What is an On-Line Shopping Cart?

At its basic level, an on-line shopping cart is pretty self-explanatory: it’s the virtual version of the standard-issue metal grocery store shopping cart, that’s used by your on-line customers to “hold” their selected items until they’re ready to check out. But that’s where any similarity ends. An on-line shopping cart is a software application that guides your customer from browsing through to checkout, but it also provides you with a way to manage your stock, and handle payment and shipping transactions.

Shopping… you may or may not remember a time when it meant:

1. Your customers walked in the door of your store.
2. And depending on where you were located, they grabbed a shopping cart, buggy, basket, etc.
3. They walked up and down the aisles selecting items.
4. They pushed, pulled or carried the cart or basket to your checkout register.
5. Then paid for their items and left the store with a smile because they got everything they needed or they found the perfect _________________ (fill in the blank, i.e.: roast, dress, birthday gift, etc.), and it was a bargain because it was on sale!

But shopping has changed and so has the concept of the shopping cart. Most of today’s shoppers are very comfortable shopping on-line. They log onto their favorite website, search for the items they need, send them to the site’s virtual shopping cart, maybe take a minute to check out the virtual sale racks, and then proceed to checkout. From your customer’s standpoint, your shopping cart may seem like nothing more than a web form where they input their item selections and payment and shipping information. But as an on-line merchant, you need to understand all the options of a virtual shopping cart to help you choose the one that’s right for you.

Are All On-Line Shopping Carts The Same?

Technically there are 3 types. Many merchants build their own shopping carts if they are sophisticated enough. And, actually there are open source carts out there too but that may be getting too technical.

There are two different types of on-line shopping carts: Hosted or Licensed. If you choose a hosted on-line shopping cart, you are contracting with a hosting company to use their software and web host. You pay a monthly fee and essentially the hosting company does all the work of processing the sale for you.

With a licensed shopping cart, you pay a license fee and own the software. Once you set up the shopping cart on your site, it becomes an integral part of your site, and if you change web servers your shopping cart moves with you. This option gives you a wider range of choices to configure your shopping cart to better suit your needs, and to be sure you are making your customers’ shopping experience at your site as pleasant and as easy as possible.

Of course, there’s always the option to build your own shopping cart. But whether you’re researching searching for on-line shopping cart software, or you decide to build your own, consider the following:

• Is the cost proportionate to your sales? Do you maintain a large inventory list on your site and do you do a large number of sales each month that would justify the cost of buying your own on-line shopping cart software and managing it? Or do you do a limited amount of simple transactions a month on your site? If so it will probably be more cost effective to use a hosted on-line shopping cart.

• Does the software provide good customer service features? Can you track orders, can you capture customer information for future sales, can you accept gift cards, can you run sales reports, and review other site analytics? All of these options create a better selling experience for you and a better buying experience for your customer.

• Does the software provide any marketing tools to help increase your sales? For example, a wish list app lets customers store their favorite items to review again or to pass along to a friend or relative who’s shopping for a gift. How about upsell features?

• When your customer places an item in the shopping cart, can the software be programmed to identify and offer similar items to entice your customer to add to their order?

• Does the software include standard security features or do you have to integrate it with your site’s security options? This is important to protect you and your customers from credit card fraud.

• Is the software mobile friendly? More and more your customers are using their smartphone and other mobile devices to do their shopping while on the go. Your on-line shopping cart needs to be mobile friendly for your customers and easy for you to access and manage from your mobile device.

These are just a few of the questions you need to ask before deciding whether to use a licensed or hosted on-line shopping cart. Next to inventory, an on-line shopping cart is the most important component of your company’s website. Today, on-line shopping carts are more than just a place where your customers list the items they want to purchase. The right on-line shopping cart for you is the one that helps you best manage your on-line sales so you can spend your time managing your overall business.