Monday, December 31, 2007

Shopping Cart Usability

Usable Shopping Carts Increase Sales

E-commerce has been around since 1993 under many different names, but one thing remains constant; shoppers want usable web sites. Without a usable shopping cart the sites typically fail from poor performance. To succeed in the world of e-commerce and on the Internet web sites must be developed to be usable by patrons as well as search engines.

The most successful sites have been turning to web analytic software to tell them how people use their site. When they notice a break in their site they go in to determine the problem. Marketers tend to think the words on the site are the breaking points; while this may, in part be true, it is more often how the site operates and makes shopping easier for the customer.

Elements of a Usable Shopping Cart

Before a usable shopping cart can be developed several elements must be realized and controlled. Not all things can be overcome, but all things can be controlled. Understanding human nature and how people use new tools can help in controlling the most challenging situations.

Site Navigation

Site navigation must be as easy as possible. Without making the navigation as easy as possible customers will become confused and frustrated which encourages them to leave without purchasing.


Breadcrumbs are the links found in web sites that show the hierarchical path of the page. Not everyone enters a site through the front page and breadcrumbs make it much easier to reach related products without having to dig around the site.

Adding Items to the Cart

Shoppers want to see some visual confirmation that the action they take works. Sites that fail to provide visual cues lose customers due to confusion and the thought that the site doesn't work.


JavaScript requires the browser to support JavaScript. Without the ability to support JavaScript or with JavaScript turned off, functions that require JavaScript can't work. Vital shopping cart functions should not be developed in such a way that JavaScript is required.


Flash requires the shopper to support the version of Flash being used. People that support Flash 4 can't support Flash MX without upgrading. Customers will leave for another store if they are required to upgrade their plug-ins. At the very least, it will require that they have to download the plug-in and start the shopping experience from the very beginning.

Checkout Process

The checkout process should be as short as possible. The faster a person can checkout the faster the customer can be on their way to other things.

Checkout Progress

Each step of the checkout progress should indicate the current step and the total number of steps. This helps the customer know where they are in the process and the number of steps remaining.

Ask for Information in the Proper Order

Credit card information should never be asked for until after all the charges have been calculated and presented to the customer. Asking for this information prior to disclosing the full charges will cause the shopper to abandon the cart.

Advantages of Usable Shopping Carts

Usable shopping carts open the market to the consumer. By making a shopping cart usable to the consumer the process of shopping online is less threatening and actually becomes more inviting. NetIQ, the developers of WebTrends, has developed a successful system that helps web site owners, marketing specialists and web development teams make more usable and helpful web sites.

Understanding how shoppers use one's site and shopping cart can help turn more visitors into purchasing customers. The national average for shopping cart conversion is two percent; however that conversion rate can be increased through having more usable web sites and shopping carts. Multiple paths to the products and easier checkout processes can help greatly.

About The Author

Lee Roberts is the President/CEO of Rose Rock Design, Inc. and owner of the Apple Pie Shopping Cart.

Do You Need A Merchant Account?

Deciding when to get your own merchant account for internet sales can be a confusing and expensive venture. If you have a small to medium sized business and only sell a small amount of products then having your own merchant account may not be the answer for you. Some of the costs involved include.

Monthly fees. Anywhere between $25-$50 for statements and minimum fees.

Per transaction and charges fees. Usually between 2%-3.5 % in fees and .30-.50 per transaction.

Gateway fees. $10-$30 per month

SSL certificate. Can be as much as $250

Shopping cart fee or software purchase. Monthly can range $20-$70 and software purchase can be as much as $1400.

In addition to the cost is the technical aspect of setting up your site to use a shopping cart and real-time processing. Not all gateways, merchant accounts and shopping carts play well together. You must make sure that each can work with each other. Plus be prepared to properly set up your web server to use all this nice technical information the accounts give you.

Now, if you are a larger business or do a lot of sales each month perhaps your own merchant account is the answer for you. It can save you money in the long run. But if you are just starting out with an online business, then a third party merchant may be the answer for you. Third party merchants handle all the background details, pay the monthly fees, assume the risks of fraud and charge backs, and handle all the secure shopping your customers will expect when shopping online. While the monthly fees may be a bit higher, there usually isn't a set up charge, gateway fees, SSL charges and shopping cart set up. Depending on the service you choose, they can give you simple HTML code to add to your site or allow you to use "buy buttons" or both. Fees range anywhere from 5% to 13.5%. Some companies charge a set up fee and a per transaction fee.

Then there is always Paypal. A useful service for new comers to the online payment arena but it has its drawbacks. With Paypal:

Your customer must set up an account with them

They can FREEZE your account

They can set limits on monthly transactions

I suggest you explore all your options and decide what is best for you financially and technically. A little research online can save you money and time in the long run.

About The Author

Jim Hoffman is the co-founder of Inet Goodies. An internet resource group, focusing on SEO, Hosting, Billing solutions and Traffic.

Choosing the Right Online Shopping Cart

Are you a website owner or a web designer/developer? If either applies, I would venture to say that eventually you'll need an online shopping cart for one of your websites. In fact, almost all new websites today need some sort of ecommerce built-in, for the purpose of selling goods and services in the online marketplace.

The greatest challenge is to find the perfect ecommerce shopping cart solution for yourself and/or your client. This task can be very overwhelming, considering, if you type 'shopping cart' into, this search alone returns over 14.4 million hits! Most of us don't have the time to sift through more than a few pages of a search engine to find what we're looking for.

For the last 3 months, much of my time has been devoted to researching as much shopping cart technology as I could get my hands on. In general, shopping cart software ranges in price from free to over $2000 for a single license and web hosted carts range from $5 to hundreds of dollars per month. The studied carts cover the spectrum of all web programming languages (ASP, ASP.NET, Cold Fusion, Flash, Java, JavaScript & Perl shopping carts) and provide limitless features as a whole. The problem is that locating YOUR perfect cart with YOUR specific features can be a big task.

