How to Choose a Shopping Cart

Good business is about good decisions. Good decisions are ones made after serious research and data gathering. One of the decisions that must be made by ecommerce people is choosing the right shopping cart for their business. The problem is there is a lot to choose from.

Mark Baartse, a man who, among other things, researches and reviews shopping carts, has identified 137 different shopping carts. Baartse tries to identify which are the best for the myriad applications required in the ecommerce industry. Baartse posts his review results at Shopping-cart-reviews.com. Practical eCommerce asked him to offer our readers some insights into shopping cart choices.
PeC: Mark, how important is the shopping cart choice?

Choosing the right shopping cart software is the most important technical decision to be made. Some people take the easy way out and say, “I don’t worry about that, I let my web programmer take care of those decisions.” But you have to ask yourself, does your programmer understand your business? Have they read your marketing plan? They might make the decision, but you’ll pick up the bill if that decision is a bad one.
PeC: What things in a marketing plan help make the shopping cart choice?

Well, does your marketing plan include an affiliates program? That’s where other websites can direct sales to you in return for a commission. If that’s important to you, you need to make sure your shopping cart can support it – your marketing plan should tell you this. If you decide you want this in 12 months and your shopping cart doesn’t support it, you’ll have to change your cart, which is very time consuming.
PeC: But marketing plans evolve. How do you deal with that?

That’s the tricky part. Marketing plans do change over time. For inexperienced startups in particular there is a lot of guess work – the marketing plan often needs to be re-written after 6 months. This can make the decision more complicated. If you are in this position, the best approaches is to talk to someone experienced, and have them help you through the things you might not have thought of.
PeC: How does the customer profile play into making the shopping cart decision?

How well do you want to know your customers? If you can easily target your customers through a niche-marketing channel, then you are in luck. However, maybe your customers would appreciate a newsletter with the latest happenings in the industry, and of course, the latest specials and items in stock. If so, you’ll need a shopping cart that supports a customer registration or newsletter function. You need to really understand your customers and what drives them. Do they respond better to discounts, free gifts or free shipping as an incentive? There’s an element of trial and error to work out these answers sometimes – but only if your shopping cart software supports it.
PeC: Sounds very complicated. Can you distill it all into a step by step plan?

Sure. First I would suggest downloading a template that I prepared to help you keep track of the process. It’s at shopping-cart-reviews.com/requirements.xls that will help you with this process. You can take the steps without it; it’s just easier with it. If you do use the template you’ll probably want to customize it for yourself since every business it a bit different. Here are my steps:

Write down a list of everything your customers might possibly need. Some ideas: gift certificates, product reviews, ability to look up Fedex shipping prices in real time, being able to send out newsletters to customers, etc. This can be tricky. Are there multiple images in the product description? Do your products come in multiple colors? Does the customer need to seen in? Is there a search box? Do you have a loyalty scheme? Write it all down – and re-read your marketing plan.
Now, think about everything you need. What sort of reports do you want? Do you want to be automatically notified when an item is running low on stock? Do you have a lot of products listed in another database you want to be able to import rather than re-entering them? What is your budget?
Now that you have a list, for each item put a priority next to it. 1 for critical, 2 for important, 3 for nice to have, 4 for unimportant. For example, it might be important (but not critical) that you have gift certificates, so rank that as a “2 – Important”. A common mistake is to make every feature top priority. You’ll need to do a bit of soul searching otherwise; you might end up with a list of features, which is unrealistic, or beyond your budget. Every time you write down a 1 – Critical stop for a second and ask yourself if it is really critical.
If you have a short list of shopping cart software already (perhaps suggested by friends or a programmer), visit their websites and quickly check each of them against each of your requirements. If you don’t have a short list yet, searching on my site shopping-cartreviews. com or google.com will help you get a list of candidates. You can eliminate a lot of carts straight away, as they won’t meet some of your critical requirements.
Try and get it down to a short list of 2 – 5 carts.
Study each shopping cart in detail and fill in the columns based on how well each one performs.
Review your list to compare your priorities against which shopping cart best meets those priorities and you are well on your way to making a decision!