Starting Your E-Commerce Store: Building A Better Shopping Cart

FindingTheBestShoppingCart

This is our third installment in the “Starting Your E-Commerce Store” series. Check out the intro here, and part two (on payment gateways and merchant accounts) here.

When you go to the grocery store, you follow a pretty simple procedure. You find something you want to buy, put in it the cart, and go to the checkout line. While you might occasionally decide to return something to the shelf, or leave something at the front of the store when you discover it’s rotten or expired, you’re a pretty consistent grocery store shopper.

Now imagine if you shopped for groceries the way you shop for things online. You’d pile a hundred items in your cart, and then abandon it in the middle of the chip aisle. You know you’re going to barbecue on Sunday, but you’re not sure which brand of hot dogs and hamburgers you’re going to use, so you just toss them all in the cart and come back to the store three days later when you’re ready to start cooking. Or you put a bunch of items in your cart, but then remember you forgot to get parsley and leave your cart to go get it. On your return your cart is empty.

Fortunately, grocery store shopping isn’t like online shopping. But too many online retailers assume all shopping carts are equal, and lose out on potential sales as a result. Shopping carts empty each time someone leaves a site. They’re hard to keep up with while you’re shopping, and it’s hard to know when you’re done with browsing and ready to check out. Studies estimate that up to two thirds of filled shopping carts are abandoned before someone makes a purchase.

Building a better shopping cart is one of the most important things you can do to make your e-commerce site more productive. In this guide, we’ll discuss, first, a few features to look for when choosing a shopping cart, and then we’ll feature a few shopping carts that help you create a better shopping environment for your customers.

Leave No Item Behind: Perpetual and Persistent Carts

Adding an item to a cart is a critical step for a consumer. It means that they want something so much that they’re willing to consider purchasing it. When someone puts an item in their cart, they’re just a few clicks away from making a purchase.

But too often something goes wrong before someone makes the purchase. Maybe they go to another tab to do a bit of research on the item, and when they return they find that their shopping cart is empty. Or they add something to their cart, shop a little more, and then forget they were planning to buy something in the first place.

If you’re trying to solve your cart problems, the first thing you do is create perpetual and persistent carts. Perpetual carts are carts that show up on every single page of your site. They serve to remind the customer that, yes, they have added an item to the cart. Persistent carts, on the other hand, are carts that remember what you added to the cart hours, days, or even months ago by using a persistent cookie.

Used in tandem, perpetual and persistent carts increase your sales by making it easy for the customer to go from adding an item to the cart to making a purchase. You can also partner these cart innovations with other sales techniques, like emailing cart abandoners, or offering flash sales to customers who already have added an item to the cart.

Making the Sale: Payment Gateways and Shopping Carts

When your customers decide to check out, what happens? Are they given a wall of forms to fill out? Do they need to decipher a barely legible captcha? Are they forced to use PayPal or enter their credit card number?

If you’re losing customers because they don’t like your payment interface, you need to improve it, and find ways to keep your customers from abandoning your cart just before they close the sale. For example, if you collect their contact information before you ask for their financial information, it will be easier to ask them to complete their order at a later date. You can also make purchasing a product a multi-step process, so any one stage doesn’t overwhelm your customers.

Plenty of Carts to Choose From

Like many e-commerce solutions, shopping carts come in all varieties, from pricey, full-featured services to free, build-your-own solutions. Here are a few carts to consider, depending on your needs and your budget:

Magento—Magento offers the best of both worlds, free, open source software for people who are willing to configure the program themselves, and fully supported, paid software for large businesses. For developers, Magento offers courses and certifications in their software, so it’s easy to learn how to build carts that meet your, or your client’s, needs.

Shopper Press—If you’re already using WordPress, installing the Shopper Press theme, which transforms your website into an online store. While Shopper Press makes it easy to create an online store, customization can be difficult, depending on your needs.

Zen Cart—One of the most popular shopping carts out there, Zen Cart is completely free, so you’ll be on your own if you need help setting it up. Fortunately, Zen Cart’s training manuals, wikis, and other materials are great, so help isn’t too far away.

We’ve only scratched the surface of shopping carts, as solutions from the free Open Cart to the paid cs.cart make it easy to set up an online store depending on your skill level and needs.

When you’re choosing a shopping cart, you’ll want something that’s easy to install, maintain, and update. But, you’ll also want a cart that will help you make sales. From persistent and perpetual carts to efficient checkout methods, a good shopping cart can help make your e-commerce site a success.

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