Many businesses with online stores are built with full-featured e-commerce software. The programs handle inventory upkeep, product display, checkout and much more. While the software is very useful, many established e-commerce owners really just want to start receiving payments from customers. They don’t need or want to buy this advanced software. They also don’t want to rebuild their site from scratch. Instead they simply want to add a way to sell their products online.
What these e-commerce business owners need is to add a shopping cart—the e-commerce tool that allows a site to collect credit card numbers from visitors.
Shopping Cart Software vs. the Shopping Cart
The term “shopping cart software” typically refers to complete site building systems. Some e-commerce owners who don’t want to rebuild their site can use just the checkout function from one of these programs.
The term “shopping cart” also refers to a hosted solution. In this scenario, a third party hosts a merchant’s checkout procedure, or may even host and maintain the software for a merchant’s entire store. With a hosted solution an e-commerce business owner is not responsible for processing credit card transactions, a cheap and simple solution for some small site owners.
While either shopping cart software or a shopping cart could work well for a site owner, a shopping cart can be a simpler and cheaper way to handle customer purchases and so much more. So let’s go shopping…for a shopping cart.
What Can a Shopping Cart Do For Me?
Today’s shopping carts, even the most basic ones, offer many functions, including:
Easy selection of items
A good shopping cart allows a shopper to add or remove items freely. Being able to remove an item is a necessary function. Many shoppers add several items but only plan on buying a few items. A good cart displays a running price total as shoppers add and remove items.
Tax calculation on purchases
A shopping cart handles a cumbersome task: tax calculation. A cart generates sales tax based on a shopper’s zip code. Every state has different rules about tax on purchases.
Shipping fee options
Your cart calculates shipping costs, and ideally, it will be equipped to interface with all the major shippers. Your cart should allow you to set any number of shipping options such as weight, flat-fee rate and by speed (overnight or standard).
E-mail confirmation of order and shipment
A good cart sends an e-mail confirmation of the shopper’s order and when the item(s) is shipped.
Customer purchase history is tracked through cookie technology. A cookie is a tiny data file sent from your site that is placed on the hard drives of your shoppers. Most e-commerce programs use this technology to offer special deals, discounts and coupons to returning customers.
Secure transaction with your shopping cart
A shopping cart needs a merchant account to accept credit cards. A merchant account comes bundled with some carts or you can get your own merchant account.
A cart’s main goal is to facilitate a secure transaction between your site and your customer, and between your site and your credit cart processor. It uses a SLL (Secure Sockets Layer) connection, which encrypts data to protect against hackers. A cart interfaces with a payment gateway. A gateway is an Internet-based infrastructure that enables secure data to flow between your Web host and your credit card processor.
Keep in mind that not every cart will interface with every payment gateway. Before you get set up with a payment gateway, make sure it will work with the cart you have.
So now that you have a better idea of what to expect from a shopping cart, you can move on to customizing it to make it even more effective for your e-commerce business. Read more about it in How to Put Your Shopping Cart to Work for You Part II.