Web and Ecommerce 7.9. Ecommerce: Shopping Carts and Catalogs

Ecommerce: Shopping Carts and Catalogs

On the face of it, e-commerce seems simple enough. You get some products. You get a Web site. People shop your Web site, toss a few things into their shopping cart, and then send you money.

If only it were that easy! There are actually quite a few moving parts to an e-commerce site and the transactions that take place there:

· Database: unless you’re offering a limited and highly static merchandise mix, your product catalog resides in a database that includes product pictures, descriptions, and SKU’s (stock-keeping units, i.e., the “code” that uniquely identifies your product). Your database will also include customers and orders―and if you’ve done things correctly, all the fulfillment information, as well.

  • Shopping cart and checkout pages: these are a series of HTML pages that manage the shopping and purchase process. They pass values from one page to another so that shopping and order information is not lost if the user navigates to other pages before checking out.
  • Certificate: since users are sending very confidential information―their credit card numbers and billing information―out into cyberspace, you must provide encryption to keep this information safe from prying eyes. E-commerce encryption is accomplished through an Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate unique to your site (or hosting service).
  • Payment gateway: every time someone uses a credit card, that card has to be verified and the payment authorized by a payment gateway. You have to purchase the services of a payment gateway to make e-commerce possible on your site.
  • Merchant account: the credit card transaction has to go somewhere, and that’s always some bank or financial institution. Most typically, the transaction ends up in a Web-enabled merchant account designed to process the reconcilement process for Web-based credit card transactions. (Your personal account will not work because it is not designed for credit card reconcilement or the attendant risk of credit card transactions).
  • Fulfillment: often overlooked in the planning, fulfillment is actually getting the product to the customer and is the most important and costly part of the whole e-commerce equation.

Shopping cart programs typically combine the first two elements―product database and checkout system―into one product. Sometimes they even include certificates, payment gateways, and even a merchant account. Fulfillment, obviously, cannot be included in any shopping cart!

7.9.1. Google Checkout

http://checkout.google.com

Google Checkout combines checkout pages, a payment gateway, and SSL certificate in one free package. You pay no setup, monthly, or payment gateway fees. Google Checkout also includes free fraud detection services that filter out fraudulent transactions. They will also cover any chargeback fees on a fraudulent transaction that their system passes.

Google Checkout is hosted on the Google servers, but customers never leave your site. However, your customers do have to set up an account with Google Checkout and login before they can purchase from your store―so you’ll lose buyers in the checkout process if you rely solely on Google Checkout.

Google Checkout is only available for transactions in the U.S. and U.K. and has broad restrictions on the products and services you can sell through their system. Adult-themed goods and books, academic papers, cable box descramblers, investment consulting, travel packages, cigarettes, and on and on. While some things are obvious (child pornography), the list of restricted content is pretty long. You should read the banned content list with great care before signing on to the service.

Many companies, like Buy.com, choose to use Google Checkout in addition to their site-specific checkout pages.

7.9.2. osCommerce

http://www.oscommerce.com

osCommerce is a free, open-source product catalog, shopping cart, and checkout system that is the most installed and most-used shopping cart software available. The software, which uses PHP as the scripting language and MySQL as the backend database, runs on any server equipped with a PHP 4.1+ interpreter and MySQL database administration system. The osCommerce shopping cart, with many add-ons, is very commonly offered free with many hosting packages (see 7.4).

The software is rich in features. Over 3,600 add-ons created by the osCommerce developer community extend the features of an osCommerce-equipped Web store.

The product catalog allows you to create product categories and include product attributes, manufacturers, reviews, and specials to the catalog. In addition to a full ordering system, the software also allows customers to create custom accounts.

Shipping modules allow you to charge a flat rate shipping fee, per item shipping fee, table (multiple shipping methods) shipping fees, UPS, or zone rates―or all of the above. Fees can include a low order fee, a shipping fee, sub-total, and tax. A tax rates module helps you set the right sales tax based on the user’s billing information. Finally, you can localize the catalog and shopping cart in currency, language, order status, or weight classes.

Additional tools that come standard with the basic software include database backup, a banner manager, cache control (which speeds up the process when a user returns to the shopping cart after browsing through your store), a newsletter manager, and a Web statistics package.

