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An ecommerce shopping cart that is easy to use, reliable, and provides suggested cross-selling products will help convert visitors to customers. A poorly designed ecommerce internet solution will frustrate your visitors, leading them to abandon their shopping carts before the purchase process is complete. Detailed analysis of your customers and visitors will help you pinpoint problem areas and encourage your visitors to make informed decisions about purchasing your product or service. Tell-a-friend emails make it easy for your customers to encourage their friends to come to your site as well, expanding your customer base.
An electronic shopping cart is a piece of ecommerce software that performs the following duties:
* Allows a user to select and hold items, usually from an online store.
* Calculates purchase price totals - including multiple items, taxes and shipping costs.
* Interfaces with payment gateway/merchant account - you need a merchant account to accept credit cards.
* Sends email confirmation of purchases.
* Tracks customer shopping patterns and purchases.
* Recognizes repeat customers.
The second critical component of an overall ecommerce software solution is a shopping cart merchant account. This is a bank account that is enabled to work online with the ecommerce shopping cart software and accept credit card payments through a web gateway. Money can then automatically transfer from the shopping cart merchant account to the business's designated business bank account. A shopping cart merchant account often comes as part of a web-based or pre-packaged ecommerce solution, but can also be obtained individually and used with custom-built Internet shopping cart software. Expect to pay set-up and monthly fees for an ecommerce merchant account, as well as a small percentage of every transaction. You have to have a shopping cart merchant account to do ecommerce on the web.
So if an ecommerce shopping cart is merely a piece of the overall ecommerce software picture, why is the term often used to mean the entire picture? Like when someone says "Coke" to mean a soft-drink or "Band-Aid" for any kind of protective strip, the term e-commerce shopping cart has taken on a bigger meaning than its official meaning. Often, when you hear or read the term "ecommerce shopping cart," the speaker or writer is actually talking about the entire ecommerce solution, which can include the merchant account, secure server, product database and even marketing tools like automatic responders and email lists. So if you're researching an e-commerce shopping cart solution for your business, remember to make sure you are clear on what exactly is meant when someone refers to an "ecommerce shopping cart."
Ecommerce software lets you sell directly to individuals or businesses from your web site. Integrate an ecommerce shopping cart with your customer database to send regular email reminders about specials and encourage customer loyalty. Let your customers pay online with secure credit card processing and track the order process so they know that everything is moving forward and your ecommerce solution will quickly pay for itself.
There are basically two types of ecommerce solutions: web-based (ASP) and software-based/locally hosted. Web-based ecommerce solutions use point-and-click interfaces and bundled Internet shopping cart software to allow any user to build and run full-featured electronic storefronts. The host company takes care of all maintenance and IT issues and will charge one monthly fee, as well as transaction fees. Software-based ecommerce solutions are installed on the local server with the web site and integrate directly with the site. These almost always require the skills of a web programmer, but are more easily integrated with existing sites or complicated business practices. Which is right for you? It depends on your needs, budget and experience.
If you're starting a business, you will likely have more freedom in choosing an electronic shopping cart than if you're trying to fit an ecommerce shopping cart into your existing business rules. Most off-the-shelf ecommerce shopping carts offer some customization, but experienced business owners will likely find themselves in the position of having to change some existing business practices to fit the ecommerce software offered by the ecommerce shopping cart provider. In this case, some businesses might want to investigate building a custom ecommerce shopping cart solution rather than change existing business practices. This is a clear business decision. Custom electronic shopping carts can cost thousands, but so can changing existing, profitable business practices. Your call as to what's ultimately best for your business.
Locally hosted, software-based electronic shopping cart solutions are often one-time costs, usually ranging up to about $200 for a boxed software package. Open-source electronic shopping carts, which are not one-stop solutions and can be integrated with other modules, can often be found for free. Commercial ecommerce shopping cart providers often offer ecommerce shopping cart solutions like X-Cart or Lite Commerce as part of hosting packges with monthly fees.
A good ecommerce solution helps you turn visitors into customers, making the buying process simple and inspiring trust in your business. Look for ecommerce software that addresses your needs now and will still be able to handle your ecommerce needs in the future. If you have an affiliate program, make sure your ecommerce software can track that for you as well.
You've got your site set up through the best shopping cart system out there. Now, you just need to sit back and count your money, right?
Unless you are satisfied with being a pennyaire, you should be prepared to promote your shop. Blogging about your shop and the products you offer is a great free way to promote your online store. Some of the most successful crafters' shops rely on their blog readers for the majority of their sales.
