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Introduction to Shopping Carts

You can use traditional methods to sell products such as direct mail, catalogs and advertising.  However, if you have a great online presence, the entire world is your marketplace at a fraction of the cost of most traditional methods.  To easily sell to this worldwide marketplace, you need a great shopping cart system.

Choosing a shopping cart system is perhaps the most important single decision you'll make in your online marketing career. This is because: You're stuck with the decision for a long time.  If you buy into a system that isn't adequate, it can cost you money--big money--because it won't maximize the amount of money spent by each visitor.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of off-the-shelf, free and alternative products out there vying for your money, time or both.  And most of them are junk...

Don't suffer like I did. I learned the hard way.  When I started on the Internet I couldn't find a decent shopping cart program, so I took one that was highly recommended by my ISP (I now know the only reason they suggested it was because it made them the most money.  They didn't care if it was the best one for me or not).  What a headache!  The system wouldn't do anything but take the order, but you had to have a PhD in computer science to work on it.

If you have a poor shopping cart, get rid of it.  I know that hurts, because you may have spent lots of time and money getting it going, but a bad one will cost you many thousands of dollars by waiting to replace it later rather than sooner.

Oh, and one more thing: if you hear the shopping cart programmer answer one of the questions below by saying, "Well, we could make it do that," run away even faster, because you're going to get stuck with a big custom programming bill with no guarantees that the cart is going to work the way you expected.

Here are 22 questions you absolutely, unfailingly must ask anyone trying to sell you a shopping cart.  If you don't hear positive answers to the majority of these questions, put your wallet back into your pocket and evaluate the next option.  Don't get stuck with a crappy shopping cart, even if they give it to you free.

Every question below is very important when it comes to having a quality shopping cart system that gets more money out of the same number of visitors.

  1. Will it calculate shipping and tax?

  2. Does it handle specialized shipping like FedEx and UPS?

  3. Will it automatically deliver hard goods and soft goods (e- books and other digital products) in the same transaction?

  4. Does it offer customizable "Return to Shopping" pages without needing custom programming?  This is important so you can send your customers to the most likely product they will buy next.  Standard carts just send customers back to the main catalog, which forces them to search for related products.  This is both irritating and time-consuming.  Any delays in finding what they want could mean a lost sale, when they finally throw their hands up in disgust and move on to your competitor's site.

  5. Does it offer customizable "Thank You" pages based on what the customer just bought?  These are pages where savvy marketers put affiliate links and other offers specifically related to the customer's interests.  When a customer clicks on one of these links and buys something from someone else, you get a commission. 

  6. Does it deliver receipt and confirmation e-mails automatically?  The customer wants to know immediately that the order went through.  If he or she is unsure, you are going to have to field many wasted e-mails and phone calls letting the customer know everything is OK. 

  7. Does it allow multiple order and drop ship e-mails?  In many cases, several different people in your organization and/or outside your organization need notice of an order.  Again, you don't want to have to do this manually.

  8. Does it have a Web-based administration page so you can work on your cart from any computer that has Internet access?

  9. Does it include encryption technology and a secure server?  Many companies make a fortune by sucking you in with a cheap or free cart and then make money on selling you an overpriced secure server.

  10. Does it deliver easy output to your accounting software?  You want to be able to import and export data easily between the cart and whatever programs you have that need to share the customer and sales information.

  11. Does it have its own associate/affiliate program or is it easily compatible with other major brands of associate software?  An affiliate program lets other people promote and sell your products on their Web sites.  You don't pay them unless they sell something.  When I tried to get an associate/affiliate program to work with my old cart, it cost me six months of down time and untold amounts of money lost because it wouldn't work.  The associate program people blamed the shopping cart people and vice versa.  But ultimately I was left holding the bag.

  12. Does it have an integrated sales and prospect database?  In the old days I would have to print out orders and then retype them into ACT or some other database program.  A good shopping cart system eliminates all this hassle and potential for error and gives you instant access to your sales reports and clients.

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