Questions To Ask Before You Commit To A Shopping Cart
Choosing an eCommerce platform is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when setting up an online store. And it’s the step we focus on most at Merchant Maverick, for good reason. Your eCommerce platform can make or break the initial success of your business.
Before you sign on for a monthly (or yearly) plan with your favorite eCommerce solution, you should stop and ask yourself a few questions. After all, you need to be absolutely confident that your chosen eCommerce platform fits your company’s goals and budget to a T. In the end, choosing the wrong eCommerce platform can be very costly.
Here are the things you should consider before you commit to an eCommerce platform:
Table of Contents
- Does this Software Have All of the Features I Need?
- Can I Add-On Missing Features Through Extensions and Integrations?
- What is the True Cost of Operation?
- Have I Thoroughly Tested the Admin, and Do I Feel Comfortable Finding My Way Around?
- Have I Tested Customer Service in a Variety of Situations?
- Do I Fully Understand the Terms of Service and Other Fine Print?
- Do You Have All Your Answers?
Does this Software Have All of the Features I Need?
Ultimately, you need your shopping cart to be able to perform a variety of tasks, depending on your business’s model. As you research shopping cart options, you should compile a list of all the features you need access to and refer to that list often.
Do you need a discount engine that can create BOGO sales and condition-specific discounts? Write that down. Are you looking for strong, easy to use SEO features? Find out which specific tools you need and include those in your list too.
Once you have a comprehensive list, you can dive deep into your chosen platform’s feature list and admin panel to ensure that they have everything you need. Although no software will include 100% of the features you’re looking for out-of-the-box, a few will come pretty close. To fill in those missing features, see below.
Can I Add-On Missing Features Through Extensions and Integrations?
No matter how good your software solution is, you’re going to need to add on a few extensions to access every feature you need.
Before you sign up for a service, make sure it offers a large pool of extensions. If you’re looking for a few specifics, you should double check that those options are available.
What is the True Cost of Operation?
Nothing in business is truly free. Even if you’re operating on a free, open-source platform, you’ll have to pay to keep your site online. Here are a few expenses you should remember to include as you calculate your overhead.
For SaaS solutions:
- The monthly rate of the platform: Monthly rates vary from $9/month to $299/month, depending on the software and the level of your plan.
- Any transaction fees: Very few SaaS solutions still charge transaction fees. Shopify is the one platform I know of that still does. These fees vary from 0.5%–2.0%, depending on your plan.
- Any potential bandwidth overage fees: Some platforms charge around $5-$7 per GB that you exceed your monthly limit.
- The cost of any themes: There will likely be a good selection of free themes available to you, but you might want to go for a premium theme instead. These themes range from about $30–$200 and are usually available as a one-time purchase.
- The cost of any integrations: Integrations are typically billed on a monthly basis for SaaS platforms. Your expense will depend on the number and type of integrations needed.
- Customer service fees or subscriptions: Very often, customer service for SaaS solutions is included for free. However, some platforms charge a fee for personal service. Check your platform’s policy.
- The cost of an SSL certificate: A shared SSL certificate is often included for free, but these SSL certificates typically mean that your checkout page will be featured on a subdomain of your platform’s website. To have only your brand visible on your checkout page, you might need to pay for your own SSL certificate–starting at $90/year.
- Expenses related to your payment processor: While you can avoid transaction fees with your eCommerce platform, you cannot avoid them with your payment processor. Take a look at our free eBook, The Beginner’s Guide to Payment Processing, for more information.
For Open-Source Solutions:
- The cost of a license: Many open-source platforms offer their software for free. A few platforms charge a few hundred dollars for the license.
- Any upgrade and update fees: Open-source platforms that charge for licenses often impose a smaller fee to receive updates and upgrades.
- The price of hosting: Pricing for hosting depends on the bandwidth and storage capabilities you need.
- The cost of a domain name: Domain names are fairly cheap, typically between $5 and $20 a year.
- The cost of site security: You must take care of every element of your site’s security. You’ll have to pay for an SSL certificate and ensure your site’s PCI compliance.
- Any necessary extensions: Extensions for open-source solutions are typically priced as a one-time fee. Some are available for free, and some cost up to $500.
- The cost of a theme: Open-source solutions do not often come with free theme selections. You’ll have to purchase one from a third-party developer, build your own, or hire a web designer to do it for you.
- The price of hiring a web developer or designer: If you don’t have web skills yourself, it is very likely that you’ll need to hire someone to help.
- Expenses related to your payment processor: You’ll have to pay credit card processing fees to your payment processor. Again, find out more about these fees in our Beginner’s Guide to Payment Processing.
Have I Thoroughly Tested the Admin, and Do I Feel Comfortable Finding My Way Around?
Ease of use is one of the most important aspects of your eCommerce platform. No matter what platform you choose, you’ll want to make sure you feel comfortable in the admin panel.
Fortunately, most eCommerce solutions—cloud-based and licensed—offer free trials of their products. Make sure you take full advantage of those trials. Test out every feature you’ll need to use in your day-to-day selling.
Try adding products, creating discounts, adding shipping settings, and configuring sales tax. If you can, try integrating with any third-party software you’d like to use. Test out any design tools your platform has available. Find out if the design tools are intuitive and if they give you enough customizability.
Take the software through its paces.
Have I Tested Customer Service in a Variety of Situations?
Quality customer service is critical, especially if you don’t have a lot of technical abilities. Unfortunately, it can be a bit of a challenge to accurately test customer service when you’re using a demo product. The platform is trying to win your approval, after all. They’ll do their best to make a good impression.
Bear that in mind when you try out customer service. Test live chat and phone response time. When you encounter a problem in your trial, reach out and see if someone can walk you through it.
You should also take a look at your platform’s self-help options. Dig into the knowledge base to make sure the information is up-to-date.
If customer service is lacking during your trial, it will only get worse when you’re a paying customer.
You should also search for current customer reviews to see what they have to say about customer service. However, you should keep in mind that reviews will always trend toward the negative. (Take a look at our article on negativity bias for more information about this phenomenon.)
Do I Fully Understand the Terms of Service and Other Fine Print?
In my review work, I have read hundreds of customer comments and pages of terms of service. And I’ve looked at countless reviews complaining about company policies like limited refunds and bandwidth overage fees. I cannot stress this enough: make sure you read all of the terms of service before you sign onto a platform so that you avoid any unpleasant surprises.
One word of advice: Many cloud-based services offer discounts for year-long commitments to their platform. Before you sign on for a year-long subscription, I highly recommend that you spend at least six months on a monthly subscription. So often these year-long subscriptions are non-refundable. You’ll want to be very sure of your platform before you pay the lump sum.
Do You Have All Your Answers?
If you have considered all these questions carefully and feel good about the answers, go forth and sign up with the eCommerce platform of your choice! I feel confident in saying you’re making a wise decision.
Otherwise, I recommend you take a step back and review any unanswered questions. Crunch those numbers, test the platform, and confirm that this software is what you’re looking for.
As always, for in-depth reviews that can get you started, take a look at our top-rated eCommerce platforms. We can help point you in the right direction.