Internet storefront startup checklist

Internet storefront startup checklist

Do you have some products that you want to sell on the Internet? This checklist will give you an overview of what you need to start a successful online storefront. Your location and the amount of office space is not relevant to getting started. Having the products that customers want at a good price with good customer service is the recipe for a successful business. If you have that, consider selling your products online. The retail industry is shifting from physical retail space to the Internet. E-commerce sales growth has been growing rapidly, even during the recession.

1. Select a shopping cart solution
Sounds simple enough. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of shopping cart solutions on the market. Pick one.

Selecting the right shopping cart software is critical. The features of the shopping cart need to match your requirements. Some carts are simple. Some offer a wide range of features. Some will handle a large number of products, others may integrate well with a back-office system that you have. You should compile a list of cart features you must have and those that you want. Then prioritize the list and start shopping for a cart.

2. Develop detailed product content
If your products do not have good images and informative product descriptions they will not sell. It is that simple. No one will buy a product from the product description provided by most manufacturers. In order to entice a prospective customer, you will need to provide a good description of the product. The product description should reflect your personal knowledge of the product. You need to speak to the customer through the product description, as if you were having a conversation with the prospective buyer. Why this product? Why is it better than the others? What are its features?

A good shopping cart will support over 100 product attributes per item. Investing your time in product descriptions is necessary for any Internet store to have a chance at being successful.

3. Set up phone and email
Your customers are going to want to communicate with you. Phone and email are a minimum requirement. Instant messaging from the website is a growing trend. Sales volume will dictate the number of phone lines and customer service staff you will need. Plan for growth.

Use email accounts such as; don’t use Don’t use your cell phone as your business line; do setup an 800 number. Get a phone headset for customer service staff. Be responsive to customer service requests. Poor response will generate negative reviews. Positive reviews will help you succeed in this marketplace.

4. Select a payment method
Your retail store should offer multiple payment methods. The cost of merchant gateways varies widely. Some charge by the transaction, others charge a monthly fee and a transaction fee. The fees can vary considerably depending on the products being sold. PayPal is one of the simplest, but it also is a good indication of a low-cost website. Before you sign up for a merchant account, make sure it will work with your cart. Typically, some integration work is needed.

5. Review your shipping options
Your options for retail shipping carriers are limited, so you may think deciding how you ship should not take much time.   Shipping cost is a key factor for an online store. Carriers have standard shipping rates and negotiated shipping rates based on shipping volume and contracts. To provide accurate shipping rates at the time of the sale, you need to know the weights and dimensions of every product. Shipping costs are likely the most overlooked area for new online businesses.

6. Managing product inventory
Should a product be available for sale on the website if you don’t have the inventory? The answer typically is not a simple yes or no. Can you drop-ship the product? Do you have alternate sources for the product? How long is your lead time for delivery? It is not uncommon to use a mix of inventory management methods. Different products, manufacturers and geographical considerations should be considered when planning product inventory methods.

7. Managing orders
Once your Internet store becomes successful, managing orders will become a priority. How you manage orders as your sales volume grows will determine if you continue to grow. If you already have an order fulfillment system, consider how it will provide updates back to the website. Will it send shipment confirmation emails with tracking numbers? How will customer service manage order changes? There are many options and a wide range of software solutions.

8. Don’t do it alone
This list is a basic guide. Don’t underestimate the amount of effort required. It is likely that you have skills and experience with some of the items on this list but not all of them. To be successful you need to have a good team with diverse skills to bring the project together. Inspire Technologies has the business and technical skills to help your online business be successful. Give us a call. Let’s discuss your ideas and determine if it would be mutually beneficial for us to work together.

So How Do I Grow my E-Commerce Business? Part II: Manage Your Inventory

You have a fancy web page that displays all of the items you want to sell to prospective customers. You have the inventory to support the sales. You might even have Google Analytics running on your website to make you aware of how well your web site is attracting customers. This part was easy and fun. You realize that the Internet and mobile phones make access to your inventory available to customers worldwide. So the more exposure you can give to your products, the better chance people will be able to find your ‘stuff’ worldwide!

In Part I of this series you got brave and decided to branch out and sell your products on other Internet marketplaces such as Amazon, Ebay, and Rakute, just to name a few. You are having so much success selling on these Internet storefronts and you think to yourself, this is easy! So you decide to add more products to your inventory selection. You branch out and contract with new suppliers to round out your line of products.

