Off-Page SEO – Building Website Authority

Google’s great insight that allowed them to build a better search engine was the value of links as a mechanism for differentiating between sites. Whereas earlier search engines just looked at the text on a page, Google considered the relationships between sites. Each link was considered a vote, and sites with many incoming links (often referred to as backlinks) were given higher search rankings.

Whilst Google has changed a lot since its early days, links are still among the most important ranking factors for SEO. However, whilst in the past, getting a lot of low-quality links or buying links would work as a strategy, these days, it is essential only to get high-quality links relevant to your business. Avoid inferior quality links as they will not help a site rank better and harm your natural search performance. Best practices for link building are as follows:

  • Build relevant, quality links.
  • Create great content which people want to link to
  • Aim for a range of links from various sources with different anchor text.
  • Do not buy links.
  • Avoid low-quality sites.

Link Building Strategies

Building links is more complex than it used to be, and as many tactics which worked well in the past, e.g., directory submission or blog comments, no longer carry any weight. Focus instead on building links organically from high-quality sources.

Create High-Quality Content

Quality content provides more content for the search engines to index and provides ‘linkbait’. Sites with excellent quality content will naturally receive links from other sites whose owners believe the linked content is a useful resource for their visitors. Quality content can take the format of text, applications and resources such as how-to guides.

Links from partners

Other websites will be happy to link to high-quality sites which share similar or complementary content. Your strategy here is not to get thousands of random links but high-quality links from relevant sites.

Sources of links can include:

  • Business partners. Ask your business partners to recommend your services by placing a link to you on their site.
  • Suppliers. Many suppliers will have a list of resellers on their sites.
  • Quality directories. There are often specific local business directories that promote nearby businesses.

An excellent source of links is websites that link to your competitors. There is a free backlink checked on Neil Patel’s site.

Online PR

Generating stories about your business is an excellent way of getting excellent quality links to your site. One way to create media interest is to submit press releases to relevant media websites. Media websites tend to be well indexed and highly ranked by search engines as they contain a large volume of quality content that attracts links and is often updated. The following types of media sites can be targeted when distributing new stories:

  • Blogs. Many bloggers are hugely influential in their fields and may be interested in writing about your product and services.
  • Press release sites. Websites that accept and distribute press releases. Some of these sites are free and others charge a small fee.
  • Online magazines. Online magazine and newspapers often write stories after direct approaches and press releases.

Managing eBay Returns, Return Policies and Return Rules

Return Policies

The return conditions for an item are set by a creating a ‘Business Policy’ set in account settings > business policies.  A seller can create multiple return policies, one of which is applied to each listing.  Policies set the following conditions

  • Whether domestic returns are accepted
  • Whether international returns are accepted
  • Return period e.g. 14, 30, 60 days

Note:

  • As a business seller, you may have legal obligations to accept returns
  • To qualify for a premium seller discount, the listing must offer a minimum 30 day return period

Managing Returns

To return an item, a buyer should request a return through their account.  When the return is asked for it needs to be approved by the seller.  Once a return is received, it can then be refunded by the seller.

Return address

Seller’s Return address is set under account settings > addresses

Return Settings

The return approval process can be automated to pre-approve or automatically refund returns under certain circumstances.  The criteria set include:

  • Return reason
  • Order value
  • Specific item
  • Item category

These settings can be found in Seller Hub > Orders > Return preferences.

eBay Sell Your Item/Quick Listing Form

The quick listing tool is the form within eBay that is used to create listings one by one. 

