Shopping cart platforms serve as the foundation on which you will build, structure, and manage your online store. You can compare them to how important physical location and layout are for a brick-and-mortar store.
However, you can find hundreds of these platforms on the internet, all with their own sets of features, pricing plans, and unique qualities. The sheer number of options may seem overwhelming, especially because so much of your business’s online success depends upon selecting the right one.
And yet making a choice does not have to be difficult. You just need to know what to look for in a shopping cart platform.
1) Mobile-Ready Themes
The look and layout of your store comes from the theme you choose. You may customize it extensively if your platform permits it, but picking a template at least gives you a good place to start. You must make sure that you find an ecommerce platform with a wide variety of theme options that cater to a wide variety of tastes, tones, and styles.
Even if you find one that seems to look just right, you must also check that it feels right as well—that’s called good design. Good design means easy navigation, with neither you nor your visitors tripping over themselves trying to find particular information. Good design also means the interface itself is easy to understand and use—even on mobile devices, where many people now do their shopping.
In short, a theme should fit your business’s aesthetic, lets you quickly make changes to your website, and gives your customers a user-friendly and confusion-free experience. If you use a platform with an abundance of distinct and well-designed ecommerce templates, you increase your chances of finding the right one for your site.
2) Simple Set-Up
Some ecommerce solutions have a much steeper learning curve than others. As a result, just getting started with building your website can take longer than necessary. You may also need to invest more resources into the set-up, including hiring a developer, if the platform requires a certain amount of technical knowledge.
If you already have that knowledge, or the means to commission someone with that knowledge, then this is not much of a problem. However, there are plenty of shopping cart platforms out there that are user-friendly and easy to pick up.
Instead of losing time and resources on trying to create your online store, you can focus on improving your business.
3) Room to Grow
Platforms should be rather simple to learn and use, especially for business owners, both fresh and experienced, who are only just getting familiar with ecommerce. However, if a platform is too simple, it could severely limit you in what you can do with your online store. Limitations to your abilities can be limitations to your growth.
While simplicity is ideal, a platform should also enable its users to grow within it as their businesses mature. Find yourself an ecommerce solution that gives you the tools you need to expand, but without any of the hindrances.
Be careful about a platform’s policies regarding:
- How many products you can offer - this may not seem like a problem for small businesses in certain industries, but it can become one if you want to expand your inventory.
- How many categories you can make - depending on your industry, choosing a platform that offers unlimited categories may be crucial for helping customers quickly find what they want.
- How much storage space you can use - upgrading to plans that offer more disk space can be expensive.
- How much bandwidth you can use - some services will charge overage fees for high traffic, even though you want a lot of customers visiting your website.
4) Seamless Processes
The ordering process must be as seamless as possible for your customers. Even small inconveniences can turn them off from returning to your store. Your ecommerce platform of choice should help you streamline the process in the following ways:
When customers make a purchase, you need to be able to ship their order to them quickly and conveniently. You should strive to find a shopping cart platform that lets you connect your customers with as many shipping carriers as you can get, and offer them as many shipping methods as possible.
Make sure you can use real-time shipping rate calculation so that fee doesn’t surprise and scare off your customers. If you are interested in dropshipping, check if the platform is partnered with any trustworthy companies and provides related features.
All online stores have to accept credit cards, but people still pay for products in many different ways. If you really want a large customer base, use an ecommerce solution that offers diverse payment methods.
This includes connecting with more processors than just the most famous few and finding processors with credit card tokenization features. With that said, your customers will not buy from you if they do not believe your site is safe enough. Some platforms will help you receive PCI certification, so you can ensure that any and all transactions are secure.
You may have already started using other software to run your business before you ever considered going fully online with a shopping cart platform. This may mean your account already has plenty of information that you would need to transfer to your new account with the platform—especially customer information.
To save yourself substantial time and effort, try to find a platform that gives you integrations with the software you use, as well as the software you would like to use. Answer this question: How many other tools can this platform seamlessly connect with?
5) Marketing Tools
No one will ever come to your site if you do not put yourself out there. That is why most ecommerce platforms provide plenty of tools that make it easier to reach online shoppers.
Perhaps the most notable such tools you could have at your disposal are anything related to targeted emails. Look into platforms with tools that enable the creation of email lists, help you send promotional email blasts to swaths of customers, and automatically message individual addresses about completed orders and abandoned carts that were saved.
Also related to the theme of putting yourself out there, you should also invest in a shopping cart platform that helps you increase the SEO friendliness of your pages. You want your customers to be able to find your business on the first page of the top search engines. Find an ecommerce platform that not only allows you to customize metadata and title tags, but that provides built-in SEO tools like rich snippets, AMP support, canonical URLs, dynamic sitemap, etc.
To give your customers everything they may want, you sometimes need to go beyond the built-in tools of a shopping cart platform. Many platforms understand this, which is why they partner with other software companies. These developers then make their software available as apps, which merchants can then use for their businesses.
Some apps will permit people to integrate their accounts on the shopping cart software with their accounts on other software. Others add extra features that the platform does not provide. The platform’s app store can make your life easier. With that said, be careful that the selection does not include too many features that should really be included with the platform itself.
You will not be able to do everything alone. Just about every company shopping cart solution provides technical support, in case their clients have any questions. However, more than a few of these companies set strict hours at which they can be reached, which can present a serious issue. Just imagine what would happen if your site unexpectedly goes down on a Friday night and no support is available until Monday morning.
Thankfully, you will find ecommerce companies out there that have professionals ready to take calls at all hours. Many also have forums where you can get in touch with a wider community of the platform’s users and other resources on their websites that you can consult for more information. Offering all these methods for helping out customers shows that they care, which is never negative for a tech company.
Price may seem like the biggest factor to consider when choosing a shopping cart platform, but it should be one of the last factors you look at. You will only really be able to determine if you would get your money’s worth or simply get robbed once you know all the other factors in the platform.
Most shopping cart software providers give potential customers multiple options for payment plans, and the more expensive ones often come with more features. Consider which features you need, which features each plan provides, and how each plan fits with your budget goals. You must also factor in services like web hosting and security, and you should check which platforms include them as part of the overall fee and which ones have them as supplemental fees.
Jump Start Your Online Store
These guidelines will hopefully give you a greater idea of what to look for in a shopping cart platform.
You should be able to narrow down your list of options for which one you will use to build your online store. As long as you gather plenty of information about each one and assess how well they suit your needs, you will likely find one that satisfies you. After that, you can finally get started.