Shopping Cart 101
Most of a business Web site is defined by style – how it looks and feels. Your shopping cart is different: It’s defined by functionality.
In e-commerce, function trumps glitzy graphics, flash and bold color palettes every time. The best storefront Web designs are glam-free and built with service and simplicity in mind.
The purpose of Web site shopping carts is straightforward: to collect a customer’s payment easily, accurately and securely.
There are two primary types of software: those you buy and install, or those leased from your Web site host for a monthly or annual fee.
Hosts who offer this service will design and manage your cart, keep it secure and add new features as they become available. One of our recent favorites is an audio component that walks tech-challenged customers through the checkout process.
Here are some good places to start your search:
Amazon.com: The Gold Standard
Amazon has one of the most widely admired – and imitated – storefronts and shopping carts on the Web. Among its best features:
- An “Add to Shopping Cart” button on every product page.
- Online bridal and baby gift registries.
- A “Tell a Friend” button for to e-mailing the page to others.
- Password-protected personal contact and financial information, with the ability to save your address and those of gift recipients.
- “One-click” completion of your order form.
- A “Wish List” for saving products you might decide to buy later.
- Intuitive customer relationship management (CRM) that remembers your previous purchases, then automatically offers recommendations for similar products.
- Customer product reviews.
If you decide to add a shopping cart to your business site, study Amazon.com for guidance and cues. One of the best: It is low-key, flash-free and doesn’t bombard you with jarring, annoying audio pitches or distracting visual gimmicks.
When to Hire a Pro
Shopping cart/storefront software is very complicated, and most small business owners don’t have the expertise or ability to create their own. We don’t recommend trying it: Too much rests on the outcome.
If you’re unable to find software with the features you must have, hire a professional to develop your own. He or she should have both the technical skill to make it work reliably, and the design sensibilities to make it look good.
Be sure a design mock-up is part of the deal, so you can test the shopping cart before your customer does. The process, including testing, shouldn’t take more than a month. But don’t rush it. You’ll need some time to catch and fix any bugs that show up (they will) or design elements you don’t like.
And include site management in your deal, at least for the first few critical months. You might have to pay more, but will rest easier knowing your online storefront is in capable hands.