Marketing Text Improvements Free Gift Chooser, Free Gift Spender for Zen Cart

The Zen Cart Free Gift Chooser Marketing Text and Zen Cart Free Gift Spender Marketing Text have both been improved. In the old format, they would simply indicate the category and product IDs, as is done in the admin panel. This wasn’t very customer friendly, so I updated them to use links instead.

So now, instead of

Spend $50.00 in any category, Get 1 Comedy (CAT 12) free.
Free Gift Spender marketing text looks like this:

Spend $50.00 in any category, Get 1 Comedy free.

and instead of

Buy 1 from category DVD Movies (CAT 3) , Get 1 from category DVD Movies (CAT 3) free.
Free Gift Chooser marketing text looks like this:

Buy 1 from category DVD Movies, Get 1 from category DVD Movies free.

Capturing and Filtering on Interests in Mailchimp

If you are willing to send multiple newsletters every month (I think the minimum cadence should be monthly), and you want to do some market segmentation, you may want to try this technique.   It assumes you have already installed my Mailchimp Integration for Zen Cart.

  1. Login to Mailchimp and click the Lists menu at the top.  Then on the right, click the Stats dropdown and select Signup forms.
  2. Click the Select button on Embedded Forms.
  3. Under Manage Contacts, click Groups.
  4. Click the Create Groups button, and add Checkboxes and Radio buttons as need be.  You can add many Groups, so don’t be afraid to partition your questions.
  5. Click Signup Forms and Embedded Forms again.  The code for the form shown in the preview is right below the preview window.  Copy this code and paste it into a new page (or sidebox) on your site.

You can read more about creating groups on the Mailchimp Getting Started with Groups page.

So after a while you’ll (hopefully!) have some newsletter signups, with people identifying as being part of one group or another. How do you utilize this data?

  1. Select Campaigns, name the campaign and make it a regular campaign.
  2. You will be prompted to select Recipients.  Select Group or New Segment.
  3. Use the query-by-example form to select the target group for your campaign.

You can read more about this on the Mailchimp Sending to Groups page.

As a convincer, see the email signup form we are using on

Talking with E-junkie

I spent some time last week talking with Robin Kohli at, the makers of E-junkie and Fat Free Cart. They’re based in Tucson and have five people on staff.

TheCartBlog: So tell me about E-junkie.

E-junkie: Well, we’re a small company operating in the e-Commerce space with three offerings: BuckDrop, Fat Free Cart, and E-junkie (which is also called Fat Free Cart Pro). BuckDrop is just a small utility that allows people to collect donations on their websites. It’s free. Fat Free Cart and E-junkie are shopping cart packages. Fat Free Cart only allows you to sell tangible products; E-junkie allows you to sell digital goods and also has a lot of extra features.

TheCartBlog: Great! What’s the differentiator for E-junkie and Fat Free Cart?

E-junkie: One of the things we like best about it is that it can be used on sites where javascript is not allowed and it degrades gracefully for users who don’t have javascript enabled. Many AJAX based sites do not have a smooth user experience when the user disables javascript – and the conversion rate suffers.

TheCartBlog: And these are hosted services?

E-junkie: Yes. The fees are based on the size of your catalog. There are no fees related to sales volume.

TheCartBlog: What discounting models do you offer?

E-junkie: Discount based on dollars spent,  number of items in cart, free shipping, fixed amount or percentage off, coupons….

TheCartBlog: Great!  A full array.   For bolt-on shopping cart offering where you can build on top of something existing, it’s interesting to know where you’re getting deployed.  What are the numbers here?

E-junkie: Well, it used to be primarily stand-alone websites, but now we’re seeing a lot of deployment on BlogSpot and WordPress sites.  MySpace is also an important venue for us.

TheCartBlog: That’s great…and I’m sure your ability to operate in a no-Javaspace zone like MySpace is a real differentiator.

E-junkie: Absolutely.

TheCartBlog: Are all the products under active development?

