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Shopping Cart Software

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SHOPPING CART SOFTWARE

Like traditional shopping carts at the grocery store, electronic shopping carts allow customers to collect the items they wish to purchase prior to actually checking out. While in a traditional store, check-out takes place at a cash register, at an online store, payment is typically made via a real-time credit-card transaction, and merchandise is then shipped to the address specified by the shopper. Along with handling the checkout process itself, most online shopping-cart programs handle multiple functions such as

  • allowing shoppers to review the products or services items they have selected for purchase
  • letting shoppers remove items from their cart
  • offering information regarding the availability of these products
  • asking shoppers if they wish to check out or to continue shopping
  • displaying individual product prices, shipping charges, sales tax, and the total bill
  • accepting and confirming contact, billing, and shipping information

Shopping carts have been used by Web-based businesses since the mid-1990s. Many of the first online shopping carts were criticized as unwieldy and difficult to use. According to an 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?"

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.

In December 1999, Apex Interactive Inc. developed a new shopping-cart program that addressed some of these concerns. Apex's drag-and-drop shopping-cart technology allowed shoppers to drag images of products or services they wanted to buy into a separate shopping-cart window that remained open while customers continued shopping. This window displayed each item the buyer selected along with its price. When a buyer added or removed a new product from the cart, the total bill was recalculated.

Rather than trying to build your own from scratch, you may opt to simply purchase a shopping cart program. To buy an existing package, you can contact a specialized vendor, such as VirtualCart. Shopping-cart programs offered by companies like VirtualCart can be integrated into your existing online store operations. You can also choose to use an e-commerce solutions provider like One World Hosting, which offers to not only host online businesses, but also to supply various applications, such as shopping carts, necessary for conducting e-commerce. Like One World, many established Web hosting services offer one or more shopping-cart systems to fit various needs.

Despite advances in shopping-cart technology, a study conducted by e-commerce consultant Creative Good in 2000 indicated that 43 percent of online shoppers who planned to make an online purchase ended up abandoning the transaction for reasons ranging from slow page load time and confusion regarding the check-out process to being unable to locate the product they wanted. More than 40 percent of these frustrated online shoppers had placed items in their shopping cart before they left 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 preventing abandoned shopping carts, you might also need to deal with shopping-cart hacking. 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 a key component of e-commerce, advances that increase security and decrease lost sales continue to emerge. In addition, a growing number of companies have started to develop less expensive shopping-cart programs for operations of all sizes. For example, in 2002 Aestiva LLC developed Aestiva Cart Pro, a program designed to offer many of the features typically seen on larger sites like Amazon.com and eBay to businesses with a much smaller budget. To take advantage of these new developments, plan to spend considerable time researching your options before selecting the shopping-cart technology that will best suit your venture.

FURTHER READING

"Aestiva Releases Next-Generation Shopping Cart." Business Wire, March 5, 2002.

Brown, Marc E. "'One-Click Shopping' Still Risky to Implement." Electronic Business, May 2001, 18.

Catchings, Bill. "Online Shopping Sites Need More Smarts in Their Carts." PC Week, August 31, 1998, 29.

Enos, Lori. "Study: Most E-Shoppers Abandon Carts." E-Commerce Times, October 24, 2000. Available from http://www.ecommercetimes.com.

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

Mullins, Robert. "Technology to Make e-Shopping Easier." Business Journal-Milwaukee, December 31, 1999, 3.

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