So you’ve decided to take the plunge and start selling online – congratulations! As you probably already know, there are lots and lots of choices to make. We are here to help! Below you will find a simple, easy to understand guide for getting online including the options we can offer you.
Choosing the TYPE of Shopping Cart
The biggest and most important choice you are going to have to make is which shopping cart to use, as you can’t sell online without one of those! First, you need to decide which type of cart is going to work best for you – hosted (Saas) or self-hosted. Here are descriptions of each:
A hosted cart, or Software as a Service (SaaS) cart is sort of an all-in-one service that is relatively new. You pay a monthly fee to a company for the right to use their software on their servers. They are in charge of the code, security, upgrades and pretty much everything that has to do with the software and hosting. The advantages of these types of carts is that they are exempt from PA-DSS regulations (more on that later), and you don’t have to worry about any of the hosting or tech stuff. They are also extremely easy to get started on, you could have your store up in a week. The disadvantages are that you don’t have as much control of the software, and the monthly fees can get quite steep as you get busier and have more products online. Some carts also take a small percentage (1-2%) of your sales in addition to the monthly fee.
These types of carts are best suited to sites that don’t require a ton of custom programming and someone who doesn’t want to deal with any of the ‘tech’ stuff.
Self-hosted carts are the ‘old school’ way of doing things. You purchase a license from a software vendor, download the software and install it on the hosting account of your choice. The advantage of these types of carts it the flexibility they offer – you own the code so you can do whatever you want with it. In addition, after you pay for the license there are no recurring fees other than what you are paying for hosting. If the company goes out of business some day, you still own the license and your site will still function. The disadvantage is that they have a higher up-front cost for the license, and you will also most likely need professional help to install the cart for you. Upgrades are also your responsibility, and you will need to maintain a hosting account as well.
Self-Hosted carts are best for businesses that want full control over their site and code, have a professional they are planning on working with, and want to develop custom features or functions.
Choosing the Shopping Cart Platform
Once you choose which type of cart you want to go with, there are a number of factors you should take into consideration when choosing the specific cart:
- Features – does the cart offer all of the features and functions you will need now and down the road?
- Pricing – does the price structure fit into your budget? Will it become too cost-prohibitive down the road as you grow?
- Design – does the cart offer templates that are attractive and will work for your business or will you need to have one designed?
- SEO – does the cart offer all of the pieces and parts necessary to optimize it for the search engines? (urls, META data, Rich Snippets, etc)
- Trust – is the cart built by a company that looks like they are in the game for the long term? Or do they look like they have seen better days?
- Modern – is the cart modern looking or do the templates look like something from the early 1990s?
- Marketing – does the cart have all of the built-in marketing tools you will need? (newsletters, social media, abandoned cart reminders, etc)
- Third Party Integration – does the cart interface with all of your other software/services? (Quickbooks, Webgility, stamps.com, Mailchimp, etc)
Luckily we have years and years of experience with many of the carts out there, so we know which ones work and which ones to avoid. Below are the two carts we recommend, with pros and cons of each along with some general pricing.
If a hosted cart is more to your liking, look no further than Americommerce. The features this cart offers out of the box are truly incredible. From complex products with color swatches and multiple options to integration with all of the third party vendors, these guys have really put some time into design and development.
Getting started with this cart is as simple as clicking here and signing up for an account. You can start adding products right away and there are a number of templates to choose from. Their pricing starts at $24.95/month and you can scale the account as your business grows.
One of the ways we can help you with your Americommerce store is to provide you with a custom design/template for your store. Many of our clients aren’t happy with the ‘stock’ templates and want something that reflects their branding and company a bit better. Have a look at our Americommerce Services page for more information and pricing.
The only real downside to going with Americommerce is that if a feature doesn’t exist out of the box, it is extremely difficult if not impossible to add.
If you like the idea of owning your own cart software, Pinnacle Cart is right up your alley. The features and functions they offer are very similar to Bigcommerce, with the extra added advantage of having access to all of our customizations and add-ons that we’ve developed over the years. In short, if you need a feature that they don’t offer, we can build it for you.
Getting started with Pinnacle Cart will require that you purchase one of the packages we offer. You will also need a hosting account, which we can also offer for $35/month. Pinnacle Cart has a number of templates to choose from, but not as many as Americommerce. We include a custom design in our Deluxe package, as well as many other enhancements.
The advantage of choosing Pinnacle Cart is that it will grow with your business and you can customize it however you like. The downside is that it has a higher up-front cost, which may not be optimal if your capital is all tied up in inventory and branding.
Now that you have chosen your cart it is time to decide on how your customers are going to pay for their purchases. Since you can’t store credit card data on your server anymore, you need to utilize what is called a Payment Gateway to handle this for you. Essentially a Payment Gateway is the software that collects the credit card info, processes the charge, and deposits the money into your bank account. There are hundreds of processors out there, but there are two in particular that we recommend:
Authorize.net – probably the most popular gateway out there these days, the montly fee is about $30 and they will also charge a percentage of your transactions depending on your volume. Easy to set up and integrate with either of the carts listed above. The disadvantage of authorize.net is you also need a merchant account, or bank account, to deposit the money into
PayPal Pro – our favorite gateway, PayPal pro works just like authorize.net but all of the money goes into your PayPal account instead of a bank account. Fees are similar to authorize.net and it will also integrate with either of the carts above.
PayPal Standard – this payment methods sends customers to PayPal to pay, either with their Paypal balance or a credit card. This should not be your primary payment method, as you will lose about 25% of your sales if this is the only method you offer.
Shipping is probably the most complex piece of setting up your store, and which methods and options you offer will depend on exactly what you are selling. Both carts above integrate with USPS, UPS, and FedEx along with third party applications such as stamps.com and webgility.com. No matter how you want to ship it, both of these carts will accommodate you.
Sales tax laws vary greatly by state. Some charge a flat percentage no matter where in the state you ship, others are complex beyond belief. In a nutshell, you are required to collect sales tax in any state where you have a business presence. So if you are based in NY but have a warehouse in CA, you will need to charge sales tax in both of those states. It is best to check with your accountant before setting taxes up in your cart, but even the most complex tax systems can be handled easily with third party services like Tax Cloud.
An SSL certificate is what encrypts your site’s pages. You’ll see it as a padlock or green bar in your browser. This helps protect your customers personal and payment data from prying eyes, and is required if you are running an e-commerce site. If Google gets their way, all of the pages on the web will soon be required to be encrypted, but that is a topic for another day. SSL certificates can be purchased from a number of vendors for as little as $70/year. If you are on Bigcommerce you’ll need to go through them to install it for you, while those on Pinnacle Cart will have it done by your hosting company.
So there you have it, e-commerce in a nutshell. Obviously there are a number of topics we didn’t cover here (SEO, Social Media, Marketing, etc), but that is one of the many reasons to hire us! We’ll walk you thorough all of the pieces one by one so that your store is fully optimized and ready for prime time. Interested? Drop us a line today and see what we can do for you!