Wanna sell digital products from your emails? You need an email service provider, but ALSO the right cart system. Here’s how to pick one.
Today on The School of Marketing Podcast, I’m talking about the different cart systems I use for digital products.
I’ve used a few different ones over the years, and each has its own pros and cons.
But I’m going to dive into why I use what I do and how they work, plus I’ll share some info on other options as well.
If you are already selling digital products, you likely have something in place. However, if you’re looking for something different, or if you’re like me and are nosey and just like to know what else is out there and what other people are using (no shame in that game), then read on!
If you have not yet started selling any digital products, it’s important to know how you’re going to start selling those digital products—and that’s where this post will be helpful for you.
Now let me define what a cart is because there is a difference between a cart system or cart platform and a payment processor.
A payment processor is something like Stripe, PayPal, Apple Pay, or Google Pay.
But a cart system is something where you can fully set up a checkout (or cart) that shows the product, explains it a little bit, and maybe offers order bumps. It also will deliver the product, or integrate with your email marketing provider to deliver the digital download product.
Now, if I just lost you, hold tight—I’m going to catch you back up here in a moment, because I’ll share the exact way I have my cart set up and how it works to give you a more clear picture.
Before I get to that point though, I’m going to mention a few cart systems that are out there floating around the internet.
Of course there are others out there, but for simplicity sake and to keep this post from becoming so long you could get a college credit for it, we’re sticking to the basics and I’m going to only briefly talk about 6 of these.
The first is SendOwl (affiliate link).
This is a great option for digital products because it’s very easy to use and has a lot of integrations.
You can create a product and start selling it in just a few minutes, but a downside of SendOwl is that it’s not very customizable. And as you grow, you might find it isn’t the best fit long term, especially if you’re going to have multiple digital products in the future.
However, if you’re looking for a more customizable option, I have been told that Gumroad is an alternative to SendOwl that is worth checking out for digital products because it offers those more customizable options.
The downside of Gumroad is that it’s not as easy to use as SendOwl.
But trucking right along, another that I have heard a lot about is WooCommerce.
WooCommerce is a good option if you are a WordPress site user, because it has a plugin that is quite powerful, comes with a lot of features, and is really customizable.
I have read that it also integrates with several other WordPress plugins, which is quite handy to have as well.
Kartra is an all-in-one platform that can house everything—your carts, your products, your courses, your email list, and quite a bit more. People love that it is one payment a month (or year, if you pay annually) and everything is inside one platform.
There are people who LOVE it and talk about it nonstop, and then there are people who use it and say it’s “meh” but they don’t have the energy to migrate their business away from it.
I’ve never heard horrible things about it, and when I tested it out back in 2021, it was easy to navigate and I was able to get things set up on their trial period they offered.
So, Kartra is a nice option for you if you know you want an easy choice for all the things.
Now, I’m going to dive into the two cart systems that I use: Shopify and Thrivecart.
First up, we’ll dive straight into Shopify (affiliate link). It’s a bit more robust than Gumroad and SendOwl.
It has a ton more features and integrates with many more platforms, which is important to keep top of mind.
When I’m looking for anything new in my business, I first want to see what they integrate with and if it is going to be easy to connect other programs, or if I’m going to have to do extra work with Zapier and digitally duct tape everything together.
Believe it or not, I do not have a single Zap in my business as of January 2023 when I’m writing this. I’ve been very mindful of how my systems work together and I make decisions based on that very basic rule I’ve set for myself…which is, can I do it without Zapier?
I’m not here to bash using Zapier at all. I’m just telling you how I look at those types of things.
But back to Shopify and off that Zapier soapbox of mine.
Shopify actually has a “lite” plan which was around $10/month and worked very nicely with Showit sites.
I use Showit as my website host and love it. And when I first got started out with digital products, it made sense to use the Shopify Lite plan which allowed me to easily embed a “Buy Button” directly onto my Showit Pages.
This allowed me more freedom over the design of my product pages, and also saved some money.
However, as the business grew and I began to have more and more products, it was getting out of hand because I had to design a new page for every single product and frankly it was also slowing down my site to have THAT many product pages. And I’m not talking about 10 or 12 products—I’m talking about 60 plus products. You can see how that could slow down my site speed.
So then it came time to upgrade to a full Shopify Site. Today, if you click to shop, you will be taken to a new domain which is hosted on Shopify and that is where you will now find all of my digital products (not courses; just products for now).
I’ll dig into my course host and checkout in a moment.
The features that come with a full Shopify site were very much needed for me and my ever-growing collection of digital products, allowing me to more easily create new products, host flash sales, and more.
Now another cart system that I heavily use in my business is ThriveCart (affiliate link).
I mostly use ThriveCart when selling my courses that are also hosted on ThriveCart’s new-ish course host platform, but I also utilize ThriveCart for self-liquidating offers that have an order bump option, or if I’m participating in a bundle or summit and want to add on an order bump option to that product.
ThriveCart, as of now, is still a one-time fee. That might feel expensive at first if you’re just getting started in this digital business, but once you’re in, you’re in—and it will pay for itself before you know it.
