You may have been proficient at getting customers to buy products from your store in town, but online business is an entirely different game. Similar to the traditional business, you must literally build your store yet take a different approach towards drawing in customers and accepting payments. The essentials of e-commerce should go a long way in helping you succeed with your online business endeavors.
Building the Site
Obviously, creating your website is the first essential step. There are several tools available to help with this process from simple web building programs to dynamic programming languages. While a piece of cake for the experienced webmaster, this could present a huge challenge for someone who lacks web design skills. In this case, you should strongly consider hiring a qualified designer to build your site. A costly investment? Perhaps, but look at it from this perspective – it will cost far less than paying the architecture and construction company to build the facility for a traditional storefront.
Whether you’re dealing in goods or services, you need a way for customers to select items and take them to checkout. To accomplish this your e-commerce site will need a shopping cart. A quality program will allow you to add different products and categories, add taxes and shipping options, accept payment in various methods and more. When it comes to shopping carts you generally have to options: you can purchase a commercial product or go with an open-source solution.
Open-source shopping carts like osCommerce are widely available and may be offered at no additional cost with your web hosting package. Such a program will provide all the features you need to set up an online storefront. The disadvantage of open-source shopping cart is that some are not easy to customize and don’t cater to inexperienced users. Additionally, stores created with open-source software tend to look very similar to one another.
Commercial solutions are generally easier to customize and offer more features. This type of shopping cart will provide the uniqueness that allows you to standout from all the other store owners on the web. The downside here is that a program like Miva Merchant carries a high-end price tag that ranges from hundreds to thousands of dollars. You also need to make sure that your web host supports the software so it can be easily incorporated into your e-commerce platform.
Selecting a Payment Gateway
In addition to the shopping cart, you will require a payment gateway that enables credit card payments to be transferred to your banking account. To accomplish this task you can either sign up for a merchant account or use a third-party payment processor. Merchant accounts have setup fees, transaction fees and strict qualifications. However, the transaction fees are lower than using a service such as PayPal. In either instance, the overall cost are typically less when your monthly sales are over $1,000. Keep in mind that you will also need to secure the payment environment and protect your online transactions. The best way to ensure this security is with an encryption protocol known as SSL. You may have to purchase a certificate with a merchant account while PayPal takes care of securing your transactions.
Bringing in Customers
After creating the site and setting up the store, it’s time to generate some traffic and sell your items. There are many ways to go about this including advertising, getting your visitors to sign up for a newsletter, pay-per-click campaigns and specially crafted landing pages. Succeeding with e-commere is no easy task, but when laying a solid foundation, you can give yourself a much better chance of making continuous sales.