I spoke yesterday with someone looking to add ecommerce to his website. With so many options in ecommerce applications it is often tough to find the right one. I evaluate carts based on how easy they are to customize, features, price, and community. Here are some of the must have features that often get overlooked by ecommerce developers and business owners alike. Not having them will mean headaches in the future.

  1. Returns – We all wish that customers always order what they need and never return anything. The reality is that you’ll deal with returns from time to time. Make sure the cart has a way to handle these.
  2. Inventory – Inventory management is important if you are selling any kind of physical product. Ideally it should also have reporting, synchronizing, and auditing featurs as well. Keep good track of inventory is essential to have a smooth operation and avoiding customer disappointment.
  3. Gift Certificates – One major challenge is to retrofit a gift certificate program into a cart that doesn’t support them. Gift certificates are easy to sell, but keeping track of the balances and allowing for secondary payment if the customer goes over is difficult. Make sure if you are ever planning to sell gift certificates that this is a feature of the cart from the beginning. Same goes for wish lists.
  4. Shipping – Shipping integration makes your life easier. First, make sure the cart talks to the major shipping providers for pricing information. Second, the ecommerce database should be compatible with their shipping application, which can save a lot of work double entering data into the shipping computer. Third, make sure you have the support you need for your customer base – zones, international, expediated, pricing comparisons, etc.
  5. Pick Lists – Packing lists make it easier to find and pull products for shipment. I like systems that allow you to print out packing lists in bulk on busy days and cross reference product locations in the warehouse.
  6. Drop Shipping – Expanding your business beyond your own inventory can lead to more sales and headaches. Look for a system that allows you to split an order between suppliers and tag items as not in inventory.
  7. Marketing Tools – There are so many good ways to promote your business online and in the search engines. Make sure the cart has a solid set of marketing tools. Some to consider are: tracking, search engine friendly URLS, sitemaps, Google products export, RSS feeds, affiliate systems, etc.
  8. Reviews – People love product reviews. From a simple rating system to full reviews, you can both get customer feedback and create a community around your store. Search engines also seem to like this activity not to mention people looking for a review of a particular product.
  9. Product Navigation – Make sure there are good category and search options to allow visitors to find what they are looking for easily. Related products, also bought, product groups, etc. can all help increase sales.
  10. Migration – If you ever outgrow your ecommerce cart or are currently looking to switch carts. Having a system that supports migration is a huge help. Look for product, customer, and order backup/restore and import/export features. These will make a world of difference when switching systems.

After you have evaluated the technical features of the product also look at the human side of the equation. Make sure you are working with a vendor that has good support for the product. You will likely want features that don’t currently exist or run into a bug or other problem. Having a community or expert to turn to is vital to your success.