Monday, August 25, 2008

Finding the right online shopping cart solution

by Sabinder Kaur

A shopping cart serves as the frontend that transfers information through a secure connection to a payment gateway. The payment gateway interacts with your merchant bank account to process the information. It then sends back a confirmation or denial back to the shopping cart software.

Building your own customized shopping cart may not give you as many features as available in third party shopping carts. There are a number of online shopping carts available. Before purchasing a cart keep a small checklist handy so that you can pick the right one.

Script compatibility with the hosting: Shopping cart scripts are written in many different coding formats - PERL, PHP, ASP etc. check compatibility with your host before purchasing.

Installation and code modification: How easy is a cart to install on your server? Can the code be modified to give the same look and feel as your website? These are some areas you would need to check before making a purchase.

Back-up files support: Check on the support for backing up files and allowing for export into a variety of formats.

Payment gateway services supported: Most carts support multiple gateway services. Before purchasing your cart, review the gateway services supported as well as the compatibility of the payment gateway with your merchant account.

Order Completion Details: Ensure that the shopping cart has an option to send an email confirmation when a customer completes an order as well as a reminder to print the order details.

Provide a choice of Shipping Carriers: For confirmed orders the customer should be able to link directly to the carrier site so as to track the progress of shipment. The shipping should be able to offer a choice of carriers. In addition the cart should be able to calculate shipping and tax in real time from USPS, USP, FEDEX etc. as well as provide an option to include or keep shipping costs separate.

Multiple Product upload: The cart should give you the option of bulk uploading of products. The product pages should be SEO friendly. While uploading product images do you have to put in one large image and one small image of every product or can you just put in one image and auto generate thumbnails? If you auto generate thumbnails you save time, web space and bandwidth. In addition you should also be able to create and manage your product attributes.

Content management tool: Check if the store has the option to add new content pages. This is important as you need to serve content pages for the crawlers to pick up and display your web pages.

Newsletter functions: This should not be a critical feature but having a newsletter option would help in an online website promotion.

Gift certificates, promotions and discounts: Having auto responders to gauge customer satisfaction as well as to inform about special offers and promotions would help with the online marketing.

Search Engine Friendly features: Some shopping carts provide a number of search engine friendly parameters that can be customized for all the uploaded products. Check if the cart supports addition of title tags, meta tags, alt tags, breadcrumbs for optimization. This would be an important aspect as you want your products to be reachable to a wider audience.

Most product pages are displayed with query strings and hamper indexing of the site product pages. Since the main purpose of selling products is for the product pages to be "found" it is important that the cart provides an option to change query strings to static URLs. This will ensure that the site is accessible to search engines and may contribute to improved search engine rankings.

Also check if the cart provides the option of a sitemap or an XML sitemap generation.

Affiliate modules and Banner Advertising controls: Some carts support affiliate modules. If your website has a requirement then check to see that affiliate module should be able to handle the signing up process, track statistics, provide payment details made to affiliates.

Keep the checklist in mind, however base your choice on the type of products you sell and the catalog of products.

About the Author

Sabinder is the Director of Cranvas - a website design, development and online marketing firm that helps in developing and promoting your online business.