But, now it’s getting a little harder to manage all these products. How do you keep all these marketplaces up to date with your current products and inventories without having to manually touch each one of them? Well, that’s where Inspire Technologies comes in. At Inspire Technologies we can download your web content into our database. Once we have your data, we conveniently send that same data automatically into all of your marketplace stores. And you want to know what the best part is?  This all happens without any manual intervention!  For more on our product feeds, read our article on Working with Product Feeds to Amazon.

Inspire Technologies can also work directly with your suppliers to import their product listings into our database to merge with your current products. This will automatically add or delete products based on their listing, include their inventory quantities with your own inventory so you have more items to offer for sale without having to stock the inventory, and post to your various marketplaces. So, what does this do for you? This will allow you to increase your sales by offering a wider selection of products to your customers. We all know that increased sales mean increased profits for you!

However, one of the challenges we face when importing supplier products is that of quality content. Each marketplace that you want to sell your product on have their own rules for how they will accept your product listings so it’s important that your suppliers supply good content to you. At the very least, each supplier should have an item/model number for their product along with a short title, sales description and stocking unit of measure.

However, the need for more content is never ending. Marketplaces like Amazon add most of their listings based on the manufacturers UPC code so this is a very important piece of data you need from your suppliers if you want to sell in Amazon’s marketplace. From this code they assign their unique identifier called an ASIN. Once they have established an ASIN, it is easy for other sellers to offer the same product.  For more information on ASIN’s see our article on Selecting the best ASIN for improved sales.

Some additional information needed from your supplier is the purchase price and recommended MSRP price. Manufacturers often have their own rules on how far you can deviate from their MSRP price, so make sure you are aware of their pricing rules before you start selling. Inspire Technologies can help you structure your pricing so that you can constantly compare your retail price to that of competitors. Our re-pricing program allows you to offer competitive pricing according to rules you establish. Contact Inspire Technologies to see how our re-pricing program can help with your sales.

Many marketplaces require you to submit an image of the product you are trying to sell. These too have rules. They may need to be a certain pixel size, may need to have a white background, or just need to properly represent the item being offered. Be sure your supplier can give you an internet link to their professional image or you could end up spending a lot of money on photography services. Inspire Technologies also has several options to help with images. We can calculate the pixel size of each image to make sure it meets the requirements of a marketplace as well as work with your suppliers to download images direct from their server to our server if they don’t offer an internet link. Contact Inspire Technologies with your image requirements to see how we can help.

Often times a product can be purchased in varying configurations, or attributes; size, color, quantity packs, material type, etc. If so, the main product is often referred to as the parent item. Each variant is known as a child or option and usually has a unique item number representing the exact specification of the variation. When a supplier gives you their list of products it is important that they identify these groups in a way that no human intervention is required to know what products make up the ‘group’. An easy way to do this is to have both an item number for the unique item to purchase, but also a base style number that uniquely ‘groups’ all variations of a products offering.

A simple Excel spreadsheet is an easy way to do this by having each attribute listed in a separate column:

parent items

This chart shows two products available for purchase; either a Floral or Plain Blanket. The blankets are available in green or brown, and either size 66 or 69. The Item Style number uniquely groups the two different offerings. In this example, you would be offering two products each with selections to choose color and size.

Inventory listings can be quite challenging to manage when you take into account all of the content requirements. Trying to sell on various marketplaces can add to this challenge by requiring lots of manual labor to keep your data updated. Let Inspire Technologies help you manage your inventory and help you grow your E-Commerce Business. Contact us with your requirements!

Working with product feeds to Amazon’s sellers central – Part 1

Part 1 – Inventory Feeds

The different type of Amazon feeds

  • Inventory feed
  • Product feed

There are three things to consider when selecting a method to manage your price and inventory on Amazon; The offer information you need to manage, how often you need to update your offer information, and the amount of products you need to manage.

For this section we’ll focus on managing small amounts of products using Amazons Flat File Inventory Feeds.

Amazon provides three files for managing offer information. To add, remove and manage products in your Amazon catalog we can use Amazon’s Flat File Inventory Feed Spreadsheet. The flat file inventory feed allows you to add/remove, and update your offer information for products that already exist on Amazon. This is the file you should use if you are just starting to sell items on Amazon. This file lets you add/remove products on Amazon using existing product information that is already available on Amazon.

