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Choosing an Ecommerce Shopping Cart
By Danna Henderson

Choosing an online shopping cart is a big decision. Unlike a traditional brick and mortar business, your website is your only chance to impress potential customers. It needs to project a professional image to capture the trust of your visitors. The shopping cart is a particularly important part of your website because it deals with people’s personal information and credit card numbers. People are nervous about online purchases and need to be assured that they are giving their credit card numbers to a reputable company.

There are several types of ecommerce shopping carts available. They range from merchant services, which require no programming skills, to fully integrated shopping carts that require custom programming. The three main categories of shopping carts are:

* Merchant services such as eBay and 2Checkout
* Hosted shopping cart services
* Fully integrated shopping carts

Merchant Services

Most shopping carts require you to have your own merchant account and gateway. A merchant account is a bank account that allows a business to conduct credit card transactions and the gateway allows the transaction to be conducted over a secure connection. It’s okay if you don’t have a merchant account or gateway. Merchant service shopping carts allow you to use their merchant account, gateway and shopping cart for a higher cost.

Merchant services are beneficial for very small businesses or those that are just starting and don’t have a lot of orders. Merchant services provide the merchant account, gateway, hosted shopping cart and will maintain your customer’s personal information. They usually require a set-up fee between 50 and 200 dollars, transaction fee between 30 and 75 cents, and 5% to 10% of each transaction. Because you are using their merchant account, your customer’s credit card statement will show the merchant services business name not yours. In some cases, customers will not recognize the charge and may dispute it.

Merchant service shopping carts have an administrative interface, which allows you to login to your account to add products, prices and shipping options. The shopping cart generates the html for the purchase buttons and you simply copy and paste the html into your web pages. When your customer clicks on the purchase button, he is taken to another website to enter the credit card information. This indicates to the customer that you are a small business. Some potential customers will abandon the shopping cart rather than enter their credit card information on a website they know nothing about.

Once your business grows to the point where you are processing over $1000 a month, it’s more cost effective to apply for your own merchant account and switch to either a hosted shopping cart (little or no programming) or a fully integrated shopping cart (programming required).

Hosted Shopping Cart

The hosted shopping cart is a great solution for a small business that is processing over $1000 a month but does not have the resources to create or customize a fully integrated shopping cart. Hosted shopping carts are similar to the merchant services because they provide an administrative interface for you to enter products, pricing and shipping options. They will generate the html for the purchase buttons, which can be copied and pasted into your html pages.

Hosted shopping carts face some of same problems as merchant service carts because your customers will be transferred to a different website to enter the credit card information. Some hosted shopping carts allow you to customize the shopping cart so that it has the same look and feel as your websites. Customizing your shopping cart may require some programming skills, but it could also prevent customers from abandoning their shopping carts.

The main difference between the merchant services shopping cart and the hosted shopping cart is the name that appears on the customer’s credit card and pricing. Hosted shopping carts allow you to use your own merchant account and gateway, which means the customer’s credit card statement will show your business name next to the charge. This can decrease your charge backs.

If you are using your own merchant account and conducting over $1000 of transitions each month, the hosted shopping carts can be less expensive than merchant services. Your merchant account will probably charge a monthly fee between 20 and 60 dollars, transaction fee between 10 and 50 cents, and a percentage of the transaction, usually ranging between 2% to 3.5%. In addition to the merchant fees, your shopping cart service will also charge a monthly fee between 10 and 30 dollars and could charge a transaction fee. These fees sound more expensive than the merchant service option, but if you are processing over $1000 a month and growing, it’s better to pay flat monthly fees than continue to be charged 5 to 10 percent of the each transaction.

Fully Integrated Shopping Carts

The fully integrated shopping cart is a great option for any business that can afford it. The shopping cart will be dynamic and will have the same look and feel as your website. The ZIP Baby Potty Training Store is a great example of a fully integrated shopping cart. Fully integrated shopping carts like this contain features that are not found in merchant service or hosted shopping carts. For example, you can discount items, display customer reviews, assign products to multiple categories, display out of stock notifications, sort products and prices, and display shipping estimates without requiring the customer to create an account.

Integrated shopping carts require advanced programming skills and can often be used with your own merchant account or with a service that allows you to use their merchant account for a higher fee. There are many integrated shopping carts available. Free carts require the most programming skills, but if you don’t have the programming skills necessary to customize a free shopping cart, there are many companies that specialize in customizing fully integrated shopping carts.

Your choice of a shopping cart can have a dramatic impact on your business. Your website is the first and only impression you get to make so you’ll want to make it as professional as possible. While shopping for a shopping cart system, put yourself in your target customer’s shoes and browse the Internet. Review your competitor’s websites as well as those outside your industry. Make a list of shopping carts that you find appealing and research them thoroughly before choosing one.

Copyright 2004 Danna Henderson. All Rights Reserved.

About The Author
Danna Henderson started ZIP Baby in order to provide parents with comprehensive potty training information and a large selection of potty training products. For more information visit the ZIP Baby Potty Training Store.

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