But no fear, just follow this guaranteed step-by-step guide to locate it:

The Top 10 Steps to Finding the Best Online Shopping Cart


How much money do you have to spend on an internet shopping cart? The nice advantage is that there are shopping carts with hundreds of features and they don't cost you a dime. They are generally open source products. The only problem is that these same "free shopping carts" can take hours of installation time and be fairly difficult to configure. For a monthly fee, web hosting shopping carts are made for users with little programming experience and allows them to have an online storefront presence in no time.

Hosting vs. Software

There are two options in selecting your overall shopping cart solution. Either you get shopping cart software, download it, install it on your web server, then configure the shopping cart OR you get an online storefront (aka a hosted shopping cart) where the configuration is very basic and the required setup time is minimal. If you have some programming skills, I recommend buying a script and installing it on your own. The nice thing is that you pay a one-time fee for shopping cart software and the license is good for a lifetime. It's approximately the same price to have a hosted solution for a year compared to most one time shopping cart license fees.

Supported Gateways

What do I mean by gateways? Gateways give shopping carts the ability to connect and securely process credit card orders in real-time. Not all shopping carts are created equal. Make sure that your client's merchant account is supported by the cart you select. I have found that almost all carts support the larger online payment processing companies, such as, PayPal and Verisign.

Shipping Options

Will you be shipping physical products? If so, there are shopping carts that have built-in real-time shipping options through DHL, UPS And USPS. Often times, the cart gives the user the ability to view tracking orders and order status all from within your secure shopping cart web interface. Also, there are shopping carts with options to ship digital goods as well (files, programs, pictures, music and others).

Technical Support

What kind of technical support does your shopping cart offer? If you choose to purchase a script, be sure to also subscribe to the shopping cart creator's newsletter, so that you can stay on top of future updates to the software. Be aware that technical support is generally available on a pay-per-incident basis, as a yearly fee or in the rare case, free. Be sure to know what kind of customer support guarantee the shopping cart comes with.


Please, only buy a shopping cart if it supports SSL (secure socket layer), with 128-bit encryption. As an online storefront, remember that you are responsible for the safe transfer of sensitive information (credit card and bank account information) that is processed through your store. If any of the sensitive information is accessible (stolen) from your website, you could be liable. Be sure that you're purchasing a secure shopping cart solution. Ask the creator's of the shopping cart what they do specifically to protect the secure transfer of sensitive information.

Style Compatibility

Can you customize your shopping cart to look like your website? There needs to be a seamless transition between your website and your shopping storefront or your customers might get hesitant in purchasing your products. There should be similar colors and style layout to look professional and believable.

Extra Features

I just wanted to mention some of the other features that I have discovered, which might be a critical point in determining the shopping cart you want.

Affiliate Program - Offer your own customized affiliate program through your shopping cart software. Quickbooks Integration - Many carts allow direct integration with Quickbooks.

Newsletter & Mailing Letter Managers - The ability to stay in touch with your current customers and keep them returning to your online store.

Custom Taxing Options - Create taxable or tax-free products and have the ability to add various global tax options at checkout.

World Languages & Currencies - Shopping cart language translation and support for world currency might be a necessary feature for your cart.

Error Free

You mean shopping carts can have errors? Of course. A private UK-based web testing firm found the following, after studying a large group of UK online shopping carts for a period of one month (24/7):"The majority of UK web sites are guilty of leaving e-consumers stranded at the checkout empty handed, once they have already spent valuable time browsing and selecting goods to purchase. This is due to erratic functionality within shopping carts, at a critical step in the online purchasing process."

"E-consumers are prevented from making purchases on UK web sites for 9 hours and 30 minutes a month on average, (115 hours a year)." "80 per cent of web sites perform inconsistently with widely varying response times, timeouts and errors - leaving consumers at best wondering what to do next and at worst unable to complete their purchase successfully. This is potentially costing e-retailers millions in lost sales from consumer frustrations." (

Be sure to see what other users are saying about a shopping cart that you might be interested in purchasing. Any shopping cart errors could cost you thousands of dollars in sales. Get a stable and secure cart.

Shopping Cart Directory

The following is a link containing a directory of shopping carts that are categorized according to each of the above-stated steps. Make shopping for shopping carts a breeze!

About The Author

Evan Stevens is a professional web developer. This article reviews ecommerce online shopping carts.

Developing a Winning e-Commerce Strategy

  • We are a full service ad agency so I don't mind shooting arrows in the direction of my peers. Too much attention is being placed on web site advertising metrics (clickthrough rates, certified traffic to substantiate ad rates, etc.) and not enough on how people find and use an e-commerce web site. The industry standard web site analysis tool is Web Trends, but one of the least understood aspects of this product is tracking how people find and move around a web site via reports which can be pulled from the server log files; i.e., where did the visitors come from, what pages do they visit, how long do they stay, what are their traffic patterns, etc.? e-Commerce companies should be analyzing these "digital customer tracks" to better understand how to improve their front-end marketing processes and back-end web site design.

  • About The Author

    Lee Traupel has 20 plus years of business development and marketing experience - he is the founder of Intelective Communications, Inc.,, a results-driven marketing services company providing proprietary services to clients encompassing startups to public companies.

    Monday, December 24, 2007

    Shopping Carts For The Faint Of Heart

    The chief criteria for judging an ecommerce shopping cart are the number of credit card processors and shipping services it supports, and the number of people that support *it*.

    Why? Because credit card processors and shipping services mutate all the time. Your cart will require updating. Which service works today may go out of business tomorrow, and leave you with the orders piling up.

    Other important criteria are how easy it is to set up, and add products, and how easy it is for the customer to use.

    When you set up your shop test it using a wide variety of the oldest and buggiest browsers you can find. If your web store works under them you're home and dry.

    Here are the cheapest, simplest, and most effective carts I've found:

    1. Oscommerce (free) -

    A very good, full-featured, cart. Uses Php and MySQL. Not easy to set up for a 'newbie'. Cookies are used to track the order. If you have PhpMyAdmin installed in your web account, it's easier. Requires a customer to register before they can make a purchase. Supports a wide range of credit-card processors and shipping services.

    Bad point: Technical support is limited to the Oscommerce forums, which are not helpful to newbies.

    Also, it may be a while before an update is available to a payment module. These are done by unpaid enthusiasts.

    Good point: Oscommerce is supported by thousands of unpaid enthusiasts; this means updates do eventually arrive, and it's less likely to go out of business, unlike a commercial cart.

    2. X-Cart (commercial) -

    Similar to Oscommerce. Requires a customer to register before they can make a purchase. Lots of features and add-ons. Supports a wide range of credit-card processors and shipping services.
    Has an affiliate program add-on, and lets others sell products though your cart.

    3. Dansie Cart (commercial) -

    A well specified cart. Supports a wide range of credit-card processors and shipping services.

    Bad point: Apparently the Perl code is obscured, to make it harder to copy, which is annoying if you want to customise it.

    3. Interchange (free) -

    A version of the old Akopia / Minivend carts. Complex product with lots of files and a lot of setting up to do. A complete solution, and includes the option of third party credit-card real-time order processing. Encrypts orders.

    4. Agora (free) -

    A Web-Store/Commerce.cgi hybrid.

    5. The Commission Cart (commercial) -

    A CGI-based shopping cart which also functions as an affiliate program. Other webmasters earn commissions by signing up and linking to your site.

    6. ShopFactory (commercial) - http://www.shopfactory.Com

    Has a nice little wizard-based set-up. If you have a lot of items in your shop, this is an option worth checking out.

    This is a very valuable feature. A person who's set up CGI scripts before will get the most out of this. Supports a wide range of credit-card processors and shipping services.

    Bad points: It's ugly, awkward, and uses JavaScript too much.

    7. WebGenie Shopping Cart Pro (commercial) -

    A simple, wizard-based option. Uses Javascript a bit, but the main work is done by CGI scripts. It saves the credit card information on your server.

    It's for someone who hasn't set up a CGI script before. Expensive for what you get, but it works. Option to buy it on hire-purchase.

    8. Actinic Catalog (commercial) -

    Most suitable if you have lots of items in your store. It's a 'wizard'-based PC program; you type in your information, and the program sets up the store.

    You should set up the default store as-is, then customise it later. Supports a wide range of credit-card processors and shipping services. A little complicated for an internet newbie; there's quite a lot in it.

    9. Order Maven (commercial) -

    A clever little program. It's a standalone Windows executable, which the customer downloads. The customer starts it up, chooses the product, enters their details, and sends off their order like an email, with the credit card details encrypted. It costs $29.00 at the time of writing. No secure server or order page needed; it's all done on the customer's PC at their leisure.

    You need to customise it. Make sure you write your mail server URL into the code. For the customer, the order module is a 160kb download.

    NOTE: Try to avoid carts that use cookies and javascript only, or that tie you into only one secure server and credit-card processor.
    Also avoid web-based services that you lease only. They can go out of business, leaving you flat.

    Having read the above you should have eliminated quite a few programs from your shopping list. They either won't work properly with all browsers, or they won't encrypt your order, or they want to tie you into their manufacturers' secure order system at $40+ per month.

    Another option is to get a bespoke system set up for you by a specialist company. These cost thousands of dollars. Aren't you glad you read this far?

    About the author: T. O' Donnell ( is an ecommerce and web site design consultant in London, UK.

    Online Merchant Account - Costs and Alternatives

    Merchant Account Basics

    A Merchant Account is a commercial bank account established by a merchant to receive payment via credit cards. Three parts are required to accept credit cards. Besides a merchant account, you need a local bank checking account to deposit funds and a processing solution, such a terminal or web-based store front to take credit card payments. Online merchant account, or ecommerce merchant account, is a merchant account that can take credit orders on the Web.

    Cost of Merchant Account

    An online merchant account will boost your online sales, but merchant account incurs various types of cost. A merchant account usually requires a one-time setup fee between $50 - $100. Some merchant account providers waive the setup fee in promotion period or in conjunction with other services. Other costs include gateway fee, statement fee, annual fee, transaction fees and discount rate fees.

    Accept Credit Card without Merchant Account

    When you first start an online business and have limited resources, the alternative would be to use the services of a credit card processor. You can enjoy the benefits of processing credit card transactions online without the requirements of a merchant account and high costs involved. Paypal, WorldPay, PaySystems and Clickbank are some of popular credit processing services. Popular shopping carts or online storefronts, such as eBay Store, Yahoo! Store and Microsoft bCentral, offer built-in credit card processing capability.

    International Merchant Account

    International merchant accounts, or Offshore Merchant Accounts, are merchant accounts that allow the merchants to accept payments from around the world-- regardless of where your business or customers are located. Comparing to an online merchant account, two major services that come with an International merchant account are Multiple-Currency Support and International Fraud Protection.

    Wireless/Mobile Merchant Account

    Mobile merchants used to face unique issues when accepting credit card payments. With the advancement of high-speed wireless networks and mobile technology, mobile businesses are no longer limited in their payment options to just cash or checks.

