Step 5 - Choosing your E-Commerce Engine (Shopping Cart)

There are countless shopping carts and other e-commerce software available on the Internet. Prices run from free up to several thousands of dollars. In addition to installing and running e-commerce software on your own server, there are a number of shopping cart companies that will host the service for you. These companies typically charge a monthly fee for the service, and some also charge a per-transaction charge. These charges are in addition to whatever credit card processing costs you'll pay.

Follow these steps when choosing your e-commerce software.

1. Focus on finding software that provides the features that are important to you.

If you will be selling physical goods then you will want a cart that is able to interface with the shipping companies that you are planning to use. Many carts have modules for communicating with FedEx, UPS, DHL, and the US Post Office. If you are operating your web site somewhere other than the United States then you will need to look for carts that are compatible with the shipping companies in your country. What's most important to you.

You may want a cart that keeps track of your inventory and automatically marks a product as out of stock when inventory levels reach zero.

If you are selling digital products then you will want a cart that can process payments and make the product available to the buyer by either a direct download link that appears after the payment is processed, or one that sends an e-mail with the download link embedded.

Spend the time to make a list of all the features that you need and then find the software that matches your needs. Keep in mind that the language that your cart is written in must be supported by your hosting account. If you are in doubt, ask your web host provider before you buy anything.

2. Look at web sites that are actually running the software that you are considering.

Most e-commerce software providers will provide links to their customers who are running their software. Visit as many stores as you can find and try out as many features as possible. Make sure that you like the way the software operates and that it provides the kind of experience that you want your customers to have.

3. Be sure that you know what the full cost of ownership for the software that you are considering.

Some software requires you to pay ongoing or annual fees to renew your support contract or license. Read the terms and conditions for each product carefully so you aren't surprise by an unexpected bill down the road.

4. Look for independent and unbiased reviews from other users.

Many of the more popular e-commerce software packages are usually discussed in various online forums. Your best bet is to enter the name of the package you are considering into Google and then type the word "review" after it. You should be rewarded with links to sites where your prospective selection has been thoroughly discussed and you can also find reviews on many of the popular carts.

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