EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 267 - July 25, 2010 - ISSN 1528-6703     4 of 8

3DCart Brings Ecommerce to Startups on a Budget

By Greg Holden

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In today's column, AuctionBytes Contributing Editor Greg Holden takes a look at 3Dcart, software that can help you get up and running on your own website, as we continue our summer-long series on shopping carts.

One of the big advantages of starting a business online is the chance to save money. You save on rental of a brick-and-mortar facility, on utilities and taxes, and (if you are running a real do-it-yourself operation) employees' salary.

If you're on a tight budget, you might think you can't afford ecommerce hosting with a shopping cart along with the services of programmers and consultants who can help you get everything up and running smoothly. And unless you have the required technical expertise, you do need such help, because customers expect ecommerce sites to be full-featured, always available, and easy to navigate and use.

The folks at 3Dcart want you to think otherwise. For as little as $20 per month, they specialize in getting startups on a budget up and running. They also offer ongoing technical support that helps businesses comply with security features that credit card companies require. And they are available on the phone to answer all the questions that new online entrepreneurs have a habit of asking.

It turns out that businesspeople on a budget are frequently very demanding of their ecommerce hosting service, according to Gonzalo Gil, CEO of 3DCart.

"Sometimes the cheaper a thing is, people who use it tend to call every single day," comments Gil, 31, who lives in south Florida. "At least it seems that way. We offer phone support 24/7. If someone signs up for our $19.95 hosting plan, they might call us a week later, saying 'I'm not selling as much as I want to sell; I want to try this or that directory."

3DCart provides such support for all of its 6,000 active clients. The company has hosting packages that have descriptive phrases to go with their monthly fees. The $19.95 monthly package is labeled "Gonna Give it a Shot." The $35.99 per month package is called "I Have a Dream." For $65.99, you can "Start a Web Empire." For the most expensive package, $199.99 per month, you can start "Taking Over the World."

Gonzalo reports that 3DCart is growing at the rate of 200-300 customers per month, most of them small, home-based businesses at the "low end" (or you might say, "Give it a Shot") range of the spectrum. That's just the way he envisioned the company when he started it back in 1997. Prior to that, in 10th and 11th grade, he had created his own business doing custom programming and website creation.

"After the year 2000, when the Internet bubble burst, we started getting less and less Web design work. We used to build custom shopping carts that cost $20,000 to $30,000. But after the year 2000, nobody really trusted the Internet any more. Companies didn't have that much money to spend, and we had all this knowledge around custom shopping carts, so we decided to go after smaller companies and offer shopping carts as a monthly service."

There are plenty of advantages to renting software online as a service: the software provider handles upgrades and maintenance. Since you don't need to install the software, you can get up and running immediately. And you can call upon other users and the provider's technical support staff for help with problems and questions about how to make your business perform at a higher level. For one monthly fee, you gain access to hosting, software that continually is upgraded with new features, and technical support as well.

The support issues were the ones that attracted Greg Balestrieri, CEO of Candy.com to 3DCart. "With a previous startup, we used different shopping cart software that required much training and custom programming," he says. "These were two of the biggest obstacles we faced as small business owners. Training the staff and changing the site were daunting tasks. With 3DCart, both of those are easily handled. We have the ability to change things without being an expert in programming. In fact, new employees can learn and pick up how to change a product description, images, and content pages within a couple of days."

What exactly does 3DCart offer besides the ability to quickly change a store's setup without custom programming? You get templates and graphics to make your site look good, and search engine optimization to make it easy to find. You get Payment Card Industry (PCI)-compliant hosting that credit card companies like Visa and MasterCard require. You get email addresses and autoresponders. You get the ability to create mailing lists and newsletters. And the newest version of the software will include the ability to run an iPhone version of a store.

One of the features Gil cites is the ability to help an online store address the needs of a small, niche market, and those who need special features. "We have some clients that want to stock merchandise on their shelves in a particular way, and when they go to print out orders, they don't want to print a simple invoice, but a specially formatted report. No other shopping cart will have that."

One client sells fish online, and 3DCart created a feature that enables the store owner to check the weather in transit so they know how many bags of ice to ship to keep the fish cold.

When you read about 3DCart on discussion boards, you see negative comments about the speed and quality of the company's customer service. But Gil says customers get a response within the hour, and occasionally, within 15 minutes.

In fact, Gil welcomes the chance to give advice and personally help new business owners. Dealing with customers personally is the best part of his job, he says. "You learn a lot from talking to customers," he says. "We love to give advice. You learn a lot from talking to customers and seeing what they're doing and what they need. It's what separates us from our competitors."

Find more information on the 3Dcart website.

For a look at Greg's ongoing shopping-cart series, see the following links:

Four Tips for Selecting an Ecommerce Shopping Cart (June 6, 2010) - Link to article

ZenCart Helps You Build Your Own Store Online (June 20, 2010) - Link to article

Shopping Cart from Magento Helps Entrepreneurs Launch Ecommerce Websites (July 11, 2010) - Link to article


About the author:

Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.


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