With Americans spending nearly $31 billion dollars online during last year's holiday shopping season, many new ecommerce retailers are eager to solidify their shopping cart setup and begin advertising. Depending on the shopping cart setup approach chosen, learning curves can be steep. Merchants must have clear business objectives when researching different shopping cart platforms. But there are several steps a merchant can take to prepare for business online even before shopping cart setup to facilitate a smooth transition to the ecommerce marketplace.

The process of shopping cart setup need not slow down retailers who are eager to begin selling online. Adequately preparing for the ecommerce launch and selecting a quality shopping cart provider are essential steps for efficient startup. For example, shopping carts like UltraCart can offer many advanced features, but also simplify the intial setup process into a small number of steps(as noted on the above "five minute" setup process screen), allowing the merchant to return as time goes on to add more functionality.

Optimize Web Design

This might seem like an obvious first step, but it's nevertheless worth mentioning. Before initiating shopping cart setup and beginning aggressive marketing, merchants should evaluate their websites according to typical ecommerce success standards. Competitive ecommerce websites that sell products will feature several pictures for each listing, illustrating multiple angles, colors and sizes where possible. Detailed product descriptions can help companies in SEO rank. Additionally, merchants should research their preferred shopping cart program to see if it offers custom designs to match the look and feel of their websites. (Like other full featured shopping carts, UltraCart provides screen branding services to aid in this effort.)

Create A Merchant Account

Companies preparing for shopping cart setup should have a merchant account and potentially a separate payment gateway with a bank or other financial entity that offers credit card processing. When customers purchase goods from a site, the company should be able to process several different forms of payment. Merchant accounts allow businesses to facilitate these transactions. Providers will run credit checks on businesses wanting to create merchant accounts. Businesses should choose a merchant account that uses a payment gateway that is PCIDSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) compliant. (UltraCart features their PCI Level 1 status prominently on its homepage.)

Use SSL Encrypted Pages

If merchants invite customers to disclose their credit and debit card information online, they must take the necessary steps to protect it. Some payment processors enter sensitive information on a third-party website that is already protected. But if merchants gather payment information from a form on their websites, they will need to implement extra security measures to encrypt credit card information during transmission. (UltraCart is a fully SSL-enabled shopping cart.)

Decide On Fulfillment And Shipping

eCommerce shopping cart setup requires merchants to decide whether their orders will be fulfilled in-house or outsourced. If merchants decide on using an external distribution center, they must check to see if their centers are integrated with the shopping cart platforms they select. Alternatively merchants who decide to manage fulfillment in-house must choose a shopping cart platform that can export their orders into their shopping cart system. (For example, UltraCart and import them into their shipping centers' systems for processing using a custom mapping system for those situations where a pre-configured integration doesn't exist.) Advanced features such as "bidirectional tracking" may be worth investigating as they can allow information such as shipment tracking to be transmitted back to the user in various ways.

How Are You Going To Handle Returns

Merchants should also decide on the different shipping options they will offer and their return and exchange policies before beginning shopping cart setup. Many times, there will be variations in how to apply a return policy, such as changes with certain locations which may have different taxing approaches and also may require different return handling conditions. Other considerations for crafting a return policy which balances merchant profitability with customer satisfaction include:

  • Deciding what items can and cannot be returned and under what conditions, for instance some perishable items may not be practically returned
  • Setting a reasonable time frame for actually returning the item, which can also be affected by the type of the item and its use pattern (very fragile items may be more subject to breakage by the customer if left in their hands a long period of time before returning)
  • Giving the actual return item location is crucial, particularly if the item ships from one location but may need to be returned to another
  • How to exactly return the item and what needs to go with it like original packaging, identification (such as original order number or return authorization, if a return needs to be authorized ahead of time and how to obtain that, etc.)
  • Who will pay for the return and what forms of shipping may or may not be acceptable and if the return fees might actually be credited toward the original or another purchase
  • If an item can be returned in person if the customer is near a physical location or a partner that may sell the products locally

Organize Customer Service

Much of a company's customer service plan becomes interwoven in shopping cart setup pages. Contact information should be readily visible. Before initiating shopping cart setup, businesses should consider obtaining a toll-free phone number and email address to advertise on their websites. Live chat options help efficiently move customers through the purchase process.

Create A Privacy Policy

Privacy policies help online customers feel that their information is protected. Merchants who promote their privacy policies build trust with their clients. Privacy policies can be created through many different companies including Buy Safe. They offer privacy seals that can be featured on company webpages.

Special Considerations When Choosing A Shopping Cart

If merchants have completed the above steps and are ready for shopping cart setup, but still haven't decided on which platform to choose, they should at the very least organize their companies' needs and goals to determine which programs best suit them. Merchants should consider their companies' long-term goals and match them with a platform. If they plan on expanding their businesses, they should choose a shopping cart system that can easily handle additional products and services. They should choose a cart that boasts of easy installation, complete administrative control, and seamless integration with existing websites, as well as a full range of support features (including the ability to have the cart provider themselves setup the shopping cart if the merchant desires.)

In order to avoid potential fees, merchants should make sure their web hosts match those allowed with the shopping cart. Hosting information should be available on the web host site. (For instance, UltraCart is compatible with all web hosting services since it uses direct URL's associated with buy buttons on the merchant's site.)

Finally, merchants shouldn't overlook good old-fashioned word-of-mouth feedback. They should ask other online retailers about the carts they use and what they think the carts' strong and weak points are. If they buy something online and especially like the shopping carts they used, they can email or call the companies to ask which platforms they've integrated.

Completing all these recommended steps before shopping cart setup not only eases the headache involved with installation, but it places online merchants in the most competitive position possible when it's time to begin selling.