Setting up an ecommerce website and business
Building a proper website is the foundation of any ecommerce business. Failure in creating a proper website can guarantee the failure of the online business itself.
There are several options for creating a website. Depending on how new the business owner is to web programming, and the planned budget, the options are either creating a website personally, or outsource your ecommerce website.Parts of an Ecommerce Website
- General User Interface
- Shopping Cart System
- Checkout System
- Merchant Account
- Payment Gateway
- Reporting and Tracking System
When most people think of a website, they only imagine what the end-user views when they are surfing the web. If you are setting up a website for business, you will quickly find that there are multiple components that are all required for a website to be functional.
The general user interface is what a visitor will see when they come to your website. The shopping cart system will allow your visitor to browse and purchase the products that they find. The checkout system will allow your web customers to pay for the items that they are going to purchase from you. The merchant account enables your business to accept credit cards and other forms of electronic payment. The payment gateway enables your website to connect to your merchant account. And lastly the reporting and tracking system will allow you to monitor how, when, and what your visitors did once they reached your website.
Do It Yourself EcommerceBuilding a website yourself can be a very rewarding and money saving process. It can also be a complete nightmare. Getting some basic knowledge of html is the best way to start learning how to build a website. There are programs that can help create a website for you, but these sites tend to have problems. Start browsing through web design and ecommerce forums to learn from professionals for free. Find several websites that you like and that are very functional and well planned. Take the attributes from all of these websites that you like the most and combine them into your own design. You're basically brain-storming to get all of the features that you want in your website. Don't go out and copy a site. You are looking for features that make sense, that you would want in your own site. Key Website Requirements
- Clean Simple Design
- Avoid using large pictures (Slow leading)
- Use an easy to read font
- Use CSS to standardize the look of your site
- Use php or SSI to create a single header and footer for your site
- Resize your pictures before they are included in web pages
- Entrepreneur - http://www.entrepreneur.com/
- SBA - http://www.sba.gov/
- All Business - http://www.allbusiness.com/
- Inc - http://www.inc.com
- Web Pro World - http://www.webproworld.com/
- Digital Point - http://forums.digitalpoint.com/
- WMW - http://www.webmasterworld.com/
These are just a few of the hundreds or great resources available on the internet. Forums are often the best place to learn, because you are learning from people and professionals that work directly in what you are researching. Their information is also up to date whereas books are outdated before they ever hit the bookstore shelves.
The Shopping Cart:
Assuming that you are selling a catalog of products, you will need a shopping cart function on your website so that visitors can add and remove products that they intend to purchase.
Depending on the complexity of your website, you may need a database driven shopping cart. This will help automate your website and make adding, removing, and modifying products much easier. There are many shopping cart systems that will integrate directly into your website. Since you want every page's navigation to look the same, you should ensure you use a single header and footer for the entire website.
There are many free and paid, ready-made shopping cart systems that will be the foundation for, or will add into an existing website. Look for a shopping cart that will create static pages. This will aid in your sites ability to rank in the search engines.
Outsource Your Ecommerce Website
By having a professional or organization that specializes in ecommerce websites, you are sure to get a secure functioning website, but it will definitely come with a price tag.
Depending on the complexity of your website requirements, outsourcing your website may cost as low at $300 - $400, but can be in the tens of thousands of dollars for complex, custom built websites.
There are several options for outsourcing your website. You can have a freelance designer create your website for you, have a professional designer create the site for you, or have a web design firm make a custom solution.
A common solution which is becoming very popular, is outsourcing a company or individual to customize a free or commercial cart for you. This way anyone with the proper experience can edit your cart. Carts like Oscommerce have thousands of extra options and modules, that can easily be added to the website. While somewhat difficult for the novice programmer, these systems are easy to change and modifications can easily be made by the owner once they gain enough competence in their programming ability. This option would be much cheaper than having a customer cart made and will often have a much better result.
A freelance designer can be one of the lowest cost and easiest ways to get a professional, ecommerce capable website. It can also lead to numerous problems. There are many places to find freelance designers. Because of the quantity of freelancers and the lack of a unified certification method, it is very important to find a designer that has experience in the area you need their work, and find a designer that will give you references. You should always research your freelancer before you outsource your project to them. Many freelance marketplaces have extensive feedback systems, so you can see the past work and customer comments about your potential designer before you ever contact them. Traditionally, freelancers are paid half up front, and half upon completion of the project.
When using a freelancer to create your project, you can outsource parts of your project to different designers or outsource to a single designer for the entire project.
More information on freelance outsourcing including a list of freelance marketplaces.
Professional Web Designer(s):
A professional web designer is a person who has a company, but it is only themselves or another person and cannot be considered a web design firm. Professional designers should also have a physical location, and you should be able to easily contact them. Professional designers are usually slightly more expensive than freelance designers, but no where near the cost of outsourcing to a design firm.
Web Design Firms:
Web Design Firms are groups, often hundreds of designers working in the same company. Web design firms are by far the most expensive, and when you outsource a project to them, they often have a team of designers working on your project. Despite their price they are often the best solution for large, complicated projects, that require advanced programming and features. They should be very professional, outlining completion dates, prices, and exactly what you are getting with them.
Non Design Related Aspects
A merchant account is a business account that will enable your business or website to accept credit cards. A merchant account is normally setup with a company called a Merchant Service Provider (MSP). These companies specialize in helping businesses to accept credit cards. It is also possible to sign up for a merchant account through a local bank, but this is normally much more expensive than through a MSP for the exact same service, and often comes with poor customer support.
Check out the archives of the merchant account blog for a lot of additional information in relation to merchant accounts and credit card processing.
A merchant account will automatically deposit transactions that you process, into your business' checking account. Merchant accounts are either setup for keyed and internet processing, or for retail processing. If your business already has a retail merchant account, it will need to get a second account specifically for its online processing.
A payment gateway is normally provided by your merchant account or credit card processing provider. You can often sign up for a payment gateway separately from your merchant account, but this is normally more expensive for the exact same service. It will allow you to process credit cards through your website. A payment gateway can be setup so that a visitor is transferred to the payment gateway to enter their credit card information, or they can remain on your website through the entire transaction process.
The most common payment gateway providers are Verisign and Authorize.net. When you get setup with a payment gateway, you will be charged an initial setup fee, and then a monthly fee for using the gateway system. Depending on the gateway, you may also have an additional transaction fee per transaction, or a fee for processing over a certain number of transactions each month.
Your website will need to be using SSL (Secure Socket Layers) to be secure if you want to host the payment form completely on your website.
Many shopping carts have the ability to integrate into popular gateways and there are a variety of free and paid scripts that will integrate your site with a payment gateway.
Payment Gateway Scripts:
Authnet Scripts - http://www.authnetscripts.com/
Reporting and Tracking System
Website tracking and reporting programs, also called web analytics, will help you keep track of everything that occurs on your website. Tracking programs range in price from free, to hundreds of thousands of dollars for custom designed solutions. Most ecommerce websites will want to start with a lower cost or free tracking system, and move up to a more featured system as their tracking requirements increase.
Tracking systems are very important for the operation of any business website. Apart from tracking how visitors interact with your website, they also will tell you what search terms visitors are using to reach your website. They can track Pay Per Click advertising programs that you are using. They can help you identify problems with your website, and the data can be used to improve your website in order to increase the amount of sales that you get through your website.