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E-commerce for the rest of us. 

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In Depth
Choosing Your Shopping Cart
By Ahmed Saad, Technology Matrix Group - Copyright 2001
There are numerous shopping cart systems on the market today.  Each cart has its own features but the basic features are the same.  Such basic features include the ability to have a catalog of products, to keep a running basket for the customer, and to capture his payment information as he checks-out securely. 

In addition to the basics, each cart will offer you a multitude of features that may or may not be similar to other carts on the market.  The following are important criteria to consider when choosing the cart that is right for you:

  • Customer Interface (usability)
  • Administrative Interface (functionality)
  • Customizability
  • Scalability (number of products allowed)
  • Expandability
  • PRICE
  • Availability
  • Stability of the company
  • Support (official and non-official)
  • Robustness
  • Speed

Remember, there are no absolutes.  To get more favorable terms on one criteria you may have to compromise on another.

Customer Interface:

This is, in our opinion, the most important criterion.   Your store must be easy to navigate and clearly show the customer where to checkout with your product.  While this may largely relate to your design, the shopping cart may have a layout or checkout process that is counter-intuitive which may cost you sales.   If the cart is flexible and allows you to configure the layout and checkout process to be exactly how you want it that's great - otherwise make sure that the parts you cannot change will not cause confusion to your customer.  You must be satisfied with your cart's customer interface.

Administrative Interface:

This is the second most important criterion simply because this is what you will live with as you manage your store.  The harder it is, the less likely you will be to want to deal with it and the more miserable you will feel.   You should be comfortable with the administrative interface.

Customizability:

This is what gives your store its identity and makes your design stand out.  Miva Merchant is extremely customizable and this is one of the features that makes it very attractive in the online shopping cart market.

Scalability:

Some carts can handle 100 products, some can handle more, and others a lot less.  Miva Merchant can handle a virtually unlimited number of products.

Expandability:

There isn't any software that will fit all people.   Each person has his own needs depending on his product/service offerings, and his particular market niche.  Selling downloadable software is different from selling books and involves a very different manner of delivery. You need to make sure that if your cart does not have less traditional features, there are suitable and reasonably priced add-ons (modules) to satisfy your needs.

Price:

Undoubtedly if price were not an issue you could get everything you wished for in a shopping cart... but price is always an issue.   Include in your assessment all related costs including add-ons that you will require (if any), installation, and support.  Some IHPs may offer certain carts for free but you may find yourself paying other fees that will negate the "free" cart.  In reality most IHPs include the price of the cart in the setup fee, but you will need to ask.

Availability:

The more IHPs offering a particular cart the easier it is for you to find support and to switch IHPs if your hosting company is not satisfying you.

Stability:

No one wants to buy software from a company that is likely to go out of business.  The longer a company has been in business the more confident one can be that it will continue to be a player  in the market. 

Support:

Official (from the company) and unofficial (websites like Miva HeLp, support groups, developers, books, etc..) are often crucial in deciding which cart to use.  Obviously the more people out there supporting a particular cart the more likely you are to get help when you need it.

Robustness:

Can the cart handle traffic and multiple shoppers at the same time?  Does the database corrupt easily?

Speed:

While speed is a function dependant on many variables, the shopping cart software is an important factor in the mix.  Up until the latest version, Miva Merchant was considered slower than the average shopping cart.   However, Merchant version 4 is as fast as most shopping carts on the market today.  

  It is clear that Miva Merchant is our choice of shopping cart.  We weighed all of the criteria above and chose it because it had the most favorable combination of factors for our needs.   We encourage you to research other carts on the market.

 

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