If you plan to sell products or services directly on the Internet you will need a “shopping cart” as part of your e-commerce website to allow customers to make purchases directly from your site with credit cards, PayPal, or other forms of payment. Most people are very familiar with buying over the Internet these days, but if you are new to the “seller side” of e-commerce, we can help to explain the many different options and what is involved with each.
E-commerce / Shopping Cart Basics
We have been creating e-commerce websites for many years and we’re happy to explain their various features and capabilities, which vary widely. They can run the gamut from simple sites with just a few products or services to full database shopping cart sites with features to rival Amazon.com. By the way, the term “shopping cart” generally refers to the software on a website that gives site visitors the ability to order products or services. At a basic level, shopping carts generally perform the following functions:
- Display product categories and product details
- List and total the costs for items being purchased
- Calculate Sales Tax
- Calculate Shipping and Handling costs
- Accept Shipping and Billing information and instructions
- Allow for multiple forms of payment, including secure credit card transactions and/or PayPal
- Electronically process transactions, typically through an online interface
- Notify the site owner of the sale
- Numerous other optional functions as listed below
While shopping carts can sometimes include many more involved functions, all shopping cart software or services should provide these features as a minimum. You probably won’t use them all, but when getting started with e-commerce it’s difficult to know what your needs will be down the line.
Examples of other e-commerce capabilities:
- Secure password protected administration section
- Support for wide variety of payment types and gateways
- Template-driven designs for easy customization of pages
- Unlimited number of products and categories
- Moderated product reviews and ratings
- Wide variety of options for shipping charges
- Real-time shipping rates for UPS, Fedex, USPS and others
- Shipping management and fulfillment options
- Customizable printable packing slips and invoices
- Online orders tracking
- Support for downloadable products
- Most popular products, newest products display (and similar)
- Discount coupons and gift certificates
- Marketing ad-ons to increase sales
- Specials listing types such as downloadable products
- Subscriptions and memberships
- Related products and/or accessories, for cross-selling
- Product stock accounting / inventory
- Comprehensive orders statistics and reporting
- Many more…
Different companies, products, and services have widely different requirements for e-commerce websites. Because we’ve developed e-commerce sites for over 12 years, we’re familiar with and can recommend a variety of solid e-commerce/shopping cart software, online e-commerce services, or custom solutions depending on the needs of our clients.
Because we are familiar with a wide variety of options, we can recommend the solution that best fits your needs. That said, we most often recommend WooCommerce, which is the most popular shopping cart system for small to medium businesses. It is a very comprehensive e-commerce solution suitable for all but some of the very largest e-commerce websites. There are an enormous number of optional “extensions” (feature add-ons) available, such as those outlined in a recent article, the “25 Best Extensions for WooCommerce Stores“.
WooCommerce is installed as part of a WordPress site, so all the many advantages of WordPress are also true of WooCommerce.
Recent surveys show that WooCommerce is the most popular e-commerce platform for small to medium sized sites, followed by Squarespace Stores and Shopify, while Magento dominates for the very large e-commerce sites. See the Datanyze E-Commerce Platform Market Share Report.
In addition, it’s clear that WooCommerce is used far more frequently for larger and more substantial e-commerce websites, as can be seen in further Datanyze reports linked from this report. For example, among the top 1 million websites, according to Datanyze, following are the number of sites listed by platform as of January of 2019:
- WooCommerce – 24,813 sites
- Magento – 13,357 sites
- Shopify – 12, 358 sites
- Squarespace Stores – 2,998 sites
- WixStores – 423
- MonsterCommerce – 186
If you want to allow your customers to use a credit card, you will need a merchant account specifically for that purpose. If you take credit cards directly now, you already have a merchant account. Unfortunately, the major credit card companies require that you have a separate merchant account for use with online transactions.
Many businesses set up merchant accounts through their bank, and that can be a good option. However, particularly for lower volume businesses, independent credit cart processing companies can often provide very good service at more competitive rates. We can help with recommendations.
Whatever solution you choose, your credit card processor can arrange a “payment gateway” to work directly with your shopping cart software or service. This is the service that allows your online store to process credit cards “realtime”. The alternative is for order and credit card information to be stored for secure retrieval, but this type of system is not used as frequently as it once was.
Also, it’s important to coordinate the choice of your “payment gateway” company, because your specific payment gateway must be compatible with both your credit card processing company as well as your shopping cart software.
E-commerce Security Issues
Credit cards represent the most common way of paying for items in the Internet, and they are the reason why serious security precautions must be taken by any website that is set up for e-commerce.
Many of our customers do not want to take any chances with credit card security, and there are options for that. We often set up shopping carts for our clients to use a “payment gateway” which allows you to have a fully-functional ecommerce website without ever having to receive or store credit card information, thereby dramatically reducing any security issues associated with credit card information.
Contact Us to Discuss Your E-commerce Needs
If you have any questions or would like to discuss your ecommerce needs further, please contact us for a free initial consultation. We can help to explain the various options and considerations, and we can suggest the most appropriate solutions for your business.
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