Starting an online business is relatively easy. There are a multitude of e-commerce services available, most of which take the legwork out of launching an online store and allow anyone to start selling online in no time. Finding the right vendor, however, is another story. To help you narrow down your choices, here are 10 things you should look for in an e-commerce shopping cart and website provider.
1. Hosting and domain name
An e-commerce website starts with reliable hosting and a memorable domain name. Your chosen e-commerce solution should have high-speed servers with at least a 99 percent uptime and generous bandwidth to make sure your online store is always up and running. It should also offer fast, easy setup with your domain name — which you should be able to purchase directly from the company or through an external registrar — to make your launch smooth and hassle-free.
2. Customizable templates
Creating an attractive, professional-looking website is key to the success of your online store. But not everyone has the requisite coding skills to build a website, or the funds to hire a Web designer. Instead, your e-commerce software should offer a collection of beautifully designed themes and templates that can be customized to reflect your brand. Customization should be fast and easy, such as with drag-and-drop platforms that let users rearrange elements and product listings with just a few clicks. [Read related article: Choosing the Right E-commerce Software for Your Needs]
3. Shopping-cart tools
Your shopping cart is the core of your online business. You should be able to seamlessly manage inventory, track orders and maintain customer profiles. Customers also appreciate inventory counts and sold-out/back-order alerts so they can stay up-to-date before they make a purchase. Other features to look for include the ability to generate and implement discounts, coupon codes and loyalty programs, as well as the capability to easily change variables — such as sizes, colors and customization options — and automatically calculate taxes and shipping costs.
4. Conversion tools
Sometimes, customers need to be convinced into making a purchase. Nudge them in the right direction and close the sale with conversion tools, such as buyer reviews, recommendations, product comparisons, wish lists, viewing histories and more. To minimize cart abandonment, e-commerce services like Bigcommerce also offer single-page checkouts to streamline purchases and reminder emails to customers who add items to their carts but leave before checkout.
5. Payment systems
One very important feature to consider is a shopping cart's payment system. To increase sales, customers should be able to pay with their preferred method of payment as often as possible. Ask the vendor what types of payment options it accepts, such as credit cards or mobile payments, and digital wallets like PayPal and Google Wallet. For credit cards, ask which payment gateways the vendor uses and if it relies on an in-house credit card processor or a third-party vendor. How is your and your customers' information handled, and can the system easily integrate with your bank or merchant account?
6. Third-party apps
If you currently use or plan to use business apps to run your e-commerce business, the ability to integrate them with your online store will make it much easier to run your online business. Instead of having to manually import data, compatible business apps will save you tons of time. Shopify, for instance, integrates with accounting solutions QuickBooks and TaxJar, as well as shipping services AfterShip and ShipStation. Whether you need to run financial reports or prepare shipments and send order updates, all the data you need will be ready when you are.
7. Mobile storefront
Mobile commerce (m-commerce) is on the rise. Get ahead of the competition by choosing a service that offers a mobile storefront, so you can reach more customers on the devices they use the most. Useful m-commerce features include responsive designs to optimize the way your storefront looks based on the device being used, choices for mobile payments and the ability to manage your store from your mobile phone.
8. Marketing and analytics tools
Running an e-commerce website is just like running any other website — you'll need the right marketing and analytics tools to make it work and measure its success. Some tools to look for are search engine optimization (SEO), to help you rank highly on Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines; content management systems for blogging and other content marketing campaigns; built-in email marketing capabilities; and social media marketing integration (Pinnacle Cart, for example, lets you add Share buttons to product listings and sell directly on your Facebook page). You should also look for robust analytics that can deliver insight on everything from traffic and visitors to customer behavior and how that translates into sales.
9. Customer support
Whether you need tech support or have billing questions, it's always frustrating when a service provider is unreachable. Not all e-commerce solutions have the same level of customer support, so make sure the one you choose is there when you need help. There are different types of customer support available. For instance, Volusion, Shopify, Bigcommerce, Ashop Commerce and 3dcart all offer telephone, email and live-chat support, as well as a user guide and community forums.
As an online seller, it's imperative that you keep both your data and your customers' information safe. Choose a secure shopping cart that has payment card industry (PCI) compliance, secure socket layer (SSL) protection and fraud score. Data backup and disaster recovery are also necessities for any e-commerce solutions provider.