To help you navigate the sea of competing ecommerce platforms and identify the best solution for your business, I’ve compiled this list of top ten must-have ecommerce features that you should be looking for (and asking questions about) as you seek a suitable shopping cart to serve your online store.
You’ll want your shopping cart solution to provide you with. You’ll want control over your own title tags, meta descriptions and keywords so that you can easily optimize at-will for the search engines. You’ll also want your solution to automatically generate keyword-rich URLS based on your product and category names and to generate page code that is XHTML 1.0 strict compliant.
PCI Compliant Hosting & Security
Because your website will need to accept online payments, you must find a provider who can host your website in a PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliant environment. If you don’t know anything about PCI Compliance, you’ll need to understand your role in complying with the DSS (Data Security Standards). Currently, the card industry mandates that any merchant, organization or software that processes, stores or disseminates credit card data must be PCI DSS compliant or they risk hefty fines and/or losing the ability to process credit cards altogether thus putting your entire business in jeopardy. Although there is a lot more involved with PCI compliance than just hosting your site in a compliant environment, this is your first step.
Up-selling & Cross-selling Features
Up-selling is offering customers a product that is of greater value than the product they are currently considering or adding options/features to the product they are buying in an attempt to increase their spend. Cross-selling refers to selling items that are complementary to the item they are purchasing. Be sure to make these techniques a part of your product marketing plan both online and off. Any suitable shopping cart technology will offer automated features that can accomplish these marketing techniques for you with some simple set-up. Make sure that your shopping cart solution offers these valuable recommendation tools.
Product Review Feature
Product reviews are a very powerful product marketing tool. In fact, research shows that even bad reviews help to sell more product than not showing reviews for a product at all. You’ll want an ecommerce solution that lets you enable customers to post reviews of the products that you sell. You can always review the posts before you choose to display them or choose to display reviews automatically on the website.
Flexible Pricing Management
You’ll want to find a shopping cart that offers flexible pricing features and allows you to set-up multiple pricing options to accommodate things like promotional pricing for any product, customer, order, or time frame, wholesale or retail pricing (or both) displayed to your customers via the same catalog interface and which allows you to set-up affiliate pricing, accepts coupon codes, allows for quantity-based pricing and has tax-exempt support.
Robust Catalog Management
Identify a solution that allows you to get your store started quickly by offering a bulk import/export of your catalog. You’ll find that this feature will support you throughout the life-cycle of your business and not just at start-up. Make sure that the solution also offers product cloning to simplify catalog additions, automatic resizing of your product images and has some strong inventory management capabilities such as letting you set minimum quantities and identify back ordered items.
Solid Analytics & Reporting
Look for a solution that integrates with Google Analytics to demonstrate real-time site and search ranking data and that offers a variety of other product performance reporting capabilities, which you’ll need to accurately monitor your business. Be sure that you can export and save these reports.
You’ll want your shopping cart solution to integrate with the major shipping providers such as USPS, UPS and Fedex and you’ll want the ability to markup shipping rate-quotes by a percentage or by a flat amount so that you have the option to charge transparent handling fees.
Product Feed Support
You’ll want your shopping cart solution to have a product feed feature that will allow you to easily create a feed of your products that you can then upload to shopping comparison sites (aka “shopping engines”) such as Shopzilla, Shopping.com, Google Product Search, etc. and that will allow you to create multiple product feeds for each comparison engine.
Gift Certificate/Wishlist Features
Gift Certificate and Wishlist are two that play a major role in holiday sales conversions (according to a Demandware study). 64 percent of those surveyed said gift certificates equaled 25 percent of their online purchases and half of those surveyed said they shopped using someone else’s wishlist. So, be sure to utilize these features on your site and do not consider an ecommerce solution that does not boast a robust online gift certificate and wishlist feature-set.
Making an informed decision when choosing a solution for your ecommerce website can be the difference between a successful online business and one that fails within the first year, as 50 percent of new ecommerce businesses do. So, while evaluating your options thoroughly will take some time and effort, the investment in researching your provider’s ecommerce features carefully will be well worth it as your online business develops.
Taunia Lin Kipp is the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Information Security Officer for Mountain Media, a privately held corporation located in Saratoga Springs, NY and serving both national and international markets. The company’s proprietary eCommerce management platform, known as “Mountain Commerce” boasts the top ecommerce feature in the industry and was named to Practical eCommerce magazine’s list of notable shopping cart solutions in late 2007. Additionally, the company offers a full compliment of commercial Web services such as Search Engine Marketing, Graphic Design, Web Hosting and Merchant Services.