Edited: (10/10/2018) We have updated this post to reflect changes in the shopping carts, popularity and other integration’s versus when this was initially published in 2012.
What shopping cart to use?
As a local store, you have had a hard enough time competing against the Walmarts of the world. Now with the continuing rise of Amazon and other online shopping sites, many local stores are realizing to compete, they need to open up their own online stores. The hard part is figuring out what platform to use. We continually try out and use various ecommerce shopping carts to find the best solution for both online and offline businesses.
Hosted versus Self Hosted
The first question that needs to be asked is whether to use a hosted or non-hosted shopping carts. The more technically oriented people I know, prefer to use a non-hosted shopping cart such as Woocommerce, Opencart or Magento. Hosted solutions include companies such as Big Commerce, Shopify and 3DCart though there are tons of cart providers out there.
The thought with self hosting is it gives you more control over what you can do with the cart and it is cheaper. Unfortunately I have found the total cost of ownership with a hosted cart is significantly lower, even than Woocommerce. With self-hosted carts you needed to have an upgraded hosting service, purchase your own SSL certificate and handle uploading data into a server. You also have to purchase your own Content Delivery Network, handle any flaws or hickups in the system and generally worry about uptime and downtime. This is a daunting thing to do even for those of us that are technically proficient.
Even if you are technically oriented, I still recommend against self hosting your shopping cart. It is not just because it ends up being more expensive but for local businesses there are other issues they need to worry about.
The Payment Card Industry, Data Security Standard is a set of rules that merchant account providers and carts follow to protect customers personally identifiable information. Those with traditional merchant accounts, especially from local banks and larger providers will need to provide proof of PCI compliance. If you self host, it is a harder to show compliance, but the carts we use all have been PCI-DSS Level 1 compliant for several years now.
Integrate Shopping Cart with POS system
Since most local businesses use some kind of Point of Sale system, the ability to update inventory between the two is important to a local store. Ask Best Buy what happened when they didn’t have this figured out. (Best Buy Christmas Failure) The carts we use have a variety of options for point of sales systems. Either, they have their own POS, or can easily integrate between simple POS systems like Square or Quickbooks.
In some cases we use Big Commerce to create stores for our local customers. We like Big Commerce for several reasons.
- Inexpensive – Their plans start as low as $25.00 a month
- Integrates with Square POS which is a great option for small retail stores.
- Shipping Functionality
- Easy to set up shipping zones down to the zip code level
- Easy to set up USPS, UPS and Fed Ex shipping
- Can create local pick up and local delivery options
- Flexible categories
- Beautifully designed templates
- Email Marketing – Connects with the many autoresponders to make email marketing easy
- Flexible Coupon and Discount options
- Easily make banners and web pages
- Upsell functionality
- Connects with Facebook Fan pages – See your products on your Fan Page
In other cases we use Shopify to create stores for our local customers. In the cases where we use Shopify, we like it because.
- Inexpensive – Their plans start at $29 a month
- Their own integrated POS system.
- Multiple sales channels
- Clean and simple website themes, designed or conversion
3DCart is a shopping cart we are beginning to play with again. For a while they had fallen behind but have been pleasantly surprised at how far they have come. We like 3DCart because:
- Inexpensive – Plans start at $19.00 a Month
- Multiple POS options including their own internal and Square integration
- Recurring orders in their higher plans (perfect for consumables)
Shopping Cart Ease of Use
While all these are important, what I like most is, these system are easy to use for my customers, even the least technically inclined. There are only two things about the shopping cart I don’t like. None of the carts have bandwidth overcharges anymore which was an issue when I first wrote this.
First is they don’t give you a ton of bandwidth so as your store grows it will become more expensive, yet I tell customers, if they have that many visitors, it’s a good thing. The only functionality it doesn’t have is the ability to do recurring billing. So if you are selling vitamins and want auto ship, it doesn’t offer it at this time. While they allow you to pull from an outside blog, I do wish they had a better blogging platform. Now carts have either fully integrated recurring billing (3DCart) or third party modules that allow it. Many have at the very least a rudimentary blogging system.
Thinking of Building an Online Store?
Check out Big Commerce, Shopify and 3DCart and give them a try if you like. They all offer free trials so it costs you nothing to try.
What if I already have a blog?
Already have an informational website or blog? You don’t have to give it up.
All we do is host the shopping cart in a subdomain. For example, on this site it would be shop.onlinestorehelp.com . This allows you to keep your blog and just add a store on the back end. Many of the carts allow you to embed buttons and stores within your wordpress site. Or you can also create your store on a subdomain. In fact, this is what Apple does in their own online store.
We also used Shopify but tend to suggest it for smaller boutiques with limited categories. What is nice is it integrates with an existing POS system to give you one integrated system to track inventory. Other options include:
Not sure what you want to do? You can purchase a consultation call where we will look at what you need for your store and give you the best option for your needs. You can reach us here.