You can use traditional methods to sell products such as direct mail, catalogs and advertising. However, if you have a great online presence, the entire world is your marketplace at a fraction of the cost of most traditional methods. To easily sell to this worldwide marketplace, you need a great shopping cart system.
Choosing a shopping cart system is perhaps the most important single decision you’ll make in your online marketing career. This is because you’ll be stuck with the decision for a long time.
If you buy into a system that isn’t adequate, it can cost you money–big money — because it won’t maximize the amount of money spent by each visitor.
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of off-the-shelf, free and alternative products out there vying for your money, time or both. And most of them are junk.
Don’t suffer like I did. I learned the hard way. When I started on the Internet I couldn’t find a decent shopping cart program, so I took one that was highly recommended by my ISP (I now know the only reason they suggested it was because it made them the most money. They didn’t care if it was the best one for me or not). What a headache! The system wouldn’t do anything but take the order, but you had to have a PhD in computer science to work on it.
Here are 22 questions you absolutely, unfailingly must ask anyone trying to sell you a shopping cart. If you don’t hear positive answers to the majority of these questions, put your wallet back into your pocket and evaluate the next option. Don’t get stuck with a crappy shopping cart, even if they give it to you free.
If you have a poor shopping cart, get rid of it. I know that hurts, because you may have spent lots of time and money getting it going, but a bad one will cost you many thousands of dollars by waiting to replace it later rather than sooner.
Oh, and one more thing: if you hear the shopping cart programmer answer one of the questions below by saying, “Well, we could make it do that,” run away even faster, because you’re going to get stuck with a big custom programming bill with no guarantees that the cart is going to work the way you expected.
Questions to Ask When Choosing a Shopping Cart System
Every question below is very important when it comes to having a quality shopping cart system that gets more money out of the same number of visitors.
1. Will it calculate shipping and tax?
Your shopping cart systems needs to be able to offer a variety of different shipping rate calculation methods. It should be able to support your shipping policies and how you want to charge your customers for shipping — e.g. based on the value of their orders, by the number of items ordered, by the weight of the order, etc. It also should allow you to offer discounts like free shipping for orders above certain amounts, to encourage customers to buy more.
The shopping cart system should also be able to easily set up tax rates by country, state, and county. Taxes will be automatically calculated during the checkout process, based on your customers’ billing or shipping addresses.
2. Does it handle specialized shipping like FedEx and UPS?
Your shopping cart system should integrate well with shipping vendors such as UPS or FedEx. It should also be capable of supporting international shipping.
3. Will it automatically deliver hard goods and soft goods (e- books and other digital products) in the same transaction?
You also need to be able to sell unlimited types and quantities of products. It should have the flexibility to sell downloadable files, sell wholesale, and other types of products.
4. Does it offer customizable “Return to Shopping” pages without needing custom programming?
This is important so you can send your customers to the most likely product they will buy next. Standard carts just send customers back to the main catalog, which forces them to search for related products. This is both irritating and time-consuming. Any delays in finding what they want could mean a lost sale, when they finally throw their hands up in disgust and move on to your competitor’s site.
5. Does it offer customizable “Thank You” pages based on what the customer just bought?
These are pages where savvy marketers put affiliate links and other offers specifically related to the customer’s interests. When a customer clicks on one of these links and buys something from someone else, you get a commission.
6. Does it deliver receipt and confirmation e-mails automatically?
The customer wants to know immediately that the order went through. If he or she is unsure, you are going to have to field many wasted e-mails and phone calls letting the customer know everything is OK.
7. Does it allow multiple order and dropship e-mails?
In many cases, several different people in your organization and/or outside your organization need notice of an order. Again, you don’t want to have to do this manually.
8. Does it have a Web-based administration page so you can work on your cart from any computer that has Internet access?
Your shopping cart system should offer the flexibility of accessing the store administration panel easily from any computer. This will allow you to complete and fulfill your orders easily, with the flexibility and mobility that today’s business owners need.
9. Does it include encryption technology and a secure server?
Many companies make a fortune by sucking you in with a cheap or free cart and then make money on selling you an overpriced secure server.
10. Does it deliver easy output to your accounting software?
You want to be able to import and export data easily between the cart and whatever programs you have that need to share the customer and sales information.
