Dec 19, 2008

Three Major Components for Quick Sales - Setting Up Your Own E-Commerce Website Part 5 of 6

In creating your online storefront, you want to ensure that people can buy what they want with ease. With that in mind, the fifth part of our e-course looks at three site elements - product database and availability, payment processors and shopping carts. These components can go a long way in generating sales and bringing customers back to your site again and again.


Product Database and Availability

It's important that you are able to display your products, describe them and price them easily and quickly. A dynamic, database driven site (discussed previously in part 4) will allow you to do just that. If you are listing many items, merchandise management is crucial as you change prices, offer specials and re-word displays.

Certain programs, such as off-the-shelf software and some shopping carts, already have databases. If you are offering numerous products, you should invest in a content management system (CMS) that is powerful and easy to use. The best CMSs allow you to input information regarding each product and then automatically create the product page. Using a master control panel, you can then alter prices and product descriptions quickly, ensuring that maintenance can be done promptly and simply.

It's imperative that you have products available and ready to be shipped out as soon as possible. If you prefer not to do the packaging and shipping yourself, you can contract with a reliable drop shipper who will receive the order and send it out in an agreed upon amount of time. Using a drop shipper negates the need for you to store and handle items, which can get expensive and time consuming.

With time you will want to move up the supply chain. The closer you can get to the manufacturer or authorised distributor/wholesaler, the better your margins will be. Additionally, with a dropshipper you don't have control of delivery times and packaging, which means that the realiability of your service is in the hands of the dropshipper.


Payment Processors

Making it effortless for people to pay you is simply good business sense. That means accepting credit and debit cards. In order to take these cards, you have two options:

  1. A merchant account with your bank or credit card processor: you will be charged a joining fee, a monthly service charge fee, and a per transaction fee. In total you will be paying around 4% of each transaction value (this % charge will decrease the higher your monthly sales volume). Good credit card processors include PayPal Merchant Services, your bank (for the UK speak to HSBC, Barclays or Protx - Protx requires that you already hold a merchant account with your bank). Bear in mind that with a merchant account from a bank you will be responsible for fraud protection, unless you integrate systems like Verified by Visa™ and MasterCard SecureCode™ within your credit card payment page on your website. Your credit card processor will be able to better advise you on the options available. PayPal Merchant Services offers integrated fraud protection, although be aware that chargebacks also occur on PayPal. If you have any doubts, do extra checks (you will find the article at http://articles.esources.co.uk/id/44/ very useful)

  2. If you don't possess a merchant account, then setting up and utilizing an online payment system through a service like PayPal or Nochex (UK Only) is a good idea. Both PayPal and Nochex are inexpensive (they cost you only when you receive money), fast, and uncomplicated ways to accept credit cards. Both methods will cost you between 1.9% and 3.9% of each transaction value (depending on your previous month's sales volume) + a fixed amount depending on the type of card used by the buyer at time of payment. While both these options are cheaper than a merchant account, bear in mind that many buyers will not have an account with either PayPal or Nochex. Accepting their card payments through your own credit card processing page will increase your sales.


Shopping Carts

Once you have chosen which payment options to accept on your website, you need to integrate their code onto your shopping cart. A shopping cart is a program that stores a customer's order, redirects the buyer to the payment processor, receives payment confirmation from the payment processor, and finally stores the completed order in your database for future reference. Off-the-shelf software like OS Commerce, Zen Cart and Monster Commerce all have an integrated shopping cart facility that supports all the major online payment processors.

If you plan to hire a web design company to program your site, make sure they have past experience integrating credit card processors like PayPal with your chosen off-the-shelf software or with your custom made website. Providers such as PayPal offer detailed documentation on integrating their system with your shopping cart. In addition to being a payment processor, PayPal also offers their own shopping cart facility, which can even be integrated with a static, brochure type website (their shopping cart is limited in functionality, but ideal for when you are getting started; remember, try to get your site online as quickly as possible, however basic it is, and then work on improving/upgrading it).

The choice of shopping carts is vast; our recommendation is to accept PayPal and, as soon as possible, credit cards using your own merchant account. Both can easily be integrated by an experienced web design company from as little as $500 (you can hire one from either elance.com or rentacoder.com).

Two other options - buying a shopping cart program or getting one through your hosting site - are not for the beginner. These programs are difficult to use unless you are a programmer or are willing to hire a programmer. If you know nothing or little about programming, the other options listed above are the way to go.

When creating your e-commerce site always think about how you can make a consumer's purchasing experience trouble free. After all, if they want to spend their money at your virtual storefront, you should let them do so as quickly as possible.


In Part Six, and final installment of the Setting Up Your Own E-Commerce Website ecourse, we will look at how to continually expand the selling power of your site through promotion, maintenance and improvements.

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