E-Commerce

ProStores Review

Prostores Review
An eBay Company...

A few years ago eBay bought ProStores in hopes of retaining business from merchants that outgrew their online auction product. ProStores was originally developed by Affinity Internet, Inc., the same company that developed the Bigstep e-commerce solution (last I heard this solution was circling the drain). The marketing money behind ProStores in impressive. The question is, does it live up to hype? Answer: no.

Prostores has two strong suits. They offer 24x7 support and a tight integration with eBay. This bodes well for the eBay merchant making their first step to a full-fledged online store. Highly available support can offer hand holding to get a new store off the ground and the eBay integration allows the merchant to continue sales on their auction channel without the need of a secondary product database.

What is a Merchant Account? E-Commerce 101

E-Commerce 101: Merchant Accounts

I’m going to start a series of blog entries that cover the beginning steps of opening an online store. This is the first of the series. Enjoy!

A Merchant Account is a relationship between an online retailer and a merchant bank that enables retailers to accept web-based credit card payments from their customers. This is the account which a Merchant Account provider deposits payments into the merchant's business checking account from the transactions that are made online. To qualify for a merchant account, retailers must meet the bank's requirements.

Avoiding the Google Sandbox Effect

A Storeowners Guide to Beating the Google Sandbox Effect
Don’t put the ecart before the horse.

Launching a new online store takes a lot of work. Merchants spend hours sourcing products, taking pictures, finding a shopping cart solution, signing up with a merchant account and then populating their webstore with products and content. The next stop is marketing the new store. Online marketing begins with gaining high rankings in search engine result pages (SERPs). This is done by having loads of unique content and quality links to your store. Sadly, for new store owners this isn’t enough. New stores will find their ranking in Google stymied by the Sandbox Effect.

Volusion Templates

Volusion gave me a Valentine’s Day present….25% off one of their paid templates. No, it’s not a steak dinner or a bouquet of roses. And they send the offer to all their customers. But saving $125 bucks is nothing to shake a stick at. The timing is good too being at the start of the new year. Maybe its time to give your Volusion online store a facelift?

Volusion offers their customers three options for selecting a design template. They are as follows:

1. Free templates of limited selection (8 of them) and update frequency.
2. Paid templates for a one-time $495 price. Volusion offers 80 of them and some are really impressive.

CubeCart Shopping Cart Review

CubeCart – Modular PHP e-Commerce Solution

Are you considering hosting your own PHP store but need a solution with commercial backing and some sort of support? Then CubeCart deserves a look. This UK based company offers their solution for $69.95. You find the hosting and install the solution. The process is very similar to setting up Zen Cart or X-cart. It modular structure reminds me of setting up this blog with Drupal (I can’t say enough good things about Drupal by the way). You install the core platform and then can pick and choose add-on modules to increase the available features.

Ajax and Big Boy e-Commerce Solutions

Ever wonder what large e-commerce retailers use for a shopping cart solution? Do they build their e-commerce solution in-house or outsource? Do their CIO’s go through the same process of researching and selecting a cart solution that us little guys go through? You betcha.

They fish in a much larger pond than micro/small e-commerce operations and the solutions available to them blow many of the hosted shopping cart solutions that we know and love right out of the water. Take for instance Demandware.

Demandware has an impressive client list that includes Playboy and Vermont Teddy Bear. Even more impressive is their solution. Features include an AJAX shopping cart, highly evolved merchandising ability and a robust checkout system that can include incentives and offers for upselling. Oh and did I mention they offer AN AJAX SHOPPING CART?!!?

Shopping Carts and Store Portability

Have store. Will Travel.

Changing hosts is a pain in the neck for any website. This hassle is quickly compounded when you have a online store. Finding a new shopping cart solution is the easy part, moving product and customer data is a whole ‘nother story. Each hosted shopping cart solution organizes their databases differently. So your exported data from your old store isn’t likely to slide into the new database without some finagling (read: a lot of finagling). Typically, you’ll have to map each data field to match the destination field. Fun stuff, especially if you maintain a large store with an extensive amount of data to move.

Shopping Cart Upgrades. Pushed or Pulled?

We are so many hosted cart solutions so pushy when it comes to upgrades?

Have you had issues with your store after your solution released an upgrade? I have. Many, many, many times. It got to the point that I cringed when a new release was announced. I felt like Tokyo upon hearing Godzilla just booked passage for a short stay. I would clear my schedule in anticipation of lengthy tech support calls and lost sales. It was a monster of a headache. Eventually it got so bad, I just moved my stores to new solutions.

One of the new solutions I moved to promised to never put in fear of the forced (pushed) upgrade. It was Volusion and they take a very unique approach eith their upgrades. They allow me to upgrade the software for the my stores whenever I feel like (queue singing angels..). All I have to do is push a button and begin (pull) the upgrade process. This means I can do in the early morning hours when the large percentage of my customers are sound asleep. Viola. No lost sales. To top it off, Volusion does a great job during the QA process so post-upgrade bugs are very uncommon.

Google Sitemaps Made Easy by Hosted Carts

Creating and maintaining a xml or txt Google sitemap for your store can be a huge time drain. Sure it’s worth it. Adding one will ensure that Google will have a detailed road map to crawl your site and make sure all your product pages are indexed . This is hugely important for newly launched stores.

Two hosted cart solutions I use make it real easy to create and maintain a Google sitemap. Volusion and 3DCart automatically generate an asp page called (or something like) googlesitemap.asp. Its updated whenever you add a page or product to your store. You can then easily point Google to this page of regular downloading. Talk about easy. No more searching for third party tools or site to crawl your store in order to generate a site map.

3DCart Leads the Hosted Cart Market with Ajax

The recent release of 3DCart brought with it some pleasant surprises. Foremost is the inclusion of Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) into the cart’s backend. Merchants can hover over Order, Customer and Product links and have the information displayed without the need to click and load pages. This seemingly small feature improvement can drastically improve the efficiency of day-to-day store operation. It effectively brings an entire database of store and customer information to one page – ready to be displayed in a hover window. Hats off to 3DCart for the addition of Ajax as they the first of the shopping cart on our radar screen to make use of this cutting edge technology. One must assume that the next logical step for 3DCart is sprinkle in some Ajax on their front end.