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eCommerce Digital Download Wish list

I recently wrote a post about setting up an ecommerce system for digital downloads, specificaly my frustrations with finding an ideal platform, and my choice of wp shopping cart for WordPress as the closest fit, even if it really is not ideal.

The good news is that Dan at Instinct Software is monitoring comments about the software that he and his company have created, and are willing to do something about it (see comment on related article about ecommerce).

This post is for the benefit of anyone developing an ecommerce platform, especially Instinct Software who which to improve their existing system. Feel free to add comments if you are either a developer of ecommerce software for digital downloads, or if you want a better platform for selling digital download products.

Root Cause of Problems

In my opinion, the reason so many ecommerce platforms fail to measure up in the digital download world, is because they are designed to sell physical products first, with digital download products as an afterthought. There are important differences between selling physical and digital products.

A delay between ordering/payment and delivery of a physical product is acceptable when ordered on-line. It takes time to transport the product to the seller, so payment can be separated from the delivery process, and human intervention is a given (packaging and mailing etc.).

For a digital product, there is no reason for delay between payment and delivery. As soon as payment has been confirmed, it should be possible to download the product.

The secret to designing a good digital download platform is to forget about physical products, and just look at what makes for an ideal digital download system.

Minimum Criteria for a Digital Download eCommerce System

  1. A great product display platform.
  2. A great buying process.
  3. A fully automatic system for purchasing, payment and delivery of the digital product.
  4. Availability of the digital product as soon as payment is confirmed.
  5. A method for providing a link to the download to the customer manually (e.g. via email) should the automatic system fail).
  6. Ability to customize the look of the system, i.e. control over how each element of the purchasing system looks.

Product Display Platform

As with any eCommerce site, you need to be able to explain each product separately, group similar products in some way so that visitors can browse from a number of related products, and you need a landing page to receive traffic from promotion and advertising campaigns.

A content management system seems to me to be the best place to start. This centers the platform around providing information to visitors, rather than trying to sell them products right away.

Drupal is a great choice because it has so much flexibility without making it overly complicated to set up. Still, setting up Drupal properly is not easy even if it is not hard for the technically-minded.

WordPress is a great choice for its power and simplicity. Although it is primarily a blog, it can be made to work pretty well as an on-line store, although I doubt it is the best choice for an extensive product line.

In the end, the one with an available module so support a great buying experience for users wins.

Here is what I think is required to display digital products on a website:

  1. A method for selecting products from pages where they are described, and a method for adding them to a shopping cart.
  2. A method for creating a landing page with a “buy now” button. If the visitor wants to buy the product, they can click the button, allowing them to pay, then download the product as soon as payment has been confirmed. In other words a smooth experience for buyers with a minimum of road blocks.
  3. A method of browsing products with very brief descriptions, and a link for more information, and a button to add to shopping cart.

Great Buying Process

When someone decides to buy from a website, it has to be a smooth process, and build confidence throughout the process. This is more important than ever, because on-line shoppers have great standards to compare with, for example, Amazon.

Computers are inherently frustrating to a lot of people. Frustrate them in the buying process, remind them they are working with a computer, and you’ll easily loose most of them.

A great buying process is not a luxury. It is an absolute essential for an ecommerce platform to facilitate consistently a high consistently high conversion ratio.

  1. The ability to go directly from a product description to checkout.
  2. A method for easily adding things to the shopping cart, and for removing them.
  3. A method for reviewing the shopping cart - items, prices, shipping times etc.
  4. A “proceed to checkout” button that confirms the order and accepts payment.
  5. A method for confirming payment.
  6. A method for confirming availability and delivery after payment has been made.

Fully Automatic Paid Download System

If you are selling downloads, the expectation is that a customer can get their download immediately after their payment has been processed. Further, if they browse away from the website, there has to be a way back to their download.

  1. The customer is brought directly to the download page as soon as their payment has been confirmed.
  2. An email confirms payment and provides a link to the download page.
  3. No intervention is required by the shop operator.
  4. The shop operator can intervene if required. For example, it should be possible to issue a new email with the payment confirmation and download link, or issue a new download link. For example, the store operator may accept orders by email, and want to enable a download, or they may want to give a product away for free as a thank-you, a promotion, or in compensation for some problem with a product.

Customizing the Look

The look of a website is more than just branding. It is also important in making customers feel comfortable, in making it easy to find their way around, and making the next step obvious by making certain links and buttons more prominent than the rest.

Every item in an ecommerce system should be tagged with both a class and an id. More than one class may be useful in some circumstances, for example if a link is a button, and a buy now button, then the button class could make it look like a button, and the buy now class could make it more prominent.


Comments

3 comments:

Fully Automatic Paid Download System

Thishas been done. WP e-Commerce RC2 now uses PayPal IPN which has made this possible.

The customer is brought directly to the download page as soon as their payment has been confirmed.

This works HOWEVER you must switch Auto Return for Website Payments on in your PayPal account.

An email confirms payment and provides a link to the download page.

This works.

No intervention is required by the shop operator.

Exactly.

The shop operator can intervene if required. For example, it should be possible to issue a new email with the payment confirmation and download link, or issue a new download link. For example, the store operator may accept orders by email, and want to enable a download, or they may want to give a product away for free as a thank-you, a promotion, or in compensation for some problem with a product.

Not done but we will consider doing this in version 4… it will happen though its just a matter of when…

Dan Milward / May 3rd, 2007, 10:27 pm / #

Great news, Dan! And congratulations on your latest release!

Doug / May 3rd, 2007, 11:30 pm / #

i have been trying to get this to work for a while… i have auto return on and it successfully returns to my site with the message “your confirmation email has been sent” but my shopping cart still dosen’t send an email with the download link. what gives?

Rob Rush / April 10th, 2008, 9:20 pm / #

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