To list items on Amazon you need to define an SKU (Stock Keeping Unit). This is the identifier we use to manage our products internally.  The next thing we need to identify is the Product ID. Product ID is a more universal identifier. This is a unique identifier that a product is commonly identified by. Valid product IDs are ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Numbers), ISBN (International Standard Book Number), UPC (Universal Product Code), EAN (European Article Number). This number lets you match your product to the existing products with the same product IDs already on Amazon. When choosing a product ID we have to take into account that some of the product IDs could map to more than just products on Amazon. The best product ID to use is the Amazon product ID (ASIN). The reason that this is the best product ID is that it uses one to one mapping. When you list a product using ASINs it will be offered on the correct product on Amazon. When you do not know the exact ASIN of the product you are listing to Amazon, it is important to check the ASIN that Amazon assigned to the SKU we uploaded to make sure the catalog information is the same as the product you are selling.

Some examples of discrepancies are for items sold in packs of more than one, items with different model numbers, or if your items could vary by something small. It is important to check your listings after they are uploaded to ensure your item is correctly listed and the product is not offered for sale under the wrong ASIN so you don’t sell a 12 pack of socks for 5 dollars when you really want to sell a single pair for 5 dollars.

With this file you can add an item for sale on Amazon with very little information. To list an item for sale using this feed you would only need an SKU, product ID, product ID type, price, and quantity for sale. This will list the item for sale on Amazon. Some of the other helpful information you should supply is tax information; is the item taxable? Item condition; is the item new, used? Lead time to ship; how long will it take to ship the item? The default is 3 days, so if it would take you longer than three days to ship an item it is imperative to include this in the feed to Amazon. If you want to allow people from outside the US to purchase the items we will also need to set the ‘will ship international’ to ‘Yes’.

If you already have items listed on Amazon and you just want to change the price and inventory you can use the price and inventory feed. This feed is designed to let you update your unit price, minimum price, maximum price, quantity, lead time to ship, and fulfillment channel based on your Amazon SKU.  You can use this feed to update any of the above attributes listed.

The last inventory flat file Amazon offers is called the Listing Loader File. This file is designed to help users match their products to products that already exist on Amazon. This is best used to find out if a product we want to sell is already on Amazon and to see which ones are not. We can also use this file to see which products match more than one product on Amazon and select the correct ASIN to list the product under.

For part 2 we will discuss Amazon’s product feeds.

Google Shopping Basics

This is the first in a series of Google Shopping articles that will be geared towards retailers who:

  • are unfamiliar with Google Shopping.
  • are skeptical about getting a good ROI.
  • have a limited marketing budget.
  • have limited technical skills or resources.
  • don’t have the time to delve through pages of instructions and tutorials.
Google Shopping box

Google Shopping box – multiple items

I will give you the basics and include tips to get the most out of Google Product Listings.

If you’re not familiar with Google Shopping, just perform a Google search using the name or brand of any item or category of items that you sell/want to sell.   If you sell washroom accessories, enter something like “Electronic Hand Dryers”.  You’ll see a boxed “Shop for” section near the top of the list of search results on the left or in the top right of the page.

Click on the “Shop for” hyperlink or the “Shopping” tab under the search box to view all the Google Shopping items relevant to the keywords entered in the search box.

If Google determines that the keywords entered refer to one specific product only, the shopping section will list only that item, and the each product listing ad will be represented by the name of all the sellers of that item.     Enter Hoover UH70905 to see an example.

You may notice the words “sponsored” or “Merchant links are sponsored” in this section.   Up until late 2012, Google provided this service for free.   But now you need to create an Adwords account, set up a budget with a credit card, and start a special “campaign” to pay Google for the default positioning on this list and for clicks that result in a potential customer visiting your site.

Each item that appears in this shopping section is a called a “Product Listing Ad”.   In order to create a product listing ad, retailers must:

  1. Create a Google Adwords Account and add a payment method;
  2. Create a Google Merchant Account and link it to the Adwords account;
  3. Upload a feed of products to the Merchant account;
  4. Create an Adwords campaign for your product listing; Google has made some recent changes in the way this works and is now calling this campaign a “Shopping Campaign”. I will be reviewing the most recent changes in an upcoming article.

The benefit of your items appearing near the top of the most popular search engine is obvious.   If your items are near the top of shopping section, you’re sure to get many views on your item’s image and the price.   Within Google, the alternatives to creating product listing ads are to pay for text ads – which appear on the right side of the search results page – or to try to improve your organic (free) search rankings.

