Implementing Ecommerce: What You Need To Know

Shopping online has evolved greatly over the past 10 years. Think back to the early to mid 90’s and many people were still too scared to make the leap to online shopping - mostly due to security issues. Now millions of people shop online every day, buying anything from a book to a car. It seems if you need it, you can find it online.

As a web designer it is a great idea to know the ins and outs of ecommerce and how to set up a great site that is easy to navigate and easy to make a purchase. From shopping cart options, to the best navigational set up, it takes a lot to build these types of sites. For site appearance, you have the same option of choosing website templates for your ecommerce site too.

Implementing Ecommerce: What You Need To Know

Shopping Carts

One of the main components of an ecommerce site is the shopping cart. Having a secure and easy to manage shopping cart, can set you apart from your client’s competitors. There are many options to choose from and each is a great option in its own right.

Open Source

Now that shopping online is becoming the norm, there are plenty of options to choose from. Open source technologies are great for your budget and allow you many of the same great options as paid software.

open source
Image credit: Sunshinetalia

osCommerce

Partnered with PayPal, MerchantFocus and others, osCommerce has been gaining attention for quite a while now. They have over 23,000 clients and seem to be gaining more popularity.

Zen Cart

A disciple of osCommerce, Zen Cart, “was originally based on osCommerce code from June 2003 and has undergone rapid development since that time. It has released three major point releases, and a couple dozen minor point releases,” according to their Wiki.

A few features Zen Cart boasts:

  • Easily keep your products/catalog updated - no HTML coding required to add, delete, or modify products.
  • Works on the popular combination of PHP and MySQL technologies.
  • Secure - no one but your administrative personnel can access your customer/catalog data.
  • Easy to install - our helpful installation program guides you easily through the setup process.
  • User frontend is validated to XHTML 1.0 Transitional.

Open Cart

You guessed it, Open Cart is an open source shopping cart as well. According to their website, “you simply install, select your template, add products and your ready to start accepting orders.”

WordPress Options

WordPress is a very popular platform for bloggers, and it has rapidly become easier to implement shopping cart plugins for your WordPress account.

WordPress
Image credit: Peregrino Will Reign

These solutions may not be great for someone trying to recreate the next Amazon, but is a viable option for those freelancers who want to sell an ebook or premium theme.

eShop

You are able to implement merchant gateway providers such as PayPal, Webtopay and many others. eShop will allow you to calculate shipping options, order handling, and automatic emails on successful purchases.

FatFreeCart Plugin

FatFreeCart Plugin, a supplement to FatfreeCart—which is “simply a copy-paste cart and does not require you to register with us or install anything.” It works with PayPal and Google Checkout. It supports product variations, shipping, handling and sales tax.

Shopp

Works with payment gateways such as PayPal, Google Checkout and authorization.net. Other Shopp features include:

  • Search engine optimized shopping pages (product name and category in the title, semantic markup, alt/title attributes set, keywords/description).
  • Built-in smart categories provide easy ways to highlight: new product additions, featured products, bestselling products, on sale products, random products, even related products for cross-selling.
  • RSS feeds for category products (including smart categories).
  • Sidebar shopping cart.

Fully Managed Shopping Cart Options

If your client needs something more robust than a WordPress plugin, and can’t manage an open source shopping cart option, then they might want to look into fully managed shopping carts. These software programs are run by a 3rd party provider, and can help with any back end problems when needed. The cost will be more, but if they have an intricate ecommerce site, this may be the best option to use.

When setting up an ecommerce site for your clients, you should decide if it is going to be in PHP format, MySQL etc. During the planning stage, it is wise to decide this after considering your shopping cart options. If you set the entire site up on MySQL and the shopping cart provider you want to use doesn’t support that format, you could run into a problem. Instead think of the shopping cart provider you would like to use, and then start building.

