by Danna Henderson
Choosing an online shopping cart is a big decision. Unlike a traditional brick and mortar business, your website is your only chance to impress
potential customers. It needs to project a professional image to capture the trust of your visitors. The shopping cart is a particularly important
part of your website because it deals with peopleís personal information and credit card numbers. People are nervous about online purchases and
need to be assured that they are giving their credit card numbers to a reputable company.
There are several types of ecommerce shopping carts available. They range from merchant services, which require no programming skills, to fully
integrated shopping carts that require custom programming. The three main categories of shopping carts are:
- Merchant services such as eBay and 2Checkout
- Hosted shopping cart services
- Fully integrated shopping carts
Most shopping carts require you to have your own merchant account and gateway. A merchant account is a bank account that allows a business to
conduct credit card transactions and the gateway allows the transaction to be conducted over a secure connection. Itís okay if you donít have
a merchant account or gateway. Merchant service shopping carts allow you to use their merchant account, gateway and shopping cart for a higher
Merchant services are beneficial for very small businesses or those that are just starting and donít have a lot of orders. Merchant services
provide the merchant account, gateway, hosted shopping cart and will maintain your customerís personal information. They usually require a
set-up fee between 50 and 200 dollars, transaction fee between 30 and 75 cents, and 5% to 10% of each transaction. Because you are using their
merchant account, your customerís credit card statement will show the merchant services business name not yours. In some cases, customers will
not recognize the charge and may dispute it.
Merchant service shopping carts have an administrative interface, which allows you to login to your account to add products, prices and shipping
options. The shopping cart generates the html for the purchase buttons and you simply copy and paste the html into your web pages. When your
customer clicks on the purchase button, he is taken to another website to enter the credit card information. This indicates to the customer that
you are a small business. Some potential customers will abandon the shopping cart rather than enter their credit card information on a website
they know nothing about.
Once your business grows to the point where you are processing over $1000 a month, itís more cost effective to apply for your own merchant account
and switch to either a hosted shopping cart (little or no programming) or a fully integrated shopping cart (programming required).
Hosted Shopping Cart
The hosted shopping cart is a great solution for a small business that is processing over $1000 a month but does not have the resources to create
or customize a fully integrated shopping cart. Hosted shopping carts are similar to the merchant services because they provide an administrative
interface for you to enter products, pricing and shipping options. They will generate the html for the purchase buttons, which can be copied and
pasted into your html pages.
Hosted shopping carts face some of same problems as merchant service carts because your customers will be transferred to a different website to
enter the credit card information. Some hosted shopping carts allow you to customize the shopping cart so that it has the same look and feel as
your websites. Customizing your shopping cart may require some programming skills, but it could also prevent customers from abandoning their
The main difference between the merchant services shopping cart and the hosted shopping cart is the name that appears on the customerís credit
card and pricing. Hosted shopping carts allow you to use your own merchant account and gateway, which means the customerís credit card statement
will show your business name next to the charge. This can decrease your charge backs.
If you are using your own merchant account and conducting over $1000 of transitions each month, the hosted shopping carts can be less expensive
than merchant services. Your merchant account will probably charge a monthly fee between 20 and 60 dollars, transaction fee between 10 and 50
cents, and a percentage of the transaction, usually ranging between 2% to 3.5%. In addition to the merchant fees, your shopping cart service
will also charge a monthly fee between 10 and 30 dollars and could charge a transaction fee. These fees sound more expensive than the merchant
service option, but if you are processing over $1000 a month and growing, itís better to pay flat monthly fees than continue to be charged 5
to 10 percent of the each transaction.
Fully Integrated Shopping Carts
The fully integrated shopping cart is a great option for any business that can afford it. The shopping cart will be dynamic and will have the
same look and feel as your website. The ZIP Baby Potty Training Store is a great example of a fully integrated shopping cart. Fully integrated
shopping carts like this contain features that are not found in merchant service or hosted shopping carts. For example, you can discount items,
display customer reviews, assign products to multiple categories, display out of stock notifications, sort products and prices, and display
shipping estimates without requiring the customer to create an account.
Integrated shopping carts require advanced programming skills and can often be used with your own merchant account or with a service that allows
you to use their merchant account for a higher fee. There are many integrated shopping carts available. Free carts require the most programming
skills, but if you donít have the programming skills necessary to customize a free shopping cart, there are many companies that specialize in
customizing fully integrated shopping carts.
Your choice of a shopping cart can have a dramatic impact on your business. Your website is the first and only impression you get to make so
youíll want to make it as professional as possible. While shopping for a shopping cart system, put yourself in your target customerís shoes
and browse the Internet. Review your competitorís websites as well as those outside your industry. Make a list of shopping carts that you find
appealing and research them thoroughly before choosing one.
Copyright 2004 Danna Henderson. All Rights Reserved.
About The Author
Danna Henderson started ZIP Baby in order to provide parents with comprehensive potty training information and a large selection of potty
training products. For more information visit the ZIP Baby Potty Training Store .
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