E-junkie: FatFree cart is growing incrementally; we’re adding some Google features to it, but E-junkie is under active development right now.  We’re adding new features all the time.

TheCartBlog: And finally talk about the user profile and the support model.

E-junkie: We’re very merchant focused; merchants can use our products directly, although if they wish, they can engage someone from our developer community to do it for them.  Support is provided by email and through a customer forum.

E-junkie has been around since 2004; they are based in Tucson and have five people on staff.  They are currently serving over 3800 clients.  Thanks for your time, guys!

Talking with Qualiteam (X-Cart, LiteCommerce)

I was able to talk with the folks at Qualiteam, an Eastern European ecommerce vendor. They have two shopping cart products, X-Cart and LiteCommerce.

Thanks for talking with, guys. Where are you located?

Our company is headquartered in Cyprus, with partner company offices in the Russian Federation.

How many people does your firm have?

At this time, we have more than 150 people working in our company.

Tell me about the products. In particular, I’m having trouble understanding why you have two apparently competing products. I read the comparison chart, and it seems to suggest that X-Cart is more mature and fully featured. Why didn’t you create an X-Cart lite? As a customer, how do I decide which is right for me?

The concepts behind these two products are quite different.

Both solutions are stable and mature, and both of them provide a rich feature set and can be used as ready-made shopping cart solutions or e-commerce platforms/engines for custom online store solutions. They are widely integrated with numerous payment and shipping services and other third-party solutions. Moreover, our company provides the whole range of accompanying services including software installation, custom development, web design and shopping cart hosting.

However, there are some significant differences: X-Cart is equipped with a wider range of built-in features (at a higher price), while LiteCommerce is a very modular architecture which provides convenient mechanisms for customization, such as an API for third-party add-ons. Designers also like LiteCommerce’s WYSIWYG editors. LiteCommerce is also easier to maintain for store owners and administrators, thanks to the built-in QuickStart wizard along with a Control Panel and installer for Windows.

So in a nutshell,

  • X-Cart is a powerful, ready-made, fully-featured solution with a wide range of ready-made add-ons and third-party solutions
  • LiteCommerce is a more flexible, easy to use and customizable solution.

And of course, our sales representatives are always happy make recommendations based on client needs.

Is X-Cart considered a legacy product? Are you actively in development?

X-Cart is under active development, with releases containing new features, enhancements and bugfixes being provided on a regular basis. By no means is it a legacy product.

How many people are using the products? Any segments in particular that
prefer your software?

Our products power more than 20,000 live online stores worldwide. Since both products are highly customizable, they can be tailored to almost any industry, and that is why the range of segments greatly varies. Among the most popular are: books, videos, clothing, electronics, toys, and e-goods.

Your add ons for the LiteCommerce product are very modestly priced. How did you
decide on this strategy? Why have you kept X-Cart add on prices high?

The main idea behind this approach is to allow a client to combine a desired feature set himself and expand it when there’s a need for extended functionality. For example, a client can buy a basic version of LiteCommerce and extend it with additional components at a later date without having to spend too much extra money up front.

With X-Cart, the approach is different since many advanced features are already present in the stock version. Add-ons provide some complex, powerful features, that is why they are priced higher.

What’s your support plan? How do you deal with the time difference?

Our support system is based on support points. Each incident (an issue, problem or question related to our software) is classified by category and rated in points depending on its complexity. Points can be bought at any time, they are simply added to your account and can be spent later. However, we advise our customers to maintain a positive account balance in order to cover the work, and most of our customers buy points in advance.

The point system means that a customer can buy as much support as needed and avoid unnecessary spending. Also, each of our products comes with a free support package so that clients can receive assistance on the basics.

As for the time difference, it’s not an issue for our customers since the support service is provided 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Are you primarily marketing to developers or to storeowners?

We think of both groups as our target audience, since it’s possible either to use our software as-is, customize it yourself or hire our developers to customize it for you.

