Some of the very first commercial websites were simply copies of an online store, and buyers were required to snail-mail a check or money order to place an order. Using this model, the eCommerce store was little different from traditional mail order and offered no real added value. Today, online merchant accounts, payment gateways, and shopping cart software have changed the way this works, and now it is remarkably easy for a buyer to place an order online and make a payment in real-time.
It is certainly possible for new eCommerce sites to simply use a third-party service such as PayPal, and in less formal situations this may be entirely appropriate. The buyer simply logs into PayPal and sends a payment to the seller’s email address. But for standard eCommerce stores that have a larger product selection and seek to develop a longer-term relationship with paying customers, something more is needed. PayPal can of course be integrated with shopping cart software, as can almost any other payment method or payment gateway. The shopping cart software acts as an intuitive front-end to these back-end payment mechanisms.
First and foremost, it is important to have a front-end to your checkout system just to make life easier for your clients. Just as in a physical storefront, the customer gathers the products they want to buy, and the system calculates the total amount due, receives the money, and issues a receipt. The purpose of the shopping cart software is to simplify the process, so the buyer need not take any extra measures to complete the purchase. If the purchasing process is too complicated or requires too many steps, it is much more likely that the buyer will abandon the purchase and go elsewhere instead of taking the time to try to figure out how to give you money.
Beyond providing ease of use for your customers, there is a second reason for deploying shopping cart software, and that is to make life easier for yourself as well. Shopping cart software often includes useful business functions that, for example, would allow purchase transactions to be logged directly into your accounting software, and for your inventory control system to also be integrated, so when a product is shipped it is automatically deducted from your inventory records. A good shopping cart software system may even automatically print a shipping label for you.
Your shopping cart software should be able to integrate with your payment gateway of choice in a transparent manner, so that your customers can gather their products, have their total bill calculated automatically, and then provide their payment information all in the same transaction. Further, the system should allow for a maximum of payment methods. While most customers will use credit or debit cards, others will prefer to use PayPal or another third-party system, or they may prefer to send you an electronic check. And of course, security must always be an integral part of your shopping cart software.