Basically, a product listing ad’s default positioning within the Google Shopping section is determined by a combination of how much you’re willing to pay for a click – called maximum cost-per-click (CPC) bid – and how relevant your item is to the search keywords entered.   This is a major difference from the “Buy Box” contest that Amazon sellers face, where Amazon practically chooses the seller for the customer.   Google shoppers can scan the list and will often make a choice from this first page of ads.   The shopper can change the default sort to “Price – low to high”, or by clicking on the Price column in single item view.   Changing the default sort most likely occurs quite often, especially if the list is too large for one page.   So although there are customers who blindly choose one of the first two or three entries without looking further for a better price, good default positioning will not always translate into a high number of clicks.   This increases the importance of having a low or lowest price – and decreases the importance of a seller having a high or highest maximum CPC bid amount – when there are fewer items for the shopper to choose from.

If you want to give Product Listing Ads a try, my suggestion is to first focus on a very small subset of your inventory. Many retailers choose to upload their entire inventory to their Merchant account.   But I think it’s easiest to begin with a particular category from your website or choose your subset based on other attributes.     Here are some factors to consider when deciding which category or set of items to first upload to Google:

  • Which set of items has the least number of the same or similar items already offered by retailers in Google Shopping?
  • Which set has prices that beat or are competitive with the same or similar items currently listed in Google Shopping?
  • Which set has the best profit margin?
  • Which set has the best content?   Better content (enticing descriptions, a good feature list, and high quality images) would increase the likelihood that when someone actually clicks your item, they will stay and buy that item or at least continue shopping on your site.    If you don’t have good content, your conversion rate on the paid clicks will suffer and the chances of making a profit on the campaign are diminished.

There are many other ways to group your items for ad campaigns, and this can now be done directly in Adwords with product groups, product labels, and custom labels.  I will explain how to do this in a future article. Sticking with small groups of items will give you flexibility and facilitate optimization of your Product Listing campaigns.  A higher maximum CPC might work best for one set of products while a lower one might work best for another set.    This optimization process involves trial and error, and you will quickly find yourself overwhelmed and discouraged if you are working with too many items.

SEO Considerations for Retailers: The Basics

Many managers of established online retail storefronts are finding that newer competition is overtaking them in search engine rankings for their product keywords.   And others still have yet to crack the top five search engine result pages.    If you’ve found that traffic to you product pages from organic searches is dropping or your product pages simply have never appeared anywhere close to the top of search engine results, you have most likely not yet implemented Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) techniques that have been working for your more successful competitors for years.

I feel the following techniques are the most important initial steps for improving your products’ taffic rankings.

  • If you aren’t currently utilizing Google Merchant Center to upload products, what are you waiting for?  It’s free and very simple.  Regularly uploading product feeds to Google is the easiest way for your products to become potentially accessible from page 1 of a Google search.   The “Shopping Results for” link is usually one of the first five Google entries when product keywords are used.   If you’ve done it right and your product is considered by Google to be one of the three most relevant for the search keywords entered, a link to your product page will appear directly under the “Shopping Results for” link on that priceless first page.   If your product isn’t one of the top three, your goal should be to get on the first page of “Google Shopping”, which is where the shopper is taken when the “Shopping Results for” link is clicked.   The default sort sequence is “Relevance”, but getting close to the top for the second most common sort sequence of “Price: Low to High” would obviously be beneficial.  In a future article, I will delve further into ways to improve products’ Google Shopping relevance and other techniques to get the most out of the Google Product Search.
  • Writing effective product descriptions is a great way to distinguish yourself from competitors who are selling the exact same products.   There are many schools of thought on how long descriptions should be, how many keywords should be used, how often keyword should be repeated, and if the descriptions should be more geared towards the consumer who is actually reading the description or the search engines that are using the descriptions to build search engine indexes.   But there is no disputing the fact that using the canned manufacturer’s product descriptions that are most likely already being used by other sites does not help your rankings.   A 20- or 30-word description that simply gives the product specifications will also not help you stand out.  Take the time to write descriptions that contains at least 50 words and that includes about five important keywords related to the product.  It is okay to repeat a few keywords, but you will be penalized by the major search engines if you go overboard.    Because it may take many weeks or months to re-write your descriptions, start with the products that are visited most, have the highest profit margin, or the highest conversion rate.
  • The words used in the links to each of your products (the product’s URL) are indexed just like the description and the product name.   A link such as http://mysite/product_info.php?products_id=52724 is not going to be effective as http://mysite/Penn-State-Nittany-Lions-coffee-mug-set-p-363.html.   Most shopping cart solutions offer some type of “SEO URL Rewrite” feature, but it often is not used by default.   If your product names are not included in the URL, I strongly suggest that you do some research and determine how you can implement this feature with your shopping cart.
  • As with the product URLs, page titles are also indexed.  The page title may even be important because it also is the title of the entry on the search engine result page for most search engines.   Your page title should include, at a minimum, the product’s name and its category along with the name of your site.   Again, your shopping cart may already include a “Dynamic Product Page Title” feature.   It’s amazing how many sites still have the same static title on all product pages.