There are also affiliate options and joint venture options with ThriveCart, so you can instantly create affiliate links for people helping promote your products, or you can sell a product with someone else and split the profits without wondering who is going to keep up with all the money.
ThriveCart is very user friendly and it is, in my opinion, kind of hard to mess it up.
You can customize the cart design and embed it directly on your website, or allow the cart to be its own stand-alone page and just share the link (and you can pop that link in your Instagram bio or share it in emails).
When you’re setting up your new product inside ThriveCart, you can select what payment processors you want to be used. I can click on or off of processors like Stripe, PayPal, ApplePay, etc.
If you don’t know about Stripe, it is a very basic payment processor and doesn’t require an account. It allows people to just input their credit or debit card information, and Stripe processes that payment and sends you the money. PayPal, on the other hand, directs customers to a new window where they possibly have to log in before they pay.
ThriveCart integrates with many other systems that I love, but I have run into one small snag:
And that is, at least at the time of this recording, the ThriveCart course host (ThriveCart Learn) does not have an API or support the use of Webhooks or Zapier. So it is not possible for third parties to add students to my courses hosted in ThriveCart Learn. They must purchase through a ThriveCart cart page to be added to Learn.
To break that down a little more, I found out the hard way on Black Friday 2022. I wanted to have a seamless checkout for my students that purchased courses and templates by only having my customers have one checkout event on my Shopify site. I thought there could be a way to connect everything so my students could purchase the course in Shopify and then be added to the course in ThriveCart Learn.
But due to ThriveCart only being able to send information and not receive information, I had to just trust that my students trusted me enough to know I would be adding them to their courses within 24 hours of their purchase on Black Friday. Luckily I’m still small potatoes enough that there were no issues with this at all. People were very understanding this time around.
And since I’m not an Amy Porterfield selling a gazillion courses at a time, this was still doable for me to manually handle.
(And yes, I will have to figure something out moving forward, but for now, I made it happen the best I could in that pinch.)
Now earlier in the post, I threw around words like “order bump” and “product delivery,” and I might have lost some of you who are newer to this digital business world.
So let me set the stage and give you an example.
Let’s say I am selling a toolkit for starting your email list for $27 (at the time I’m writing this, this is a fictitious product for the purpose of this example so don’t go looking for it because you may not find it).
But for the sake of teaching, let’s say you land on my website, see a new product for only $27 to kickstart your email list, and when you click to purchase, you are taken to a cart page where you can input your payment information—but wait! You also see an option to add to your order! This is called an order bump, and because I use ThriveCart, I can easily add an additional product. This could be a smaller price like $7, or even up to a larger price such as $97.
So now, you have the option to either just purchase the original product, or also purchase the order bump.
Before you came along and wanted to purchase, I was busy on the backend of ThriveCart setting this up, and when I did, it asked me what behavior I wanted to happen when you purchased the main product, and what behavior I wanted to happen when you grabbed that order bump.
It also asked me what to do when you abandon the cart, but that is an entirely different episode I’ll have in the future.
Because ThriveCart speaks directly to ConvertKit (my email marketing provider—affiliate link) I was able to select “add to ConvertKit” and select a tag I already had created inside ConvertKit.
This tag, inside CovertKit, has now labeled you as someone who purchased just the main product, or someone who also grabbed the order bump. Those respective tags will then fire off an email automatically with a link for you to download your purchase—this is the product delivery.
So now the circle of using my cart is complete and you have, for the purpose of this example, received your purchase.
Just to note, the process is a little different when you utilize Shopify, because Shopify has a feature or app that allows me to put the digital download directly into Shopify and as soon as you purchase, your download shows up automatically AND lands in your inbox with your receipt from Shopify.
Chances are you have found me on Instagram—if you haven’t, this is your invitation to come hang out, you can find me @themaganward. I’m almost always hanging out in Instagram stories, sharing what I’m doing….
But on Instagram I have been talking about using ConvertKit, my email marketing provider, to sell digital products.
If you are currently using ConvertKit, or even thinking about it, it is a quick and easy way to set up products right there in a program you’re already (or will be soon) paying for.
It is a simple way to set up a cart page and accept payments (through Stripe!), and I highly encourage you to check it out if you haven’t yet. It’s a great and easy additional option if you don’t have a ton of products just yet.
I could talk about this tech side of digital carts for a very long time, and there are a lot of options out there for businesses selling digital products like me and you.
But the most important things to remember are:
If you have a favorite cart system, let me know! You can join us on the Facebook Group, “The School of Marketing Community” – and even come join just to ask questions about the different tech involved with cart systems and digital products. There are many like-minded people in the group like us that would love to help you, plus I’m there and I love to help too!
So if I don’t see you in the Facebook Group, I’ll see you on the next episode – Dr. Dre puns fully intended for any of my fellow late 90s music fans.
If this episode inspires you, leave a review and share your biggest takeaway with me! And while you’ve got your phone out, go ahead and do these 3 things:
Want more of where this came from? Check out other show notes here.