The Hidden Sales Thief: Shopping Cart Software

Posted by on September 1, 2009 in Business Technology, Internet Marketing, Sales 2.0, Web Design [ 3 Comments ]

Eccomerce web design shopping cart softwareAs an online entrepreneur, you know that great ecommerce web design can make or break your sales numbers. But statistics like site visits, click throughs to item descriptions, and other numbers might not tell the whole story: according to BizReport and eWay Direct, the majority of shoppers- a whopping 70%- browse products, set aside items for purchase and then…vanish. It’s called shopping cart abandonment- the process of loading items into a cart and then either purposefully or inadvertently navigating away from the site before completing a purchase.

So what can you do to ensure customers follow through with their purchases? Investing in a better shopping cart is a great place to start. Here’s a quick rundown on some shopping cart basics, a few features to consider, and your options when it comes to purchasing or using cart software.

How Does Shopping Cart Software Work?

An online “shopping cart” keeps track of selected items while the customer is browsing for items on your site. Web designers can integrate both purchased and hosted carts into a functioning ecommerce website. When a customer decides to make a purchase, they are directed from the cart to a “payment gateway,” which links to your merchant account. At this transition, customers run the biggest risk of cart abandonment. If the cart isn’t compatible with gateway software, has technical problems, or is difficult to understand (for example, asking for credit card information before totaling the sale and shipping charges) customers might “abandon” a purchase before it is completed.

Cutting down on abandonment can be as simple as choosing a cart that can be customized to your site, one that loads more quickly, or one that is configured differently- for example, by cutting down on customer options for shipping. Too many decisions (UPS or FedEx? 2-day air or 2-day ground?) can cause customers to second-guess their purchasing decision, as can a cart with graphic design that looks like it’s navigating customers away from your site.


Opinions vary on the value of different shopping cart features. At the most basic, the cart should be able to integrate seamlessly with your site and allow customers to make easy, secure purchases. You can also use cart software that allows customers to apply discount codes (maybe provided in an e-mail blast?), browse products that are recommended based on their current selections, submit or view product reviews (sites like Expedia and Amazon are a good example of how to do this correctly). Some carts allow you to store customer payment details (shipping details, product orders, etc.) in a database automatically, and then reference it when these same customers make purchases in the future. You can use this information for online marketing efforts, to make purchase suggestions to repeat site visitors (think the “complete your album” feature on iTunes), or provide promotional discounts to big spenders.

Hosting Options

Shopping cart software can be purchased or hosted. The difference is similar to purchasing or leasing a car- purchasing involves up-front costs, lifetime ownership, and pay-out-of-pocket maintenance costs. Hosting is like leasing- software is maintained and upgraded by the provider, and you pay monthly fee to use it. The downside of hosting is that you can’t customize the software as extensively as you would be able to with a fully-owned program. The upside is that it’s inexpensive: hosted options can range in cost from free to hundreds of dollars or more. Purchased cart software can run anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand for the program alone, plus ecommerce web design costs to fully integrate the cart into your site.

How Do I Pick a Cart?

Do your research! Sites like allow you to compare free, purchased, and hosted options side-by-side. For the basics, Wikipedia has a good features and cost comparison page. Read as many reviews for a given cart as you can, and consider costs like per-transaction fees, web design expenses, and other potential costs. Ultimately, choose a cart based on functionality over fancy features- your top priority is making sure the cart works well. More advanced options can help drive sales and encourage impulse purchases, but they do typically require programming and customization. Compare several different options before making your final decision.

Found a great cart? Had a bad experience? Looking for certain features? Leave a comment and let us know!

3 thoughts on “The Hidden Sales Thief: Shopping Cart Software

  1. avatarMatt Commins

    Studies have shown 50 to 70% of users abandon the shopping cart after they have started the checkout process. Wow! That’s really high. In this tough economy it’s even more vital to ensure you reduce abandonment rates, especially for pay-per-click campaigns. The first step is making sure you find the best shopping cart software that’s best for you. The next step is to refine buying step process by making it as easy as possible. One recommendation is not to add hidden costs such as shipping in the middle of the checkout process. Another recommendation is to have links to your privacy and shipping policies next to the call-to-action button. These links are hardly ever clicked, but can reassure users.

  2. avatarJoe Reichsfeld

    Great article about shopping cart abandonment. I find Ease of Use to be the biggest contributing factor in shopping cart abandonment. The internet has evolved so much over the years and now provides designers with more bells and whistles to add on then any of us ever envisioned in the ’90s, but I stick with the same exact principals that I used then. Clear and concise content. Keep it simple stupid, because I might be the stupid person using it. Transparancy of transaction and features. The point of actual purchase is the ‘Moment of Truth’ for any site. A user should be able to get from the home page to an item page in no more than 3 clicks and into the shopping cart in no more than 2 clicks after. All policies like shipping and returns MUST be readily available to every buyer at this point. If they have to leave the cart to go read your policies then they are never coming back. Support multiple major payment options but limit try to limit the number of choices to keep it easy. Great Post thank you

    Joe Reichsfeld

  3. avatarMerrin

    Great point about simplicity, Joe- I made an online purchase the other day that had about a dozen options when it came to shipping: 2 day ground, 2 day air, different providers….it really makes the customer second guess themselves on the way “out the door.”

    Smart retailers know that online shopping carts are just like physical ones…No one carries an US Weekly around the produce aisle!

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