There are a number of tools that you can use to to determine the effectiveness of your SEO changes.   Obviously, the true measure of effectiveness would be increases in online sales.  But an improvement in the position of links to your site and your products in search engine results based on keyword searches is the primary goal of SEO.   If you improve your position to the first three pages, increases in traffic and sales should follow.   Use a rank checking tool like SEOBook’s Rank Checker to get a snapshot of your products’ keywords before any SEO changes are made.   This particular rank checker will return your site’s position in Yahoo, Bing, and Google search results if it is in the top 200 for each keyword or key phrase.   You can then get additional snapshots monthly or quarterly so that you can hopefully see the positioning values getting smaller and smaller.   Keep in mind that if you have changed a product page’s URL so that it contains the product name, the entry for the old URL may show in the top 200 at first.   But it will steadily slip off the list because search engine crawlers are no longer visiting that particular URL.   It should eventually be overtaken by the newly named URL, and that entry should settle in at a much higher position than the original.

Internet storefront considerations for manufacturers and distributors

These days, many manufacturers and distributors are looking to the Internet to increase their sales.  An Internet storefront can be a great way to provide your customers, sales teams and business partners with access to your products.  There are some unique challenges for manufacturers and distributors when it comes to selling products online.  How are current distribution channels maintained?  Who will manage the website content?  How will orders flow into the back-office systems?

I have seen businesses struggle with Internet sales projects because of these challenges.  Here are some of the more common challenges that need to be addressed.

The Internet storefront will change your sales channel(s). It will impact someone’s profits.  To open an Internet storefront, the sales channels will need to be addressed.  If you have sales representatives, will they receive the same commission on sales generated  by their customers that order via the website?  Do you have merchants that will see the web store as a direct competitor?  Different pricing structures will be necessary.  Will the shopping-cart software support your pricing methods?

Maintaining product information is difficult and time-consuming. When considering the overall project for opening an online store, do not underestimate the scope of work to set up and maintain the product information.  Most businesses have very basic product descriptions that mean something only to the internal staff.  Adding meaningful product descriptions that promote the value of the product and providing quality images is a lot of work.  With new and changing products, the work is never done.  The person or team that produces this content is adding value to the company that goes beyond the website.  It takes skilled staff with excellent product knowledge to build a successful Internet store.

The store will need to integrate with your back-office system. If you are serious about using the Internet as a sales channel, you will need to integrate the store to your back-office systems.  Will you need to maintain inventory levels on the storefront?  Can the inventory be refreshed daily or will you need real-time inventory levels?  How about product prices?  All good shopping carts support multiple price levels, but do they support your pricing methods?

What about special discounts, promotions and surcharges?  Should customers be able to see orders not placed on the website?  There are many additional integration needs that could come into play.  If the store is set up as an island that doesn’t talk to the back-office systems, it will become burdensome and a customer-support nightmare as sales grow.

Who will have access to the store? Depending on your line of business, sales to the public could be excluded.  Should they be?  The public might need a different pricing model, or the website may need to be configured to require a sign-in to view the store.  Give this considerable thought.    Some of our clients do not sell to the public, but will allow the public to see the products they offer without any prices.  If the person wants to purchase online they need to contact a customer service representative to open an account.

While on the subject of customer accounts, consider business customers that have more than one buyer.  Will your store need to support multiple user accounts per business account?

The bottom line. Although the move to Internet sales has a lot of roadblocks, an increasing number of businesses are using the Internet as a successful tool to increase their sales.  There is a significant shift taking place.  Online sales can reduce your sales overhead and allow you to reach customers you wouldn’t normally have access to.  It is a great tool to drive national and international sales.

