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Ecommerce Posts

X-Cart Ecommerce Software Review

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010
X-Cart Ecommerce

This coming Wednesday, I’ll be joining other local Asheville web developers in reviewing the pros and cons of several popular ecommerce platorms. Those being reviewed include Ecommerce Templates, Shopify, WP Ecommerce, Yahoo! Stores, Drupal Ubercart, X-Cart and VirtueMart for Joomla. Since we’ve been working with X-cart a lot lately, I thought I’d share my notes with the rest of our peers out there.

X-Cart is available in two versions, “Gold” and “Pro”. For most projects, X-Cart Gold will be sufficient. X-Cart Pro includes the ability to run the store as an “ecommerce mall” with multiple vendor accounts and an administrator account.

Cost

  • Cost of software – The X-Cart Gold license is $149 and the Pro license is $431.
  • Average cost of setup/customization – The actual cost to get up and running can be significantly more depending on additional costs including design, development, and additional feature addons. A recent quote we received from another X-Cart developer included the license, software installation, a custom design, and a brief tutorial came in just under $4000.

Support & Maintenance

  • Cost of support – Support is NOT included with the purchase of an X-Cart license. They do provide a detailed online manual, knowledge base, and moderated forum, but additional support from X-Cart is only available via their support ticket system. Specific tech support issues are quoted on a case-by-case basis and are billed using points that can be purchase at a rate of roughly $6 per 10 points.
  • Level of support (3/5) – Despite the lack of real-time support, I’ve found their support to be fairly satisfactory. Support tickets are typically answered within 24 hours.
  • Ease of Upgrade (2/5) – I took one look at the published upgrade procedure and knew that it was a bit too ambitious for me personally, so I’ve always opted to have X-Cart support handle that. A recent upgrade cost us 490 points, or $280.

Usage

  • Dashboard (3/5) – The administrator dashboard has been cleaned up significantly from previous versions and now features a cleaner tabbed menu across the top. Browse their online demo for a complete tour.

X-Cart Dashboard

  • Can you bring this software into existing site? – Yes, however his would require creating a new X-Cart skin based on the current design.
  • Do you have to bring the site into this software? – Six of one, half-dozen…. It just depends on how you want to look at it. Again, take your current design and chop it up.
  • Ideal for what type of sites/platform? – X-Cart works well for any size ecommerce site. Static pages can easily be created for additional content if you want to use X-Cart as a CMS system or it can be installed on a sub-directory/domain to support a pre-established website.
  • SEO ability (4/5) – With the ability to create completely custom skins in CSS/XHTML, X-Cart is fairly robust for SEO and includes custom meta-tags for categories/products as well as SEF URL’s. I highly recommend the addition of a third-party plugin called CDSEO which provides added features and control.
  • Allow for downloadable products? – Yes, via the eGoods module.
  • Real-time inventory notification? – X-Cart can be configured to track inventory and automatically display an “out of stock” message or remove the product from the catalog when the item is out of stock. A low-limit warning email can also be sent to the site administrator when inventory gets low.
  • Browser speed – Load speed largely depends on how the website’s code, images, and database are optimized.
  • Language – X-Cart is built on the PHP template engine, Smarty.
  • Integration with POS for retailers?
  • Optimization of content for mobile devices?
  • Level of Reporting (3/5) – X-cart’s reporting features leaves a little to be desired, but the shopping cart easily integrates with Google Analytics.

PROS: versatility, stability

CONS: paid support, upgrades

USABILITY

  • Users/Frontend (5/5)
  • Clients/Backend (4/5)
  • Programmers/Backend (3/5)

Stamps.com Partners With X-Cart Ecommerce

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

According to a press release distributed last month, Stamps.com has partnered with popular ecommerce software provider, X-Cart. The partnership aims to help ecommerce website owners streamline their fulfillment process by simplyfing shipping.