Why did you make your forum members only?

In our experience, a forum open to the public attracts those who simply wish to promote their products and are not interested in providing assistance for our solutions at all. That is why we have limited access, so that people could actually receive assistance and participate in relevant discussions. In addition, there is a great deal of code available on our forum which we also want to protect for security and licensing reasons.

How many commercial 3rd party developers do you have in your community?

It’s hard to tell the exact number, however, we can definitely say that there are a number of individuals and studios who are very active in providing custom solutions and add-on modules and whose services are based solely on our products.

What are the differentiators between your solution and Zen Cart, OSCommerce or Magento?

ZenCart/OSCommerce are surely among the best picks from free e-commerce products, however, they mostly succeed in skilled hands since they’re quite difficult to customize. Store owners may still have to pay a lot for the extra work which in our case is built into the product.

As for Magento, it is surely an attractive product and it deserves a lot of attention, but the code quality and maturity is still uncertain, whereas X-Cart has a long development history and most of glitches are fixed by now. It’s also not clear what level of service Varien will provide (i.e. will they do custom programming themselves?) and this is a very important consideration for many clients.

How do you do upgrades? What’s the cost?

As soon as the new version is released, we provide upgrade packs at no additional cost so customers can perform the upgrade themselves. If code changes are minor, X-Cart can be upgraded using the automated script. An upgrade between versions involves automatic database upgrade and manual re-implementation of modifications.

Still, if necessary, clients are always welcome to order a custom upgrade to be done by our engineers.

What percentage of your revenue is derived from professional services vs. selling software licenses?

In general, the largest part of our revenue is generated by software sales.

Great! Well thanks for your time guys, and we’ll see you on the web.
Qualiteam’s e-commerce offerings are X-Cart and LiteCommerce. Check them out.

Talking to FoxyCart (Part I)

I chatted with Brett Florio and Luke Stokes of FoxyCart earlier this week. Here’s the transcript:

TheCartBlog: Tell me about FoxyCart.

FoxyCart: FoxyCart is a hosted service that provides shopping cart functionality to developers and designers in a unique way: we only provide the cart and the checkout. That’s it. You bring your content management solution – or even static HTML pages – add a little Javascript, and boom! you have e-commerce.

TheCartBlog: Just the cart and the checkout?

FoxyCart: That’s it. We look at it this way: rather than doing a half-baked job at, say, newsletter production or inventory management, we encourage you to use your existing tools which are purpose built for those tasks, and simply integrate FoxyCart. Rather than forcing you to use a content management system that we created, we tell you to use your own, and just add FoxyCart in. FoxyCart is platform as a service.

TheCartBlog: Well, to the best of my knowledge that is unique.

FoxyCart: And because we don’t provide those facilities, the amount of data duplication you now have to deal with is really minimal. We give you data in XML or as a JSON object, and you deal with it in whatever way works best for you.

TheCartBlog: What do you mean when you say, “designers or developers?”

FoxyCart: Designers have deep expertise in layout, css, and the user experience, but they’re not computer programmers. So for them, we have pre-integrated offerings like MODx that don’t require any programming.  But for developers who want to get under the hood, do complex integrations and make adjustments to how things work, we say, “here’s the data; do what you want.”

TheCartBlog: Now what about merchants?

FoxyCart: We really don’t target merchants or sellers. We assume that if you’re a seller, you’re working with a professional to develop your web presence.

TheCartBlog: If you’re serious, you want to build business, not your website.

FoxyCart: Exactly.

TheCartBlog: OK, so the cart and checkout. What does that encompass?

FoxyCart: adding and removing things from the cart, taxes, shipping, and payment gateways.

TheCartBlog: … and for everything else, you bring your favorite solution and do the required integration.

FoxyCart: Exactly.

TheCartBlog: And how is the pricing structured?

FoxyCart: Basic service is $15/month. Billing begins when you migrate from a test gateway to a production gateway. You can test for as long as you like and not get billed (but you also won’t get paid).