7.9.3. Miva Merchant

http://www.miva.com/products/merchant

Miva is the most popular commercial shopping cart used by small- to medium-sized businesses. Depending on the package you purchase, Miva Merchant includes a product catalog, site design interface, payment gateway, SSL certificate encryption, and a shopping cart. Miva Merchant comes in three flavors:

  • The Express shopping cart, designed for home-based and small businesses, runs $15 per month. Features include administration tools, store design tools, product catalog, order management, flat rate shipping, local tax calculation, and a payment gateway. Miva Merchant Express also integrates with Google Checkout (see 7.9.1) and PayPal.
  • For $595, Miva Merchant Fast Track is designed for larger online stores. Features include administration tools, store design tools, product catalog, inventory tracking, upselling, customer accounts, order management, several shipping options, and affiliate program management. Miva Merchant Express also integrates with PayPal.
  • Miva 5 is designed for enterprise e-commerce and costs $995. Features include administration tools, store design tools, product catalog, inventory tracking, upselling, customer accounts, order management, encryption, several shipping options, and affiliate program management. Miva Merchant Express also integrates with PayPal.

7.9.4. Agora Cart

http://www.agoracart.com

Agora Cart, like osCommerce, is a free, open-source product catalog and shopping cart very frequently offered free with many hosting packages (see 7.4). The software is primarily designed for start-ups and small businesses looking for a quick, inexpensive, and easy way to get up and going with an e-commerce site. Like osCommerce, the Agora Cart developer community has produced a pile of add-ons that, when combined with the original software, make Agora Cart competitive even with the priciest commercial shopping carts.

Features include:

  • Storewide design
  • Templates
  • Product catalog and database that allows you to group products by unlimited categories―also includes custom product or category pages
  • Customizable home page
  • Unlimited product options
  • Local tax calculation and multiple tax tables
  • “Top Ten,” “Featured,” and “New Products” lists
  • Discounts
  • Inventory management
  • Multiple payment methods
  • Multiple shipping options

Agora Cart is compatible only with Unix and Linux servers and requires a PHP 5+ interpreter.

7.9.5. Zen Cart

http://www.zencart.com

Zen Cart is another free, open-source shopping cart popular with small businesses and hosting services. Like osCommerce and Agora Cart, hosting services very commonly offer Zen Cart as a free add-on to their hosting services. A significant number of business people and online store owners are part of the Zen Cart development community; as a result, the software is one of the easiest to use.

Features include:

  • Product catalog that allows unlimited products and categories
  • Customer accounts
  • Multiple sales and discounts―quantity discounts, military discounts, price-sensitive discounts, etc.
  • Discount coupons
  • Gift certificates
  • Featured products
  • Multiple shipping options
  • Multiple payment options
  • Ad banner manager
  • Newsletter manager
  • Sideboxes
  • Multiple languages and currencies

7.9.6. Volusion

http://www.volusion.com

Volusion shopping cart software is commercial software that includes a Web site builder, product catalog, order processor, and marketing modules. Hosting, SSL certificate encryption, and a payment gateway are included in the package. Among all the commercial packages, Volusion provides the most feature-rich package available. However, the various packages limit the number of products and product categories you can have in your store. Furthermore, because the product is tied into Rackspace managed hosting, limitations in storage and bandwidth may cause you problems.

Features include:

  • Web site building tools
  • Product catalog that limits the number of products and catalogs you can have based on the package you purchase
  • Hosting (Rackspace)
  • SSL certificate encryption
  • Payment gateway
  • Multiple discount options
  • One-page checkout
  • Customer accounts
  • Multiple shipping options
  • Multiple payment options
  • PayPal integration
  • Multiple currencies and languages

Volusion offers several packages that are largely differentiated by the number of products you can carry in your store.

  • Steel: 20 products for $30 per month ($99 setup fee) including hosting with 1GB data transfer per month
  • Bronze: 100 products for $50 per month ($129 setup fee) including hosting with 2GB data transfer per month
  • Silver: 250 products for $80 per month ($129 setup fee) including hosting with 3GB data transfer per month
  • Gold: 1,000 products for $100 per month ($129 setup fee) including hosting with 5GB data transfer per month
  • Platinum: unlimited products for $197 per month ($129 setup fee) including hosting with 15GB data transfer per month


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