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  1. #1

    Pay Shopping Carts vs. Free

    I see many posts on WebHostingTalk that ask about free shopping cart software, and it has led me to raise the following issue...


    I am continually surprised by how many people seem to be looking for and discussing free shopping carts. I am surprised because if a shopping cart and it's interface, in conjunction with site copy is what drives a lead through the purchase process to become a paid customer, then why do so many people look for a free cart?

    I know that this being WebHostingTalk.com, many of the users will have a technical background, which could cause some of the folks here to lean towards an open source solution, but I wanted to open this topic for discussion.

    I want to say that I'm not knocking free carts - OSc and other open source carts are great and generally speaking, reliable solutions. But the issue here is not whether open source carts are good, it’s whether a setup / license fee for a shopping cart is a significant or risky investment vs. it’s lifetime value to the business.

    My thought is simple - for the return on investment for even a moderately successful business, small setup or license fees for shopping carts are negligible vs. the potential gains. (Assuming you can find a pay cart that does a specifically good job for your type of products or services – ie, real time downloads, subscriptions, etc, vs an open source cart with a mediocre plugin to add that functionality). Even look at only a years worth of data (aside from the true lifetime value of the investment) -- the value in regards to the potential for increased business in comparison to setup cost is often not a significant factor – to the point where it really becomes a non-issue.

    Lets create a hypothetical situation and run some numbers.

    If a shopping cart were to cost $500 to setup, but through better design or functionality it resulted in an increase of sales of 5% over the course of the first year of business (vs a free cart), would it make sense to choose the pay cart?

    In our example the merchant will process an average monthly volume of $10,000/month – or a yearly volume of $120,000. This would fall in line with a typical SME business. For the sake of this example we will assume a margin of 20% on the typical sale.

    120,000 /year x .2 (margin) = $24,000 net. 24,000 x .05 (increased sales) = $1,200

    So at the end of the year, as a result of the 5% increase in sales, the merchant would net a profit of $1,200 that they would not have generated with the free cart. Minus away the $500 setup fee, and they are still $700 further ahead than if they had chosen the free cart. That is only for the first year, and not considering the value going forward for the lifecycle of the website.

    Now, these numbers are just fictitious, but I believe my point stands that it is very safe to say a properly developed site could increase sales by 5% or far more, when compared to a purchase process that is not as refined or polished – and in doing so the return on investment far exceeds the initial cost to setup the cart.

    The immediate answer as to why merchants may not be doing this is obvious – they may be smaller or start-up companies trying to reduce costs, which is understandable.

    My question then becomes -- do the majority of SME business owners make these calculations? Do they consider a good pay cart, (or even custom development), or do they just look for a generically good, free cart and hope for the best?


    Comments? Questions?
    David Goodale
    Merchant Accounts.ca
    Canada's merchant account provider.
    Toll free: (888) 414-7111 ext. 5 | Direct: (905) 901-2254

  2. #2
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    You have a valid point here. When I am come across a small business taking its first step into the world of ecommerce, I always recommend them to use open source carts like osCommerce. That helps to keep the starting costs low. When their business has grown past a certain threshold, I recommend paid shopping carts.

    Having said that I must add that results (conversions) with paid carts are not always better than the results with osCommerce. Online business is very competitive now a days so business owners just can't sit back and hope for the best. I believe key here is to measure the conversions all the time, which means keeping a very close eye on the site stats.

  3. #3
    One the other side of the coin is the issue that some open source carts are not as easy to use or administer as pay carts. So the investment also becomes one of time in addition to financial cost.

    I think that is actually a strength of some of the remotely hosted pay carts - things that a developer may long take for granted for easy to do can be difficult or impossible for a new user. I know that if you are intimately familiar with the code for an OS cart it can be a tremendous advantage.

    However - can you imagine how confusing it would be if you've never even heard of "FTP" before, and during an update to your product catalog a persmission error is presented on the screen? It might as well present alien writing.

    So another important set of factors to consider is who is going to administrate the website? How often will updates take place? Is a web developer on retainer to assist with issues that may come up? The merchants administrative toolset becomes a more important issue, the less hand-holding the developer is going to spend working with them on the site on an ongoing basis.

