Selling goods and services online is a must for most companies these days. Selecting an online shopping cart or e-commerce system can be a bit like trying to find a needle in a haystack though. Let’s start with three things you should consider first and the pros and cons of each.
- Self hosted online carts/e-commerce systems – These are online carts that allow you to purchase the actual software and licensing to implement on your own website and hosting server. These tend to be the most inexpensive options ranging from free, open source carts like OsCommerce, Zen Cart and the Magento Community e-Commerce system to commercial carts anywhere from the hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Obviously the free, open source carts would be an appealing first choice but the disadvantages are little to no technical support and buggy functionality. They can be quite costly if you need to hire someone for custom programing or fixes. The next step up are the paid carts which often come with better documentation and technical support. The paid carts also tend to have more features (more or less depending on the cart) than a free online cart. Though most carts have the same primary features many special features such as multiple shipping addresses, custom HTML coding and SEO friendliness can be included on some carts but not all. Your best solution is to make a list of desired features you need in an e-commerce system and research which cart has what you need. If you’re lucky, you’ll get all the features you need but you may have to live without some of them in exchange for a lower price.
- Hosted online carts/e-commerce systems – These are systems like Yahoo Store and others where you pay a monthly fee to upload your photos, text, etc. and maintain your entire online cart in real time on the web. The advantages are that these carts tend to have more features and are in constant development so you always have the latest, greatest upgrades and new features. Technical support is usually a phone call away and for some non-technical website owners, these kind of carts can be very user friendly.
The downside to these type of carts is the monthly cost which can increase at any times. Some of these systems such as Yahoo or PayPal also charge transaction fees as well which can eat away at your profits. If you have a web developer working with you, his or her hands would be tied in regards to any type of custom programming or alterations because these types of e-commerce systems are proprietary and the code is off limits. And finally, if you decide to quit one of these e-commerce systems everything is gone. There is no way to save the cart’s contents to simply upload and re-start at a later time.
- Custom designed shopping carts/e-commerce systems – If you’re an enterprise size company with the budget to afford it, a custom designed e-commerce system is the best choice of all. Most of the big online marketers are not using open source or hosted carts. They are building and designing these systems in-house or in affiliation with a development firm to provide the online shopping experience right down to every last detail. Prices can start at $50,000 and range into the hundreds of thousands. The obvious disadvantage is cost to most small and mid-size businesses.
So how do you find the shopping cart or e-commerce system that best fits your company’s needs? It should begin with a plan and objectives for what your e-commerce needs really are. Compile a list of features and then check out the following websites to compare e-commerce systems and carts. Check out the demos for both the front end (what the customers sees and uses) and the administrative back end (what you need to manage your cart, process orders, etc.). Once you’ve narrowed it down, compare prices and perhaps look for ratings, reviews and/or complaints about the e-commerce system you’re considering.
These websites will hep you get started: