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Getting into ECommerce

The two big specialized ecommerce providers are:

BigCommerce: The easiest way to sell online! BigCommerce has advanced features, such as zooming in on a product and "you may also like" suggestions.
Shopify has a wide area of mobile optimized themes.

Both of these ecommerce providers give you a front end catalog to display your items, 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 ability to accept credit cards, and an order tracking system. Although building an online store is a lot of work, the providers above provide the easiest to use and most complete toolset to do the job.

Both of these providers are also more expensive than regular hosting providers. If you want a simple site with a few buttons, you can make do with a regular host such as GoDaddy! and add some PayPal buttons (See below.). For an example of such a site, see Gullotta House

Four things make up an online store:

1. A "catalog"

Your catalog is the listing of your products or services. At a minimum, you need the ability to put in a description, a price and at least one picture of the item. This is the part your customers see so it needs to be clean, professional looking and attractive. Specialized providers like BigCommerce have advanced features, such as zooming in on a product and "you may also like" suggestions.

2. 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
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.
Pay with Amazon also offers buttons you paste into your website. To checkout, the customer must log into Amazon.
2checkout is similar to PayPal. You get their buttons, they host the shopping cart. The customer doesn't have to have a PayPal account or an Amazon account, and you can accept all major credit cards.

The costs are similar for all three: about 3% of the price plus a small transaction fee.

The signup procedure is the hardest part. 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.

3. A secure internet connection

For security, you will need an encrypted connection (one that sends information across the internet in coded form). The simple payment processes like PayPal and 2checkout host the checkout code on their website, so they provide the security. Ecommerce packages like BigCommerce also provide encryption. If you're signing up with a regular web hosting company, make sure they provide encryption via an SSL connection.

4. 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.

For a helpful guide to selling online see Sell Online Guide