Features of an eBay listing

  • Title. A descriptive title helps buyers find your item. State exactly what your item is. Include words that buyers might use to search for your item.  Max 80 characters
  • Subtitle.  Subtitles appear in eBay search results in list view and can increase buyer interest by providing more descriptive info.
  • Custom label. Create a custom label to enter the information you want to track, such as your own SKU number.
  • Category.  Each listing must have at least one category.  A second category can be added this may incur a charge
  • EAN.  Buyers often search using product identifiers, so eBay recommends product identifiers to make sure your listings have maximum visibility in buyer search results.
  • Condition. Select the condition of the item you’re listing.
  • Photos. Add up to 12 photos. eBay does not allow photos with extra borders, text or artwork.
  • Item specifics. Provide info about the item you are selling, such as brand, size type, size, colour and style. These details help buyers find your item when they filter their searches and appear at the top of your listing description in a consistent format.
  • Description. Describe the item you are selling and provide complete and accurate details. Use a clear and concise format to ensure your description is mobile-friendly.  Description can be entered using the WYSIWYG editor or HTML
  • Format.  Select auction or fixed price items
  • Duration. Select how long you wish your listing to run.  Auction items are 1, 3, 5, 7 or 10 days.  Fixed price items can only be Good til cancelled, meaning they automatically renew every 30 days until they sell or are ended.  Listing can start immediate or scheduled for a later time
  • Price.  See below
  • Business policies.  See below
  • Package weight and dimensions.  Size and weight of an item.  They are used for calculating international postage when you use postage tables that price per kg.
  • Items location.  The geographical location of the item.  Used mostly for local pickup only items.

Listing pricing

Auction listings

Auction prices have three components:

  • Starting price.  The price at which the auction starts
  • Reserve price.  The price below which the auction will not sell
  • Buy it now (BIN) price.   The Buy It Now price is available until someone bids on the item or until the reserve price is met.  Until this point, the item can be bought immediately at the BIN price
  • Best offer.  Best offer enables buyers to make an offer for the product for immediate purchase. According to eBay, adding best offer increase sell-through by 3 to 7 percent.

A classic auction strategy is to start the bidding at £0.99 with no reserve price.  Often a low starting price will encourage bidding and result in a higher winning bid.

Fixed Price

Fixed price items only have a buy it now price.  Sellers can also the best offer option.

Stock numbers (SKUs) for eCommerce

Choosing stock numbers is on the face of it a pretty uninspiring subject. However, all online retailers need to do it and choosing the wrong format can cause lots of pain later. Here are some quick tips:

Avoid preceding zeros

Avoid zeros at the front of your stock numbers like the plague. Excel will strip them out automatically causing endless issues when you are trying to combine spreadsheets of data. 

This can cause issues if you are using barcodes as your stock numbers as these frequently have zeros at the front. An EAN (European Article number) is officially 13 characters long and so an 11 character EAN should really have two zeros at the front.

Advice: If you want to use barcodes as your stock numbers, I suggest you add a prefix e.g. Brand-Barcode Avent-0123456789898

Don’t just use numbers

If you just use a number string as your stock number, then this will mean that this number can be treated in two different ways by excel.

1.      As a string of digits i.e. plain text

2.      As a number

From Excel’s POV these are NOT equivalent. This will cause problem if you are trying to combine spreadsheets or use functions like VOOKUP as what looks like the same stock number will not match.

Advice: As above, start your stock number with text, that way it will ALWAYS be treated as text.

Avoid special characters

Keep to numbers and letters and limited punctuation in stock numbers as special characters can cause issues. For example Amazon does not support apostrophes. Also, apostrophes come in multiple formats which look similar e.g. straight, curly.

Include variant information

If you include variant information in the stock number e.g. Avent00100-Blue, Avent00100-Pink, you can use the root stock number to filter for variants.

Include useful information

Bit more subjective this, but personally I would always include useful information such as brand in the stock number as it makes filtering easy.

Barcodes for eCommerce

Barcodes are much abused by a hugely important aspect of retail, especially eCommerce. They (should) uniquely identify products and are a vital part of the process of listing products and processing orders.

This article looks at the advantages of using barcodes and the pitfalls that can arise.

Types of Barcodes

Barcodes come in several flavours. The main ones are EAN (European Article Number – 13 characters) and UPC (Universal Product Code – 12 characters).  In the UK EAN is most used.

Sometimes barcodes are less than the specified number of characters and these missing digits can be shown as proceeding zeros e.g., 0000123456789 not 123456789. This can cause product with marketplace matching as some marketplaces require the full thirteen characters to make a match.

Barcode issuing

Valid barcodes are issued by GS1, a global standard authority. A manufacturer must buy a licence to issue barcodes for their products and digits 2 to 6 of the barcode signifies the manufacturer.

Advantages of using Barcodes

Identifying products

If you have recorded the barcode for each product in your system this can be used for identifying products during common warehouse functions such as:

  • Booking in deliveries
  • Dispatching products
  • Stock taking

Marketplace matching

Marketplaces such as Amazon, CDiscount and OnBuy are catalogue-based systems that organise products by barcode. Creating a new product will require a barcode in most categories. Similarly, to list a new product the quickest method is to search the catalogue by barcode and if a match is found specify a price and quantity.

Pitfalls of using barcodes

The problem with listing or dispatching products based on their barcode is generally due to their misuse by suppliers.

Assorted colours

Frequently products are delivered in a box of assorted designs or colours which all have the same barcode. Great for a physical shop but not so good online where customers expect to get EXACTLY the product they see in the image.

Updated/refreshed products

An updated product should get a new barcode, but suppliers frequently reuse barcodes. If the retailers is matching product by barcode, they may not realise that the product has changed and send out the new product when the customer is expecting the old product.

Incorrect issuing

As mentioned above, valid barcodes are not just a string of numbers but are issued by GS1. Some suppliers create their own barcodes as a string of thirteen numbers to avoid paying the GS1 licence fees. Whilst this may have worked in the past, these numbers will now be rejected as invalid by marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay.

Incorrect matching

Details on marketplaces are frequently wrong or give a wrong quantity. This can be an issue when matching large catalogues by barcode were checking each listing is not practical.

Instructional eCommerce Videos

At VendLab we love sharing our knowledge of all thing’s eCommerce, so we have created VendLab eCommerce School – a YouTube channel dedicated to eCommerce instructional videos. Alongside our educational videos, there are recording of our eCommerce Odyssey Podcast which features interviews with interesting people in the eCommerce world

Amazon

Understanding Amazon FBA Settings
Understanding what you are being charged for FBA fulfilment and storage
How to deal with Amazon seller account suspensions
Amazon Performance Metrics – Feedback, A-Z Claims & Order Defect Rate
Benefits of Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA)
Creating Amazon FBA listings (or convert FBM to FBA)
Creating Parent-Child Variation Listings on Amazon
Creating product listings on Amazon by matching by EAN or ASIN
Expand Globally with Amazon’s Sell Globally Tools
How Amazon compiles product data from multiple sellers
How to create Amazon A+ Content
How to create Amazon FBA Shipping Plans
How to create Amazon shipping templates
How to create an Amazon Branded Storefront
How to grow your Amazon sales: Deals
How to Manage Amazon returns including Safe-T Claims
How to select keywords for your Amazon product listings
How to set up an Amazon seller account
How to use Amazon Brand Registry
How to use Amazon catalogue Drafts & Selling Applications
How to use Amazon Category Specific Product Upload files
How to use Amazon FBA Inventory Planning
How to use Amazon promotions
How to use Amazon Sponsored Ads Match Types
How to use Amazon Vouchers to grow your sales
How to use the Amazon Price & Quantity Flat File
How to win at Amazon Search
Introduction to Amazon Sponsored Products and Sponsored Brands
Launching a New Brand on Amazon
Managing Cross-Border Amazon sales
Managing Orders on Amazon
Setting up Amazon Business
Understanding Amazon Business Reports
Understanding Amazon FBA Fees
Understanding Amazon FBA Settings
Understanding Amazon Payment Reports
Understanding Amazon Pricing
Understanding Amazon Seller Coach Reports
Understanding Amazon’s product listing page
Amazon Brand Registry Features
Pros and Cons of Amazon FBA

eBay

Why Sell on eBay
eBay Account Types and Selling Limits
eBay Listing Best Practice
eBay Seller Hub – Performance, Listings, Orders, Marketing, Payments, Research and Reporting
Understanding eBay Fees, Discounts and Invoices
Understanding eBay Settings – Postage, Business Policies & Buyer Requirements

Etsy

How to open an Etsy Shop

How Search Engines Work

Search engines perform a marvelous feat. Based on a text query, they produce a list of (usually) relevant results from the billions of pages on the World Wide Web. Moreover, they do this at lightning speed, with search results appearing as your type.

Crawling and Indexing

Search engines do not achieve this by searching the web, but a massive database of the web’s content called the search engine’s ‘index’. This database holds information about the content of millions of websites (e.g., text, images, videos) and their links. The search engines use automated programs called robots (a.k.a. spiders, bots or crawlers) to investigate new websites and record any changes which have occurred to pages already in their index. This process is known as crawling. New content will be discovered by following links.

Ranking

When someone performs a search, search engines will interrogate their index for the most relevant content for that query and present that to the user. The ordering of results by relevance is referred to as ranking. A search engine’s method of indexing the web and producing a list of results for a given query is referred to as its ‘algorithm’ and is a closely guarded secret. Algorithms are complex and look at multiple factors when deciding on the ranking for each query. Industry experts now believe that Google uses over 200 ranking factors when compiling results. Ranking factors include:

Quality and Quantity of Links

Using link relationships was Google’s great insight that enabled it to build a much better search engine than the competition. Instead of just looking at the content of a site, Google considered links. A link was treated liked a vote, with content with more incoming links ranking higher. 

Links are not created equal, and links from more established sites will improve ranking more. All other things being equal, the more natural backlinks you have from trusted, high-authority websites, the better your chances of ranking higher within search results.

Content Relevancy

Your page’s rank for a query is decided by how well your page’s content matches Google’s perception of the searcher’s intent. The process of ‘On-Page Optimisation’ involves researching the best keywords to target your site pages and creating content that utilises these keywords.

Performance Metrics

Google is constantly revising its search results in light performance data. It uses performance metrics such as click-through rate and time on site and machine learning techniques to tweak its search results in real-time to produce more relevant results.

For example, if a lower result is getting more clicks than the higher result, it will judge that it is more relevant and move that result up the list to respond to user behaviour.

The Search Engine Results Page (SERPs)

Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) are web pages displayed to users when they search online using a search engine, such as Google. The user enters their search query, and the search engine then presents them with a Search Engine Results Page (SERP).

Before optimising your website, you should understand how it might be displayed in the search results. Understanding the layout of a search result page can help you create content that encourages users to click your link. The SERPs now have dozens of features, but the most critical distinction is between ‘paid’ and ‘organic’ results and paid results.

The natural (or organic) search results are the listings of web pages generated by the search engine’s algorithm. The paid results are from advertisers bidding on keywords on Google Ads. Although Google Ads take ad relevancy into account, how much the advertiser is willing to pay is the most significant factor.

In the following figure, the results on the left are all organic:

On the right is the ‘knowledge graph’ (see below). A standard organic search result includes:

  • Page title (title tag)
  • Page URL
  • Meta description

It may also include specific organic snippets such as sitelinks.

Title

This is the title tag for the page which is defined in the page’s HTML between the <title></title> tags. The title is the first and often only part of your search result that is read. It should short and relevant while still giving enough information to provide the user with a good grasp of what the page is about. Keep it short as Google will trim title tags over 70 characters.

Sitelinks

Sitelinks are links that sometimes appear in the results below a listing’s URL and meta description. Each Sitelink links to a leaf page within the current website and has a title and description. Sitelinks are more likely to appear in searches suggesting clear brand intent (e.g., searches for domains or brand names).

You cannot directly control the appearance of Sitelinks. Google’s algorithm decides whether there are relevant Sitelinks on a website and whether to show them.

URL

Your URLs should be relevant and short whilst still supplying enough information to display what the page is about.

Snippet

The snippet is the page’s description and is limited to about 156 characters. While the snippet may be the page’s meta description, Google sometimes compiles the snippet from page content. This enables Google to customise the snippet to each search query.

Rich Snippets

Rich Snippets provide extra information to answer a query, such as a photo or a star rating. Adding structured data to your site can increase your chances of having a rich snippet displayed alongside your search results. A rich snippet looks like this:

This snippet contains a picture of the ice cream, a list of ingredients and other details.

SERP Features

SERP features can be paid, natural, or pulled directly from Google’s Knowledge Graph. Popular features include:

  • Featured snippets. These show a content snippet from a top-ranking web page. They appear at the top of the search results.
  • Knowledge card. This appears at the top of the results and offer a short, answer to a query.
  • Knowledge Panel. Panels provide information about the main topic of the query. They appear near the top of the results on mobile and the right-hand side on the desktop.
  • Image Pack. Image Packs show a number of thumbnails and clicking on them takes you to Google Images.
  • Top stories. Top stories carousels show recently published articles, live blogs, and videos.

Google maps

Google Maps provides local information for places around the world. Google maps data often appears in search results, especially for local queries. It includes information such as aerial maps, road maps, street view maps taken from Google vehicles.

Adding your business to Google My Business is free and especially important for companies with local customers such as physical shops. By creating a Google My Business profile, your business information will appear in relevant local searches, generating free traffic for your business.

How to Accept Payments Online

Electronic payment refers to the mechanism of paying for a product online via a debit/credit card or another electronic payment service. Amazingly, some companies still do not accept payment online, preferring phone or other payment methods. Taking online payment has the following advantages:

  • Convenience for the consumer. Consumers can enter their payment details online instead of mailing or phoning them through to the retailer. This removes steps in the purchasing process, making a purchase more likely.
  • Speed. Online payment allows products to be instantly bought. Internet customers are increasingly expecting a quick and painless payment process followed by a speedy delivery.
  • Efficient payment processing. Electronic payments require minimal manual processing cutting down on the workload. Payment details are collected on the website, processed by a third-party payment processing company and the funds transferred to the business without any other administration.
  • Credit. Paying via a credit card or a buy-now-pay-later service such as Klana enables customers to buy on credit.

Customers expect the convenience and immediate satisfaction which online payment provides. A company that is not offing its customers the opportunity to pay for products or services online is certainly losing sales to competitors which offer a quick and easy online purchasing process.

Options for Accepting Online Payments

There are three main ways of accepting payment for online retailers:

  • Merchant account + payment gateway
  • All-in-one solutions
  • Alternative checkouts, e.g., PayPal, Amazon pay

One way or another, these are usually funded by credit/debit cards, though a bank account can finance third-party payment solutions such as PayPal.

Online Merchant Accounts + Payment Gateway

Before payments went online, offline businesses accepting credit cards required a merchant account with a high street bank to settle transactions and a handheld card machine known as a PDQ to process the payments in-store.

When collecting payments online, a merchant can use a payment gateway (a virtual PDQ) to process payment onsite. They will also need an online merchant account to settle the transactions.

Payment gateways are available from high street banks or separately from third parties. There is a fee payable to the payment gateway and the acquiring bank when accepting payments online. This fee will depend on the volume of transactions and the risk associated with the business.

All-in-One Solutions

All-in-one solutions such as Stripe offer a complete solution for collecting and processing the card details on behalf of the business without requiring an online merchant account or a separate payment gateway to be set up. They can be more user-friendly and fees more transparent as all the processing happens under one roof.

