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Shopping Cart

SHOPPING CART

An electronic shopping cart serves the same purpose as a traditional metal shopping cart in a grocery or department store. It allows shoppers to select potential purchases and set them aside until they are ready to pay for their merchandise. While checkout procedures take place at a cash register in a bricks-and-mortar establishment, at an online store payment is most typically made via a real-time credit card transaction, and merchandise is then shipped to the address specified by the shopper. Along with providing the checkout path, most online shopping-cart programs handle multiple functions, such as allowing shoppers to confirm which items they have chosen to purchase; displaying information about whether or not these products are immediately available; asking shoppers to select the quantity of each product being purchased; displaying individual product prices, shipping costs, sales tax, and the total bill; and accepting and confirming contact, billing, and shipping information. These programs typically also include buttons that allow shoppers to continue shopping and remove items from their cart.

Shopping carts have been used by Web-based businesses since the mid-1990s. Some companies, such as online retailing giant Amazon.com, develop their own shopping cart programs. Some purchase shopping cart technology from a specialized vendor, such as VirtualCart, for integration into their own e-store. Others simply use an e-commerce solutions provider like One World Hosting to not only host their online business, but also to supply various applications, such as shopping carts, that are necessary for conducting e-commerce. In fact, One World Hosting offers its e-commerce clients two shopping cart options: the PayPal shopping cart and the Alacart system, which is available in three service levels. Alacart's Silver cart is set up to allow for the transmission of purchase information to a business via e-mail. The business can then handle the purchase transaction in whatever offline manner it chooses. Companies with 25 products or less might opt for Alacart Gold if they wish to allow customers to pay for purchases online with real-time credit card processing. Companies with a wide range of productsup to 1,000can select Alacart Platinum.

Early online shopping carts were often criticized for being cumbersome and difficult to use. According to the August 1998 issue of PC Week, "Visibility is the first problem. Sites should not hide their shopping carts on separate pages. This design makes shoppers either delay all analysis and reconciliation to the end of their visit or flip back and forth between item pages and the shopping cart. Why should you have to wonder whether you already put the item in the cart or what your total bill will be?" In December of 1999, Apex Interactive Inc. developed a new shopping cart that addressed these concerns with a drag-and-drop program that allowed shoppers to drag images of products they wish to purchase into a shopping cart window that was displayed on the same screen. The shopping cart window remained open while customers continued shopping, and each item selected for purchase, as well as its price, was displayed. Each time a new product was placed into or removed from the cart, prices were recalculated and the total bill was adjusted.

One of the most important developments in shopping cart technology came in 1997 when Amazon.com developed its one-click method. According to Electronic Business writer Marc Brown, Amazon.com developed the technology in an effort to reduce the number of sales lost to customers frustrated with online checkout processes that included completing lengthy personal information forms. "Amazon.com captures the buying impulse immediately by storing this information in a database, assigning the customer a unique I.D., and storing the I.D. in a cookie on the customer's computer. The next time the customer visits, the I.D. is automatically read and used to locate the customer's record." From that point on, an Amazon.com customer is able to make a purchase simply by clicking on the "Buy Now" icon located next to each product. The online book e-tailer secured a patent for its one-click process in October of 1999 and immediately sued competitor Barnes & Noble.com for using similar shopping cart technology. In December, a U.S. District Court Judge ordered Barnes & Noble.com to stop using its single-click checkout method until a verdict was reached. Barnes & Noble.com appealed the ruling, and in March of 2001 the U.S. Court of Appeals lifted the injunction, citing concerns with the legitimacy of Amazon.com 's patent.

Despite advances in shopping cart technology, a study conducted by e-commerce consultant Creative Good in late 2000 indicated that 43 percent of online shoppers planning to make a purchase at a Web site ended up failing to complete the transaction for reasons ranging from slow page load time and confusion regarding the checkout process to being unable to locate the product they wanted. More than 40 percent of the frustrated online shoppers actually had placed items in their shopping cart before they opted to leave the site. In those cases, the top three reasons for aborting the transaction were complicated account creation procedures, unclear error messages, and vague distinctions between paths for new and returning customers.

Along with a high number of abandoned shopping carts, online merchants also have found themselves dealing with hacking problems related to their shopping carts. In some cases, hackers have been able to use the HTML editing features available on most browsers to change the price of a product before buying it. In 2001, nearly one-third of all shopping cart applications were unable to prevent this type of price-switching activity, and the Internet Fraud Council estimated that fraud took place in 11 percent of all online purchases. Despite these problems with shopping carts, however, the number of online stores continues to rise, as does the number of online shoppers. Because shopping cart technology is key to e-commerce, advances that increase security and decrease lost sales will likely emerge in the near future.

FURTHER READING:

Brown, Marc E. "'One-Click Shopping' Still Risky to Implement." Electronic Business. May 2001.

Catchings, Bill. "Online Shopping Sites Need More Smarts in Their Carts." PC Week. August 31, 1998.

Enos, Lori. "Report: E-Holiday Glitches Could Cost $15B." E-Commerce Times. October 17, 2000. Available from www.ecommercetimes.com.

"e-Shoplifters Are Hacking into Online Stores and Altering Prices, Reports Interactive Week." PR Newswire. March 5, 2001.

Kelsey, Dick. "Barnes & Noble.com Wins Round in 1-Click Case." Newsbytes. February 14, 2001.

Mullins, Robert. "Technology to Make e-Shopping Easier." The Business Journal-Milwaukee. December 31, 1999.

Thumlert, Kurt. "Abandoned Shopping Carts: Enigma or Sloppy E-Commerce?" E-Commerce Times. June 27, 2001. Available from www.ecommerce.internet.com.

SEE ALSO: Amazon.com; Storefront Builders

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