Ecommerce Websites

Many businesses are successfully using ecommerce websites to build their fortunes. As a consumer and a developer, I have a love and hate relationship with online shopping. The convenience and availability of products is fabulous, especially for those of us living in remote places like Hawaii with few shopping venues. I’ve found that shopping carts themselves have yet to be fine tuned and everyone has a different idea of what it should do. Before investing into a shopping cart software, thoroughly consider what features are essential to business.

Shopping carts come either from a “box” or custom made. Packaged shopping carts are more affordable and work well for most businesses, however, they do have limitations. These cannot be altered by your webmaster. You may not be able to print shipping labels or add tax based on state. Custom designed systems are expensive. They also have limitations based on programmer ability, price tag and project management. “Sure we can do anything, given time and money.”

An online store is a store! First approach it from the business side. How will you retrieve, process, and ship orders? How will you collect money, give refunds and provide product support? Who will be responsible for inventory and product updates? Then approach from a customer. How do they shop? One product at a time? Or all of them at once? Do they collect some in a basket or just pick one and go?

Below is an extensive list that will help you with all of the many choices and decisions to make when selecting a shopping cart. If any one sets off a flag, make sure your web developer is aware that you need this capability, before making a selection on shopping carts!

* How many unique products do you have?
* Do you make frequent changes to the price, size, quantity, or appearance of your products?
* When? never – seasonally – bi-annually – annually
* Do you have options for your products such as color, size or quantity? Make a list of all options.
* Do these options apply to all products, one product or a group of products?
* How many choices (max/min) for your products?
For example, I sell tee shirts and cards. – I have maximum of three choices because I can choose color, design and size on a tee shirt, but minimum of zero choices because my cards are prepackaged and printed in sets of 6.
* Do you want precise or representational photography?
* Do you offer promotions, coupons, gift certificates or specials? Which?
* If purchased in the physical store, do you need the ability to redeem these online?
* If available online, do you need the ability to redeem online?

Shopping Online
* Do you have a specific vision about your online store presentation, shopping cart, basket of goods or check out procedure?
* Do you have specific ideas about the flow or procedure of customers’ checkout experiences?
* Would you be opposed to giving people the option of logging into your site if it provided them with the benefit of retained order history, address book and credit card information?
* Are there specific features you would like (or not want) in your shopping cart such as retaining shipping/billing addresses, shipping same product to multiple addresses, retaining customer credit card or billing information?

Order Processing
* Do you have a merchant account?
* Do you want fully, partially or no automation of credit card processing?
Full – credit card is checked and validated real time.
Partial – card information is collected, but you manually check/authenticate.
No – no card information is collected, but order information is collected. You contact customer to get payment information.
* Do you want to integrate online operations with physical store operations (accounting, shipping and inventory)?
* Do you use accounting or inventory tracking software?
* Do you need inventory tracking included in your shopping cart?

* Do you have a physical store?
* In most shopping carts, online sales (excise) tax is charge based on the state in which the product is sold. This means since your business is located in Hawaii, all sales are subjected to GE (Hawaii) tax, even if the buyer is out of state. Is this acceptable?
* If not, do you want to omit GE (Hawaii tax) on all sales?
* If not, how precisely do you want to apply taxes?
* Are there any special taxes, tariffs, import/export or other taxes applicable for your product?
* Are there any currency conversion issues?

Packaging & Shipping
* Do you sell your products domestically or internationally or both?
* Can you ship your products to all states equally?
For example, California has strict produce regulations and will not accept some out of state organic products such as apples. A Hawaii business could not ship apples to California, but can to Oregon.
* How do you ship your products?
__USPS__ Fed Ex (priority/express)__ UPS__ other
* How do you charge for postage?
– total cost of order
– cost per item (unique to item)
– cost per item (total number of items)
– cost per weight of total order

– free
– combination of above
– other
– don’t know
* Do you use external software to generate shipping labels?
– Yes – what/how?
– No – how do you generate shipping labels? Type them, print them from MS Word, hand write them.
* Does this system work well for you?
* Are you open to Real time shipping calculation?
* Do you include a packing slip?
* Does it need to be a custom design packing slip?
* Do you need an internal purchase order slip?
* Does it need to be a custom design purchase order slip?
* Do you include any other forms of paper with the product?