to do so. Thus, there are many third-party plug-ins and extensions that can be added to shopping carts and product catalog creators to improve the overall functionality and add new features. If you want the highest conversion rates possible, then you’ll want to experiment with such extensions in order to refine the checkout process and provide the most enjoyable shopping experience for your customers.
Preventing e-Commerce Shopping Cart Abandonment
While it’s important to direct traffic to your online e-commerce venture in hopes of yielding substantial profits, it’s equally as important to ensure potential customers actually follow through with the online purchase transaction once the selected items placed in a shopping cart are to be processed at the “check out”.
Many online merchants assume that once a potential customer drops an item in a shopping cart that it’s basically a done deal and calculate it prematurely as a finalized transaction. Recent stats among large online retailers, however, reflect a shopping cart abandonment rate of over 70%. Not only are these stats troubling to large online ventures, but small online endeavors also feel the financial wrath of shopping cart abandonment issues.
The Indecisive Shopper
Although shopping cart abandonment is among one of the largest marketing hurdles for online retailers to overcome, there are proactive steps online merchants can take to make the checkout process more user-friendly. Of course there are some influences that are simply beyond their control such as the inevitable event of potential customers changing his or her mind before completing the online transaction. Unfortunately, this is a factor that is entirely dependent on the customer’s needs as well as a strong marketing strategy to sell a product or service.
Real Time, Real Support
Perhaps the greatest way to prevent shopping cart abandonment is by offering real time customer service support. Often many customers encounter technical difficulties during the online transaction process. It’s not only frustrating for customers, but also to online merchants facing the potential of a missed opportunity. Reliable and efficient customer support is an effective solution to walk customers through the online purchasing transaction should issues arise. Ideally, live chat and toll-free phone support are the best options to provide immediate assistance to answer questions in real time during the actual transaction.
No Registration Required
As an online merchant, it’s imperative to cater to customers to allow them a quick and easy transaction without first having to register with a website or signup for a newsletter. While it’s a great way to track visitors and sale leads, for many potential customers it’s an automatic turn-off as they may not have the desire or time required to fill out registration information. Instead, offer customers the option to make an online transaction as a guest. Once the customer has completed the information in the purchase transaction, merchants can easily obtain any required details. Remember time is still an ageless commodity.
Details in the Fine Print
It’s also important to provide visitors with any necessary information clearly visible on the website before customers proceed to check out with their purchase to avoid shopping cart abandonment. Information such as money back guarantees, exchange and refund policies, shipping and handling fees, privacy policies, applicable state taxes, accepted payment methods and customer support contact information. By providing the above information posted in conspicuous sections of a website allows customers to make a more informed buying decision before finalizing the transaction.
Pointing the Way
Finally, as a last attempt to prevent shopping cart abandonment, progress indicators that guide customers through the purchase process from adding items to the shopping cart to the final checkout are helpful. Online merchants should strategically place progress indicators on the top center of checkout pages. Indicators should be numbered in the order of purchase sequence and highlighted as each step is completed. Also, customers appreciate the option of being able to return to the previous page without being required to re-enter information. As a general rule, the entire checkout process shouldn’t exceed three steps to complete the transaction.
All online businesses have one thing in common and that is the need for a reliable shopping cart to process all of the e-commerce transactions that come through. In many cases the type of product you are offering will not even be the main factor that determines whether or not people purchase from you. Instead, your marketing strategies and customer service will play a major role in obtaining new business. If your website is equipped with a shopping cart that is user friendly and efficient then your customers will be more inclined to shop with you again. On the other hand, if your shopping cart is not up to par or lacks simplicity then this could actually keep people from returning.