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ZippyScore: Understanding How We Score eCommerce Software

For 2014, we decided to make major improvements to our eCommerce software scoring system (AKA the ZippyScore). These changes included expanding the number of factors we analyze and adding in weighted averages. In prior years, we chose to weight each grading factor equally, but after receiving feedback from many eCommerce merchants, we decided to give more clout to features which matter more to those who are looking for a new eCommerce software solution to power their online store.

Our team of ZippyCart eCommerce experts scored each software solution on a 1-5 scale, using the criteria listed below. We then averaged them out to obtain the overall score for each factor. This allowed us to determine their final ZippyScore for our list of the top eCommerce software solutions of 2012.

Ease of Use (15%)

Most eMerchants are not tech geniuses so when they are looking for the right eCommerce solution software, the Ease of Use is a critical factor. An eCommerce solution needs to be easy to use for both the eCommerce business owner and the online shopper. The eMerchant will want a hassle-free admin panel and their customer base will need a storefront and check-out process that is simple to navigate.

It is common for new online business owners to want a quick and easy store set-up and an uncomplicated admin panel. They do not want to spend months mastering an eCommerce solution in order to manage daily tasks such as reports, shipping and social media properly. They’d rather be focusing their energies on marketing, customer acquisition and sales. In addition, they need a storefront that is easy to update, aesthetically appealing, and user friendly. Customers will abandon a site if it does not look professional or has a poor user experience. This is why the ZippyCart team feels ‘Ease of Use’ is the most critical component that we factor into the ZippyScore.

Marketing / Features (15%)

Marketing and features may seem a bit self-explanatory, but when you’re dealing with the best carts on the market, it’s important to score the range of tools available and compare the entire feature set so that eCommerce business owners can more easily find the solution that best fits their needs. This scoring factor touches on many different parts of an eCommerce solution, hitting areas like merchandising, upselling, the check-out processes, marketing, social media, reporting, 3rd party integration, and more. Features that are important to one may not be needed for others so it’s best to figure out what is necessary for your online business and pick from the feature list accordingly. The ZippyCart team is comparing only the best carts so to be ranked in this class should indicate that you have an incredibly robust line-up of features. The ZippyScore will show how these carts compare to the others in the top ranking.

Security (PCI / PA DSS Compliance) (10%)

The payment cart industry (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, and JCB) has developed a set of security standards (PCI-compliance) that ALL companies that transact electronic commerce must adhere too. This means if you plan on running an eCommerce store, you must be on a compliant platform. If not, you run of the risk of fines, lawsuits, reimbursement of losses and more.

PCI-compliance is the set standard but online merchants can find an extra level of security, called PA-DSS, with eCommerce companies who provide a licensed software option. Because licensed software providers allow eMerchants to host their store on their own server, they should go a step further and become PA-DSS complaint ( Payment Application Data Security Standard). While PCI has some affect on the application, PA DSS focuses strictly on how that application is designed to insure the highest level of security. Any eCommerce application carrying both designations will always score a high ZippyScore in the Security category.

Customer Support (10%)

Most of the merchants coming to ZippyCart are looking for hosted eCommerce software solutions and place high value on customer service. They want to be confident that they can get the proper help they need if a problem or question comes up. In scoring customer service the ZippyCart team looks at a variety of data points, including feedback from merchants who are currently using a solution or recently switched their eCommerce software. We also do our own version of “secret shopping,” where our eCommerce experts interact with the shopping cart companies, ask various questions, and present dilemmas to see how the customer service team addresses them. Additionally, other customer help tools such as documentation, depth of knowledgebase, and video tutorials are considered. This helps to get a well-rounded perspective of how knowledgeable the customer service teams are so that we can do a better job of scoring them.

Other considerations in customer service include the availability of customer service and tech support, types of customer service offered (phone, email, live chat, forum, etc), and how the eCommerce software companies address merchant questions and concerns over social media, such as Twitter and Facebook. As eMerchants become more comfortable in asking questions over social media, it’s clear to see that some eCommerce companies are doing a better job in keeping up with the trends and utilizing these channels. All of these factors are taken into consideration, so we can determine the final ZippyScore in Customer Service for each eCommerce software solution.

Search Engine Optimization (10%)

Generating free, targeted traffic should be very important to any business that runs an online store. Every eCommerce software solution is unique in their SEO offerings and what they allow an eMerchant to do from an SEO perspective. In scoring SEO for each eCommerce solution, we look at a number of factors like the ability to set up your own 301 redirect links, ability to optimize the page title and META data for each page, and generation of SEO-friendly links. We look at factors such as if there is the option to add custom alt text for product images and the level of access a merchant has to all the HTML and CSS that make up their online store. We take all of these factors into account to create the ZippyScore in SEO for each eCommerce software solution, and even leverage SEO experts to ensure that we score the most optimized carts the highest in this category.

Overall Value (10%)

It’s natural for an eCommerce business owner to be very concerned with how much their eCommerce software solution costs and what they get for the money.

