E-Commerce Shopping Cart Basics


An e-commerce shopping cart helps to automate your business, and complete orders without you being present. It's a wonderful thing to wake up in the morning to find that orders were placed on your website while you were asleep. Without one, you will have to respond to emails, phone calls or letters in order to collect payment and accomplish basic sales transactions.

E-Commerce Shopping Cart Defined

When you want people to purchase your products and services online from their home, without your assistance, you need software to do it for you. That's what the cart is. It's software that enables customers to purchase products and services, by adding items to a virtual "shopping cart". The software tallies subtotals, the total amount due and shipping and handling charges. Think of it as a computerized cashier, except the cart doesn't collect payment for you.

E-Commerce vs. Payment Collection Software

The e-commerce shopping cart is not what you use to collect payment from customers or clients. In addition to a cart, you'll need a way to process payments over the Internet. PayPal is popular with work at home moms because it's easy to set up, there are no monthly fees, and your customers don't need a PayPal account to use it. PayPal will collect their bank card information and process the payment for you, in return for a small percentage of the sale.

There are more advanced ways to process payments, such as obtaining a merchant account. As your business grows and your orders are high, you can explore those further by contacting your bank or finding companies online that sell merchant accounts.

Features of E-Commerce Shopping Carts

There are many great features of e-commerce shopping carts, but not all software can offer you these. Compare carts carefully, and buy what you need. You can often upgrade to add more features as your sales increase. Some features to look for include:

  • Stores items as customers continue to shop
  • Stores items for customers to return to for several days or longer
  • Calculates amounts after each item is added, so that customers know how much they've spent
  • Shows saved items while customer shops
  • Cart can suggest related products, or show products that other customers bought with a particular item
  • Ability to accept discounts and other promotional codes and apply them to final costs

Assess your needs and your customers' buying habits to determine which e-commerce shopping cart to use. You want something that's easy to use, or else customers will give up and find somewhere else to make a purchase.

Costs of E-Commerce Shopping Carts

You can find an e-commerce shopping cart for free. For example, WordPress is a publishing software that you can use to design your online store. There are several e-commerce carts available as a WordPress plugin for free. The technical support you get for it is limited though, and you may have to search forums to try to resolve cart problems. There are paid carts that can cost hundreds of dollars, and these have the benefit of technical support over the phone or online chat. Determine your budget, web skills and current business status to see if paying for a cart makes sense.

An e-commerce shopping cart works just as well for services. Consider how you can break up your services into packages for clients to purchase.

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