TheCartBlog: That’s it? No percentage of sales?

FoxyCart: Nope. Flat fee. Now there are a couple of other optional fees: if you want to offer multi-ship (multiple ship to addresses in one checkout session), you pay an extra monthly fee. And if you want your own domain name, you pay a small yearly surcharge.

TheCartBlog: I’m impressed that you offer multi-ship.

FoxyCart: To the best of our knowledge, it’s just us and Magento.

TheCartBlog: Let’s talk discounting.

FoxyCart: We have lots of flavors of Quantity Discounting, including BOGOF and related discounts.

TheCartBlog: Coupons?

FoxyCart: Coming up in the next release.

TheCartBlog: And how do releases work?

FoxyCart: Well, it’s really feature driven, and we try to do something every month or so. But one thing that we do that’s also unique with respect to releases is that each cart has its own version, and we allow customers to time their own upgrades. It’s a pushbutton upgrade, but you schedule it so there’s no risk of things breaking while you’re on vacation.

TheCartBlog: OK, what’s an implementation going to run me?

FoxyCart: Once you learn how the system works, you can do a simple implementation in a few hours. We have a wiki and a forum so that people can learn about how our system works.

TheCartBlog: What about support?

FoxyCart: Support is done through our forum, but we’re pretty active participants.

TheCartBlog: Can I hire a pro?

FoxyCart: We have preferred providers for design, programming, etc.

TheCartBlog: Let’s talk competition. Magento and Shopify – your take?

FoxyCart: Magento is a fabulous product – as is Shopify. We admire them both. And for some people, they will be more appropriate solutions than FoxyCart. But both of them have downsides. With Shopify, you’re paying fees on every sale. With Magento, you have the headache of maintaining your cart. And neither of these systems let you bring your own CMS to the party.

TheCartBlog: Well guys, I think you’ve built something really special. What I’m going to do is sign up for FoxyCart and build a cart out of an existing website (and time the process) so that people can get a sense of how it all works. I’ll keep you posted.

Talking with Zlio

I liked the look of Zlio (and the idea behind it too), so I called Ilan Abehassera, an executive at the company, for a chat. Here’s the transcript:

TheCartBlog: Tell me about Zlio.

Zlio: We started with the idea of making creating a store as easy as creating a blog – and what we came up with was Zlio. You have access to over 145 merchants offering millions of products; we bring them to you.

TheCartBlog: And you get paid as an affiliate marketer?

Zlio: Exactly. Different merchants offer different percentages, but yes, it’s a commission model.

TheCartBlog: So I guess the closest thing might be AStores from Amazon, right?

Zlio: Yes, but remember AStores only offers Amazon’s inventory. And the customization features of AStores are quite limited. Astores is really targeted at bloggers. Zlio is only about 5% bloggers; the rest are people who have stand-alone stores.

TheCartBlog: How many Zlio stores are there?

Zlio: About 270,000.

TheCartBlog: Wow – that’s great! And how are they doing?

Zlio: Remember Zlio is not for the professional seller; it just allows people to monetize some of the time they spend online. Twenty percent of Zlio sellers are very active and are making up to $1,000 a month in commissions with no cost of inventory.

TheCartBlog: So this would be good for stay-at-home moms, students … other people who just wanted a little something on the side.

Zlio: Exactly. Now of course, you have to spend some time working on your store and promoting your store …

TheCartBlog: LOL! Just like everything else in life!

Zlio: … well, yes, but we just want to be sure people understand that it’s not a case of “build it and they will come.” You have to put some effort into it.

TheCartBlog: Fair enough. OK, let’s talk more about the competition.

Zlio: We see ourselves as a “social commerce” venue, which we think is different from “social shopping.” We are just looking for sellers. EBay and Etsy are looking for buyers and sellers. Our sellers have to find their own buyers. Or look at Shopify. Shopify is fantastic for merchants who have a physical presence and inventory and are looking for a way to add the Internet as a channel. But our sellers aren’t like this – they don’t have a bricks and mortar operation; they don’t have inventory. So that’s where we come in; “we bring the items to you.”

