Thursday, January 27, 2011

Selecting a Good Shopping Cart Provider

If you are planning to sell products online, you'll need a shopping cart system.

What is a shopping cart system? A shopping cart typically consists of two parts - the catalog and the cart. The catalog allows the merchant to quickly and easily add new products to the Web site and displays those products to potential customers. The cart allows customers to indicate which items he or she would like to purchase and handle the checkout process.

How much does a shopping cart system cost? Pricing for shopping cart systems varies widely. The first thing to consider is whether you want to purchase software up front and just pay for hosting or pay a monthly fee for the shopping cart. In general if you are not very technically inclined the monthly fee approach is probably best. However, you should be aware that there are a number of open source (free) shopping cart systems available (see below for the list of the main one's). These systems will provider basic cart functionality, but will usually require a program for customization.

Fees for purchasing software range from free to hundreds of thousands of dollars for a completely customized cart. In general, if you decide to go this route plan to spend at least $2,000 - $8,000 for the software and customization.

Fees for the pay as you go approach also range widely. The cheapest are usually around $30 per month for a decent shopping cart system from a major provider. The fees can range up to $10,000 per month for very expensive systems. You can generally budget less than $100 per month for a very good shopping cart system that will meet the needs of most small to medium sized online stores.

Who are the major shopping cart providers? It seems that many of the brand name ecommerce companies have entered the shopping cart provider space. Two of the better entries for small to medium sized stores include Yahoo Merchant Solutions and eBay's Prostore. Fees for these start at about $30-40 per month (check their sites as they often run specials).

At the next level for monthly hosting are a number of companies that offer greater functionality and flexibility at a higher prices. Some of the better companies include Volusion, GoEcart, and MonsterCommerce. Their fees range about $50 - $500 per month.

In terms of purchasing a shopping cart system, you might want to consider one of the many open source (free) solutions. The most popular one in this space seems to be osCommerce.

If you want to pay for shopping cart software, you might consider X-cart, ShopSite, and StoreFront. These systems range in price from around $200 - $5,000. Remember, you will still need to pay a monthly fee for hosting.

What are the factors to consider when choosing a shopping cart? Obviously, price is a major factor when thinking about a shopping cart system, but it should not be the primary factor. Think about the choice as an investment. If you make the right choice, the returns will far outweigh the cost.

Some factors to consider:

1. Does the cart meet your needs? Think about how you want your site to work. Will you have many products in each category for example. If yes, then you will need to think about the cart's ability to handle multiple pages of products. Some simple carts do not do this.

2. Think about how you will communicate with suppliers and customers. If you are using a drop shipper, many carts cannot automatically send a purchase order e-mail to the supplier when an order is processed. If this functionality is important, your choices might be limited (unless you pay for some custom programming).

3. Ease of use. You need to consider ease of use, both from the merchant and the customer perspectives. As a merchant you want a system that will allow you to easily add new products and content (hint - look for carts that support importing from a spreadsheet). Look at sites that already use the cart you are considering and see how it handles things like putting items in the cart and checkout.

4. Customizability. You want your site to be unique. So choose a cart that allows for some customization. You should be able to customize the look, but you might also decide you need to customize the functionality.

Finally, take carts for a test drive. Most of the major cart providers will allow you to play with a demo. Put it through its paces and see how it performs.

Ross Malaga, Ph.D. aka Drop Ship Professor is the author of Insider Drop Ship Secrets. His blog at, provides drop ship tips and reviews.


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