Posted: 7/20/2010

eCommerce Shopping Carts 101

Having an eCommerce website means offering customers the ability to purchase products and services online in a fraction of the time it would take them to do so in-store - and the central feature of any eCommerce software is the virtual "shopping cart" provided for users to find items and place orders. Understanding how this cart works is essential for any business looking to enter the online market. Any shopping cart will come as part of an eCommerce software package and must be run either on a local web server or hosted by the software vendor.
All eCommerce shopping carts are meant to integrate with the information side of a web page; customers who arrive on a home page can either browse the information there or click on a link that takes them to the shopping cart portion of the site. Most often, this link is represented by a search bar or button that allows customers to search for products by name or by category. Some shopping carts and eCommerce software can run on multiple web servers, while some are limited to Windows or Unix.
Most are proprietary, but some are open source and offer access to the source code, allowing changes to be made at a basic level. For a shopping cart to work online, it requires three things: a database which stores product, order and consumer information, a storefront that allows customers to see details about what they are ordering and how it is being ordered, and an administration function that lets a company add products, change prices and process orders. Pages that customers look at are created as needed, and order details are then stored in the database for receipts, invoices and connection with any user accounts made.

In order for any eCommerce software and its shopping cart to process orders, it needs to accept payment. Here, companies have two choices - they can opt for a streamlined shopping cart that only accepts online methods of payment such as PayPal, or they can choose a more robust and secure option accepts credit cards. Shopping carts which process credit cards are required to comply with PCL standards, set out by major financial institutions such as Visa and MasterCard, in order to offer payment services. These options will also come with a greater ability to manipulate catalog and storefront data than those which only support online payment types. A company must also consider if they want to purchase a license for their eCommerce shopping carts and host them on a local web server or if they prefer to use a hosted solution. Hosted solutions are often cheaper in the long term and quicker to set up initially.

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