Alternative Checkouts

Worries about online payment security in the early days of the Internet led to the launch of alternative checkout solutions such as PayPal, which enabled customers to pay online without entering their card details. When paying using an alternative checkout, the customer is directed to the checkout provider to complete the payment. Popular solutions include:

  • PayPal. PayPal is the most popular ‘Digital Wallet’ solution. It offers both an alternative checkout solution and an all-in-one solution for collecting and processing credit cards.
  • Amazon Pay. Amazon Pay is a payment solution from Amazon where customers can use the payment details they have stored in their Amazon account to make online payments.
  • Apple Pay. Apple Pay is a payment solution available on apple devices where customers can use stored payment cards to make payments.
  • ShopPay. The payment system used by many Shopify merchants in their integrated Shopify checkout.

These solutions have an easy sign-up process and offer competitive commission rates. As well as supplying an excellent service to retailers, these payment solutions also improve the user experience of making payments online. With more sales happening online, the alternative checkout experience has some advantages for users:

  • Quick. The customer’s details are stored, so no need to re-enter every time they make a purchase.
  • Uniform experience. Checkouts come in a vast range of shapes and sizes and can be confusing for the user. Alternative checkouts provide a consistent experience which increases conversion.
  • Fraud protection. Alternative checkouts offer increased security.

The familiarity of alternative checkout such as PayPal reassures the customer that their money is safe and can reduce abandonment. This is a big problem with up to 80% of customers going through part of the checkout process without completing the transaction (source: Bolt).

Fraud

Whilst online security has improved, fraud is still very much a worry, especially as fraudsters are moving online with the shift from offline to online commerce. It pays to understand:

  • Tell-tale signs that fraud might be occurring (see below)
  • The processes you can set in place to detect fraud.
  • Under what circumstances you are covered against fraud

Below is some general advice for avoiding fraud online:

  • Beware of telephone orders. 3-D Secure and chip and pin mean that online and in-person transactions are now much more secure. Telephone orders do not have this level of protection and so are targeted by fraudsters.
  • High-risk shipping address. Unfortunately, some locations, e.g., West Africa, are known for their fraudsters.
  • Unusually large orders. Be suspecious if you receive an unusually large order from a new customer, especially if it is a popular, high price item.
  • Changes to the shipping address. Fraudsters initially enter the card holder’s address so fraud systems will not catch them before contacting you to change the address.
  • Unusually large number of overseas orders within a short time. For example, if you receive 50 orders from customers outside your market within a few days, but you usually only receive two international orders per month.
  • Orders from different customers with the same shipping address. Criminals often place orders from several stolen cards and ship the orders to the same address.
  • Overpayments. Fraudsters will often overpay and then ask for the overpayment to be returned through a bank transfer. Always repay via the original payment method.
  • Strange combination of items. If a customer orders multiple of the same thing, be suspicious.
  • Undue haste. Fraudsters will try and get an order quickly before it can be inspected closely.
  • Suspicious email address. Real customers are more likely to use email addresses that has their name. Watch out for email addresses created without due care, like ‘knh$$yro123456@gmail.com,’ or undeliverable emails.
  • Different delivery and billing addresses. Whilst there are legitimate reasons why shipping and billing address would be different, sending to a different address is less secure.

Credit/Debit Cards Risks

Due to privacy restrictions, merchants know surprisingly little about the card transactions they are accepting. When a card transaction is successful, they will have access to the following information:

  • 3D-Secure. Whether this card passed the 3-D secure test
  • CV2. Whether the CV2 code was successfully entered.
  • Billing address match. Whether the numbers in the billing address entered match those on file
  • Country. The card issuer and the country of issue.

When setting up their payment system, merchants will need to decide the level of risk they are willing to accept when taking payments. For example, it is standard to accept card payment only where the CV2 code was correctly entered. This, however, is not obligatory. The stricter the test, the more transactions will be rejected. There will inevitably be some false positives, so exercise common sense.

When selecting a payment processing system, ensure that they provide a fraud alert system that will help your business find orders that need to be rejected or reviewed. Stripe, for example, provides merchants with a fraud score for each order based on its subjective assessment of the risk. The merchant can create rules around this score, e.g., < 50 always accept, 5-100 review, over 100 reject.

