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Starting an Online Business - Part II - Choosing a Shopping Cart

Choose a Web Host or Shopping Cart Again, I'm no expert here and I've followed in my brother's footsteps....if he went with a new company, that's what I chose. We've done that three times. At one point we were selling on eBay, eCrater, southernbellesandwhistles.com; pencechristmastreefarm.com; and trendytree.com. Wow....I'm tired just recounting that! Over a year ago we decided to stop selling on eBay. Fees were getting higher ever day and it was a hassle to keep products listed, etc. We also decided to drop the other two websites (kept the domains) and this year put our eCrater stores on hold. This move was scary because until now, if one website went down, another would be up. But lets face it, choose the right host and downtime will be very minimal to nonexistent. I'm not saying it never happens, but we have never had a significant outage at Trendy Tree. (I'll tell you who our provider is later.) Having one source for our orders to come in has enhanced our process tremendously. Our inventory is up to date and except on rare occasions, we have everything on each customer's order in stock. Whereas before, when were were selling on multiple venues it was impossible to keep inventory correct on each site. So we were constantly dealing with orders that would be for products that we had just run out of stock, or we didn't have the sufficient number to fill the order. Then you had to take time to contact the customer and so on. Have we lost some orders by dropping these other venues? Maybe. But that's a price we've been willing to pay in order to streamline our process and make our particular situation more manageable. Now, if you're planning to have multiple employees and someone that can keep websites updated minute by minute or have the resources for an IT team to implement Point of Sale software on all your computers, link it to all your websites and maintain it.....yes, I'd go for all of the above and more)) Features to Look For:
  • Search engine friendly URLs
  • Customer service - 24 hr 7 days a week
  • Set up that doesn't require computer programming experience
  • Pricing that fits your budget
  • Flexibility on customization of pages
  • Easy product set up
  • Inventory
  • Automatic uploads to Google Products
  • Free upgrades
  • Clear explanation of extra charges
  • Automatic or manual meta key words and meta descriptions
  • Multiple payment options
  • Multiple shipping options with "live" UPS, USPS, FedEx connections
  • Stats and analysis
  • Mailing list
  • Newsletter creation
  • Secure site that meets PCI requirements (credit card merchant requirements)
  • Bandwidth (some charge extra when bandwidth is exceeded)
  • Automatic site-map generation
These are just some of the features to look at when choosing a shopping cart. E-commerce sites have significantly different pricing if you have a few items to sell compared to a few hundred or a few thousand. Be sure to choose one that allows for growth in the event you need to move up to the next level. Some shopping carts start at pricing for less than 100 products, up to 1,000 or unlimited. Shopping carts such as Yahoo, Amazon etc, come with additional fees applied when you sell an item, so read all the fine print. When you've narrowed your list down to a couple of carts, ask for a trial shopping cart. This is available from many companies. Then you can actually play with the site, see what it's like to create a product page and practice navigating through the ordering process. I would encourage you to find a site that is simple, but effective. One that you can create the product pages by "filling in the blanks." Even if you don't do all the work personally with your site, you will need to be able to change things, add, or remove items, tweak descriptions, correct errors and a host of other things. You certainly don't want to be in the position of having to contact someone to change an erroneous price on a product and have to wait for that price change to be done, or to receive extra "gotcha" charges for every little thing you need to change. Who is our shopping cart provider? Is this and advertisement for SEO-Cart? No.......would we recommend SEO-Cart? Yes, we highly recommend SEO-Cart. Our experience with SEO-Cart has given us the confidence to make the changes we've done in the past couple of years such as dropping our other websites and narrowing our focus to this one avenue for selling online. Our down time has been practically non-existent and problems that have cropped up have been minimal and taken care of promptly and efficiently. Extra charges occur from time to time because of heavy traffic to our site.......this is a good thing remember))) It just costs us a little more during our busy season. Customer service is above and beyond and the staff has exhibited patience with clear and easy instructions as they have guided us through the process of setting up our site and maintaining our product inventory. If you're considering a shopping cart and would like to ask me any questions about SEO-Cart in particular, please send me an e-mail and I'll be happy to respond.
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