If you run a small business that is entering the e-commerce space, then you've researched shopping carts and may be trying to figure out how to set one up.
If you're handling everything yourself and don't have the help of an IT department, then you're most likely going to utilizing a Software as a Service (SaaS) shopping cart solution. That means that the cart is hosted by the cart company and you can access the control panel through the internet to edit settings. Even though many of these web based shopping carts have simplified interfaces with user friendly controls, there is a lot to understand in order to get it configured the way that you want it. Below is a list of some of the most important steps that must be taken during the setup process:
The first step for every e-commerce shopping cart setup is to get your products configured. For some, this process is much easier than others. The most common names for products are items, product IDs and SKUs. One of the most important factors when setting up your products is that you use a clear and defined SKU sequence. If you ever grow to the point where you need to utilize a fulfillment center, you will want to have simple SKUs that are easily identifiable. It's usually best to always error on the side of simplicity. Instead of attempting to jam descriptions into the SKU (i.e.: “Short-Sleeve-RED-LARGE”) try to utilize simple numeric codes (i.e. “11001”). This makes the item easier to locate on a shelf if the order is being manually picked. It also leaves you room to add additional items within the same scheme.
Another issue, especially for apparel merchants, is using item “options”. Be careful not to set up items such as “1001” for a certain t-shirt design – and then add the size or color option after. Each specific design, size and color needs to have its own unique SKU or else things can become very difficult to manage as you grow.
Most popular shopping carts give you multiple options for accepting payments. If you will be accepting credit cards via a standard merchant account, then you will need to connect it to your shopping cart via a payment gateway. Payment gateways are often furnished by the merchant services provider that set up your merchant account. If your gateway is on the list of integrated payment methods for your cart, then the implementation should be quick and easy. Other common payment methods are PayPal and Google Checkout/Wallet. Normally, all that's required to configure these methods are your logins and perhaps and API access key. Always place test orders to make sure that the process is working correctly before going live.
All carts have a standard order number sequence that they follow and for the most part no change is needed. But some have extremely long order IDs or timestamp based order ID schemes that can cause trouble if you ever find yourself in the situation that you need to pass the orders to a 3PL software or inventory management software. If possible, reset the order ID scheme to a numeric ID with 4 or 5 digits. This can eliminate any future trouble.
One of the main issues with using a web based SaaS shopping cart is custom skinning the pages of the cart. If you have an existing front end website, your customers will get passed to another server hosted by the cart company to enter their information and submit their order. Although this allows you to avoid any data safety concerns, it's not ideal if the customer thinks that they're still not on the same website. It's important that you skin the cart with the aesthetics that match your site so that the purchase process is seamless and the customer is not dissuaded from finishing the transaction. The level to which you can customize the look and feel varies greatly from cart to cart. In some cases basic html knowledge may be required. While some carts have robust controls that allow you to upload a logo and dictate background colors etc. others may require html programming.
There are a couple of ways that you can configure your shipping options; you can either utilize integrated carrier options or you can set your own rates through custom methods based on tables. Most carts have pre-existing integrations with the main shipping carriers. This allows you to setup an account with USPS, UPS and/or FedEx and enter those account details into the cart. This way, when a customer adds an item to their cart, the shipping costs are automatically calculated by communicating with the carrier’s server. In some cases the cart will have a shipping module and can actually generate the box label. Alternatively, if you want more control over your configuration and rates you can set up your own table pricing based on weight, subtotal or number of items entered, and then dictate the actual carrier in separate shipping and warehouse management software.
Additional 3rd Party Integrations
Since you are putting everything into your e-commerce business, you may as well get everything that you can back out of it. So check with your cart and see which 3rd party applications and services they are integrated with. Email list management services, analytics services, additional marketplaces (Amazon etc) are all components of a successful e-commerce venture.
What shopping cart solutions do you recommend? Feel free to leave them in the comments below!
Mark Flick is an e-commerce entrepreneur and consultant who writes about topics including web marketing, order management and fulfillment