    So these requirements totally change depending on the user - and again, this is where OS carts shine for some people, while for others it may as well be greek.
    David Goodale
    Merchant Accounts.ca
    Canada's merchant account provider.
    Toll free: (888) 414-7111 ext. 5 | Direct: (905) 901-2254

  4. #4
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    Hi,

    I think you do make some good points and it really does depend on the user/company on which shopping cart you choose. Another factor is the level of support/fixing problems the owner of the website running the shopping cart wants to assume.

    If you are someone who knows the internet like the back of your hand then you might not have a problem using Oscommerce because you can gain more functionality due to being able to customize it to your own needs. On the other hand if you think that chmod 777 is the next model of plane coming out from Boeing you may be in trouble.

    So really when dealing with a free shopping cart software it is all in how you use it and how much support you need/want. If you find a company that sells a cart but doesn't offer much in the way of support it may put you in a bad place especially if all of their files are encoded and there is no way to figure out what the problem is being caused by.

    Another important factor is hosting for your ecommerce store. Whether you use a free one or buy a shopping cart who you host with is important. Especially if they don't specialize in ecommerce storefronts. One thing I know for sure that will decrease sales is your storefront going down.
    Last edited by sitenex; 01-17-2007 at 01:29 PM.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by aco_ecom
    Hi,

    I think you do make some good points and it really does depend on the user/company on which shopping cart you choose. Another factor is the level of support/fixing problems the owner of the website running the shopping cart wants to assume.

    If you are someone who knows the internet like the back of your hand then you might not have a problem using Oscommerce because you can gain more functionality due to being able to customize it to your own needs. On the other hand if you think that chmod 777 is the next model of plane coming out from Boeing you may be in trouble.

    So really when dealing with a free shopping cart software it is all in how you use it and how much support you need/want. If you find a company that sells a cart but doesn't offer much in the way of support it may put you in a bad place especially if all of their files are encoded and there is no way to figure out what the problem is being caused by.

    Another important factor is hosting for your ecommerce store. Whether you use a free one or buy a shopping cart who you host with is important. Especially if they don't specialize in ecommerce storefronts. One thing I know for sure that will decrease sales is your storefront going down.
    You hit the nail on the head! Support for bug fixes and security issues is key for an online store these days. How quickly and how often these come is another factor. Good software that you pay for has full time developers and resources that can and should act quickly on issues. The OS carts have volunteer developers and therefore are usually not as quick to respond to important issues.

    Ongoing costs of support can be an issue as well. I would suggest looking into all ongoing support and maintenance costs before deciding.

    Dave

  6. #6
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    Hi,

    True but not all companies are created eqaul. I have in the past purchased software to use from different companies and find that the level of support they give really does differ.

    Not to name names but I've purchased an affiliate software from a company about 6-10 months ago. Having some small problems with the software I submitted a support ticket. After no reply I had to figure it out myself(I believe I had submitted multiple support tickets well over six months ago and never received a response). This just shows you don't always get what you pay but the quality of the company is what truly matters.

  7. #7
    I couldn't agree more - you have to choose your service providers very carefully. Is that affiliate software company still in business??? Ignoring customers is not a way to build a brand or get repeat business!
    David Goodale
    Merchant Accounts.ca
    Canada's merchant account provider.
    Toll free: (888) 414-7111 ext. 5 | Direct: (905) 901-2254

  8. #8
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    Hi,

    I believe they are. Their product is good but service is bad. You have to remember that pretty much every company's service is good until you encounter a problem. Once that happens how they respond to fixing it determines if you still think their service is good.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by aco_ecom
    Hi,

    True but not all companies are created eqaul. I have in the past purchased software to use from different companies and find that the level of support they give really does differ.

    Not to name names but I've purchased an affiliate software from a company about 6-10 months ago. Having some small problems with the software I submitted a support ticket. After no reply I had to figure it out myself(I believe I had submitted multiple support tickets well over six months ago and never received a response). This just shows you don't always get what you pay but the quality of the company is what truly matters.
    Agreed. As with all things that you are going to invest your hard earned money and time into you need to do research and your DD to try and weed out the good from the bad companies. For those who are truly forced to be on a tight budget that doesn't allow them to purchase decent software that has good support behind it will eventually have their pain and agony and software investment later when they realize that the OS software they chose just isn't cutting it anymore. After trying many of the OS carts and some commercial carts I finally found the one that I prefer to use. Just like with webhosts, there is no perfect shopping cart software. You need to find the software that is perfect for your needs.

