You set up a retail business, you advertise in your local newspaper, you get customers coming into your store, and you receive payment at the cash register. Create an online store, and…how do you get customers? How do you receive payment? The concept is the same, but the steps are different.
Step 1: Create your website
If you don’t have web design skills, you can hire a qualified web designer to create a website for you, or you can use an online site builder. Think of it as hiring an architect and an interior decorator compared to setting up shop in an existing store.
Using a web designer
With the services of a web designer, you can have a unique website template and website customized to your specific needs. A web development team can also add features such as Flash headers or any programming needed for your site. If your company image is critical, a custom-designed site that conveys the right professional image is a must.
Using an online site builder
An online site builder is the budget way to go. With site builder programs such as Site Studio, your website can be online within minutes. A step-by-step menu allows you to choose a layout and colors, and then add a site description, a logo, and content. Your template may not be unique, but your content will.
Step 2: Set up an e-commerce store
Your customers will browse at your website, select some items, and then pay for them. When you set up an e-commerce shopping cart, you’re providing a way for your customers to bring their purchases to the cash register. The program you choose will allow you to enter your products in the database and allow shoppers to choose products when they click on “Add to cart” or something similar.
Two well-known shopping carts, osCommerce and Miva Merchant, both allow you to do these tasks:
Add, edit, and delete product categories and other information
Set tax rates and charge tax
Receive payment via numerous online and offline payment processing methods
And much more
osCommerce is an open source program. Store owners can set up their online stores using osCommerce with no costs involved. For small stores, it has all the features you need for an online store. Drawbacks of osCommerce are that customization is not easy, and online stores using osCommerce tend to look similar.
While Miva Merchant carries a price tag of $995, some web hosts offer Miva Merchant licenses with their hosting plans. If you choose Miva as your shopping cart, be sure to host your site with a host that provides Miva support. Its learning curve is steep, and it requires the support of people who know how to work with it.
With the price and the steep learning curve, you get more features, and you can customize the program more. Add-in modules can be bought that perform a number of tasks. In addition, a strong support community is available in the Miva user group forums.
Step 3: Get a merchant account and payment gateway
When customers arrive at the checkout counter, you need a way for their payments to be transferred from their credit card accounts to your bank account. The method you choose may depend on your sales volume.
For high-volume sales, an e-commerce merchant account plus a payment gateway will meet your needs. A merchant account provider authorizes the transfer of payments to your account, and a payment gateway transfers the information from your customers’ financial institutions to yours.
Most merchant accounts have setup fees, transaction fees, monthly fees, and statement fees. The transaction fees are less than what you’d pay using a third party credit card processor such as PayPal. With all the fees, however, the overall cost is typically lower only if your monthly sales volume is over about a thousand dollars.
For medium and low volume sales, PayQuake and PayPal are viable options.
PayQuake offers three merchant account types to choose from. Although they all require payment gateways, the two smaller plans have no monthly minimums. You can upgrade to a higher or lower plan if your needs change.
PayPal has become a household name. Customers can send payment through PayPal via credit card or via money that they transfer into their PayPal account. While the fees per transaction are higher than with merchant accounts, there are no setup or monthly fees, and you don’t need a payment gateway. You pay only when you have financial transactions.
Fore more details about these options, see WebSite Source Hosting Solutions: E-Commerce.
Step 4: Create a secure payment environment
A Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate enables you to receive credit card information securely from your customers. When a payment page is using SSL data to encrypt data, a small image of a lock appears at the bottom right of the screen.
Some web hosts offer SSL certificates as part of their hosting packages. If your web host package doesn’t include SSL certificates, you can purchase one separately.
With PayPal, no SSL certificate is required.
Step 5: Generate traffic
Your products are on display in your newly designed store, your shopping cart is set up and ready to use, and you have everything in place to be able to receive payments securely. Now all you need are customers.
This is where marketing comes in.
Submit your site to search engines.
Advertise your site.
Keep your company name in front of your customers with a regular email newsletter.
Add more content to your website to keep it fresh.
Monitor your website traffic to see where it’s coming from and how you can increase traffic for key content areas.
For related information, see these pages:
Do-It-Yourself Search Engine Optimization
Promote Your Domain