You need to know what you want and need before you start looking for an e-commerce solution. The more details you plan in advance, the better off you’ll be.
As a website designer I worked with clients all too often who had chosen their e-commerce solution only because it was “free” or because their website designer recommended it. Your designer can be a wonderful resource in choosing the right e-commerce solution, but only if they know enough about your needs and the available options, and are used to working with a variety of e-commerce solutions instead of focusing only one or two. One size does not fit all in e-commerce.
Start with a “wish list” of all the features your ideal e-commerce solution would have, and rank them by priority. Know which features are absolute “must have” and which you can be flexible on. Digital product delivery may be critical for your business. Or you might need a specific payment gateway but can be flexible on shipping. These are the types of things you want to know before you start shopping for your ecommerce solution.
Here are some of the biggest areas you need to consider:
* What level of technical skill is required to update/manage the e-commerce solution? Some are more user friendly than others. Be sure to try a demo before you make your choice. All e-commerce solutions will have a learning curve, but some will be easier than others. Look at the support options available for learning – what’s available? User guide? Video tutorials? Support helpdesk?
* What payment methods will you accept? PayPal? Credit Cards? This is important to know before you choose because not all e-commerce solutions work with all payment gateways.
* How will you charge shipping on your items? Do you need real time shipping quotes (UPS, USPS, FedEx, or other carriers)? Or will you use a table method, percentage or flat rate shipping?
* Do you want to offer coupons or sales? What kind? Do you need to limit sales to particular categories or products or limit the number of times a coupon is used?
* Do you need your cart to track your inventory for limited quantities or one of a kind items?
* If you offer digital products (PDF ebooks, MP3s, etc) do you need instant delivery of the products through your ecommerce ssytem?
* What is your budget for the total cost? Keep in mind that in addition to any license fees, you need to budget for a designer, possibly an SSL certificate, and support for your chosen cart. Often a licensed cart works out to be less expensive than a free cart when you add in the customization and support expenses.
* If you are planning to have your sales drop shipped or are working with a product fulfillment company, check that it can be integrated smoothly. Your drop shipper should be able to guide you to the systems that work with their systems best.
Some other features you may want to consider:
* Can you manage your entire website with the ecommerce solution, or does it only manage your products?
Some shopping carts are designed as “whole site” solutions where you can add informational pages, change your site layout, and more from within the shopping cart administration.
Other carts are designed as “add on” solutions where you either add small “add to cart” buttons to your existing website pages, or you link to a webshop but keep your informational pages on a separate website.
* Is it “search engine friendly” or will you have a hard time getting traffic from the search engines?
To be search engine friendly, a cart should allow you to control your page titles, descriptions, keyword tags, image names, etc. The URLs it generates shouldn’t be full of characters like? and & and = but instead look like real words (preferably your product names).
* Do you want something that’s fully branded and integrated into your domain name/website or do you want to start smaller with an ecommerce system that’s hosted such as an Etsy Shop (etsy.com), Hyena Cart (hyenacart.com) or eBay Store (ebay.com)?
Once you have a list of the features and functions you need in a shopping cart, it’s time to look at your options. Compare them one by one to your list of needs and you’ll be able to find the one that will work best for your website.