    Many mobile merchant account ( service providers waive application fee and setup fees to attract more businesses. However, the use of wireless service provider does incur the expense of the terminal hardware, activation fee, monthly service fee, and transaction cost.

    Copyright @2005, Bruce Zhang

    Bruce Zhang has over 10 years experience in developing ecommerce and e-business application such as literature fulfillment ( and supply chain management applications.

    A Tale of Two Revolutions - Ecommerce: A Historical Perspective

    The World As It Then Was

    The dynamic economic growth of the late 19th century placed greater and greater demand on horses to deliver manufactured goods between train and local destinations. Horses pulled stagecoaches, buggies, omnibuses, cabs and even shipping barges in canals. Hitching posts, mounting blocks, and water troughs were everywhere throughout cities in Europe and America. Beautiful carriage houses catered to the wealthy. Horse doctors were highly respected and treated humans as well. Blacksmiths were prominent members of every community.

    On the farms, horses pulled wagons laden with supplies, and carried saddled riders throughout the rough terrains. Stronger and larger horses were bred to pull the new plowing and reaping machines. Carriage makers, harness makers, feed merchants, hardware producers, farm equipment manufacturers and the great livestock industry all thrived on the horse.

    The World Changing Invention

    In 1885 Karl Benz invented the first gasoline-powered automobile, with a lot of help from his wife Bertha. Other makers followed, but the auto was very expensive and generally considered a recreational vehicle for the elite.

    The Transportation Revolution

    In 1903, Henry Ford incorporated the Ford Motor Company in the United States proclaiming, "I will build a car for the great multitude." By 1908, he was offering the Model T for $950 and by 1914; Ford had invented the first conveyor belt assembly line. He was able to produce a Model T every 93 minutes, which was eventually lowered to every 27 seconds! He reduced the workday to three 8-hour shifts and paid his workers five dollars a day; double what other manufacturers were paying!

    Wondrous Freedom

    Can you imagine the joy? People could now explore long distances from home and return easily on the same day! Suburbs were created away from work in the cities. National highways were created. Recreational travel became popular as people experienced the unbelievable freedom of affordable automobiles. It must have been amazing to live in such times watching the complete transformation of society from top to bottom.

    What Happened to the Blacksmiths?

    The Blacksmiths, carriage makers, horse doctors, and horse driven industries would suffer tremendous change and downsizing; a transportation revolution was underway. Mercifully the changes took place over a couple decades. There would be a messy transition period as horses and gasoline powered vehicles shared the same roads.

    Another World Changing Invention

    In 1969, The Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Defense Department created a system that could transmit information between military installations through a network of geographically separated computers called the ARPAnet. They invented revolutionary new technology to accomplish this success. As the technology grew, this Internet, as it soon would be called, became the domain of scientists, university researchers, government entities and intellectual elites. But if your work wasn't included in this circle, the Internet was a government mystery.

    The Information Revolution

    Tim Berners-Lee could be considered, "The Henry Ford of the Internet" because like Ford, he brought a fantastic invention, enjoyed by the elite, to the mainstream customer.

    In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee proposed a new project at CERN, a research organization out of Geneva where he worked that would build upon a pet project he built for his own computer in 1980. Modeled after how he saw the human brain organize information, it enabled him to link one piece of information in one file to another file, "to keep track of all the random associations one comes across in real life" but that our brains often forget. He called the program, "Enquire" which was short for "Enquire Within Upon Everything", a British encyclopedia he had used in childhood.

    The guiding principle of Tim's new project was unlimited expansion. He would design a system with no central control or index and would therefore be infinite in capacity. If it worked, it could dramatically change the nature of the Internet, which most people still had never heard of, much less ever used. Tim would call his new invention WorldWideWeb.

    WWW: Information Without Limits

    Tim designed an addressing structure so that each web site, would have a specific location called the "Universal Resource Locator" (URL) He put together an easy to learn coding system called HyperText Mark-Up Language (HTML), so that files could be linked to one another allowing people to "jump" from one page to another, across unlimited amounts of files on unlimited numbers of computers. The rules he designed to facilitate this were called the HyperText Transfer Protocol. (HTTP)

    The First Browser

    By 1990, he created the first browser-editor to employ the new rules and coding; he called it the "WorldWideWeb". In 1991 the World Wide Web debuted bringing order and clarity immediately to the murky and mysterious Internet. Anyone could use Tim's browser and connect to anyone's computer with a URL (web address) jumping from computer to computer through Tim's updated version of Enquire.

    A new and vast information system was now coming to the masses of ordinary people. The terms "Internet" and "World Wide Web" are now used synonymously but as you can see, they were once vastly different. Tim Berners-Lee is the inventor of the World Wide Web and within five years of his invention, Internet use grew from 60,000 to 40 million.

    As of March 24, 2005, there were 888,681,131 Internet users worldwide or 13.9% of total world population. In North America there were 328,387,059 Internet users or 67.4% of the population. Internet usage grew 146.2% last year alone. There was a whole new class of millionaires created by the dot-com expansion of the 1990's and it's now hard to find a major business without a website. This is a revolution like none other in history and it's happening now.

    Business Freedom and E-commerce

    With corresponding breakthroughs in digital payment systems, including credit cards and electronic checks, Internet sales systems such as the online shopping cart allow anyone to browse and also purchase goods and services from any computer on the Web. Today there are still a few "blacksmiths" who believe the old ways are better, and maybe for those stalwarts of the brick and mortar economy, the old ways are better. But households are becoming more and more comfortable shopping from hundreds of millions of home computers worldwide. Total e-commerce sales in the United States for 2004 is $69.2 billion, as estimated by the Census Bureau, increasing from 23.5 percent over 2003. Anyone can have a website and sell products online to anyone in the world.

