By Betsy Finn, Cr.Photog., CPP
In this month’s print edition of Professional Photographer magazine, I discussed my experiences with three web cart systems for photographers: RedCart, Photo Cart, and Lightbox Photo Gallery. While each cart system is different, they do all accomplish the same end goal—that is, to allow you to sell your images and products online.
To help you get an idea of what each cart will (and will not) do, I’ve compiled features into categories: investment, interface, pricing, products, and setup. With that being said, let’s take a closer look at the features these web carts have to offer.
Investment: With a one-time investment upfront for a single domain license, all three carts allow you to benefit from commission-free sales. Depending on which interface you choose, you’ll end up investing anywhere from $329 to $1,099 (see end of article). Photo Cart includes lifetime free upgrades, Lightbox includes free upgrades for one year, and RedCart includes minor upgrades unless you spring for their monthly investment … and then you’ll receive all upgrades.
Interface: All three carts have the capability to display public galleries (or keep them private), e-mail invoices, save client favorites, and even display images in a slideshow. RedCart is the only cart to operate on a Flash-based front end—the other two are HTML-based. Photo Cart and Lightbox both have integrated batch uploading, watermarking, and auto thumbnail generation; the upcoming version of RedCart (soon to be released) relies on a desktop application to accomplish these tasks. Since Lightbox is geared to commercial/stock photography, it has several unique features, including SEO URLs, a multi-photographer manager, and even a keyword search log. Both Photo Cart and Lightbox can display IPTC metadata if that information is present in your image files.
Above: Lightbox Photo Gallery configuration interface and the gallery view for clients. (Click for large view.)
Above: Photo Cart's client gallery. (Click for large view.)
Above: RedCart's client gallery. (Click for large view.)
Pricing: RedCart’s pricing is set up so that you first enter your lab cost for each print size, and then apply a percentage markup (which you can then override). Lightbox and Photo Cart allow you to manually enter pricing for each item directly. Lightbox is the only cart to offer subscription options, and a license pricing calculator (i.e. commercial usage terms). For coupons, gift certificates, and the like, each cart is set up to handle promotions in different ways. RedCart has separate gift certificate codes and discount/coupon code sections, whereas Lightbox and Photo Cart have a discount/coupon code section that could be used to create gift certificate “codes.” Photo Cart has a nice built-in feature—an early-bird-special date that you can set to have your early-bird sale automatically expire. With RedCart, you can set sales pricing, but you do have to manually turn it on and off. Photo Cart and RedCart both have a registry system (think baby or wedding registry). All three carts have sales tax + VAT tax options.
Above: Lightbox Photo Gallery pricing interface. (Click for large view)
Above: Photo Cart pricing interface. (Click for large view)
Above: Photo Cart registry setup. (Click for large view)
Above: RedCart print price and size interface. (Click for large view)
Products: Both RedCart and Photo Cart allow you to offer quantity discounts and B&W preview for your clients. If you want to offer different paper types or finishing options, RedCart has the most detailed setup for this, but both Photo Cart and Lightbox allow you to create custom options on a per-product basis. All three carts let you add additional shipping and handling charges on a per-item basis (on top of the “standard S&H options). You can also sell instant downloads and non-print products using any of the carts (I’ve been told that Lightbox has even been used to sell bathroom fixtures!). In order to sell non-print products in Photo Cart, though, you’ll need to have purchased the Accessory Store.
Above: Lightbox Photo Gallery shopping cart interface. (Click for large view)
Above: Photo Cart order confirmation. (Click for large view)
Above: RedCart's My Cart interface. (Click for large view)
Photo Cart and Lightbox allow you to “sell” digital files for instant download (this will be included in RedCart v4), and both Photo Cart and Lightbox have the option to enable free image file downloads (called “sample download” in Lightbox), as well as upload miscellaneous files, such as PDFs. Additionally, Lightbox allows you to offer clients expiring download links, and designate the model and property release status of a particular image.
Setup: As far as setup goes, you really can’t go wrong with any of these carts. Both RedCart and Lightbox include free installation, and you can have Photo Cart installed for a small fee ($35). All three carts allow you to customize the front-end look of the shopping cart to include your logo, color scheme, etc. If you’re curious how credit cards get processed, all three carts work with a variety of payment gateways.
A few notes about RedCart—some of the gallery “setup” must be done on your own computer. At the time I tested the software, it was done via a Photoshop droplet, but when RC Desktop is released, the image resizing, watermarking, and thumbnail generation will be done via an Adobe AIR desktop application. RedCart also includes an image-fulfillment script (Photoshop) to help you process orders once they’ve been placed.
Conclusion: If you’d like to review these comparison points in more detail, I’ve compiled a PDF of the things I’ve discussed in this article (click on the image below to download the PDF). Please keep in mind that some of the carts will have additional features not mentioned here, but should serve as a good starting point.
Before deciding on the “perfect” shopping cart for you, I would recommend testing out your potential web carts from both the perspective of your customer, and from the administrative back end as well. You want to make sure to choose a cart that is easy for you, your staff, and your clients to understand.
Lightbox Photo Gallery: $399 - $1,099 (standard, professional, or enterprise versions)
RedCart: $999 (monthly hosted option also available, $89/mo)
Photo Cart: $329 - $442 (add-ons include installation, accessory store, and flash slideshow)