Best Shopping Carts to Start 2014

Ready for an Ecommerce Platform Switch?


The best (and most important) ecommerce technologies in the digital world - e.g. re-pricing tools and re-targeting platforms such as those featured in Website Magazine's Top 50 on Ecommerce Focused Technology to Know serve as good examples - won't matter much to the bottom line of your enterprise if the platform being used for the Internet retail initiatives doesn't provide a best of breed virtual experience out of the box.

There are, of course, hundreds of choices for Web merchants looking to stake their claim in cyberspace, but that only makes the decision about which platform to actually switch to that much more difficult. While few merchants will opt to actually switch ecommerce platforms this late in the year (and of course before the 2013 holiday shopping season begins), now is certainly a good time to explore the software landscape to discover the top vendors, but more importantly the actual features that you've likely been wishing you had since you first set up shop on the Web and need to compete.

There are really just three types of approaches to ecommerce that merchants need to be aware of - those software solutions that are custom built/designed for retailers (which is exceedingly rare for the most part), those which cater to small and mid-size retailers (really the focus of this article as highlighted below), and those which serve as a means to power the broader, multi-channel commerce demands of large retailers today. In the latter category, merchants will find names including NetSuite, Oracle's ATG solutions, and IBM's WebSphere. These solutions typically power not just Web-based commerce, but in-store commerce as well - helping retailers deliver a holistic shopping experience across numerous customer touch points and a broader set of business capabilities (e.g. ERP).

Those retailers with thousands of stores - both digital and physical - need these more robust solutions and the consulting and support these vendors offer. They are powerful and without question 'best of breed' - but only for the very elite few. They often come at great cost, of course, leaving them out of reach for most merchants. But that's OK, because there are ecommerce solutions on the market, many of which are currently used by large, well known retail brands with a limited Web presence anyway, that fit nicely within their initiatives.

Intershop, PFSWeb, AbilityCommerce and Hybris are just some of the names you'll find serving some of the most well-known brands in the retail space. They offer end-to-end digital ecommerce solutions - from the cart itself, to testing and optimization, order fulfillment solutions and much more - and they do so by default (meaning when you sign on to their services you're in for much more than just uploading some products and images and calling it a day. These vendors often bundle their technology offerings deeply with consulting services and supplementary services, making them ideal for very demanding digital shopping environments. These aren't middle of the road solutions by any means - they are without question the go-to offerings by merchants looking to scale up and make a name for their retail enterprise.

Of course, there are hundreds of perfectly viable ecommerce solutions for both small and mid-range retailers - those that don't necessarily want or need to connect their offline stores with their online ones, or those that don't need all the digital bells and whistles that come with many solutions. Website Magazine features many of those regularly in our Ecommerce Express channel, including Shopify, BigCommerce, Volusion, 3dCart, Corecommerce, PinnacleCart, GoEMerchant and others. Each is powerful on its own and each futures its own unique features. Internet retailers must know what to actually look for and assess when they are embarking on an ecommerce platform switch. Below you'll find some general guidance on the elements that the savviest merchants ultimately consider the most important.

Product PRICING: Perhaps one of the most important variables for small Internet retailers choosing an ecommerce solution, pricing varies wildly. There are numerous self-hosted open source solutions retailers can turn to, but most of the top ecommerce solutions are hosted (SaaS) and offer pricing on a monthly level based on the number of products and the number of features they provide - ranging anywhere from $15-20 per month to $200. Keep in mind that pricing is determined by the number of products and often the amount of data transfer and bandwidth your store consumes (see below). Keep an eye out for other variables when it comes to pricing including setup fees, licensing fees and the dreaded transaction fees.

HOSTING Decision: Many of the top tier ecommerce solutions require custom deployments while others host their customers' stores in their own data centers or one of the popular cloud services (AWS, Azure, etc.). Storage space and bandwidth are obviously closely connected to price, so knowing how and where all your data is stored (in the cloud or a data center) and delivered (via a CDN) is very important.

Retail Security: Merchants are often the subjects of security breaches because they have what hackers want - access to payment details of consumers. Ecommerce solution vendors must offer SSL, fraud protection tools, PCI DSS, backup and restore capabilities.

Shopping CART: Most decisions about ecommerce solutions come down to price, but it's the actual shopping cart that you and your employees will obviously be working with and around the most - so making a good decision in this regard is important. What retailers should look for is the ability to sell both physical and downloadable goods (if necessary), how many products can be listed (and if they can be uploaded in bulk) and many of the bells and whistles like automated email confirmations, social sharing, and live order tracking.

Payment Options: Any hosted commerce solution should provide their customers a variety of payment options - meaning they won't need to contract with a third-party payment processor. Ideally, the solutions merchants choose should be able to handle most/all major credit cards, Pay-pal, and even e-checks or at least provide some means to integrate with solutions that offer that capability.

Ecommerce Design: Most ecommerce software providers offer some method for customers to customize the design of their store - be it templates or by allowing them to dig into the CSS and make adjustments. Some of the basics however likely can't be controlled like in-store search, and image views, so make sure those elements meet your high standards out of the box.

Merchant Marketing: The area where most merchants tend to fail is in the digital marketing arena. Internet retailers must look for solution providers that offer a range of marketing support - including affiliate programs, coupons, basic SEO controls, deals, product feed (and optimization) and even loyalty programs. The fewer of these services that are provided out of the box, the higher the total cost of ecommerce store ownership will be because it will be necessary to turn to third-party providers to gain the functionality.

Retail Reports: It's important for retailers to understand how their site is performing so any platform worth the investment is going to provide some basic reports. Sales/orders, inventory, and traffic (visitors) are just some of the reports that merchants should require. It's also helpful of course if they're easy to understand and use/analyze.

Keep in mind that some vendor is ultimately going to be left out of this list, which shouldn't really be seen as a list at all. If you're a vendor of an ecommerce solution and think you belong here - don't panic (please). Just let us know by submitting a comment below or by submitting a support ticket to our editorial team and we'll update this article accordingly.