    "I Was Born On the Internet"

    There is now a whole generation who grew up using the Internet and they have no problem buying or selling products and services online. Shopping is convenient, fast and the delivered directly to home or business.

    The Global Economy

    The global economy now makes it easy to import and export online worldwide. Flowers are grown in South America, sold in the United States and managed from a company in Holland. Salmon is sold directly from fisherman in Alaska. Prices can be compared to similar products around the world. Merchants no longer need to maintain large stocks of products in buildings. An online store can take an order, process the payment, deposit it into the merchant's bank account, and a different company called a "drop shipper" can fulfill the sale and send out the merchandise.

    Encouragement From Uncle Sam

    According to the Small Business Administration, "The Internet is proving to be a significant business leveler, allowing small and medium-size companies to compete with the giants on the same global playing field...Whether you are a consumer or a business-to-business resource, some of the most efficient marketing and selling tools are available via the Internet, and the potential of reaching a vast audience is open to you through the World Wide Web."

    Conclusion: Are You Part of the Revolution?

    In 1905 one might ask, "Are you delivering your products by horse, or have you purchased a Ford motorized delivery wagon? In 2005 people are asking, "Can I buy your products online or do I have to get in my car and come out to your store? What's your web address?" If you haven't jumped in, it's never too late. The Information Revolution has only just begun.

    Rick David writes for a Merchant Newsletter @
    Merchant America. He
    also writes a humor column called,

    "Don't Laugh It Could Happen To You"

    Short Story: The Benefits of Shopping Online

    Maria's new lifestyle: Short story about the benefits shopping on the Net has given to a dedicated artist.

    I've got this strange friend; her name is Maria. Maria's always been a little weird but now things have gotten unworldly altogether. You see, Maria's an artist; she's into sculpture in particular, of which she specializes in the manipulation of Perspex with a blowtorch. Lately I haven't seen too much of her as she's hooked up the Internet. Actually not many people at all have seen her recently; she says she's working on a big project.

    Now that she's got the Internet she reckons she can focus a lot more on her work without distractions. She doesn't 'waste' time doing grocery shopping anymore. Now she orders all her food and household items. She says if she's extremely busy, her weekly list is saved into the computer, and she just clicks on 'order' and the usual stuff is delivered to her door every week. No more driving, parking, searching for stuff, standing in line, dealing with bored and under slept cashiers. I'm starting to think it's not such a bad idea. Maria is pretty proud. She's now organizing for a local greengrocer to deliver her fruit and vegetables too.

    Maria has always had a 'thing' for Donald Duck. On the Net she's found all these rare collectable dealers like Ebay. When she's not warping Perspex into postmodern configurations representing the need for a more spiritual existence, she's thriving in the consumerist world of finding and bidding for Donald Duck comic books from the 1950's. Last I heard a friend said she's actually starting to look like a duck herself!

    All this Internet shopping is pretty new to me, it sounds like it really could help a lot of people out. However for recluse artists it could be the final straw for friends and family who may never see their buddies again! Nah, its cool-I just hope Maria's new project isn't a giant Perspex Donald Duck. I don't think the world needs any more Donald Ducks!

    I just got back from Maria's place. You're not going to believe what I saw. She was actually having a party, and I wasn't invited. Maybe she thinks I'm boring compared to her new friends. She says she met them on the Internet, a whole bunch of people into Donald Duck! One guy was actually dressed up like Yosemite Sam-gun belt and all! It seems I'm the odd one out.

    Before I left her place she showed me her new sculpture. I underestimated her newfound love. It's a giant computer; inside it is filled with the heads of all her friends (me included). Of course none of us had human mouths, smiling duck beaks adorned all the heads, a definite sign of the Internet's powerful influence, and of the collective warping of today's society!

    About The Author

    Jesse S. Somer is a human hoping to show his fellow Earth citizens the beautiful opportunities the Internet is making available for all our lives.


    How to Get Free Internet Merchant Accounts

    This article will show small businesses how to get free internet
    merchant accounts. If your business is to grow and succeed, it
    is essential to accept online credit cards.

    Benefits of accepting online credit cards.

    1. It has been proven that sales increase dramatically when
    you accept online credit cards.

    2. Up to 75% of online purchases are made on impulse and
    customers spend up to 50% more when using their credit

    3. Above all, if you accept online credit cards you build
    credibility in the eyes of your customers as they assume
    only established businesses will accept cards.

    However, it is not necessary to have your own internet
    merchant account to be able to accept credit card
    payments on your website. Most small businesses do not
    need their own online merchant account.

    How to get free online credit cards

    Getting your own internet merchant account is more difficult
    than obtaining an offline merchant account because the card
    is not present at payment nor is the signature obtained.
    Sometimes, small and new companies face extra difficulties.

    Nevertheless, these problems can be overcome by getting a
    Third Party Processing company to accept online credit card
    payments on behalf of you or your company.

    How Third Party Processors operate

    The payments your customers make are processed through
    the third party's own merchant account, and you the retailer
    is paid (minus a commission) by the third party processor.
    This allows you to sell online without the necessity of having
    your own internet merchant account.

    However, the Third Party Processor makes its profit by
    charging a processing fee. Usually, third party processor charges
    are a little more on a transaction compared with having your
    own online merchant account. Though set-up fees are usually
    free or minimal.

    So, there you have it. You can accept online credit cards on your
    website through a Third Party Processor without needing your
    own merchant account. Free internet merchant accounts by
    another name!

    Wednesday, December 12, 2007

    Evaluating Vendors of Ecommerce Fulfillment Services

    Once your website has secured an order, you have to fulfill it. While the fulfillment of digital goods is usually handled online, the delivery of physical goods is handled in a "brick-and-mortar" world.

