Let’s face it; most businesses today need to have a presence on the Internet. The problem is, that most small business owners are quite honestly scared of the work it will take to get their business online. I can completely relate to this because as a small business owner, I have been there before. My experience with selling on the Internet actually started back in the early ’90′s. Shopping carts were very clunky and complicated. Domain names cost hundreds of dollars compared to just a few dollars now and SEO wasn’t invented yet.
We have come a long way since those days. Now your choices are too many to count. As a small business owner you basically have a couple of choices to make. First, you can just decide to hire someone to build and manager your website and shopping cart. After all, not all small business owners have the expertise to build an online business. Your second choice is to do it yourself. While this sounds impossible, if you have the right ecommerce system or shopping cart, it really isn’t that hard. With a little help and time, you can easily put your business online. So, if you don’t feel comfortable building your own site, then hire a professional, but if you want to try it for yourself, then I have 10 things to look for in a shopping cart that will make it easier for you to set up and manage. So here we go:
- Ease of use. Ok, I know that this sounds obvious, but let’s be honest, if you have to read a War and Peace manual to get your business online, then it isn’t worth it. You aren’t likely to try and set it up your self and you will just end up frustrated. You want a shopping cart program that is easy to use and set up. It should contain easy to follow, step-by-step instructions on getting your site set up.
- Web-based control panel. You want to make sure your shopping cart system has an easy to use web-based control panel. It should be secure, but most importantly laid out and easily managed. Your inventory, website design, company information and customer database should all be easily accessed from your control panel.
- Integrates easily with a wide array of payment processors. For the newbie, a payment processor is the gateway in which you can accept credit cards or other forms of payments. The one most people recognize easily is PayPal. Your shopping cart system should integrate with a variety of payment carts so it does not limit your ability use a processor that you are comfortable with and one that gives you the best deal.
- Real Time Shipping Rates. Your e-commerce system should easily integrate with the most common shipping programs, UPS, FedEx, and UPS at a minimum because these are your most common shippers. Your shopping cart program should allow you to pull real-time shipping rates so you can ensure you are making your money for shipping and your customers are getting the best shipping rates possible. More shipping systems gives your customers more options on how fast they receive their products and the cost.
- Safe & secure, reliable web site hosting. You have to rely on your shopping cart host to keep your information safe & secure. You also want to make sure that it stays online 24/7. After all, when your web site is down, you don’t make sales so reliability is a powerful selling point. You should look for a company that has fast servers, hacker deterrent security systems and redundant backups so you never have to worry about your shopping cart and web site being down. Your store should always be ready to accept orders and instill confidence in your customers that their private information is secure.
- Easy to use, already built templates & designs. In order to get your shopping cart and web site up and running as fast as possible, you want to have a wide variety of store designs and templates you can chose from. With pre-built templates, you can simply add your store information, products, photos and start selling quicker. If your shopping cart has several designs available, then you will have a better chance of finding a design that matches your business colors and products.
- Ability to change the layout and templates without hiring a programmer. Your shopping cart system should allow you to easily make changes to your layout and design without having to hire a programmer. Shopping carts that use WYSIWYG, which stands for “What You See Is What You Get” allow users to type real time information and see how it will look as you enter it. If your shopping cart allows you to move blocks around so you can arrange how your pages look and feel, it gives you even more creative power.
- Flexible and easy to update product options. The reason you get a shopping cart program is because you want to sell products online. You want the process for entering products to be as easy as possible. You also want options when entering products. Your shopping cart should have options to show various product views and allow you to put up as many photos as it takes to truly show your products. The ability to zoom in and out also allow customers to get a good look at what they are buying which helps to reduce returns and customer dissatisfaction. Your e-commerce system should also allow you to easily use videos or YouTube to give your customers even more ways to view your products online.
- Simple, effective marketing & promotional tools. Your shopping cart system should have several options to allow you to market your business successfully. The ability to add coupons or discount codes is the minimum that you need. You should also have integration with Google AdWords, Google Base product support and the ability to share products on Twitter and Facebook. Your customers should be able to set up their RSS feeds to always get your newest products and changes. RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication”. You might be familiar using RSS feeds to stay on top of your favorite blogs or news agencies. The best shopping carts will allow you to interface and set up a web store directly on your Facebook page. Your e-commerce system should offer as many options as possible to market your business and get your products in front of potential clients.
- Unlimited support and lifetime updates. Finally, your shopping cart system should have unlimited support and updates. There are always going to be times when you just can’t figure something out. If your shopping cart provider has a good FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) then you will likely be able to get the majority of your questions answered without intervention, however when you have a question that you can’t figure out, you wan the ability to call or email tech support to get a quick solution to your dilemma. You should also expect updates to your software for as long as you are using the system. The Internet is an ever-changing platform that requires shopping cart providers to make constant changes to their software so it aligns with the advancing technology. You want a shopping cart system that does this for you so you don’t have to do anything.
That’s my 10 best requirements for a good shopping cart, e-commerce system. Do you research and be sure to check out what others say about the e-commerce system you are reviewing. I recommend that you look for shopping cart programs that offer a free trial. The longer the trial, the better chance you get for analyzing the program and making sure it is a fit for you. My last bit of advice is that your e-commerce system should be scalable which is to say it should be able to grow with you. If you only have ten products right now, you don’t want to pay for a system which hosts one thousand items if you don’t have to. Get a program that can grow with you.