So How Do I Grow My E-Commerce Business? Part I: E-Commerce Marketplaces

Part I – E-Commerce Marketplaces

The list of Internet stores open for business is growing at a rapid pace. Each one has slight differences depending on your goals. You have the big name store, Amazon, and on-line auction giant, EBay.  So how do you know where to sell your products? Here is a simple overview of some of the top marketplaces and what they offer to you as a seller.

EBay – EBay is a great marketplace if you have unique items you want to put up for auction. You can also offer fixed price sales if your items are widely available. After a sale, buyers give you a feedback to promote your ratings as a seller. Beware as this can be either a positive experience, or a negative one. However, EBay has recognized this and is changing how they measure performance by using a new ‘defect rate’ calculation to measure sellers ratings.   As one of the largest on-line marketplaces, EBay can give you great exposure.                                                                         

Amazon – Amazon is the current leader and is known as the worlds largest online retailer. Most countries have their own domain version of the Amazon marketplace. Here in the US we shop on If you live in Canada, you shop on Amazon.CA, and so on! But even though they are all part of Amazon, each is treated as a separate marketplace requiring you to contract with each entity. Amazon can offer you enormous exposure as well as flexibility in selling your items. Once you list your items in their massive catalog potential customers can do a simple search to find your product!  But keep in mind the search will also find your competitors (including Amazon itself) offering the same items. Competitor prices are displayed allowing buyers to pick who they choose to purchase from.  They also offer various services you can elect to utilize like setting up your own personalized “Amazon WebStore” where you can build your personazlied web page using Amazon templates, or utilize  “Amazon Fulfillment” where you send your inventory to an Amazon fulfilment center and they complete the sales process for you by shipping to your customer!                                                                           

Rakuten – Even though they’ve been around since 1999, this marketplace is not as well known here in the US like Amazon, however, the company has enormous Japanese presence and has become a major worldwide online marketplace for both buyers and sellers. While selling on Rakuten, you don’t have to worry about competing with Rakuten as a merchant like you do on Amazon. They also go out of their way to do a lot of advertising to potential customers about upcoming sales and merchandise available on their site. But, as with all marketplaces, selling on Rakuten could have its downfall. Since many of your customers could be located in a country outside the United States, you will have to consider the high shipping costs as a factor in your selling price, no matter who is paying the shipping cost!                                                                    

Etsy – if you are an artsy, crafty person and make your own products, this is the marketplace for you! Etsy attracts customers from all over the world looking for unique or vintage items making Etsy a great place to set-up shop. But the site has a reputation of only being as good as the customers who sell on the site. You as a seller are responsible to fulfill your orders so your customers come back. You are responsible to keep Etsy as the top known crafters marketplace.                                                                                                  


When it comes to selling online there are endless possibilities and marketplaces. Some old, some new. You may have heard of Yahoo, Craigslist, and Here is a great link to an article posted on last year that gives a very good overview of many of the top contenders:

But have you heard of these smaller stores, which too, offer their own unique reasons why you might want to list your products thru them:,,,

If you are interested in e-commerce marketplaces your personal attention should be given to researching each marketplace for their seller rules and requirements. Each entity has unique fee structures and content requirements that you need to make sure you understand before you sign up in order to establish and achieve your full selling capability.  Be sure to read the Inspire Technologies Blog dated 3/8/2011 “Internet Storefront Start-Up Checklist” for additional information!

If your business is large enough and you are ready to automate your process into any of these marketplaces, contact Inspire Technologies to learn how we can assist you in “Growing your E-Commerce Business”.

Check back for Part II – Managing Your Inventory

Review of Three Leading Shopping Cart Solutions

The shopping cart used for your Internet store is a significant decision for any online business.  Like the purchase of a brick-and-mortar store, the chosen store software must meet the business’ needs for today and the  for the next few years.

I want to provide a comparison of three shopping-cart solutions.  This comparison is not be a tabled list of features and function, but rather a comparison of three different approaches to shopping carts that fulfill different business needs.

OS-Commerce Magento are two open source shopping-cart solutions and because they are both open source solutions (free).  Some may see them as too similar to be used in this comparison.  But they differ significantly in their  feature set and, in my opinion, their target business.