    Dave

  10. #10
    Hi,

    I've been using a modified version of the Paypal shopping cart. Modified for qty. discounts. Not the best solution but it works. I've briefly looked into ZenCart and also XCart Gold. Has anyone any thoughts about either of these two shopping carts?

    Just as an FYI: I stumbled upon this forum while searching for web hosting tips. I found an article on TweakGuides.com that linked to a thread.

    thanks
    lbso
    Last edited by lbso; 01-17-2007 at 04:33 PM.

  11. #11
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    Hi Dave,

    Exactly. It really doesn't matter whether you spend $0 or $5000 on a peice of software. If it doesn't do what you want it to do it is either a waste of money or time and in my opion both are very valuable.

  12. #12
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    Hi lbso,

    Welcome to the forum.

    I've never used XCart and Zen Cart is based on Oscommerce.

    I myself prefer Creloaded Oscommerce(it has alot of great features) and this is what we use for all of our clients. We have taken it as our basis and expanded on it to truly be unique and alot easier for our customers to use. I like to call it Active Oscommerce instead.lol.

  13. #13
    if you like joomla to build your website, Virtumart should be then your best choice.

  14. #14
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    I would not recommend anyone that plans on growing past a few dozen products to waste a bunch of time with any of the current open-source carts. Been there, wasted a bunch of time that I should have been spending on finding a good solid cart and developers to meet my needs. It is not an easy task finding a developer that is right for you and trying to find one for an open-source cart is really tough because you have to weed through so many people that are not "all that" but think they are because they can download oscommerce, et al. and add some contributions by following the directions.

    Even if you are planning on doing all the programming work yourself, I don't know why anyone would want to fool around with a mess of spaghetti PHP code that is mixed with HTML.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Festus2005
    I would not recommend anyone that plans on growing past a few dozen products to waste a bunch of time with any of the current open-source carts. Been there, wasted a bunch of time that I should have been spending on finding a good solid cart and developers to meet my needs. It is not an easy task finding a developer that is right for you and trying to find one for an open-source cart is really tough because you have to weed through so many people that are not "all that" but think they are because they can download oscommerce, et al. and add some contributions by following the directions.

    Even if you are planning on doing all the programming work yourself, I don't know why anyone would want to fool around with a mess of spaghetti PHP code that is mixed with HTML.
    Hi,

    I would have to disagree with you on this. I have had friends in the past pay for what they thought was a good shopping cart only to switch over to oscommerce/zen cart for their store.

    To be truthful(and I am sure alot of you may disagree) but people who run the store shouldn't be that concerned with the backend of their storefront software. They should be more interested in:

    1) The security that their storefront offers.
    2) How it works.
    3) How it looks.
    4) Does it do the job they need it to.

    This doesn't mean the backend of the shopping cart isn't important but to the mast majority of people selling online they probably really don't understand how a cart should be coded(plus there are many different ways to code it is all in the coder).

    The great thing about using an open source shopping cart is that if you have someone who can give you the support you need(for example what we do with our clients) the power you get from having a community out there means that if you need a feature that is not currently offered you probably can find the feature you are looking for from the community that supports os carts.

    Unlike purchasing a software. If the company you choose to purchase the cart from doesn't offer the feature you are looking for and you request it, only when there are enough people requesting the same feature will they look into developing it. This can be bad for you because most/all carts that are purchased are usually encoded so even if you wanted to make changes to it you can't.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by aco_ecom
    The great thing about using an open source shopping cart is that if you have someone who can give you the support you need(for example what we do with our clients) the power you get from having a community out there means that if you need a feature that is not currently offered you probably can find the feature you are looking for from the community that supports os carts.
    I don't agree with your statement entirely here. While your statement may be true for some paid for cart software it is not true for all. I know of two carts that are strictly paid for software that has tremendous communities that support you just as well if not better than the osCommerce and Zen-Cart communities. Just so you know those are the only OS carts I have had experience with the support communities. Again, your statement above could very well be true for some software. I just wanted to point out that it is not entirely true for all software.

