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Practical eCommerce interviews Modular Merchant: "Director's Cut"

Practical eCommerce interviews Modular Merchant: "Director's Cut"
Including previously unpublished material
EUGENE, OR - (August 1, 2009) – Modular Merchant was recently featured as Practical eCommerce's Cart of the Week. The feature included an interview with Modular Merchant CEO, Chuck Marier. The published interview had to be shortened to fit the space available. Below is a copy of the original, uncut version of the interview. The previously unpublished material is highlighted in yellow.


PeC: Please provide some background information on Modular Merchant.
MM: In 2000 I was managing the web department for a game developer, making websites for video games. In many ways it was a dream job, but the sites were just "billboard" advertisements, there was no interactivity. Perhaps I have a major personality defect, but I became bored building websites that just sat there. I yearned to build websites that "did something": web applications.

"Perhaps I have a major personality defect..."

In 2001, I left the air conditioned corporate world to start a web design company. The shopping cart that would become Modular Merchant began as a project for one of our first clients who needed a solution for securely selling downloads. Then, another client needed it, followed by another and another.

Within a year, the company's focus had become the Modular Merchant shopping cart software. The cart's roots are in selling downloads and subscription products. While those continue to be the primary niches we serve, the company's web design background allows us to provide web design and custom programming to our clients too.

"eCommerce is one of the most potentially frustrating experiences on the web."

The shopping cart software has been thrilling to work on because ecommerce is one of the most potentially interactive, and potentially frustrating, experiences you can have on the web. There's always something to add or improve to an ecommerce system, and I eat that challenge up with a spoon. That's likely part of that same personality defect, but it keeps the software from becoming stagnant.
Today, the cart includes coupons, promotions, newsletters, autoresponders, upsell/cross-sell, a web page editor, and an affiliate program. We've also just announced the upcoming release of Modular Merchant version 4, which will contain an entire salad bar of new features.

PeC: Is the cart hosted, licensed, or both?
MM: Modular Merchant is currently a hosted solution. Being a hosted solution allows our support and development staff to know exactly what kind of server configuration they're dealing with. This improves our technical support, PCI compliance maintenance, and allows us to provide custom programming.

However, we receive many requests for a licensed version too. A licensed version is in development, scheduled to be released in tandem with the upcoming version 4.

PeC: How much does the cart cost?

MM: There are several account plans, ranging from a shared hosting environment (starting at $49/month) up to dedicated servers (starting at $689/month). None of our plans have restrictions on the number of products, customers or orders, because these types of arbitrary limits are lame. Instead, the differences between our account plans are the hosting environment, disk space and bandwidth allowance.

We are also developing a budget plan to be priced under $20/month. Its availability will coincide with the release of version 4.

PeC: What are the cart's biggest strengths?
MM: The cart's support for selling downloads and subscription products are among its major strengths. That's the cornerstone that the cart was originally built upon, those features have had a lot of development attention. Users can sell downloads of any size that can be hosted on a remote server, automate recurring billing, daisy-chain products together, etc.

These features have evolved to the point where clients will come along and do things with them that we haven't even thought of. It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling to build a tool that is flexible enough to be used in ways we never imagined.

PeC: What are some of its weaknesses?
MM: Since the original focus was on digital products, the store's support for physical products - shipped goods - has always been a bit limited. There are shipping tools available, but they're not as robust. We regularly receive requests for improvements and additions to them.

We've been looking for an opportunity to blow the current shipping tools into tiny little bits, and then rebuild them from scratch. With version 4, we're doing just that. We have a laundry list of improvements to the shipping tools that we've been itching to build. Scratching that itch will turn this weakness around into one of the cart's strengths.

PeC: Tell us more about your plans for future cart development.
MM: There are many big things currently in development. Earlier this month we publicly announced an upcoming major update, version 4, which is currently scheduled for release Q2 of 2010. In addition to the improvements to the shipping tools mentioned above, this update is also scheduled to include:
* Wish Lists
* Gift Registry
* Customer Loyalty Points
* Customer Piggy Bank
* WYSIWYG Editor for every store message, page and email
* Options to bundle and group products together
* Provision of more bandwidth to our clients at reduced prices

We also release maintenance updates every 3-6 weeks. We post our Development Schedule in the store's administration area so that every client can check it at any time to see what we're working on next, and ask questions or make requests.

PeC: How would your cart help an ecommerce merchant, versus the cart he or she is using now?
MM: For users that are comfortable working with HTML code, the cart's template system is a definite benefit. It allows every page of the cart (shopping, checkout, customer account area, etc.) to be edited just like editing any other web page. We try to give the user complete control over the design and behavior of the store.

For users that don't want to bother with web design, we provide a library of pre-made templates and web design services.

For users that need a shopping cart that can they can customize, Modular Merchant provides flexible options for developing custom reports, integrating with third-party systems, and modifying the shopping experience to meet their needs.

And for everybody, our tech support is only a phone call away. We strive to make our tech support accessible and knowledgeable.

PeC: Any other thoughts for our readers, who are ecommerce merchants?
MM: There is no "one-size-fits-all" shopping cart solution. Many of the clients we speak with mention, "your cart is perfect... I just need one little unique thing..." Every business model differs. The online store, just like a physical store, must be able to adapt to the business' needs.

I tell users to select a shopping cart that can adapt to their business needs. The longer one sticks with a solution that only meets them half way, the more difficult it will be to uproot and transplant the business to a better-suited solution.

Instead of being a source of anxiety, I try to use this to our advantage. That's why we built the software to accommodate custom programming, and continue to offer programming services. There's a real sense of achievement when we can mold the cart to a client's business, instead of the other way around.

PeC: Where is Modular Merchant located?
MM:We are located in Oregon. We keep both our development and support resources in the same building. We don't outsource our support staff. They can walk down the hall to ask a developer a question and get the answer to a technical question.

PeC: What is your business title?
MM (Chuck Marier): CEO. However, my business cards may list my title as "Interweb Coder Guy".


About Modular Merchant
Headquartered in Eugene, Oregon, Modular Merchant develops shopping cart software and supports their clients with website hosting and custom programming. Their developers have provided solutions for Vivendi Universal, Sierra Online, Safe & Civil Schools, and many growing businesses across the country and globe.

Modular Merchant’s shopping cart service plans average $119 a month, and include shopping cart software, website hosting, a SSL security certificate, and tech support.

Charles Marier
Modular Merchant

— Last Edited - 05/25/2010 7:35pm PDT
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