Most of the questions we get at ZippyCart are for online store owners who are looking at hosted eCommerce solutions. When taking this into account, we considered what the merchant gets in terms of features and service, which will usually vary according to the level of package they decide on. It is important to pay attention to the features offered in each package level as some hosted eCommerce solutions limit the features they provide on their entry level packages and some providers give merchants the same set of features in all packages. We look at is what kind of bandwidth and storage limits there are for each hosted package, as well as the bandwidth or storage overage costs and if there are transaction fees. For overall value, we also consider things like what hours they provide customer service, if they offer a live chat for merchants to get help, and what type of community and help resources they provide merchants.

In the case of licensed solutions, merchants only pay a one-time fee for the software instead of the monthly rates and other fees that are charged by hosted solutions. Online business owners who go with a licensed solution should be technically inclined or have the resources to hire on extra help as they’ll need to set-up their own hosting account and control all design and customization needs. Additionally, they often have to pay for extras such as customer service and updates to newer software. We take these factors into consideration when determining the value of a licensed shopping cart.

Level of Customization (5%)

Most online business owners are happy with a very basic online store and do not have the time or technical skills to make advanced customizations. However, the level of customization is a top concern for some merchants, as they would like to have a lot of flexibility in the look and feel of their online storefront. Additionally, technically inclined eMerchants want to know if they can access the HTML and CSS, customize URLs, modify features, and manipulate the design of their online store.

Some eCommerce solutions have limited options for templates and do not give the merchant many options to further tweak their template. This not good for some, but will work well for those who are happy with a basic store. For online merchants who want to ensure that their online store is customized to meet their needs, the ZippyScore in Level of Customization will be very important. To cover their needs, we look at a number of different areas, including the scalability of an eCommerce solution, remote carting tools, Integrations, ability to customize, and access to source code.

Design Features / Templates (5%)

Having a store that looks professional and accurately conveys your brand is important to successfully selling on-line. The images, colors, buttons and layout all play a very crucial part in the overall customer buying experience. Having a store that looks unprofessional or is hard to navigate will affect sales. In scoring this category we look not only at the design tools that are provided by each application but we also determine how effective and easy these tools are to use. Additionally, we look at the number of design templates provided free of charge and the quality of these templates.

Social Media / Social Commerce Integration (5%)

Social media is slowly becoming more important to online business owners and eCommerce software solutions are starting to recognize this desire. Over the course of 2011, many of our top eCommerce solutions added in features such as Facebook and Twitter integrations, the ability to open an online store at your Facebook fan page, and social sharing functionality. This allows online customers to post products to their Facebook or Twitter accounts and share interests with their social network of friends. Not many eCommerce solutions offer more advanced social commerce tools, but in 2012 and 2013, it is expected that additional features will be added to meet merchant demands. ZippyCart loves eCommerce solutions that keep up with the new trends. We take all of these things into account when we decide the ZippyScore for each eCommerce software solution on their social media / social commerce integration.

Mobile Commerce (5%)

The rapid rise of smartphones and mobile Internet usage is changing the way consumers shop. Although still budding and not yet a necessity for every merchant, mobile commerce is poised for exponential growth. Mobile retail and travel spending grew by 80% in 2011 and is expected to more than double by the end of 2012. It is projected that mCommerce spending in the retail is to reach $25 billion in 2017. Its importance to online commerce cannot be understated and it should soon be considered a necessity in any eCommerce strategy. While almost all eCommerce service providers had some form of mobile offerings, many use it to upsell you into higher-priced packages, or as a value-added service. This practice is no longer acceptable and a complete mobile optimized experience must be provided in all packages to receive a high score. Mobile apps for managing the store were not yet given any consideration, but we expect that to change with the growing market.

Scalability (5%)

Scalability implies that the underlying business model of the service provider is one that allows for the economic growth of YOUR business. This is important as many service providers have created economic business models which are very beneficial to their growth, but not necessarily yours. To score high in this category the shopping cart must provide customers with the ability to scale without restrictions or dramatically increased monthly fees. Providers that offer a licensed version of their shopping cart, which allows customer to host the platform within their own data centers, will always score higher than hosted-only providers. If the shopping cart only offers a hosted month-to-month platform, additional charges and fees are considered when scoring. As a store owner you need to have the flexibility to grow and expand your business as you see necessary having this type of scalability should not be a financial burden to your company. All of these things were taken into account when considering the ZippyScore for Scalability.

Susan D.

Susan was raised in Missouri but has lived 'out west' for more than 10 years. She currently bounces back and forth between the Phoenix and San Francisco areas and is always looking for the next adventure. Susan has a curious mind and wanderlust heart, which has made research and blogging a perfect fit for her. She especially enjoys keeping up with and writing on local and unique businesses, travel, and eCommerce issues. When she's not running Zippycart, she's probably researching a random piece of information she came across online.

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