Seller Protection on Alternative Checkouts

One of the benefits of alternative checkout solutions such as PayPal is that their scale enables them to have sophisticated fraud detection systems. Typically, both the merchant and the customer will have a level of protection against fraud and a dispute process for when things go awry. However, it pays to understand the conditions of seller protection. For example, The PayPal Seller Protection Policy requires:

  • Proof of delivery. Protection is only available for items sent via a tracked service.
  • Delivery address match. The order must be sent to the address given at the time of purchase.
  • Tangible goods. The item must be a physical good to be covered.

International Transactions

Making products available to international buyers is a fantastic way to increase sales, and accepting local currencies increases the conversion rate. Payment service providers differ in how well they support multi-currency transactions and the fees they charge. Check:

  • Currency support. Some payment gateway will make additional charges to accept payment in foreign currencies.
  • Conversion rate. What is the conversion rate used?  The conversion rate used may often be hard to find and uncompetitive.
  • Multi-currency transfers. Can the provider transfer currency into a foreign currency account?  Frequently a currency trader account will give a better conversion rate. Examples include Payoneer and World First
  • Additional fees. Are extra fees charged for cross border transactions?

PayPal, for example, will only allow funds to withdrawals in the default currency of the account and at a generous spread above the spot rate. It also charges a cross border fee on top of its usual fees.

Choosing the Right Payment Option?

Offering multiple online payment options increases satisfaction by improving the customer experience. On average, customers use 3.6 different payment methods for their monthly bills (Source: Annual Billing Household Survey).

Choosing an eCommerce Shopping Cart

Building an eCommerce enabled website requires selecting the software to manage the process of making online sales. The software is referred to as shopping cart software.

Shopping Cart Software allows site visitors to select one or more items for purchase and place these in a virtual basket. When they wish to finish shopping and pay for their chosen items, the customer is taken to an online checkout, where the software calculates a total for the order and adds any additional charge such as shipping and taxes. Finally, the software collects payment details securely and informs the customer that the transaction is complete.

A shopping cart is the nuts and bolts of running an eCommerce enabled website, and the choice of cart should be decided by a business’ requirements and online marketing strategy. This section will look at the factors influencing selecting a cart and each solution’s pros and cons.

Types of Shopping Cart

All-in-One vs Self Hosted

As mentioned in the previous section, Shopify is an all-in-one shopping cart solution, meaning that it is an easy-to-use solution managed and hosted by the company that created it. All you need to do to set up your store is sign up and configure the account. You will need to install and manage your shopping cart with all the complications for a hosted shopping cart.

Whilst hosting a shopping cart gives the merchant more flexibility and control, all-in-one solutions are better for most sellers. Major multi-national companies now use solutions like Shopify to manage their eCommerce businesses.

Free vs Paid

When setting up a shopping cart, an important choice is to buy a commercially available cart or use an open-source solution. Open-source software is developed by volunteers and is free to use. Open-source shopping carts such as Woo-Commerce provide a cheap way for businesses to start selling online and offer most of the functionality provided by comparable paid for solutions.

The obvious advantage of open-source carts is that they are free, making them attractive to small businesses and start-ups. However, whilst the software is free, the lack of support may mean that open-source solutions take longer to install and set up, and you are on your own if something goes wrong. That said, there is a vibrant community of developers and professional services companies around most open-source solutions, and help is never too far away.

For commercially available software, there will be an initial setup fee and an ongoing license fee. However, for this money, the software vendor should provide good documentation and telephone support level. Particularly useful when something goes wrong, and immediate help is needed.

The decision between free versus paid shopping cart will depend on requirements, timescale and technical expertise. Business with-in house technical expertise or with particular needs may want to investigate an open-source solution. However, if technical skills are in short supply, it may be best to opt for an all-in-one solution that will provide much-needed support.

