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Turning A Website Into An Online Shop The Easy Way  

by Matt Hawkins, 08/08/2011
Categories : ecommerce

Recently a friend has asked my advice about setting up an online shop selling digital downloads and other products.

Previously he was using a mixture of eBay auctions and PayPal buttons on his existing website. As his sales started to increase he was spending more and more time simply managing the technology, plus an increasing amount of money on eBay fees. He felt there must be a better way to handle customer orders so he could spend more time actually dealing with the products themselves and customer support.

So we looked at all the options open to him.

Rebuild his website using an e-commerce System
One option was to rebuild his whole site using a content management system designed for e-commerce. This wasn't a bad idea if he was starting from scratch but he didn't want to spend huge amounts of time designing a new website from scratch just to turn it into a shop. He liked his existing site and had already spent time (and money) getting that up and running.

Quick Plugins from PayPal and Google
He already used PayPal buttons and these were fine when his product line up was small and his online sales were low. Once things started to pick up the time he was spending messing with PayPal buttons was becoming a large overhead. They also offered a limited range of functionality, and when using PayPal, the basic PayPal shopping cart opening up on another web page/tab took the shopper away from my site just to view their basket, which was something we wanted to avoid.

We wanted a checkout solution that would allow him to easily switch from accepting just PayPal or just Google checkout payments in the future. We wanted a checkout that could easily allow us to change to a different payment processor as his turn over grew and it made more sense to pay a monthly payment processor fee for lower per transaction charges. Also, at some point it would be nice to offer customers the choice of both PayPal and Google Checkout when the customer comes to pay.

Hosted Shopping Basket
So we started to warm to the idea of using a system that would allow us to keep the existing site and simply "bolt in" shopping features such as baskets, buy buttons etc.

The general idea behind these systems is that you paste code into your existing site design to add components to the page that visitors can respond to. Your catalog details and transactions are handled by a third party. All you have to do is add the components and configure your shop with the third party.

One advantage is that you never lose the freedom to change the system running your site. If you change your blog or site design it is easy to re-introduce the e-commerce plugins.

He liked the concept so the next step was choosing a provider.

There appeared to be three companies offering the service we required.

Roman Cart
http://www.romancart.com/

ShopIntegrator
http://www.shopintegrator.com/

e-Junkie
http://www.e-junkie.com/

We down selected these three as they were established companies with an established customer base.

They all offered some sort of free trial so we signed up and created a few very simple demo pages and started our testing.

The Results

1. ShopIntegrator (http://www.shopintegrator.com)
ShopIntegrator came out as our preferred solution. The in-site shopping basket, a wide range of e-commerce button add-ins gave us exactly what we needed and made it really quick and easy to copy and paste advanced shop features in to my web page. There was also an additional Wordpress ecommerce plugin which made it even easier to add-in the shop buttons from the WordPress dashboard posts & pages editor and drag and drop shop widgets in to the sidebar. A 30 day free trial meant there was plenty of time to test it out and switch out the current PayPal buttons.

We liked the selection of ecommerce add-ins as these gave us more than the standard "View Cart" and "Buy Now" buttons. These included a mini carts and basket totals. The ability to use the system on multiple websites also gave us a bit more scope for future expansion. Another big plus for us was that it was about 1/3 of the price to use ShopIntegrator compared to RomanCart and e-junkie, which would be a great cost saving over time.

ShopIntegrator also gave our customers the option to choose a currency to view the whole site in based on a list of currencies we could specify.

2. Roman Cart (http://www.romancart.com/)
In second place was Roman Cart. We really didn't like the shopping cart being displayed via a page on RomanCart's website rather than from within our own site, you could add your own header to the page to make it look a bit more like your site, but it still means your users are bumped between sites while shopping. This is acceptable when dealing with payment processors but undesirable for simply viewing your cart while shopping. Their online videos were good and are always a welcome addition to any support system.

RomanCart did offer accommodation booking capabilities as an extra feature, but as this wasn't something were interested in, we didn't look in to how this worked so can't comment on this.

3. e-Junkie (http://www.e-junkie.com/)
The one week trial made it difficult to test everything especially as we were testing two other systems as well. I'm sure we could have got an extension but this seemed a bit mean. The shopping cart did keep the shopper on the our site like the ShopIntegrator cart so it meant shoppers weren't being bumped between our site and the hosted shopping cart's site like with RomanCart. We did like the e-junkie help articles as they were well laid out.

Author : Matt Hawkins  Last Edit By : Matt Hawkins
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