The third shopping-cart solution is a software as a service solution (SaaS).  A SaaS shopping cart is provided by businesses such as Volusion to provide a turnkey shopping-cart solution.  They include the shopping-cart software, web hosting and support for a monthly fee.  The SaaS model is available for a number of software packages.  As an example, Microsoft will host their Exchange software for email and group scheduling  as a SaaS.   Others offer project-management and contact-management solutions.  Constant Contact is an example of SaaS.

OS-Commerce is a no-thrills  open source solution.  The shopping cart has all the basic features you would expect from a shopping cart such as multiple price levels, support for foreign currencies and a good selection of add-in modules to extend the features when you need them.  OSC is written in PHP and uses the MySQL database, which makes it highly customizable.  So if you want to create a custom feature or interface, it is very easy to change with the right technical skills. Although there is a good number of plug-in modules to extend the features of the core software, not all of the modules will work together, or they may need some custom changes to make them work as a seamless solution.  The software does not require a lot of server power and can be an excellent solution for a startup Internet store or a store with a limited number of products.

Magento is one of the premier shopping-cart solutions. It is available as an open source solution (community version), a professional version and an enterprise solution.  The costs vary from free to an annual  price that starts at around $12,000 for the enterprise solution.  Lowe’s, Ford Motor Company and Dockers  use Magento.   Magento was introduced after OS-Commerce and, as a next-generation solution, it provides considerably more features than OS-Commerce.

Like OS-Commerce, Magento is written in PHP and uses the MySQL database.  Magento’s many  features do have a cost. The shopping cart is more complex and the database resource requires a larger web-hosting server.  Magento will not run well on most entry-level hosting solutions.  To be done right it needs to be on a dedicated web server, which drives the cost up.   The software has an excellent developer community with a wide range of add-on modules to extend the product.

Volusion is a popular SaaS shopping cart.  The feature set will meet the requirements of most small to mid-size Internet Merchants.  The shopping-cart fee is based on the number of products in the catalog.  The more products you have, the higher the price.   Pricing varies from $29 to to $179 per month.  The top-level package will support an unlimited number of products and has a few additional features.

Volusion has some noteworthy customers, such as Disney, National Geographic and Motorola.  The primary reason to go with a shopping cart like Volusion is to have a fixed monthly cost for the shopping cart, hosting services and support.  It removes the need to have a technical person to manage and customize the Internet store, because there is very little that can be done outside of the look and feel of the store.   Volusion wants to be the center of your business.  It  wants to manage your inventory and be the sole repository for your product data.  Data can be imported and exported from Volusion, but the ability to automate the transfers is limited.

Which solution is right for your business?

If you are a startup Internet retailer with a limited budget, consider OS-Commerce or Volusion.  OS-Commerce is fully customizable and can be hosted at almost any web-hosting provider, so it is one of the lowest-cost solutions that can be customized.   Select a SaaS solution like Volusion if you want to focus on running your store and not dealing with backups, website viruses and needing a custom solution.

If your store requires a robust feature set to start with and the business budget will support it, Magento could be a good fit.

If you sell products with multiple sizes, flavors, colors or other product attributes, then OS-Commerce is not a good choice.

If your store will have frequent product changes, inventory sourced outside of the store or daily product feeds to other websites, consider an open source solution that will make these custom changes easier to implement.

Business growth is also a consideration.  If you think your online business is going to grow, consider a solution that will be able to grow with you.  Magento would be my first choice for a business that can afford the financial cost and effort required to get the shopping cart up and running.  It is a good solution that has one of the best feature sets and the ability to grow with your business.


Inspire Technologies is a seasoned technology services provider. We specialize in e-retailing solutions, e-commerce and Internet storefront software support. Inspire Technologies, Inc. has been providing e-retail services since 1999 and providing technology consulting solutions to businesses since 1996.

With our extensive business background, we understand the strategic importance of the Internet as a business tool and consult with each client to ensure the solution will meet the needs of the company and its stakeholders. With our focus on customer service, we have many long-term clients.

We provide solutions that work for your business — solutions tailored meet to your needs.

With our extensive technology background and our focus on storefront solutions, we can provide much more than the average web design company. Our consultants bring over 25 years of technology and business experience to your solution. This experience covers many industries — retail, warehousing, manufacturing and order processing — and covers projects for small companies to large, Fortune 500 companies. Our retail business and retail websites experience covers the small independent storefront to the large retail chain store.

Inspire Technologies, has the expertise to increase the ROI of your storefront!

We provide services nationwide as well as onsite support to the southcentral Pennsylvania area.