How to Open an online store
Four things make up an online store:
- A "catalog" where you list your products
- A "shopping cart" where you show people what they've ordered and allow them to check out
- A secure socket connection (SSL)
- A payment process, where you collect their money.
If you only have a few things to sell, two or three regular web pages can be your "catalog". Here's an example of a "catalog" consisting of only one item: a book. It's easy to see that a page discussing the book in detail is a fine way of offering the product for sale without the complexity and expense of an eCommerce package.
Specialized ecommerce providers.
If you're selling a number of items, you will probably want to set up an online store. Doing so without a specialized ecommerce provider is an extremely complex procedure, so you should sign up with one of them, such as BigCommerce, Shopify, Quick Shopping CartŪ from GoDaddy.com or Merchant Solutions from Yahoo.. Right now, Yahoo is offering 70% off of the first 12 months!
Even though their monthly fee is higher than a regular web hosting package, they provide so many features, such as inventory tracking, the ability to "zoom" images, and "you may also like" suggestions, that it's worth it.
All of these ecommerce providers give you a "back end" where you can enter your products one at a time, with descriptions, prices, photos, options such as size and color and shipping costs. The products then display on pre-designed pages. You can choose from a wide variety of designs which you then customize with your store name and logo.
Choose your eCommerce provider carefully, because catalogs take time to build, product by product.
A "shopping cart"
The shopping cart is the page that displays all the items the shopper has chosen to purchase. The cart segues into the checkout process where the shopper enters address and payment information and makes the purchase.
Simple shopping carts for simple websites
On PayPal you create BUY NOW or DONATE buttons via a simple form and insert them into your page. (See this page for a step-by-step guide to pasting the code in your page.) Your customer is then brought to a simple shopping cart hosted on PayPal.
2checkout is similar to PayPal. You get their buttons, they host the shopping cart. The customer doesn't have to have a PayPal account, and you can accept all major credit cards. Amazon, again, gives you code for buttons to paste on your pages. But the customer must check out on the Amazon website. ecommerce
The costs are similar for all three: about 3% of the price plus a small transaction fee.
The signup procedure is the hardest part of the PayPal process. Be prepared for it to take a couple of weeks from start to finish, and have your bank account information handy.
Ecommerce providers provide a shopping cart on your own website as part of their package. The good ones have done research on how to make the checkout process as smooth as possible for your customers.
A secure internet connection
For an encrypted connection (one that sends information across the internet in coded form) you'll need an SSL certificate. Your hosting company should be able to help you get one. The process can be a pain, so if they offer to do it for you, let them! Ecommerce packages will include you under their own SSL certificate, so you don't need one of your own.
A payment process
Besides setting up your online store, you will need a company that will accept credit card payments on your behalf. Your hosting company will offer you a "merchant gateway", which will connect you with a credit card processing company, along with instructions on how to set it up. HOWEVER, the credit card processing company has its own fees, sometimes a startup fee, and frequently a monthly fee or minimum as well as a small percentage of each charge.
Ecommerce providers have "hooks" that let you connect your shop to one of several of the larger credit card processing companies, as well as PayPal and Amazon. These "hooks" will greatly simplify your store setup.