With a world of potential customers scouring the internet to purchase goods, introducing a fully functional e-commerce site allows even the smallest businesses to advance beyond their immediate local market. Transforming a simple business site into a strong source of revenue, shopping cart software (or a hosted e-commerce site, as below) allows sites to have online product catalogues, to interact with consumers through a seamless interface, supervise ordering procedures, and provide the intermediate interactive component between the main business site, back-end inventory and the payment gateway.
In order to create an e-commerce site for a small business, dependent upon technological experience and prowess, businesses have two main options. One choice is to use a hosted e-commerce software. A fully featured hosting platform from one service provider includes a comprehensive service solution. It covers aspects from initial domain registration to supplying the tools needed to easily build a fully functioning and secure e-commerce site. Though largely comprehensive and simple, this option does not allow businesses much freedom or control.
For more technologically advanced business owners who would prefer an extensive degree of control over the intricacies of their site and cart components, there is an integrated approach. This involves adding stand-alone shopping cart software to an existing secure business site as a preferred way of moving into the world of e-commerce. But this should only be considered if some form of in-house technological expertise can be accessed.
Therefore the question arises, which shopping cart is right for a small business? The choice will vary depending on the business itself and of course budget. Some options include:
Protected by McAfee security, and offering an initial 14 day trial for free, Cube Cart provides a combination of reporting features (generating and exporting), customer management, SEO benefits, development potential and plugins. It may be best suited to businesses planning to grow in the near future.
As an overview, feature availability differs between the free Cube Cart Lite, and Cube Cart Pro (a £120 one off payment for full access to the code) with Pro supplying unlimited features, mobile optimised storefront, and technical support among other aspects. Both are compatible with most of the major payment gateways such as PayPal and SagePay.
Cube Cart features an intuitive control panel which allows for real-time statistics, order and stock notification, and Cube Cart Pro has no limits on number of store administrators, orders or customers.
Designed with visual interface appeal and clarity, SEO benefit, rich features and of course small business budget in mind, Open Cart is open source and free to download. Like Cube Cart, a demo is available, and Open Cart is compatible with 22 payment gateways, including SagePay, PayPal and WorldPay. Unlike Cube Cart however, a client account is not required at checkout which may not be of benefit to marketing strategies, but could encourage customer purchasing.
Available in 18 languages, and with multiple currencies and multiple tax rate application features, OpenCart has three different reporting options: Sales report, Products Viewed, and Products Purchased, but while still secure, does not have the same high profile security which Cube Cart boasts. Extended functionality via modules and a template base mean Open Cart is easily personalised, configured and adapted. Shipping methods, especially for the UK are extensive, and regarding support, community forums are free. Regarding commercial support, a list of professional, multi-country technical partner details are provided, but this service is not included.
Compatible with Joomla!, VirtueMart is a complete e-commerce solution offering an unlimited number of products and categories, multiple currencies, compatibility with payment gateways such as PayPal and SystemPay, category meta tags for integrated SEO benefits, and other features such as the ability to sell downloadable products. VirtueMart also offers a straight ‘catalogue mode’ where the shopping cart feature can be switched off.
Like Open Cart, VirtueMart is open source, is free and customisable which may suit smaller business budgets. This compatibility with small businesses can also be seen in that VirtueMart is best used on low to medium traffic sites. Anonymous checkout is also available, and for those businesses owners considering the possibility of m-commerce in the future, VirtueMart has a supporting iPhone app – iVMStore. A demo version, plus user support manuals and user community forum are available, but any other technical support is not included.
Offering a combination of the above, Magento is not only open source and free at its most basic level, but has more extensive annual subscription options available (Magento Enterprise, and Enterprise Premium) which range in cost from approximately £9000 to £31000.
Feature rich, completely scaleable and secure, Magento suits a vast range of businesses, boasting extensive customer management, marketing benefits, search engine optimisation, multiple payment and shipping compatibility, plus allows merchant flexibility and control over the look, and functionality of their e-commerce stores.
Mobile optimisation is available and allows for administrative tasks (such as branded storefront creation) in addition to enabling useable cart m-commerce capabilities. Themes and extensions (such as payment integration or shipping features) are available, as is forum support for Magento’s Community Edition. For Magento Enterprise, full support is available, and Magento Enterprise Premium offers user training, multiple licensing, further round the clock support, and consulting reviews.
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