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The Brutal Truth about E-Commerce
Shopping Carts, Autoresponders
and Associate Programs


Dear Internet Friend,

If you're working too hard to make your web business profitable, if you want the mechanics of your business to run on autopilot so you can concentrate on things like marketing, if you'd like to see your spouse or significant other more, if you'd like to have more energy at the end of the day.

Let's be honest. Ecommerce can be a real pain the in you know what!

Oh, you can buy a box at the software store that will set up a shopping cart program and even real time credit card processing if you pay a pricey hosting fee. Easy enough. But what if you want to have an upsell on the order form? Did you know 80% of the customers will usually decide to give you more money on the order form?

It's an easy profit.

But you have a problem. You can't do it.

Now, what if you want to send a series of follow up emails to every person who buys from you offering support and selling other products? Oops, your system can't do that. And you don't have access to the proprietary code so you're screwed.

But it gets better. Let's say you want to tie in an associate program that allows you to have your own team of hungry resellers all over the world (or your city) anxious to make sales for you to grab a commission.

Oh man, now you're really putting a kink in the works. "Excuse me" you say to the not so friendly voice on the 800 number you sat on hold 30 minutes with, "If I can't start an associate program, how is it that I'm going to need your shopping cart? Who is going to see my web site? You expect me to rely on traffic from tricking the search engines? You have to be out of your mind!"

Click . . .

You hunt around and find an off-the-shelf shopping cart that gives you the real time credit card processing and the associate program.

But will the associate program allow your resellers to track the results of the ads they place? Heck no. They spend hard-earned money for ads. But they can't find out how many visitors the ads generated nor how many sales were created nor the percentage conversion.

Oh boy. That's real convenient. Especially when your competitors offer this feature to their resellers.

By the way, they also don't let your associates check their sales in real time. Oops! Another missing feature.

So now you go to the "big time" associate program vendors. You tell them you have filed 3 separate domain names for your products because you think it's bad positioning to use the same domain name for the same products. Can their associate tracking software allow you to do that?

What's that? No. You have to run all your products off one domain. Eeeeek! You call customer service. "Do I have this straight? You mean, I can't have www.widgetone.com and www.widgettwo.com on the same associate program? Oh man. I have to sign up for two separate accounts, pay two separate fees and have two separate sites for my resellers to check their stats. What if I want to have four products on separate domains?

Why? "Because I read this marketing book that told me it's better positioning if distinct products have their own domain names. Their own home pages. Their own graphic look and feel. Makes sense, right? But you don't support that? Alrighty then."

By the way, while we're chatting, ummmm, if a customer buys a product from one of my resellers then comes back later and buys another product, will your program track that sale and tie it to the original reseller so I can pay them a commission on the follow up sale? What's that you say? It won't? But my competitors do that. How am I supposed to compete with your software? Good question, eh? You think maybe, possibly that's in the works for the next upgrade. But you aren't sure. Why don't you work on that one. I gotta run.

But before I do, one last question. Let's say an associate refers someone to my web site. They come there. Poke around. Leave. Then come back 30 days, 6 months or one year later and buy. Will your software track the original reseller for me? No? Why not? My competitors do that also.

OK. Let me try another. Here's an associate program that has a ton of features. It looks hot. You call customer service, "Hey, what programming language is your program written in?" Visual Basic? You gotta be kidding me! Why didn't you write it in a turbo-charged database language like Sequel?

You cringe because they're using Visual Basic for a fancy front end, sure enough. But you cringe to think what happens if your program takes off and you plump a heavy load on it. Is it really scalable to your increased demand?

That'll keep you up at night. Just try getting 3,000 associates to all switch over to new associate URL's, new places to check stats, new everything because your old software couldn't handle it.

Next morning you're drinking a cup of coffee and skimming the headlines in your local computer publication. Custom programming. That's the answer. So you contact the programmer, shell out some big bucks and in 4 months (if you're lucky), you have all kinds of cgi stuff (and other things you never even heard of) tucked away in your cgi-bin and other places on your web host.

They have the autoresponders set up. (Chances are they don't work right, but at least they're "set up.") They have everything. You're getting ready to launch your associate program. You decide to wine and dine your programmer because you realize your life depends on them.

Plus, everytime you need to set up a new product on an order form, they have to do it for you because it's so complicated. In fact, if you attempt to edit their order form yourself in a wysiwyg html editor, it screws everything all up.

Anyway, you at least have a doable solution. But before you launch your program at last, you pop in at netmechanic.com and run a server check on your web host.

Bad, bad news. Their performance was great when you signed up with them with 6 months ago. But someone bought them out or they grew really fast. And now. Well, frankly they suck. A family living in an adobe hut in a remote island has a faster web site than you do.

No problem. Just change web hosts, right? You call up your CGI guru dude and say, "OK move me."

He or she grimaces. "You've got to be kidding me? You want to move. I have to change all those perl paths and a whole bunch of stuff. The directories are different. Everything. I can move the scripts over. But you're going to have to do a new associate program software installation. That's a whole new fee and setup. You're looking at two weeks to a month just for that. Then there's the reintegration. Testing everything out again."

And just imagine what you would do if you already had 1,000 or 2,000 resellers. You'd be married to that web host that sucks. Tied to them till kingdom come.

Talk about blood in the streets. It's not a pretty site. Your resellers are complaining to you all the time. "How come your site won't come up?"

Then you have to launch into the whole story about how you have this custom system and you just can't pick it up and move it. Blah. Blah. Blah.

Sound like a nightmare? Well it can be. Trust me on this one.

It's clear: You need an associate program that combines with your follow up autoresponders and your real time credit card processing (with check processing) tied together in a seamless system that is instantly portable from web host to web host and that allows multiple back-end products and will track commissions on multiple sales with the ability for resellers to track the results of all their ads and get all results, including commissions in real time.

You need a Sequel database that is built to handle heavy loads. You need to be able to use your own web host, not get locked into someone else's. And, of course, you need to be able to use your own merchant bank or instantly interface with a third party merchant account.

You need the ability to make it easy to pay your associate commissions each month. You need a system that a relative beginner can use.

And finally, you need all this with an infrastructure that has redundancy built in, swappable drives and all the techie stuff that allow you to sleep like a baby at night.

But other than needing all that in one system, everything is fine!

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