11. Does it have its own associate/affiliate program or is it easily compatible with other major brands of associate software?
An affiliate program lets other people promote and sell your products on their Web sites. You don’t pay them unless they sell something. When I tried to get an associate/affiliate program to work with my old cart, it cost me six months of down time and untold amounts of money lost because it wouldn’t work. The associate program people blamed the shopping cart people and vice versa. But ultimately I was left holding the bag.
12. Does it have integrated up-sell modules?
The ability to offer more related products to customers making a purchase makes me a small fortune each month. We call it, “Do you want fries with that?” If you don’t have this ability, you are leaving many thousands of dollars on the table from people who would have spent more if your cart just gave them the chance.
13. Does it have an integrated sales and prospect database?
In the old days I would have to print out orders and then retype them into ACT or some other database program. A good shopping cart system eliminates all this hassle and potential for error and gives you instant access to your sales reports and clients.
14. Does it have broadcast e-mail capability?
Good shopping cart systems are able to manipulate your customer database instantly and send e-mails to any segment or sub-segment of your clients and handle unlimited e-mail magazines. Again, in the old days I would have to be genius enough to pick out segments of the database, export them to a file, import them into a mail program and then an hour later send the darn e-mail. Now this is all done in a few seconds.
15. Does it have mail merge capability?
The e-mails sent are personalized to the recipients in any number of ways. Their names can be popped in to the subject line and in various portions of the body of the e-mail. You can merge “what they bought,” “when they bought,” “where they live” or just about anything that will make them feel the e-mail was just for them. Virtually all studies show that mail merge gets a much higher response than plain broadcast e-mail.
16. Can it handle coupons and other discounts?
You can make a deal with Joe Blow that everyone coming from his Web site gets an automatic discount — either a percentage or dollar amount. This makes Joe look great to his visitors and makes more sales for you. Here’s a secret: Joe is your affiliate and makes money on the sale too, so he’s got a great incentive to keep your discounts and coupons in front of his visitors. Good shopping cart systems can automate all of this and also handle any quantity discounts you offer.
17. Can it work for multiple Web sites with no extra fees?
When I first started I had to get a separate (and expensive) license for each site and a separate merchant account too. Not only was this a great deal of expense, the hassle with installation every time you wanted a new site to go up was enormous. Modern carts can sell bras on one site and bibles on another, and no one knows the difference. The carts run on their own servers so there is no expensive installation and set-up is immediate.
18. Does it have unlimited and fully integrated “sequential” autoresponders?
This is one of the most powerful features when it comes to Internet marketing. This feature follows up automatically over and over again to your clients and prospects to provide them customer care and to sell them more products and services. You can even provide free or paid e-mail courses, and each part of the course is delivered automatically.
19. Does it have ad tracking tied into actual sales?
Simple ad tracking can be had all over the ‘Net, but it is pretty much worthless unless it is tied to actual sales. This is called the “conversion ratio.” Your cart system should be able to tell you how many people clicked on a particular promotion and how many people bought. This is the only way you can determine if an ad paid off. Good carts will also automatically split test one of your sales pages against another and tell you which page sells more. You keep the page that sells more and get rid of the page that sells less.
20. Does it have a pop-up box builder?
Even though many people hate popup boxes, they work. I use them judiciously to make all kinds of offers, and I have the sales figures to prove they get more money out of the same number of people. If you know how to use them properly, no one gets upset.
21. Does it have a printable off-line order form?
Believe it or not, many people are still afraid to put their credit card numbers into a Web site. I still get lots of fax orders and phone orders. If you want to maximize your sales, your cart must take these kinds of orders easily.
22. Does it provide free training?
You’ll need training in both the basic set up of using your shopping cart and determining your online sales strategy, so that you maximize the amount of money spent by each customer.
You may not understand what all the above questions mean right now, but I can assure you they are important in putting more money into your bank account.
Recommended Books on Choosing a Shopping Cart System for your Online Store:
- Constructing Usable Shopping Carts
- Shopping Cart Software Guide: E-Commerce and E-Business
- Conversion Optimization: The Art and Science of Converting Prospects to Customers
- Zen Cart: E-commerce Application Development: A step-by-step developer’s guide
- How To Pick A Shopping Cart That Makes You Money
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