Setting Up an eCommerce Shop
If the purpose of your website is to sell goods, you may have considered setting up a shop on the Internet. Opening an online store can potentially bring your business to the attention of millions of people who browse the web. It also instantly expands your customer base beyond those living in proximity to your physical store to customers residing across the world. Establishing an online shop probably won’t make you a millionaire overnight, but it should increase sales and enhance the services you offer customers.
The shopping experience
To create an online shop, you should first consider the products you will sell and how users will acess them from your site. This will ultimately help you recognize the key elements you will need to include on your site. When you sell products online, your web site will resemble a storefront that includes an online catalog that you will use to display your products to customers, including a photo or some type of artwork for the individual products as well as descriptions and prices.
If your product inventory is large, you may want to offer a search option to let customers who know what they want search for products by typing a product name or keywords into a search box. If you have a large inventory, you will want to group products into organized departments to let customers narrow their searches for products to individual sections and the products contained within them. Also keep in mind that customers shopping online are limited to a viewing area the size of their monitor screen. Moving from one web page to another takes more time than it does turning a page in a paper catalog. Thus, ensuring your customers can move around your site as fast as possible to find products without wasting time is imperative. If they can’tfind products quickly, they’ll probably take their business elsewhere.
Order form vs. shopping cart
Customers who decide to buy items want a simple method for indicating their intention to purchase. One way to do this is by providing an order form that the customer fills out. An order form is of limited use, however, if your inventory is large and a customer wants to buy more than one item. If you use this method, the customer has to keep track of all the items he wants to purchase and then type them into a form later. Order forms are useful if you have a small inventory and can list all the stock items on one form. If this is the case, the buyer can simply indicate how many of each item he wants.
A more streamlined approach is to provide a button that visitors can click to add items to a shopping cart. This virtual shopping cart is used like its real-world counterpart, in that a customer places items in the cart as they browse your site. A shopping cart is easier to use than a form, because it requires only clicking a button and details are included in the cart automatically. One of the most popular, affordable and easy to use shopping cart software on the market is Miva Merchant www.miva.com
How a customer pays for his purchases depends on what options you are able to give him. For example, a payment by check is relatively easy to organize, but this method is slow and you have to wait until the check is received and cleared before you can ship the goods. It is also likely you will lose customers during the time they decide to buy an item and when they actually sit down and write the check for it.
One alternative is allowing customers to make payments with credit cards. This requires having a merchant account that permits you to take online orders. This process entails the customer entering credit card details on a form and submitting them to your web server. When you receive the details, you manually process the transaction through your existing system much the same way you do with a catalog or phone order.
A more ideal option, and usually more expensive option, is to automate the process and use real-time credit card processing to process transactions automatically when the buyer enters his credit card details. This speeds up the process, allows for fraud and other checks to be made, and doesn’t require you to process payments manually.
After you determine the payment methods you’ll offer, ensure any relevant taxes are included in your product pricing. In addition, if you sell products that must be shipped, calculate the shipping costs for US and overseas shipments. If you sell soft goods, such as software, e-books, and images which are deliverable to users online, you need to establish a method to authorize customers to download those items after payments are processed. If you sell to customers overseas, you should also consider providing a method for converting prices of products into the respective currency those customers will use to pay for them.
Credit card transactions
Even if you’re already in business and have a merchant account that lets you process credit card transactions, this may not be sufficient for internet sales. Your merchant account may require that you have a customer’s signature on the transaction slip. For internet sales, this isn’t possible. In roder to take online credit card transactions, you must have a merchant account that accepts payment when a card isn’t available to be swiped, when the signature of the cardholder can’t be obtained, and when the sale is made online. If your current merchant account isn’t set up this way, taking online orders could mean being in breach of your agreement with the issuing bank.
If you plan to apply for a merchant account for your online store, check with the company you will use to host your shopping site. The company may already have partnerships in place to help you get a merchant account at a good rate.
Once you have acquired a merchant account, you can use it to take credit card payments online. Your hosting service will link you with a service (usually one it has established a relationship with) that will handle transactions as an intermediary between you and the bank. The service should also provide a system to check for fraud and other secure handling of credit card details.
For more details about merchant accounts and taking payments using credit cards, check out the information provided at Visa’s Merchant Resource Center, www.visa.com and Mastercard, www.mastercard.com
You will also need to consider security. As the store owner, you have a responsibility to ensure that a customer’s information, such as credit card details, is secure. The primary element in offering a secure site is having a server equipped to implement SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption. Most hosting companies experienced in hosting e-commerce sites have secure servers to use for posting order forms and processing credit card transactions. If you don’t use a web hosting company which provides secure servers, you need to setup your own secure server using SSL and apply for a digital security certificate from a company such as VeriSign, www.verisign.com
The shopping cart system you plan to use should automatically integrate with your existing inventory and accounting software. If not, you may have to manually update this information in order to record the items sold and the sales made to update your inventory, keep accurate records and comply with state and federal regulations and to efficiently manage your business.
Alternative to Customized E-Commerce Store
Yahoo! Store is well known, relatively inexpensive and easy to use. Setup is entirely browser-based, so getting set up is easy. Yahoo! Store also handles security issues and orders are accepted using industry standard SL encryption. Later, you can retrieve your orders from the Yahoo! Server or have orders faxed to you, processed online or posted to your secure web server. There is no setup fee, and the ongoing costs are $100 per month to list up to 50 items for sale and $300 per month to list up to 1,000 items.