Struggling with a Shopping Cart Choice?

Recently I asked Kyle Miller and Systems Manager at Karol to jot down some considerations when reviewing shopping carts for those just starting out in online retailing.  He had no problem with my request–though not because he had a lot of time or he wanted to document a thinking strategy for first time online merchants.  No, he did so because his experience would have been beneficial to anyone during the initial decision making process.  However, as so often is the case he is not contacted, though he should be.  His downstream experience can end a lot of aggravation, wasted time and expense for our clients.  (I try myself not to confuse web site development from necessary e-commerce functions and online back end operations.)

Here are those thoughts (five) that just may help you; or because you know someone about to start online retailing, you can share these fundamentals of cart choice decision-making.

Thoughts about shopping carts:

1.)    Picking the right shopping cart is not easy.  If anyone says that it is, they are not being frank or they are uninformed.

  • Not many shopping carts tell you in plain English what they can do or what you get
  • Not many people know what they need from a shopping cart
  • Not many chopping carts can afford to help you once you have signed up

2.)    Most people will go through several shopping carts before they reach the right one.

  • While this can be a normal progression to success, just don’t let it turn into a series of changing horses in midstream
  • Try to avoid this (changing carts) if you can but realize you may go through different carts as your needs change and your business grows
  • Reach out to businesses that have the same needs as you and ask about both their cart successes and cart failures.  Even competitors will gladly talk about the experience they have gained through hard work
  • Talk to all the people downstream from you before you choose a cart, find out what they need and make those requirements as important as your own

3.)    How do I know if a cart is right for me?

  • Identify what you (and the people downstream from you) need to have happen to complete and order
  • Try to get beyond the sales hype of each cart to verify that each step you need to happen will occur
  • Look for cart reviews online but keep in mind there are both those who inflate the positive scores and disgruntled people who inflate the negative scores.  Evaluate cart reviews by the verifiable information they present, not by the emotion they are displaying. Also realize that every cart is best for someone, but only one cart is best for you.  If a cart wasn’t right for one person who has a very unique need, and they pan the cart, that doesn’t mean the cart won’t suit your needs.  If a cart doesn’t suit your needs, that doesn’t make it a bad cart.
  • Evaluate your skill sets and the skill sets you may need to hire to build and maintain a cart.  Will I need to outsource a code writer, a graphic designer, or both to use a certain cart?  Again, most carts will not be able to answer questions unasked so the detective work is up to you.

4.)    Tell me what cart I should get.

There is tendency to assume that a cart is a cart, so I will just get any cart and that step will be behind me.  That means CHEAP is good and FREE is better.  Right?  No, No, No.

  • Never think of carts as a homogenized commodity.  Every cart is different.  No one wants to admit that things are not simple.  The earlier in the process you face that some homework is necessary, the smoother it will go.
  • Never buy a cart until you define your needs and match your needs to the cart that can meet those needs.  Again, no one wants to face the hard work, but the majority of work must be done before you purchase the cart and the majority of problems arise from skipping this step.
  • Never buy an open-source-build-it-from-scratch cart unless you have an advanced degree in code writing and have a lot of time to waste.  Yes, the software is free and yes, you know a guy that can put it together cheaply.  That is a long, slow and expensive train wreck waiting to happen.  (Disclaimer: open source isn’t bad in itself; you just have to admit that you aren’t the one genius out of a million that can make it work for you.)
  • Buy an out-of-the-box cart.  The cart people know what needs to happen in a cart.  Open source tinkerers never know all the things that need to happen in a cart.  Let the staff of the company that created it maintain the complex code, build the features and fix the bugs.

5.)    No, I mean TELL me the NAME of the cart I should get.

I do not wish to name specific carts or endorse any particular cart over another. The carts that are right for me will have no bearing on what is right for you.

A.)   There are basically three tiers of carts with lots of overlap between the choices.  Price is often a tip-off as to which tier a cart will fall into.

  • Easy to use, pretty front end (take or orders and process payment), not much advance function (communicate or export information outside of the software), not much back end (process an order to pull inventory and ship product).  Pros: good for startups working from the kitchen table, no code writing is needed as most functions will be predefined settings.  Cons: this type of cart will have to be abandoned if the company grows to the point of getting an outside company to ship the products out for you (a fulfillment house for example).
  • Moderate ease of use, some form of export function—most likely manually triggered and may or may not have back end options.  Pros: may integrate with an order fulfillment house.  Cons: some code writing and advanced computer usage may be needed with integrations manually triggered.
  • Advanced features across the board.  Pros: automation and advanced functions are available for fulfillment integration.  Cons: advanced code writing will be needed.

B.)    Besides the tiers, you must also be aware of the different business models.

  • The first type is the cart that will provide every conceivable feature included in the single purchase.  A pitfall to avoid is the cart that promises that every feature is possible with their cart but doesn’t reveal the caveat that the purchaser just needs to write the code to make it happen.  Pros:  ease of mind and room for growth.  Cons” high price and/or advanced difficulty of use.
  • The second type is the cart that sells the base module and they or third  parties sell add-on modules for each function.  The add-ons are either bought outright or purchased through subscription.  Pros: allows you to tailor your functions.  Cons: what will I need (how do I know what I will need)?  Do modules exist to do what I need?  The price will quickly go from cheap to the cost of an all-included cart.
  • Open source cart.  Pros: free or cheap, I can build any function I want.  Cons:  I have to know every function I want.  I have to build every function I want.  I don’t know what I am doing or hired someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.
  • Mixed business model.  You might buy a premade base package that is based on competently assembled open source code.  It could be all inclusive or there might be functions that would be added by you writing code or by buying premade modules.  Pros and cons would be made on a case-by-case basis.

If you think Kyle can help you, he can be reached at 1-800-526-4773