A service called Cartfly turns the electronic shopping-cart concept on its head.
Typically, a business begins by setting up a storefront on a Web site, and then develops a strategy for driving visitors to that site. Successful tactics may include pay-per-click advertising, search-engine optimization, and links on specialized Web directories.
In contrast, Cartfly encourages businesses to put entrances to their virtual stores in places where visitors already hang out. It lets you add widget code to many different Web sites, including blogs and popular social networking destinations such as MySpace and Blogger; the code creates a door that leads to your Cartfly-hosted store.
If you've collected a large number of "friends" at various sites, Cartfly can help you tap into their buying power.
Despite having a few rough edges, Cartfly offers a relatively easy-to-use introduction to e-commerce for a small business. It costs nothing to set up--your only investment is your time--and it represents an interesting alternative to eBay for small online sellers.
Setting Up Cartfly
Setting up a Cartfly store is fairly easy, though it could be even easier. Midway through store registration, the service asks you for a 400-pixel store logo, and it won't let you proceed without one. A better process would let you register
Once you've set up your store, you need to add merchandise, which you may organize into categories. You have to enter each item manually, which makes Cartfly a better match for stores selling a few dozen items rather than for stores selling thousands of products. Nevertheless, it's flexible enough to permit you to associate options with an item you're selling--for example, to offer a T-shirt for sale in several sizes.
You can tinker with the look of your store to a limited extent, such as by changing colors.
Sharing Your Store
What raises Cartfly above the typical entry-level shopping-cart service is how easily it lets you share the store. Cartfly provides a few lines of code that you can copy and paste to a Web page to promote the store. Anyone who visits your store can pick up this widget code by clicking the Share Code button.
Cartfly says that it has tested the code and confirmed that it works on many social networking and blogging sites, including Blogger, Friendster, Hi5, MySpace, PerfSpot, Piczo, Tagworld, TypePad, and Xanga.
When you use Cartfly's administrative tools to change your product listings, all of your online stores get updated automatically.
A Cartfly store costs nothing to set up. Instead, the service charges 3 percent on all store sales. Cartfly recommends that merchants accept payment through PayPal, which charges its usual fees as well.
The combined Cartfly and PayPal fees won't add up to a big dollar bite out of the revenues of a small store with monthly sales of $1000 or so. But if sales increase to more than $20,000 per month, it becomes more cost effective to use a shopping cart and a merchant account that take a smaller slice of every sale.
Cartfly is designed for selling physical goods, rather than intellectual property. The service limits what can be sold, and bans various products, ranging from alcoholic beverages to tombstones.
The service has limited reporting capabilities, too. It won't track your product inventory, nor will it integrate with a small-business accounting app such as QuickBooks to track inventory and sales.
The secure store administration functions are simple but effective. When you check for online orders, however, Cartfly pops up a nonsecure Web browser window. As a result, someone using a Web sniffer might be able to read the unprotected order information.
Is Cartfly Right for You?
To benefit most from the viral e-commerce marketing that Cartfly enables, it helps to have a lot of online connections--either networking "friends" or eager fans who are willing to add your store's widget code to their blogs, MySpace profiles, or Web sites.
According to Cartfly president Bob Schober, Cartfly hosts more than 3500 storefronts and is particularly popular with musicians, artists, and their fans. This marketing approach would also work well for charities and other do-good organizations which sell logoed merchandise.
Cartfly is a simple shopping-cart service that's
Richard Morochove is an IT consultant and writer. Send him questions about using technology in your connected small to midsize business via e-mail. PC World may edit your query and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.