    When choosing a fulfillment company ( ) for your ecommerce operation, you need to evaluate both fulfillment services and ecommerce services for order processing.

    Evaluating Fulfillment Services

    Fulfillment services includes receiving, inventorying, warehousing, delivery, record-keeping and customer inquiries. You have options to outsource part of or all of fulfillment services to a third party.

    Receiving - This is the process that fulfillment vendors acquire goods from suppliers and the accuracy of services starts at the receiving.

    Inventorying - The skills of inventory management directly impact the quality and cost of fulfillment. If inventory is out of stock, you may lose customers. If inventory level is too high, it may increase the cost of inventory.

    Warehousing - Physical goods are stored in a warehouse and valuable items are usually stored in secure storage. While fulfillment companies have their warehouses and distribution centers, small businesses can store goods in their garages or basements.

    Shipping - For order fulfillment, goods are delivered to customers in various shipping methods - ground, overnight, etc. at fulfillment centers. Customers specify shipping methods when they place their orders and the fulfillment companies may adjust the shipping methods of the delivery.

    Return and Order Inquiry - Customer Service Reps at fulfillment companies can handle return and refund for their clients. Most ecommerce sites allow customers to view their orders and status of fulfillment online.

    Record Keeping and Reporting - The ability to track all information pertinent to the order fulfillment (from inventory items, customers, orders to shipping) will help businesses to gain insights into the behaviors of their customers. Fulfillment companies and large organizations usually install inventory and fulfillment management software to automate the processes. Small business owners can find shareware for less than $100.

    Evaluating Ecommerce Services

    E-commerce fulfillment vendors are usually fulfillment vendors that provide ecommerce services related to fulfillment.

    Online Catalog - Ecommerce fulfillment vendors can either develop online storefront ( ) for you or integrate your online storefront into their backend fulfillment system.

    Online Payment Processing - Online storefronts from ecommerce fulfillment providers should have the ability to process payments online in credit card, electronic check, and purchase order. Using a fulfillment company, you can accept credit card online without a online merchant account.

    Government Buying and Selling on the Internet

    Global Insight, a leading economic and financial forecasting company, (formerly DRI-WEFA), states that all levels of government (federal, state, and local) should see steady increases in the purchases of goods and services through the year 2009.

    Vendors willing to make the commitment to sell to government can reap the benefits of this projected government spending.

    By the same token, government agencies able to expand and modernize their procurement programs can reap the rewards of increased productivity, and a reduction in the costs of goods and services.

    If you are a company looking to efficiently market your goods or services, increase sales and receive targeted sales opportunities, or if you are a government agency looking to simplify your procurement process and increase vendor competition, there exist plenty of opportunities in today's online procurement marketplace.

    Vendors: Consider Selling to Government

    If you haven't considered selling to government, you are missing out. With past events like the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and the slowing down of the private sector economy, more companies are focusing on doing business with government agencies. Believe it or not, the most reliable component of the economy right now is the government.

    The U.S. Federal Government is the largest buyer in the world, and state and local governments often make up a large percentage of their respective marketplaces In many cities, government employs more people and buys more products and services that any other entity.

    Doing business with government isn't just for corporate giants, either. The U.S. Small Business
    Administration (SBA) helps to ensure that small businesses obtain a certain percentage of everything the government buys. And despite budget crunches in many municipalities, state and local government spending remains the largest in any single market in the nation.

    Deciding whether to bid on a government contract can have far-reaching and long-term implications for companies. It is crucial to reach the right decision - a decision which contributes to the health of an organization. If a company decides to bid, it is creating an opportunity to make money, enhance its reputation, gain experience and cement a relationship with a major new customer.

    Where do Vendors Start?

    There are literally tens of thousands of purchasing agencies to deal with, and it is difficult to know where to begin. Unfortunately, bidding for lucrative government contracts is a highly decentralized process. Companies used to have to be on an agency's bidding list in order to be notified of a purchasing opportunity.

    Now, with the expansion of electronic government and recent government initiatives encouraging agencies to implement online procurement systems, many agencies are making the move to e-procurement. However, even with this move to online purchasing, identifying targeted bids can still be very challenging for companies.

    Finding and monitoring bid notices is difficult because they are posted in so many different places, and often not well organized. Your business can spend a great deal of time surfing from one site to the next trying to track down the right bid opportunities.

    In one area of government bidding, however, an effort to create a government-wide point of entry web site has resulted in an Internet purchasing marketplace called FedBizOpps. As of October 1, 2001 the Federal government requires federal agencies to use this system to post all their opportunities expected to exceed $25,000.

    Although no such central web site exists for the over 87,000 state and local government agencies in the country, there are services available that match a company's criteria with agency bids on the Internet, then send this information directly to them via email.

    The benefits of using a bid matching service are detailed by Tammy Axlund, a Marketing Manager with Midland Resources who says, "(Using a Bid) service has helped us build a national database to keep track of the industry happenings throughout the country, rather than just our region. We have also been able to win a few bids of which we had no prior knowledge."
    Similarly, Teresa Eastman, the Inside Sales Manager for Accurate Safety Distributors, Inc. states "I no longer have to spend my days looking for bids individually, a needle in a haystack so to speak, instead (the bid service) does it all and sends them to me daily."

    While no service can provide your company with every bid opportunity from every state and local government agency, bid matching services greatly reduce a vendor's time and money spent, allowing for additional time to be used to respond to bids.

    e-Procurement Benefits for Government: Save time, Save money

    In the recent past most agencies had to copy and mail their bid packages to any vendor who requested them, even though many would decide not to bid. Using an online e-procurement system allows agencies to simply provide vendors an electronic notice of their opportunities. This results in a tremendous savings in postage, paper, and time.