    Quote Originally Posted by aco_ecom
    Unlike purchasing a software. If the company you choose to purchase the cart from doesn't offer the feature you are looking for and you request it, only when there are enough people requesting the same feature will they look into developing it. This can be bad for you because most/all carts that are purchased are usually encoded so even if you wanted to make changes to it you can't.
    As with the same two paid for carts I know of, the company that develops the software is more than willing to code a one off feature for you. Of course you have to pay for it. But their prices are very reasonable for their services and they will completely support it as well. Now if enough people request that feature it may make it into a future release. To add to this, the communities that support these carts also have provided some features gratis to the requestor. BTW, the communities are hosted by the development company but the company does not provide direct support through it. So support is provided mostly by volunteers similar to the OS communities.

    If you do your research thoroughly you can find the software that best fits your needs. I do agree with your other statements fully.

    Regards,
    Dave

  17. #17
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    Hi,

    That could be true about some paid cart solutions but from my experience it is not always the case. I guess this just comes back to the quality of your company.

    That is good that they offer you the ability to allow you to request features and paying for them is not uncommon but you may be a programmer yourself that wants to add the feature and may not be able to or you may want to bring in your own programmer. This goes back to how much experience you have.

    I agree with you. A great lesson for all is to do research and don't be afraid to ask questions. The only dumb question is the one you don't ask.

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by lbso
    Hi,

    I've been using a modified version of the Paypal shopping cart. Modified for qty. discounts. Not the best solution but it works. I've briefly looked into ZenCart and also XCart Gold. Has anyone any thoughts about either of these two shopping carts?

    Just as an FYI: I stumbled upon this forum while searching for web hosting tips. I found an article on TweakGuides.com that linked to a thread.

    thanks
    lbso
    Zencart is one of the most elegantly designed carts out there regardless of price.
    A decent designer can take the tableless layout of zen and transform it into a thing of functional beauty.

    Zen has partnered with paypal to provide one click checkouts as well. The open source community has not fallen asleep on this one. It is actively developed and the community is quite responsive.
    I say if you can afford a few bucks for a developer, this cart will take you as far as you want to go. Out of the box, it's pretty generic.

  19. #19
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    I might add that osCommerce and Zen-Cart are very bad for SEO. Even if you add some of the contributions available you still have more than one URL for the same content, forward pagination links that are different than the back links, and they do not enforce the order of the query strings so someone could maliciously get you indexed with query strings out of order and they will still work, thus giving you a different URL for the same page. So by using either you are taking 3 steps back right out of the gate.

    Zen-Cart runs slow compared to many other very affordable shopping cart solutions, but it can run quick if you are not on a server with a lot of other accounts on it.
    Last edited by Festus2005; 01-24-2007 at 04:43 AM.

  20. #20
    I have found a cart that is a "pay" cart, Avactis Shopping cart. It is very good, it is easy to customize because they have a great tag system set up, even with little html coding experience I was able to customize the cart without any problems.

    I also like that they have created the cart so that when you do upgrades it doesn't ruin your design and thus you have to do you custom work all over again.

    If you run into problems the support staff is very good and the forum they have if monitored by someone all the time. The people there are very friendly and helpful.

    I have gone thru all the free ones and even a couple of pay carts but this one is the first one that does everything it claims to.

    The Avactis staff is always adding new features to the cart but they take the time to test them before releasing them. That to me is much better than updating the cart every other day. They also take requests from customers and if the request is something that will make the cart better they add it to the features for the next release. I also feel they are very security minded and that makes the cart even more attractive.

    This is just my opinion after spending about 2 years trying all the other carts.

  21. #21
    What are some of the recommended pay carts out there? I see anonymous mentions of them. I have used a couple of free one's and don't really like them without heavy modifications. I want to see some of the recommended pay carts.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by qualityeye
    What are some of the recommended pay carts out there? I see anonymous mentions of them. I have used a couple of free one's and don't really like them without heavy modifications. I want to see some of the recommended pay carts.
    There are restrictions in this forum about recommending software. For instance it is okay to recommend a cart that you have used or you are currently using but not one you have not had experience with. Also, a lot of people here are either resellers or have affiliate links to cart software and they are not allowed to recommend the software either for obvious reasons. So you will find that most (not all) recommendations will be about the Open Source carts. If you search this particular forum and go back a few months worth of postings you will find some recommendations of commercial cart offerings. Let us know which carts you try and let us know which one you choose to use.

    Good luck!

    Dave

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