TheCartBlog: OK, what about Squidoo?

Zlio: Squidoo is very content focused; a particular lens may or may not be about affiliate selling. We want our stores to look like stores and be all about ecommerce.

TheCartBlog: Can you add content to your Zlio store?

Zlio: Sure – but again, we want all our stores to look like stores. The products are the focus, not the content.

TheCartBlog: Tell me about the support model for sellers.

Zlio: We have a blog, a community forum and a newsletter.

TheCartBlog: And how can sellers track their income?

Zlio: We have an admin panel for each shop that tells the owner how the shop is doing; reports, sales breakdowns and so forth.

TheCartBlog: How do sellers become successful with Zlio?

Zlio: Promotion is the key. Obviously SEO is important, but beyond that, you need to promote your store – put it in your signature, talk about it on forums and blog posts – drive traffic to your store.

TheCartBlog: Pretty typical stuff for an Internet business. Well, thanks for taking the time to talk with us, and we look forward to seeing more great stuff!

Zlio: We have a number of improvements in the pipeline that you’ll be seeing soon!

Thanks for the talk, guys!

Talking with Mountain Media

Last week, Mountain Media issued a press release to announce their PCI compliance. I got intrigued and called the company for an interview. Here’s the transcript:

TheCartBlog: Tell me about the product.

Mountain: Well, it’s a hosted offering built on the LAMP stack. We’re at version 7.0 of the product now. We’ve had a very strong focus on SEO and flexibility from the start, so I’d say those are the two biggest strengths we bring to the game.

TheCartBlog: Great! So as a hosted product, you can’t really change much except for templating, right?

Mountain: It’s funny – that’s a common objection from people who are coming from open source, but in truth, the fact that they’re constantly fiddling with their cart is a bad thing – it leads to problems, instability and so forth. But to answer your question directly, first of all, we don’t call it templating, because each cart’s look and feel is unique. Our implementation process starts with a design interview, and we develop the interface based on the outcome of that interview …

TheCartBlog: I’ve looked at some of your implementations and they’re really quite beautiful. So you do the skinning?

Mountain: Yes. We have a number of designers on staff. Now once the implementation is complete, the customer has the flexibility to change wording, text, even the css, but we find in general that they’d rather not do that sort of thing.

TheCartBlog: Build your business, not your shopping cart, right?

Mountain: Exactly.

TheCartBlog: I tell storeowners that every day. So it sounds like professional services is a big part of your business – right?

Mountain: It is, but if people are working with a designer they like, we’re happy to work with them.

TheCartBlog: Tell me about the company.

Mountain: We’re in Saratoga Springs, New York, about 3 hours north of New York City. We have 15 people on staff.

TheCartBlog: And the typical client?

Mountain: A lot of our customers are coming from other hosted solutions like Yahoo Stores or Volusion. A typical store might have half a million in sales. We get a few well-funded new launches, but a lot more existing businesses looking to grow.

TheCartBlog: And what do implementations generally run?

Mountain: We’re doing a lot around $5K these days. It’s a 30-60 day turnaround, and most storeowners do inventory input themselves.

TheCartBlog: Can you run your whole store from MountainMedia?

Mountain: The back end is very strong. If you have a multichannel operation, you might want to link into some external order management tools, and we can do this integration for you, but many of our customers just use our product.

TheCartBlog: So what’s next?

Mountain: We’re always looking at ways to make our implementation process smoother, faster, more affordable. And we’re looking at more advanced sales tools, like buy one thing, get another thing free.

(Ed: Remember to pitch Better Together and the Better Together Admin Panel to them!)

TheCartBlog: That’s great! Well congratulations on your PCI certification, and we look forward to seeing great things in the future from you!

Thanks for the talk, guys!