To successfully create a blog that generates traffic and increases sales, you should:
As you look at the different shopping cart programs, search engine optimization, or SEO, may be the last thing on your mind. However, if you want to avoid paying for every customer you have to find your site, SEO should be a priority. Network Solutions designed their shopping cart programs to help search engines find the online stores more easily. Other things you can do to help with SEO include:
Integrating an e-commerce shopping cart solution into your site has become easier than ever before, with release of public APIs from companies like Google. The API makes it easy for a developer to integrate the cart and merchant processing directly into your web site, making it easier than ever to make the shopping cart part of your overall design. It's not easy -- and it will cost some money -- but for many merchants, the results will be worth the effort.
Recent research shows that nearly 60 percent of all ecommerce shopping clients abandon their carts before completing a purchase. What can you, the e-commerce merchant, do to lower that number? Here are some ideas:
* Try a new, Web 2.0 ecommerce shopping cart software, with Ajax or another software that allows drag-and-drop purchases without refreshing the page.
* Remind users that they have abandoned a cart with goods in it, before the cart expires. Email is the best way to do this, as long as your ecommerce shopping cart software captures the potential buyer's email address. You can set up atuoresponders to send these emails automatically.
* Promote return/exchange policies, allowing potential buyers to know they can make an exchange, if it turns out they don't like the purchase once it is delivered.
The cost of a total ecommerce solution depends on how powerful and detailed a solution you need. You can get a turnkey hosted ecommerce shopping cart software package for under $30 a month, along with per-transaction fees. Separate Internet shopping cart software can be found for free, or boxed for under $200. Custom ecommerce solutions that interface with separate marketing and CRM software can cost thousands, or even millions of dollars, depending on the size and scope of the project.
Choosing the right ecommerce shopping cart software can easily mean the difference between life and death for your ebusiness. So before shopping for an overall ecommerce solution, do your due diligence. Make sure you're educated about what type of ecommerce shopping cart software would be right for your ebusiness. Then spend some time researching different Internet shopping cart options and prices. Ask around at your next business or trade group function. Look at web sites with strong ecommerce software packages and see how you might be able to emulate them. Research web comparison and review sites, as well as manufacturer and retail sites. Take the time and learn a lot before purchasing. It won't be wasted time.
Ecommerce shopping cart software is a critical component, but not the only component, of the overall ecommerce solution. If you're new to the ecommerce business, you'll likely choose Internet shopping cart software as part of an overall ecommerce software solution. However, you can also purchase or even download free ecommerce shopping cart software and integrate it yourself into an existing or custom ecommerce solution. Just make sure you have the skills and time to do it yourself.
Consider a locally hosted, software-based ecommerce shopping cart solution if you have an existing web site and wish to custom integrate the electronic shopping cart into the exisitng site. Locally hosted solutions are also good for a business with strong and profitable existing business rules that it does not want to change. Software-based electronic shopping carts are easier to customize than web-based versions. But remember, software-based solutions require IT support to install and manage. So you need to either have those skills yourself, or budget them into your ultimate ecommerce shopping cart solution.
An ebusiness software-based ecommerce shopping cart solution allows an Internet shopkeeper to run an ebusiness directly off the merchant's own site, making the merchant his own ecommerce provider. Advantages of a software-based ecommerce shopping cart solution include price -- cheaper and one-time cost -- and being able to customize the cart according to specific or unique business rules. The main disadvantage is that it can take time and specific IT help to install and manage the software.
Other necessary components of an overall ecommerce solution include the following:
* A payment gateway -- This is often bundled with the shopping cart merchant account. The payment gateway is Internet software that interfaces with credit card company databases and the ecommerce shopping cart software to process the transaction and check for possible fraud. If your shopping cart merchant account does not come with a payment gateway, it's going to cost you more to get one up and running.
* A web site with a product database -- This will come as part of a web-based ecommerce solution. The database is already web-enabled and ready to be populated with your goods for sale. If you have an existing product database, you will need to convert it to a web-enabled database to make it interface with the rest of the ecommerce software.
Good ecommerce shopping cart software -- either web-based, or boxed or custom software -- includes a shopping cart merchant account, a payment gateway and secure server, but also includes components that help businesses perform critical marketing tasks: prospecting, follow-ups, affiliate or reseller programs. It's easy to find ecommerce shopping cart software that integrates some or all of these components as part of a single ecommerce software solution. Or you can pick and choose your own for a locally hosted software solution.
Want to see what difference an Ajax-powered ecommerce shopping cart can make? Check out any of The Gap's web sites -- Gap.com, Oldnavy.com or Bananarepublic.com. In summer 2006, the Gap launched new Web 2.0-style sites, powered by Ajax technology. It's a great example of how Ajax-based e-commerce shopping carts can cut way down on clicks, page refreshes and much more closely mimic the real-world shopping experience.