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Merchant Accounts
Online shopping carts are electronic order forms for a merchant's business. Customers access the order form via a hyperlink placed on the merchant's Web site. Similar in concept to a physical supermarket shopping cart, customers can put in as many or as few items as they wish, selected from the merchant's Web site catalog.

Shopping cart software allows merchants to accept product orders for multiple products from their Web sites. Shopping cart software automatically calculates and totals your customers' orders, including tax and shipping.

Some setup is required to make your shopping cart operate on your Web site. The shopping cart software must be installed on the server that hosts your Web site or on the secure server that accepts sensitive ordering information. A credit card processor that is considered a one stop shop for e-commerce can get you started with all five of these essential Internet business components.

Which Shopping Cart Is Best for Your Business?
Whether you are a startup or established business, there are certain shopping cart criteria that should be available to your Web site. These criteria include:

Customizable - Your shopping cart should be able to manage the size of your business today, as well as grow with you as your business expands and evolves.

Real-time shopping - Your customers want to place their orders when they are ready to check out, and they want to know the status of those orders. Is the product they ordered in stock? Did the credit card authorization go through?

Multiple-store management - Can your shopping cart manage your business if you have more than one store? Some carts can, but others cannot.

Security - Does your shopping cart offer state-of-the-art security and encryption capabilities (e.g., 1024-bit encryption; Secure Sockets Layer [SSL] security)?

Professional appearance - Will your shopping cart allow you to generate a professional-looking storefront for your business, customized and personalized with your logo, products, categories and shipping methods.

Does your shopping cart feature back-end browser-based administration that helps ensure quality service and customer satisfaction, including:

1. Automatic tax and shipping calculation capabilities

2. Live customer inquiry or customer service email capabilities

3. Immediate order confirmation to customers

4. Invoice and inventory management

5. Site-wide discount capabilities

6. Integrated search capabilities

7. Product variations (e.g., sizes and colors) and product personalization

8. A drill-down menu system

9. Minimum product quantities

10. Statistics reporting for merchant data-mining capabilities

11. Product group and cross-selling opportunities

12. Customer-friendly navigation

International capabilities - Do you conduct business in other languages, in other countries, in other currencies? Your shopping cart partner should be able to accommodate these needs with true multi - currency capabilities.


How Can a Shopping Cart Benefit My Business?

The right shopping cart relationship can facilitate building and managing your consumer and e-business catalogs, as well as making online shopping as easy as point, click and fill in the blanks. Browser-based shopping cart management lets merchants control all aspects of their storefronts, from product maintenance to category management to order and credit card processing.

Your customers want shopping and payment options. The right credit card processor and shopping cart relationships ensure that you make it easy and pleasant for customers to shop on your Web site. The right shopping cart ensures that your e-commerce platform is easy to implement, use and customize. This makes your business a full-service e-commerce solution for your customers. It encourages them to buy from you and to return to your Web site again and again.


How Much Do Shopping Carts Cost?

Prices vary widely depending on a number of considerations:

Who will do the site hosting?

Is the secure server or secure payment gateway included in the cost?

How long is the contract?

Do you pay yearly or monthly?

Is there a maintenance fee after the first year?

Is there a real-time credit card processing interface? (That component usually costs extra.)

What kind of backup program is available?

Your best bet to select the right shopping cart is to develop a relationship with a trusted, one-stop credit card processor, which can help you conduct e-commerce securely, safely, quickly and effectively over the Internet.

Shopping Cart Primer
Imagine how frustrated you would be if you walked into your local grocery store to gather your family dinner and they had no shopping carts and would not allow you to go down the aisles to grab any food. This is what life is like for your customers if they come to your website and cannot select and purchase the products or services they want. (Unless you have only one or a few product choices) This should help you see why having a robust shopping cart and catalog is essential to your future in e-commerce.

When searching for a shopping cart solution, you are looking for a package to transform your Web site into a shopping environment without extensive effort, complicated programming or high-cost support. Here are some of the key things you should look for in your quest for an online shopping cart:

1. Compatibility with reputable gateways

2. Easy setup-simply cut and paste

3. Online user guide

4. Secure Sockets Layer data protection

5. Real-time, offline ordering

6. No need for common gateway interface programming

7. Scalable to any business-unlimited products and orders

8. Fully customizable - order form /shopping cart with background image, logo and test-color input

9. Calculates all shipping, handling and sales tax charges.

10. Supports UPS, Federal Express and U.S. Postal Service shipping.

Secure Gateway Primer
Just like telephone lines allow storefront merchants to send in a credit card order, the internet Gateway will send in your customer's online credit card order to your Merchant Account processor. To protect your customer's credit card data, make sure your Gateway provider has a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol with cryptographic tools. With SSL, transaction data sent by the merchant to the payment Gateway server can only be read and used by that server.

Your Gateway provider should also have a secure communication channel to minimize message handling errors and allow an uninterrupted data stream between the gateway server and merchant account processing bank. With today's Gateway technology, your transaction response time should be in seconds.

You also want to look for scalability in your Gateway system. As your business grows from hundreds to thousands of transactions per month, your Gateway provider's server must be able to handle this. The last thing you want is a Gateway provider with a history of extensive downtime. Make sure your gateway provider has a track record of at least 99.9% uptime and support teams that can get the servers back online at any time 24 hours a day, 7 days per week.

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