The press release had this to say about the partnership:

“Stamps.com’s integration with X-Cart is offered at no additional charge to new and existing Stamps.com customers. It allows X-Cart users to batch print up to 1,000 pre-paid USPS shipping labels for all mail classes — including Media Mail® and First Class International Mail®. It also automatically posts order status details such as tracking number, ship date and mail class back to the X-Cart store. Additional Stamps.com features include hidden postage, insurance discounts and thermal printer support.”

Developing Trust for E-Commerce Conversions

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Since the dot-com bubble in the early part of this decade, the Internet has seen a tremendous growth in the number of e-commerce websites. Prior to this, Silicon Valley was filled with Internet start-up companies looking for venture capital and hoping to make ten-fold profits. Many consumers were weary of doing business online and the possibility of having their credit card info or identities stolen. Most of the e-commerce activity was limited to the big players, like Amazon.com and Ebay.com.

A lot has changed in the past 10 years though. In the void left by the many would-be Internet superstars, smaller entrepreneurs have stepped in and taken advantage of new e-commerce platforms to launch small and medium e-commerce websites. Internet security has advanced, leading to increased consumer trust with shopping online.

  • SSL Certificates – SSL certificates are a must! Many e-commerce platforms won’t even work without them. Some consumers aren’t familiar with SSL certificates or how to notice when they aren’t working, but many are and this can easily make or break the sale. Not only do SSL certificates help increase e-commerce conversions but they also function as insurance for the website owner by providing added protection from malware and hackers. There are a number of options and providers for SSL certificates including Verisign and Comodo.
  • Security Seals/Badges – Security seals and badges can communicate a number of different things, from a simple reminder of a valid SSL certificate to a security audit from a third party.
  • Customer Testimonials – Customer testimonials can also go a long way to instilling customer confidence. Word of mouth is still the best marketing and holds true for e-commerce as well. The knowledge that other customers have purchased from a particular website with positive experiences can convey a personal connection and strengthen consumer trust.
  • Privacy & Return Policies – Clearly posted privacy and return policies show clear communication and transparency in the transaction and let e-commerce shoppers know exactly what to expect. Customers want to know there won’t be any hidden charges and their personal information won’t be shared with unnecessary parties. Furthermore, search engines look for designated privacy policies and publishing such a policy can enhance your e-commerce SEO.

When it comes down to it, the Internet sales process is not that different from traditional sales. Your marketing may be stellar and drive loads of traffic but with out converting that traffic into customers, all that SEO and PPC has gone to waste. Creating an effective sales funnel and creating confidence is just as important as where you rank in the search engines.

Parameter Handling in Google Webmaster Tools

Friday, December 11th, 2009

Many websites have multiple URL’s that display the same content, especially e-commerce sites. Often times this is simply from various URL paramerters attached to the URL. This may be to sort the products in a different order, track session ID’s, or to note the source of a referral. There have been quite a number of ways to prevent search engines from indexing all of these URL’s in an attempt to avoid duplicate content penalities. A combination of ‘nofollow’ tags in the internal site navigation and regular expression ‘disallow’ rules in the robots.txt file are common solutions. Unfortunately, this requires a thorough analysis of your internal site navigation as well as some knowlege of regular expressions and the proper logic to block only the duplicate URL’s.

Fortunately, Google has recently added a feature in Webmaster Tools that allows for an easier, simpler solution to blocking duplicate content URL’s due to numerous parameters. The ‘Parameter Handling’ feature in Google Webmaster Tools is located by going to ‘Site Configuration’ and then ‘Settings’:

Google Webmasters Parameter Handling

Google’s explanation of the parameter handling feature is as follows. *Note that there’s no guarantee that the GoogleBot will accept your suggestions. 😉

Dynamic parameters (for example, session IDs, source, or language) in your URLs can result in many different URLs all pointing to essentially the same content. For example, http://www.example.com/dresses?sid=12395923 might point to the same content as http://www.example.com/dresses. You can specify whether you want Google to ignore up to 15 specific parameters in your URL. This can result in more efficient crawling and fewer duplicate URLs, while helping to ensure that the information you need is preserved. (Note: While Google takes suggestions into account, we don’t guarantee that we’ll follow them in every case.)”