You and your Shopping Cart

By: Zoviet

The last time I spoke of ecommerce, I believe I was complaining about how I may (may) have had my credit card info compromised. To this day I'm uncertain of how it happened, or what, exactly, even happened. Just that there was that nagging little unknown five bucks on the statement, and, well, better safe than sorry. No further issues have occurred, but it's always enjoyable to sit back and take a moment to peruse the old online statement with some regularity.

Especially nice are the "Oh, wait, I really did buy that" moments such reviews engender.

My spotty purchasing record is not the subject of this blog, though perhaps it might be far more entertaining if it was. No, we're going to revisit the world of ecommerce, however briefly, to commemorate of recent addition of a new MIVA product to the Apollo family.

Some Advice on Carting Things Around

Lift with your knees, not your back. Wait... shopping carts, right. Well, I have covered some of the territory here in an article or two on our articles site. I'll try to pretend to be a little more entertaining here in terms of presentation.

Picking Your Poison and Sticking With It. Quite possibly the most important step is the actual choice of shopping cart. Picking your cart is important primarily because, though not impossible, it is no simple task to change, especially for larger stores. Those lucky folks with two or three products have a unique luxury in being able to bounce around from cart to cart if they desire. Their set-up time will always be pretty small. Get up to 30, 50, 100, 1000 products... and you've got quite a lot time on your hands if you suddenly decide a shopping cart "isn't right for you."

Keeping A Skeleton Key In Your Back Pocket. So, you have a big catalog and want to minimize the risk if you need to change your cart? One method, that will require a little extra work (of course), is keeping a platform independent backup of your catalog. Basic stuff, like CSV files, can be imported into a variety of shopping cart programs, even vastly different ones. Some shopping carts can export to these simple formats, so perhaps you won't have to maintain a separate copy of your catalog manually. Still, it's worth the additional effort even if you do, as this is one of those all too common "you may regret it if you don't" kind of things.

Basically, keeping some updated, backed-up CSV files handy will make any transition safer and easier. Most modern carts have some sort of product import capability, and more often than not, they'll support CSVs.

Substance Over Style. What else to consider? Looks are important, but don't leap at the first pretty face you see. Though there is certainly something to be said for having an "attractive" store, there's a fair amount "leeway" between something so bad that people leave, and something that's acceptable but won't win any Internet beauty pageants.

The bottom line is people will abandon carts more often for usability issues than purely aesthetic concerns. If your cart is hard to use, you'll lose more customers than if your cart is just "plain looking." Someone who has already been motivated to buy will not care what color the screen is, just that he can move smoothly and clearly from "add to cart" to "submit order". Always consider how the cart handles as your primary concern, over and above simple aesthetics.

Building the Perfect List. Customers have to use the cart, but so do you, and you'll be using it a lot more than they will. Don't tackle something that's too big or too complex to start off with. If you absolutely have to have a powerful, feature-packed cart, then give yourself time to learn the basics. Since your store is a source, if not your primary source, of income, this isn't something to leave to chance or to trust with "on-the-job" training.

Create a list of what you absolutely need to have the shopping cart do and make your choices from there. Be thorough but don't overreach. The list should have only what you need to get your products online and allow people to order them. Expand the list to include where you want to go, and make sure the cart you choose will serve you now and in the future. Again, the idea is to minimize the chance you'll have to move to a different shopping cart solution entirely. This goes back to that "it's a real pain in the butt" thing to which I alluded earlier.

Finally: Get Online. Hosting considerations for your cart are just as complex as picking one in the first place. Obviously you'll need to find a host that offers the cart you want (and we have many fine choices, of course), but you'll need to carefully consider how much power your store will need. This may be difficult to really pin down, especially if the store is brand-new, but a basic rule of thumb will be "more products, more power."

Pretty much all shopping carts are databases. Whether they use their own proprietary database format, or one of the many open source ones, these databases require server interactivity to build the catalog and product pages whenever a customer starts browsing. Storefront pages essentially require more "effort" on the part of the server to display than do regular, static HTML pages.

The bigger the database the server has to sift through to provide the right information, the more power is needed in order to keep everything running along at a decent rate. Factor this in with popularity (more people browsing at the same time), and you may end up needing some serious power.

That about covers the basics. Selling online, like most things, online, takes a little preparation. If you're willing to do the required prep work, think about what you need, and make good choices, it will be a lot easier than just jumping with fingers crossed.

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