    There have also been new efforts to simplify the entire procurement process for government agencies. For example, many agencies are having procurement systems customized for them using the Internet, driven by the need to disclose. Agencies used to be required to advertise all their requests for bid in the newspaper. But in recent years, the statutes in many states changed to permit advertising on the Web instead - which meets purchasing departments' requirements to make contract information public.

    While posting bid information may seem like a lot of work, it isn't a duplicate process for government agencies because their sites serve a dual role as a vehicle for disclosure, and as their primary document archive. And usually only a minimal staff is required to keep the site up to date.

    Karen Storm, director of Purchasing for Albany County, NY, explains that since joining the Capital Region Purchasing Group, an e-procurement system in upstate NY, "?our municipality has streamlined the bid distribution and vendor notification processes. This has saved us hours of repetitive clerical tasks and has significantly reduced our copying and mailing costs. Our vendors love the system because it provides them immediate access to our information at little or no cost."

    The City of Rochester Hills, Michigan, reports similar benefits, explaining that they have realized a savings of over $355,000 by posting approximately 85 solicitations from January to June of 2004 on their e-procurement system, the Michigan Inter-Governmental Trade Network. And, the Santa Rosa County School District Purchasing Department, which has been using an e-procurement system since the fall of 2000, says "The biggest benefit we have realized is that we no longer have to manage our bidder's list. Our old bidder's list had grown to over 20,000 vendors, most of whom never responded to solicitations. Managing the list was a burden that we do not miss!"

    Many companies have been working with Purchasing Departments, to create customized e-procurement systems like the ones described above, that simplify and expedite the entire procurement process. And the best part is, they do this free of charge.

    E-procurement systems provide many benefits for vendors as well. Vendors simply register themselves online with a system and create a profile specific to their products and/or services. Vendors then receive notices instantly by fax or e-mail every time bids are issued that match their profile and are given the ability to respond to quotes by fax or e-mail.

    Systems like this can save companies significant amounts of time while increasing sales, it's also a good way for tax dollars to help grow businesses of all sizes and generating new profit centers. At the same time, government agencies benefit by decreasing their spending, gaining more control and simplifying the procurement process.

    What are you waiting for? The new era of "e-procurement" is here, and it has significantly streamlined the entire bidding process for both buyers and sellers alike.

    Christina DeMers is the Marketing Coordinator for BidNet, a firm that has been providing services for both government buyers and their vendors, for almost 20 years. More information about BidNet can be found at their web site: or by calling: (800)-677-1997.

    How To Turn Any Product You Sell In To Residual Income

    The concept of this is for you to offer a subscription type product as an upsell or backend product. For example, if you're selling an ebook for $37 offer a subscription to a related e-zine for $9.95 a month. Instead of an e-zine, it could be monthly updated information for the ebook.

    It's not just for e-books, you can make it work for any product or service you sell. Some subscriptions that might work for your product could be:

    • e-mail/telephone consulting

    • a private or members only web site

    • print newsletters/magazines

    • product updates

    • subscription warrantees

    • product insurance

    • e-zine/webzines

    • the ideas are endless.....

    The subscription product should be related to the product or service you're selling. You could charge a weekly, monthly, or yearly subscription for the upsell product. You could sell your main product and upsell product as a total subscription package deal. You wouldn't charge the one-time price for your main product; you would just charge the basic subscription price of the upsell product.

    The major benefits are that you don't have to keep creating new upsell and back end products. Once you get enough subscribers you won't have to sell anymore, you just keep generating income from your current subscribers. You would only have to sell again if you lost a lot of subscribers.

    Tuesday, December 04, 2007

    Selling From Your Website


    Friends and relitives ask us all the time " How do sell from your website?" and no doubt you want to know as well. Over the next two issues we will be covering this very thing! We decided to divide it into two camps - tangibles and non-tangibles. Feel free to create a hybrid if you are daring, however, for the sake of simplicity - both for your visitors as well as your planning figure out which of the two is applicable and focus your efforts as needed.


    If you are selling products, it needs to be organized in some fashion. Be it by subject , or alphabet, or some other method such as price or season as an example.

    Lets say you're selling jewelry. You want to make it easy for your visitors to find what they're looking for first. You should have different sections i.e. rings, necklaces, watches, etc. You could have various designers alphabetized. It can also be broken down into price range aimed at a target audience. Or maybe target the sophisticed jewelry shopper who's looking for summer items or evening wear.

    The idea is that it's easy for them to find what they want and make a buying decision, then get on with their life. They will remember that the next time they need a particular item.


    We recommend a clear organised presentation for non-tangibles as well. Because you are not dealing with a concrete product, information and services can be precived as being a bit nebulous and therefore suspect.

    As such, you want to make it very obvious what you are offering and how the client will benefit. Be precise. As in everything, keep it as simple as possible.

    The less work on their behalf, the quicker they can come to a buying decision. Examples, testimonials and references work to establish an air of trust and security, thus motivating the visitor to sign on with you.

    The Sale:

    The mechanism in wich the money goes from them to you and the product then gets into their hands, is of course of prime importance.

    In regards to payment, the obvious choice is of course credit cards. It's quick and easy on both you and your customers. Credit card payment is widly used and accepted.

    And this can be set up realitively easy by you. There are commpanies online that are happy to do this for you for a piece of every transaction.

    A small price to pay when considering that the sale may be lost due to too much trouble on your visitors behalf otherwise. 80% of something is better then 100% of nothing.

    The Support:

    I like to include extras. Links to other sites, pertinate information, or some other reason or benefit for the visitor to return to your site.

    You do a good job with your site and they'll browse around and maybe even make that impulse buy AFTER they get what they were looking for in the first place.

    About The Author

    Written by Corinna Gittens-Arnold Zalca, co-authored by Leron Gittens-Arnold
    Zalca, your home business resource and information site.

