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Friday, Nov. 6, 2009 at 9:01 am

Shopping Cart Optimization: Canned vs. Custom

By Brendan Regan
November 6th, 2009

If you’re selling online, and you’re interested in Optimization, it simply makes sense to spend some time focusing on your shopping cart. It’s a key area of focus for a few reasons:

  1. It’s often where “low-hanging fruit” grows. Conversion obstacles can often be removed quickly, leading to large gains in a short period of time.
  2. It’s an area where you’ve already succeeded in persuading the prospect. They are in the Late Stage of their buying process, so a relatively low investment can give you a relatively high return.  In other words, you don’t have to produce pages and pages of persuasive content to move the visitor forward in her buying process.
  3. Customer expectations regarding their online shopping experiences are rising every day. If your competitor has a more optimized checkout, they may be taking market share from you.

There’s a very wide spectrum of online selling solutions, from a PayPal button on a single sales page to a highly-customized checkout with a floating/sliding/shining interface and behaviorally-targeted cross-selling.  Still, FutureNow’s clients tend to fall into 1 of 2 camps:  those with a 3rd-party cart and those with a custom-built cart.

debateThere are pros and cons to each, which I’ll touch on briefly, but please don’t consider this brief post the authoritative work on the subject–there’s lots of research and reviews out there on the various shopping cart investment options.

3rd Party Shopping Carts, also known as “canned”: Some of the pros are lower cost, quicker time to market, and the efficiencies/convenience gained when you buy a package that handles payment gateway, fraud protection, SSL encryption, etc.  Some of the cons are lack of control over look and feel, lack of control over the user experience, and more difficulties encountered with testing and optimization.  The tradeoffs seem pretty straightforward, but a lot depends on the IT resources you have at your disposal.

Custom Shopping Carts: Some of the pros are a user experience that’s more tightly integrated with the rest of your site, better tracking for better analytics, easier to make changes and add features, and easier integration with testing tools like Google Website Optimizer.  The obvious cons are higher cost, more operational overhead, and slower time to market.  Again, the tradeoffs are the same, and a lot depends on your company’s resources, budget, and business goals.

Those prospects we speak with who are interested in optimizing for a higher return on their eCommerce investments often ask questions like: Can I optimize my 3rd party shopping cart? The answer is a definitive “Yes!” even on the most restrictive 3rd party carts. One of our clients enjoyed a 38% increase month-over-month in their “funnel conversion rate” just by adding some reassuring copy and links only in the areas of their cart they had access to: the header and the footer!

That’s an extreme example, but with our guidance, clients can make the best of their current platform, whatever it happens to be.  And many clients, after getting a few “wins,” decide they want to upgrade from a 3rd party cart to a partially or fully custom cart.  In that situation, we often work to optimize their checkout before it goes live, saving them time and money, and then continue to refine the customer experience and persuasiveness of the live cart through more formal testing. We also work with several implementation partners who grok Persuasion Architecture and can build custom carts based on OnTarget recommendations.

The point of all of this is that you shouldn’t defer or avoid Optimization based on what type of checkout platform you have.  Persuasion Architecture is “platform-agnostic,” and the best time for Optimization is always “Now.”

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Comments (25)

  1. it’s interesting, event shopping cart get optimization. Great article, Brendan. Spot on indeed! thanks for sharing

  2. Custom always wins in my experience.

  3. What kind of links did that party add to get that increase?

  4. Great article. Thanks
    My website:

  5. I would say if you have the money definitely go with a custom cart. If not start with the canned and try to integrate a custom one down the road.

  6. I’d be interested in more details around the 38% gain cited.

    Specifically, around the month-over-month comment, does this mean that you compared October to September after the changes were made? If so, do you have some suggestions on how to effectively narrow the outside (especially seasonal) variables?

  7. I am using a word press plug in for ecommerce. It seems to be easy to use. What kink of customization should I employ to increase conversions.

  8. You should always go with custom as people are accustomed using it.Why make it worse for your potential customers.

  9. Customized always better as long as it’s customized very well.

  10. shopping cart customization is big head ache

  11. great opinion..thank you

  12. wow, i just know even shopping cart get optimization. it’s a new thing for me…

    Movie Castle

  13. My opinion is the custom one will give better result

  14. Great article. Optimization is very important and it will be a future trend

  15. Have you had much success with using Google Website Optimiser on 3rd party shopping carts?

    PS. Do you have someone moderating comments?!

  16. Any given time any day Custom cart will be better than canned one.BTW great insight on cart optimization.

  17. Great discussion on cart. I don’t need one yet as my site is a list offishing organizations. I may be getting one for another site soon, however.

  18. Thanks, i am a web designer and about to start selling digital goods, with each one having several options after reading your post i will hire someone to code to my need rather than use a canned cart, interesting read thanks

  19. I am using Magento cart. Be happy to understand how you can optimize its checkout process.


  20. [...] relatively easy to optimize a shopping cart – the buyer has already been persuaded as they are well into in the buying stage. You don’t [...]

  21. [...] Source:Shopping Cart Optimization: Canned vs. Custom Share and Enjoy: [...]

  22. I have found that canned carts can produce the same results as a custom design. You just have to pick the right canned solution.

  23. Even I do not have sell-online-blogs, however after reading the above writing really enrich my knowledge. Thanks, it is a great post…

  24. [...] [...]

  25. Definitely a good idea. I usually go with latest and advanced shopping-carts compared to traditional carts like OSCommerce, X-Cart and other open-source. Extending wordpress for shopping cart is another great idea too.

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