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What to Look for in an Online Shopping Cart Service

Oct 23, 2007
An online shopping cart is a necessity for any successful e-commerce site. Most sites, particularly those of small and mid-size businesses, rely on outside services to host their shopping carts: The software is simply too intricate, and the program's needs too many, for every business to create their own cart from scratch. As the saying goes, there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

There are many different services available, each of which offers several different plans to choose from. Here are a few features to look at when determining whether or not this service is right for your business.

Member sign-In: These days, customers expect some sort of members system where they can sign in, store billing information, and track orders. Customers especially appreciate not having to type their address and credit card information every time, and being able to track their orders helps by making customers feel more secure. Your shopping cart should also offer a password recovery system, so that a customer does not have to start a new account if they happen to forget their password.

Multiple payment options: Not every customer will want to pay the same way, so your service should be sure to offer multiple payment options. For example, you should make sure the system can handle the major credit cards: at least Visa and MasterCard, but you should also consider shopping carts that can process American Express and Discover, as well. Also, don't forget about online payment systems such as PayPal. Many customers like being able to pay without giving out their bank or credit card information.

If your product requires customers to pay in installments for example, monthly or yearly membership renewals, you should look at software that can be set up to handle recurring billing automatically.

Tax and shipping calculation: In order to tell your customer the total cost and provide checkout in real-time, your system will need to be able to accurately calculate the appropriate taxes, as well as shipping and handling charges. A good shopping cart program will allow you to enter several different tax options, depending on the customer's billing address. Also, your service should be able to calculate the shipping charges for the total order, based on either the dollar amount or the actual weight.

Discounts, coupons, and gift certificates: Coupons and discounts are great ways to increase sales, so you will want to make sure your ecommerce storefront software can handle these things. Gift certificates and gift cards can also boost business, so be sure yours has a way to allow customers to redeem them.

Newsletter opt-in: When customers sign up, they are providing you with their personal information. You will want to put that Information to good use. One way is to allow customers to opt in to newsletters and other mailings. Your site should provide a space for customers to indicate whether they want to receive your emails; the most successful approach is to have the box already checked to opt them in, and allow the customer to uncheck the box if the don't want to receive your emails. You may also want to include a subscription management page, where customers can change their personal information and/or mailing preferences as necessary.

Other options: Depending on the nature of your business, there are a number of other features to consider when shopping for ecommerce software. For example, if you sell clothing or items that come in different colors and styles, you will want to provide customers with a way to choose which one they want. Gift wrap is another feature that many customers appreciate: In this case, the online shopping cart allows the customer to check a box indicating that the item is a gift and should be wrapped for an additional fee.

Digital delivery: Digital products, such as eBooks, music, and other computer files, are being sold online more often. However, when a customer is buying an eBook or a song from you, the last thing they want is to have to wait for you to wake up or get home and send the file to them. Instead, you should look for software that also provides digital delivery, whether via automatically generated emails, or an account page that allows customers to immediately download items they have purchased.

Technical support: All of these things are good to have, but perhaps the most important feature is one that serves you, rather than the customer. This service is technical support. Especially when you are first installing the software, you may run into bugs or snags that you need technical advice in order to resolve. Never attempt to install a program yourself without having that tech support number there for backup. Even once you get your shopping cart up and running, having technical support available is always a good thing: If your system goes down for any reason, you will want to get it fixed as quickly as possible so as to minimize the number of customers you lose due to an unresponsive system.

Buying an online shopping cart is a big decision, and should not be taken lightly by any means. Don't forget, you are choosing a service that can make or break your business, so you don't want one that will frustrate or irritate your customers.
About the Author
AspDotNetStorefront is a premier online shopping cart and storefront provider.
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