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Keeping Shopping Carts Safe

Apr 1, 2007
by Alfred Branch, Jr.

A wholesaler's online shopping cart is the backbone of the business, so taking care of it is essential. Fortunately, gone are the days, though only 10 years ago, when shopping carts were more easily hacked, or when customers threw up their hands in frustration over long delays or dropped orders. Nowadays, online shopping carts are more stable and secure, but that does not mean a wholesaler should ignore theirs. This story discusses some of the issues concerning them.

According to Bob LaGarde, founder and chairman of Storefront.net, one of the country's leading online shopping cart facilitators, shopping carts generally come in three solutions: the cart redirects orders from the merchant's website straight to the credit card processor without storing credit card information; the cart allows the merchant to collect data but the company does not retain it after it has been sent to the processing center; or the cart lets the merchant keep all the data and then send the order off to be processed.

Security First
Regardless of which solution a company uses, security will always be important. "Online shopping carts have always been subject to a very high level of scrutiny. In fact, brick and mortar point of sale retailers have not been subjected to those same high standards," LaGarde said. "Shopping cart vendors have been very sensitive and responsive to the scrutiny, because we operate in a very public forum."

The scrutiny has inspired shopping cart providers to constantly look at new ways to protect the valuable data they collect. Software engineers have turned to new encryption solutions based on algorithms that are harder to crack. Now merchants can devise a keyword that only they will know that can be written into the cart's code allowing for more control of how the cart is accessed.

In addition, VISA has implemented best practices standards for ecommerce sites, and how they collect and use personal credit information. Companies that meet the criteria are certified, LaGarde said, and merchants that do not use certified shopping cart providers could face revocation of their credit card privileges. "No one can guarantee a totally hack proof solution, but the industry is working hard to reach that goal," he said.

Such dedication could lull a merchant into thinking that they should not worry about the shopping cart's level of security because the provider will handle it. If a wholesaler thinks that is acceptable, think again. The Massachusetts state legislature is reviewing a bill that if passed would require any reseller that does business in the state to pay for consumer losses in the event the business' website or databases are hacked, and customer credit card information is stolen.

The bill could set a precedent for how other states handle similar matters and the burden that banks and credit card issuers generally bear. According to The Wall Street Journal, close to 40 states already have, "data-breach and consumer-protection laws," but the Massachusetts proposal is far and away the most stringent.

Vijay Mahindroo, owner of Orlando, FL based Globe Imports, said his company has never encountered a problem with its online shopping cart, which he calls a great tool. "It is a nice enhancement to the business, the ability to receive orders at anytime."

Globe Imports sells novelty items and decorative pieces from its website, Globeimports.com, and the company also has a profile and link on Wholesalecentral.com that takes potential customers straight to the site. "We get several orders per month from Wholesale Central. It is a good way for companies to get a look at our showroom," Mahindroo said.

Globe Imports does not actually take the orders itself, according to Mahindroo. The company's shopping cart encrypts orders and sends them directly to the credit card processing center. Globe Imports does not keep customers' credit card information, but it does keep address and contact information, which allows the company to occasionally call on customers to make sure there were no problems with the order.

Human Touch
Interaction with the customer is vital, said Ken Kandler, president of the general merchandise wholesale company, Atco. Kandler's company has been in business for 14 years, but he has a few decades worth of experience in the industry. Atco's shopping cart has been trouble free, but Kandler said that does not stop him from speaking with customers regularly.

"You cannot eliminate the human interaction that is necessary between a vendor and a customer. We try to talk to our customers as often as we can, which can help head off any potential problems before they happen," he said. "The industry has not changed, just the way we interact with customers. These days there are more options."

Ron Doohaluk agreed. His company, Watchwholesalers.com, processes virtually all of its orders through its website and shopping cart. Like a lot of wholesale websites, Watchwholesalers.com requires merchants to sign up for access to the site's features, which is an added level of security. The company's shopping cart collects contact information from buyers, but not credit card data.

The contact information allows the company to do follow up email marketing (members can decide to opt out). Watchwholesalers.com also has a link on Wholesalecentral.com, which Doohaluk said has led to several positive orders. "We ask people all the time how they heard of us, and a lot say Wholesalecentral. It has helped us quite a bit," he said. "The quality of leads is better than on other sites. They seem to be more of what we are looking for."

Wholesalecentral.com offers members a secure shopping cart option, which wholesalers are using to great effect. Staff members are available during business hours to help the merchant create the shopping cart. The carts are uniform, which makes navigating them easy for customers, because they can visit several shopping carts and will be familiar with how to use them.

"In my experience, the smaller the merchant, the more likely they are to outsource their shopping cart solution," LaGarde said. "It is easy to set up and allows the company to concentrate more on products and how they would like to manage it, as opposed to the nuts and bolts."

LaGarde said that not all shopping cart software is well written, and he stresses that when wholesalers are considering shopping cart providers, that they ask a lot of questions. "Some wholesalers might want their shopping cart to just make things more convenient for the customer, while others are seeking a total ecommerce solution. Go in knowing what it is you are looking for and how to achieve it," he said.

For example, business to business websites tend to want more supply chain functionality, LaGarde said, so companies should ask the shopping cart provider how easily they can set up functions that will allow the shopping cart to interact with back office operations. Businesses that are expecting most customers to be business to consumer buyers should consider solutions that automate a lot of the functions. This will allow customers to handle most of the data entry themselves, which can free the merchant to concentrate on other issues, such as customer retention.

Companies included in this story:

RJT Watchwholesalers, Inc.
1080 W. Sam Houston Pkwy North, #260
Houston, TX 77043
Tel.: 713-647-8595
Fax: 713-468-3092
Website: www.watchwholesalers.com

Atco Corp.
270 Tosca Drive
Stoughton, MA 02072
Tel.: 781-297-2010
Fax: 781-297-7428
Website: www.atco-usa.com

Globe Imports, Inc.
749 S. Kirkman Road
Orlando, FL 32811
Tel.: 407-290-0963
Fax: 407-297-7891
Website: www.globeimports.com

LaGarde, Inc.
25055 W. Valley Parkway
Olathe, Kansas 66061
Tel.: 913-489-0800
Website: www.storefront.net

Software Projects
331 West 57th street
Suite 444
New York, NY 10019
Tel.: 800-218-1525
Fax: 800-919-9442
Website: www.softwareprojects.com

Sidebar

Shopping Cart Providers: What To Look For

Internet consultant, Adrian Singer of Software Projects, offers the following five suggestions for what a merchant should look for in an online shopping cart provider:

1) Ask for references in the form of live websites using the company's shopping cart solutions. Go to these websites and try to buy something as if you were a customer. Write down notes about your experience, such as what you liked about it and what you disliked.
2) Check the page.
3) Find out who are some of the biggest merchants using the shopping cart and what is their volume. Make sure the shopping cart can scale to meet your needs.
4) Customer Support. Your shopping cart will become integral to your business. Send an email to the company's general customer help box, "support@..." and send another email to the technical support team. Measure how long it takes to get a detailed (non canned) response.
5) Open Architecture. If your needs change, you might decide to switch to a different shopping cart in the future. Make sure the cart you are picking now offers full export of the entire database of customers, orders, products etc., to make a possible future switch pain free.
Source: "Picking a Shopping Cart Solution," Ezinearticles.com

Topic: Web Tech Tips

Related Articles: shopping cart  ecommerce  security  fraud 

Article ID: 122

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