Bespoke Vs. Off-the-Shelf

Off-the-shelf products are unlikely to fit all the requirements of every business exactly. For this reason, some companies choose to develop their own cart software to ensure that their needs are met. Do not approach this lightly, as software development can be a difficult and expensive process. Thing to consider when comtemplating a bespoke solution:

  • Cost. It is more expensive to develop a bespoke cart than use an off the shelf solution.
  • Timescale. Whereas an off the shelf cart can be set up in a few hours, building a bespoke cart may take months.
  • Support. If a bespoke cart breaks or if you need modifications, typically, only the original developer will be able to fix it. On the other hand, commercially available carts often offer high support levels and are used by a community of developers. The more people who use a cart, the more it will have been road-tested, and the bugs ironed out.

Off the shelf eCommerce platforms such as Magento and Shopify are powerful and configurable. A third option may be to develop more or more extensions for these platforms to customise them for your needs.

Stand-Alone vs ECommerce platforms

Whilst platforms such as Shopify and Magento started as shopping carts, their functionality has grown, both of their core offerings and through 3rd party apps, turning them into full-service eCommerce platforms. A whole ecosystem of companies has evolved to develop apps for these systems, including:

  • Channel integration. Integrate channels including Amazon and eBay.
  • Warehousing. Organise your warehouse.
  • Payments. Accept payment via multiple methods.
  • Couriers. Integrate with leading couriers.

If you are looking to grow, an extensible system is a good insurance policy for the future. However, if you are only ever selling a few products through your website, then a more straightforward solution may be more suitable.

Choosing your Shopping Cart

When choosing a shopping cart, many factors will influence the selection. As money and time are limited, the final decision will be a compromise. Factors to consider when choosing a cart include:

Number of Products

Small businesses may wish only to sell a few products, while larger online retailers may have thousands of stock products. A company offering a more sizable number of items (and making more sales) will require a robust cart that can cope with volume sales and has the functionality to allow these products to be organised, queried, and edited more effectively.

Nature of products

Most products will be suited to sale through an off-the-shelf cart with no modifications. However, some products will have specific requirements. For example, digitally delivered products such as software, documents and music will require functionality to allow secure file download. This functionality does not come as standard on all shopping carts. Some products will be difficult to sell through off the shelf carts. For example, products requiring a high degree of customisation, such as flowers with multiple options such as delivery time, card and message to specify, will require a bespoke cart.

Functionality

Off the shelf shopping carts will vary widely in functionality. Before choosing a cart, make a list of the functionality needed and compare this to that present in the available shopping cart options.

Usability

The administration functionality of the cart should be straightforward to use and easy to configure. The backend of many carts is unnecessarily complicated. If something seems like it needs a PhD to run, it will make life difficult eventually.

Technical Expertise

Shopping carts require varying levels of technical expertise. Using a managed service requires little technical knowledge. On the other hand, a self-hosted cart will often require a developer to design and configure the front end (customer-facing) part of the site.

Budget

Shopping carts vary in cost from free (open-source carts such as Magento and Woo-commerce) to tens of thousands of pounds. Increasing the budget will enable a business to get a more closely fitted cart to their requirements.

Plugins, Integrations and Customisation

The more popular platforms such as Shopify and Magento have thousands of extensions available, allowing the system’s functionality to be extended without the need for bespoke development. Woo-commerce is itself an extension of the popular WordPress CMS platform.

If your business has particular requirements, you may need to get some tailored development work done on the platform. Carts will differ in how easy this is the achieve.

Shopping Cart Design

The front-end layout of a shopping cart is referred to as the template. Most carts will come supplied with several standard templates and by altering the code of the template the look and feel of the shop front can be changed to reflect a business’ branding. Popular carts such as Shopify and Magento have thousands of off-the-shelf templates available at a reasonable price (£50 – £200).

It is worth investing in an attractive website and not just sticking with the out of the box design. Having a slick design and a good user experience is one factor that makes one online business stand above the rest.