Shopping Carts and E-commerce Software

I received a question from a customer questioning using a shopping cart like Shopify or Volusion or using an eBay store. Frst and foremost, I have an inherent bias. The problem I have when you use eBay stores is that eBay’s primary business model is not e-commerce. eBay’s primary business model is a marketplace format and I believe if you are committed and serious about becoming an e-commerce merchant, it is better to build your own brand that is not attached to a marketplace. Often, when you are linked to a marketplace, the customer feels that the marketplace is the place to shop for product, not you specifically, so you must be extremely careful when you’re using a market place e-commerce store.

With a marketplace-based e-commerce store, you can also run into the issue of you not being viewed as truly legitimate because you’re not willing to invest the money into securing your own separate website, your own separate domain and your own separate e-commerce identity. There are exceptions to this, for example Etsy, because they are in the handmade and craft market; under those circumstances people like buying from really small sellers and artisans. However, it’s a tough market when you’re selling off-price clothing and you need to do all that you can to ensure that you are:

1. Building a brand for your website or store as being the place to shop.
2. Projecting a professional image so that people don’t think you’re a fly-by-night merchant.

When it comes to selecting which shopping cart is right for you, I don’t really have a preference. I think Magento is great, Volusion is great, Shopify is great; I think all of these solutions are great. The market is so competitive that they have all caught up with each other in terms of features. It is a matter of preference and individual need.

I was asked if there are better search engine optimization features with eBay compared with the shopping cart services. Search engine optimization has two basic methods: on page and off site. On-page SEO consists of the structure and content of your page and how well that page is optimized to rank in search engines. Off-site SEO basically consists of inbound links to your site. They both must be present. You cannot get to the top of the rankings solely with on page SEO unless you are going after very, very low volume search terms. That’s not likely the case if you’re selling apparel. Most ecommerce software programs have comparable features when it comes to on page SEO. There may be some areas in which one performs better than the other, but most of your work with search engine optimization will end up being off-site, so it’s not as big of a deal as people make it out to be. What you want to look for is a clean structure on a code level, the ability to customize such things as the URL, the meta description, the title tags, any heading tags, h1 tags and the ability to generate SEO friendly on-site features such as a site map or a feed for Google products or other product-based websites that use a data feed. Most e-commerce packages have this as a built-in feature or as a plug-in.

Lastly, when it comes to choosing e-commerce software, I recommend that you set up trial accounts and actually try to use them for the duration of 30-day free trial. That part is difficult because it’s hard to want to get into something that you’re not actually using in “real life”, but each company has its own needs and its own work-flow and often, you don’t find out the little things that matter until you’re already using the software. You don’t want a situation where you’re knee-deep in using software and then you find out it won’t work for you. The only way to avoid that is to try the software first, there’s no other way around it. The problem is that it becomes difficult to get in to using the software when you’re just playing around with it to test it out. But moving a site from one platform to another, when you’ve already established a search engine presence, is a complex procedure and often can create so many problems that, a store doesn’t switch when they should and they end up trapped in the e-commerce program that they don’t like. So it’s better to go through all of these programs upfront, to pick the right one, and then move forward, than to get into something just because it was great, or it was cheap or easy and find out down the road that it’s not really sufficient. Another thing, you don’t want to start piece-mealing an e-commerce package so you really need to make sure that whatever you pick is flexible enough so you won’t end up with five or six different software programs just to manage your e-commerce store.