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.
The first three of these requirements will be included if you choose a complete ecommerce host such as BigCommerce, Quick Shopping CartŪ from GoDaddy.com, Merchant Solutions from Yahoo. or 1ShoppingCart.com. Ecommerce hosts can't provide the merchant account for you, but they make setting up the connection to your payment options simple and straightforward. You will need to set up your own merchant account, such as PayPal if you're just starting out, or a "merchant gateway" solution like Capital Merchant Solutions.
The question you need to ask yourself before choosing which a company to host your online store is: What's more important for you: lower cost or greater ease of use.
You can get ecommerce solutions with regular hosting accounts, but they simply will not supply the features you need without a lot of work. Choose carefully, because shopping carts take time to build, product by product.
An, easy to use, feature rich eCommerce package is BigCommerce. Their basic store (up to 100 products) is about $25 a month, their support is excellent and their platform is robust. 1&1 starts at only $9.95 a month for a shop with fifty products and a drag and drop interface.
A "shopping cart"
Most sites that offer online stores offer a shopping cart as part of the package. Another way to do it, though, is to have the merchant company that collects online payments keep track of the customer's shopping cart. (Ask how when you sign up.)
PayPal , for example, walks you through the process of creating a button for each item on your website, each of which feeds into a shopping cart at PayPal.
Also available is Charge.com , which provides you with a shopping cart as well as processing.
A secure internet connection
For this 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 usually 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.
You can get around this by opening a PayPal account. There are no up front fees, just a small percentage of each payment made to you and a transaction fee, usually about 35 cents. For basic selling, they offer "buy now" buttons you can cut and paste into your web pages easily, with minimal HTML knowledge. They even offer a simple, very basic, shopping cart builder. They've taken away the biggest drawback to using them, which was the requirement that the person paying you needed to set up an account with them, so the're now the least expensive way to get started.
Once you're up and running (or if you anticipate lots of business from the start), you may want to switch to something other than PayPal. When you have large sales volume, you wind up paying less to a merchant account because they generally charge a lower percentage of the total sale. A relatively inexpensive company is Capital Merchant Solutions, which do not charge an initial setup fee.