Some popular options are:

  • CRE Loaded pricing starts at $50 per month, or you can download and host it yourself for a one-time fee of $295.
  • E-Junkie provides shopping carts and buy now buttons for selling downloads and tangible goods. They automate the transfer of files and codes if you are selling download. Prices start at $5 per month.
  • CubeCart is a feature-rich PHP and MySQL shopping cart. The price ranges from free to $180.
  • X-Cart is a PHP and MySQL shopping cart. X-Cart gold costs $229 and X-Cart Pro costs $575.

Securing the Website

When someone is going to be giving their personal information over the web, they want to know no one is going to steal their information. Making sure your website is secure will make your site more credible and keep shoppers happy.

Web Security
Image credit: billmccarroll

To do this you will need to obtain a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate. The certificate is actually twofold—a root certificate and a server certificate. Once these are given to you, you will be able to ensure your visitors security on your site.

The process for getting the SSL certificate is as follows:

  1. Search for a certificate authority SSL website (there are hundreds to choose from) and submit a request (called a certificate signing request, or CSR).
  2. After the certificate authority approves your request, you simply upload the certificates to the web server.

If you are unfamiliar with the entire SSL community and finding a reputable certificate authority, you can start at websites like SSLShopper and dmoz.org to help jump start your search.

What Products Are Being Sold?

When designing the aesthetics of the website, ask yourself this question, “what products are being sold?” If your client is selling clothing for example, you won’t want to add too much color to the background because it would take away from the clothing itself. On the other hand if they are selling toys, you may want to make the sight more playful and colorful. Having clean backgrounds overall is a good rule of thumb, let the merchandise sell itself, don’t let the shopper get distracted by busy design and graphics.

Selling Products
Image credit: Seven-Deadly-Sins

Using unique icons can make them pop on the page, and usually don’t take away from the merchandise. Sites like Starfish and Iconeden have free icons you can use, or if you don’t have time to design them all on your own. You can also get inspiration from perusing other ecommerce sites and deciding what you like and dislike about the sites.

Testing

One of the main differences between an ecommerce website, and other functioning websites is the user interaction is much higher. Yes you want visitors to click through to other aspects of a site, but you aren’t asking them to put in private information, and click through as much in other types of sites.

Testing
Image credit: foraker life

Testing the site many times before it goes live will be your best bet to get the best user experience for the visitors. There are plenty of ways to test the site, and of course you can always ask friends and colleagues not associated with the building of the site to give you some good feedback.

UserTesting.com

UserTesting.com will have real people in your target demographic test your site and give real feedback. The initial cost is $29, and then goes up to $39 after the third test. According to their website, “you get to "look over the shoulder" of these users while they perform common tasks on your website, to see and hear where they get confused and frustrated. This dramatically decreases the cost and hassle of usability testing.”

Fivesecondtest.com

Website magazine recommends Fivesecondtest.com for testing and states, “it can be a useful tool for testing calls to action or getting fast feedback on any number of things you’re trying to develop. There are a limited number of free responses, so to get more feedback or to further customize your testing; a small fee (about $5 to $15) is involved. But for a free first impression of any page on your site, this is a good place to start.”

Userfly.com

Userfly.com has a great attribute that uses your actual visitors as “test subjects” but giving you a line of code to put into your site. The code will then record your user visits and play them back—allowing you to see exactly where your visitors went and did not go. The price ranges from free (10 visitors a month) up to $200 a month for 100,000 visitors.

More eCommerce Resources

Ongoing Efforts

Updating an ecommerce site is an ongoing process, and depending on sales can be a weekly event. If you are just setting up the groundwork for your client, you need to keep in mind usability on the back end. Are you going to use a CMS (content management system) that can be explained easily, or will you have to educate your client for a more in-depth look.

Ecommerce sites are a lot of work, but done right they can produce great results. Keeping up to date with the latest shopping cart software and testing systems will ensure success.

What's your view on integrating ecommerce in your project? Do you think ecommerce will be a vital part in future?