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A Beginner's Guide To the Online Shopping Cart

by Lena Crossan

Want to launch a successful ecommerce business? Having an easy-to-use, reliable shopping cart is a necessity. But what many first-time business owners don't understand is that a shopping cart is only one part of the process. In order to upload a working site that makes money, you'll need a shopping cart and much more! Don't panic. I'll gladly take you through what's required to create a basic ecommerce site.

What Is An Online Shopping Cart?

The term "online shopping cart" is mistakenly used when referring to the entire process visitors go through when reading product descriptions, adding an item to their virtual baskets, checking out and paying for their orders. That is only partially correct.

The shopping cart comes into play when a site visitor chooses to add an item to their basket. According to, "The software allows online shopping customers to place items in the cart. Upon checkout, the software typically calculates a total for the order, including shipping and handling charges and the associated taxes, as applicable." That's it.

Until your visitors add an item to their carts, and after they initiate payment, the shopping cart isn't involved. Those functions take additional types of software and accounts. Let me explain.

In the Beginning.

When a visitor types in your URL (also called a domain name or web address), he/she can view your website. The website is what delivers your pictures and product descriptions. It includes the design and any necessary programming to make the basic site function. Perhaps the site uses a content management system (CMS) to serve up your products in a logical way or it may simply use basic HTML. Either way, once the site design is completed, you are now able to show your products to the world. But that's all. At this point, they can't buy anything. This is where the online shopping cart enters the game.

The shopping cart provides visitors with the ability to create a list of items they want to buy. It stores the items as the shopper continues to browse through your site. The shopping cart can calculate totals, show listings of what's currently saved in the cart and more. When a visitor has finished shopping, two other components come into play: a merchant account and a payment gateway.

Show Me the Money!

In order for a visitor to pay for their items, your site must be equipped with the ability to accept credit cards and the ability to process those cards via the Internet. This requires a merchant account as well as an online payment gateway.

A merchant account is provided by a bank or other institution. It allows you to accept Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express and other credit cards as payment for purchases your visitors make. Generally, if you were a brick-and-mortar store, this would be all you needed. However, for ecommerce sites, you must have a way to instantaneously process the cards in real time via the Internet. That requires a payment gateway. Once you have all four elements in play (a website, an online shopping cart, a merchant account and a payment gateway) you can launch your ecommerce site and sell products or services.

Sound complicated? Not really. Because the functions work hand-in-hand, you can find companies that offer complete packages containing all four elements. That makes it simple for you to quickly upload your pictures and content and start receiving orders right away.

The Internet can be an exciting place to earn a living. Before jumping onto the ecommerce playing field, however, do your research. You'll want to find a reputable company to provide these all-important services. If possible, find one organization that offers all the services. Look for a business that has a proven track record of dependability and outstanding support before making your decision.

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About the Author:

Lena Crossan is Marketing Manager of that has offered affordable award-winning ecommerce services since 1995. Discover their proven, innovative online shopping cart and other solutions today at

Lena Crossan 2007, All Rights Reserved

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