    The Five Most Commonly Encountered, Off-putting E-commerce Errors

    While getting less public handwringing than during holiday season, the "abandoned shopping cart problem" continues to wreak havoc on online sales. Recently I judged a raftload of sites for the Webby Awards (my second time) and for the Inc. magazine Web Awards, as well as for my own clients. Here are the five irritants and obstacles that most frequently disrupt the visitor's shopping experience at e-commerce sites.

  • Lack of quick orientation for first-time visitors. What does the site sell? I've had to poke around for several minutes sometimes to understand the focus of a site. Jargon is one culprit. Another is lack of context, like an airline site that sells tickets not giving a single clue on the home page in what countries or even what continent it flies.
  • Choosing An Internet Merchant Account

    Surf to Google and perform a search on "Internet Merchant Account". The results are staggering (472,000 results!) If you have created a web based business and need to accept credit card payments, your choices are limitless. Before you partner with a provider, take time to understand the different components of internet credit card processing, and know what to look for in a merchant provider.

    How It Works

    Accepting credit card payments through your web site actually requires multiple components. Between a paying customer and your bank account, three layers exist:

    Payment Gateway - This is the code that will transmit a customer's order to and from an internet merchant account provider. The payment gateway provides you the ability to accept customer billing information (credit card number, credit card type, expiration date, and payment amount) and the necessary validation steps that must be followed before the credit card is actually billed.

    Internet Merchant Account - A Merchant Account is an account with a financial institution or bank, which enables you to accept credit card payments from your clients. The payment gateway actually transmits the billing information to the internet merchant account provider. Unfortunately, most local banks do not provide internet merchant account capability.

    The main reason why most local financial institutions or banks do not want to provide online merchant accounts is because transactions conducted over the Internet are totally different from face to face transactions where a signature is required to authorize the purchase. This makes online transactions prone to credit card fraud. Fraud protection should be one of your primary considerations when choosing an internet merchant account provider.

    Web Site - Regardless of which merchant provider and gateway service you choose, your web site will need to integrate with your service providers. Most providers include detailed web integration instructions.

    How Much Does It Cost

    Understanding the total costs of your merchant provider can be tricky. Remember my Google example - there are more merchant account providers than there are people looking for internet merchant accounts so ask questions and be picky! Typically, an internet merchant account will have three types of costs:

    • Up Front Application Fees

    • On Going Fixed Fee

    • Discount Rate

    • Fixed Transaction Fee

    • Termination Fees

    • Miscellaneous Fees

    Let us discuss each type of cost:

    Up Front Application Fees

    Many internet merchant accounts will require an up front application fee. This fee, supposedly, is to cover their costs for processing your application. In case you choose not to open an internet merchant account, they still cover their initial costs. Although common, many providers waive these fees and I recommend that you choose a provider that does not require an up front fee.

    On Going Fixed Fee

    Most all internet merchant providers require a monthly fixed fee or "statement fee" as it is commonly named, which is simply another way to cover their costs and make money. You will be hard pressed to find a provider that does not require this type of fee on a monthly basis. However, do not choose an internet merchant account that requires more than $10 per month. Additionally, most internet merchant providers require a monthly minimum (usually $25). The bottom line is that you will be paying at least $25 per month (on top of the monthly statement fee) for your account.

    Discount Rate

    Usually, the discount rate will be between 2 and 4 percent. The discount rate is the sales commission the provider earns on each sale. For example, if the discount rate offered is 3%, and you receive a sale over your web site for $20, you will owe 60 cents to your internet merchant provider.

    Fixed Transaction Fee

    Usually between $0.20 and $0.30, the fixed transaction fee is the fixed fee portion of each sale. Unlike the discount rate, the fixed transaction fee is the same for every transaction. Whether you get a $1 sale or a $100 sale, the transaction fee will be the same.

    Termination Fee

    A bit more hidden in the small print, a termination fee can apply if you cancel your merchant account within a specified period of time (usually within one year). But beware, some merchant providers require a three year commitment!

    Miscellaneous Fees

    If a customer requests a refund and they want their credit card credited, an internet merchant provider will charge you a separate fee (usually between $10 - $20). Read the contract carefully, as other special fees may apply.

    Putting It All Together

    Now that the different fees have been explained, let us look at an example set of transactions to help understand what an internet merchant account may cost your business on a monthly basis.

    I have created a simple formula to help you calculate your monthly charges:

    Total Charges = Statement Fee + Number of Transactions x (Average Sale x Discount Rate + Fixed Transaction Fee) + (Number of Chargebacks x Chargeback Fee)

    For example, let us see you sell widgets over the internet. The sales price for each widget is $10. You typically have 100 sales per month and about 5 people request refunds (chargebacks). For this example, let us assume you have signed up with Jones&Jones internet merchant account services and have the following terms:

    Discount Rate - %2.5

    Statement Fee - $10

    Fixed Transaction Fee - $0.30

    Chargeback Fee - $15

    Using my formula above, your monthly Jones&Jones charges will be:

    Total Charges = 10 + 100 x (10 x .025 + 0.3) + (5 x 15) = $140

    You can calculate your monthly sales revenue by multiplying your sales volume by your price:

    Monthly Sales Revenue = 100 x $10 = $1000

    Your internet merchant provider is costing you %14 or your total sales.

    Making Your Decision

    Before you choose and internet merchant provider, understand all of the cost components. Use your current or projected sales data to forecast what your internet merchant account costs will be. Planning ahead can save you time and money.

    About The Author

    Andy Quick is co-founder of (, a free web hosting directory offering businesses and consumers a hassle free way to find the right hosting plan for their needs. Feel free to contact Andy at in case you have any questions or comments regarding this article.