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So, after thinking back on the business strategy that Bill Gates described in his book, "The Road Ahead" I have a new marketing strategy that I need some opinions on. (Love it or hate it, I just want to know what it looks like from outside the box)
First: I want to drop the subscription for using the system all together. The system will be free for anyone who needs a cart system for this industry. BUT, I am going to display my targeted ads and affiliate links to your customers as they shop your items. (Note: items sold through the cart system are unique, I would advertise products related to the items, not competing with them.)
Second: The system will not be linked through any online payment system unless you want to subscribe for a 'premium' account.
Third: If you do not want to have my ads and affiliate links displayed while your customers browse your items you can subscribe for a 'premium' account which will also include the tie to the online payments as mentioned above.
Problems: I have current subscribers that I would have to find a way to transition to the new system. (There are not many of them so it would not be a *huge* problem)
So if you were looking for a cart system to list your products through (pretend you are not a web designer) and you found this type of deal, would you use it? what questions would you have? opinions about the site?
For the sake of arguement, assume this system is comparable to others available in operation and ease of use.
If your aim is to get more people using your product by offering something free, I would just offer the cart free to low volume users, then when they start getting higher volumes as their business grows, start charging them accordingly. Thats a good way to lull someone in with a free product, but then have them locked into the technology so it would be difficult for them to go elsewhere instead of paying for it when the time comes.
But then again, you do give the subscription method as an option. I would push the subscription with the ads version as an opt out.
offering it free will get a ton of people to just try it out, and see if they like it. Imagine how much easier it will be to market your service as a FREE service or free trial than what you currently have. And the good news is that it's probably the type of product that if people think its decent they are not going to want to take it out and start with something new.
Once they break a certain threshold you charge them a fee.
Anyway, when it comes to shopping carts for the few clients I still consult for:
1) Search engine usability is number one. If it doesn't have friendly URL's, forget about it. That knocks out 90% of the stuff out there, I swear. I know you can re-write URL's, etc. in a lot of carts, but that's not the only element important in a well designed page for SEO.
2) Ease of use for the store-owner: calculating taxes and shipping are hugely important. Next comes actually adding items. Then finally integrating things with existing systems.
3) Ease of use for the customer. I hate the carts that make you sign in or get a password. Make the sale easy the first time! So many buyers are first-time buyers that want things immediately.
4) The actual cost of the cart is here. I use to recommend a Freeware cart, but then found one that costs $100 a month to use that's great for SEO... Freeware is useless if you can't make good use of natural search traffic.
But really, there's a lot I *don't* know (anymore) about the ins-and-outs of what's necessary from a day to day level in a good cart. All I know for sure is there's no perfect software I've come across.
Finally: I'm in touch weekly with a guy who's doing $300k of sales a year in a one-man operation, and he's been grunting it out in HTML and Americart (although he's transitioning now to something automated). It's crazy hard work, a lot of duplicating, but it has really worked for him, despite my misgivings.
The point is, cost is one of the least important elements. Yes, when you're starting up its tough to bear.
Keep thinking, though, and keep pushing. And come back and let us know how you do with it in a while.