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Streetsmart Tips in Choosing Your Online Shopping Cart

STREETSMART TIPS IN CHOOSING YOUR ONLINE SHOPPING CART

by Gerri Bryce

What is a shopping cart?

All online entrepreneurs, including high risk merchants, need a highly efficient shopping cart. This fact can't be stressed too much -- many a business has failed because merchants are trying to use an incompatible shopping cart or is not using the full potential of commercial shopping carts available today.

Finding the perfect shopping cart for your online business is time consuming, if not too daunting. Merchants must acquaint themselves with the types of shopping carts in the market as well as test and experiment with their capabilities. It's important to choose the cart that will be flexible so that if a merchant changes his business' marketing plan a year later it will still be functional. In fact, the number one criteria in selecting a shopping cart is to make sure it meshes well with your marketing plan.

Types of shopping cart

Shopping carts may be classified into free or commercial, and hosted or non-hosted.

Free shopping carts are obviously very attractive options for low-budget businesses. It doesn't mean, however, that they are completely free. In fact, merchants will have to make use of a developer's skills to tweak a free shopping cart program like osCommerce. Free shopping carts are rooted from open source software and are as powerful as most commercial shopping carts. Unfortunately, they may not be as secure. Commercial shopping carts are preferred by high risk merchants who seek secure and reliable customer tools when purchasing online.

On the other hand, online merchants may use a hosted shopping cart or one that they can just buy as a software and thus configure. A remotely hosted software may include an affiliate management feature as well. Choosing a hosted shopping cart is another tricky process that may require another book to write! The advantage is that the merchant does not have to worry about the transaction process and record keeping since the host will take care of them. Other merchants prefer purchasing just the software. The advantage is it costs a lot cheaper and can be customized as required.

Shopping cart and your website: Do they mesh well?

The first thing you should consider is to make sure your website works well with the shopping cart you're adopting. The best way to do this is to research, read reviews, test, and experiment. Take advantage of the storefront demo that shopping cart sellers offer. High risk merchants should look at the following checklist as a guide in selecting the shopping cart for their online business:


CHECKLIST FOR CHOOSING ONLINE SHOPPING CART

Think Customers
Easy navigation for customers is number one prerequisite. Some carts let customers shop with a temporary ID so that they don't have to register. Another is to make sure you provide the "extras" such as search box, product reviews and product descriptions with graphics, as well as newsletters.

Hands On
It will be doubly difficult for high risk merchants to adopt a shopping cart that they find too bulky to manage. Features such as automatic alerts for new purchases, database importing, and searchable, viewable and downloadable daily and monthly reports are great add-ons for your customers.

Flexibility and Strength
How flexible are your shopping cart's features? Can you configure it to fit your business model? Can it be scaled to increase or decrease the number of products you may include or remove in the future? Can the database be expanded to fit new products and services and handle increasing customer data? It's also a must to consider how robust your shopping cart is. Make sure the database is secure and the server can handle simultaneous transactions.

Customer Support
Although price has always dictated many merchants' purchases, it's always a good move to contact the shopping cart seller's customer support even before you buy the cart. Obviously when trouble comes, you will know exactly
where to go or who to find. The faster the response time is in all communication avenues (phone, e-mail, fax, or chat), the better your bet at getting an online shopping cart that is reliable.


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