How Do I Set Up an E-Commerce Site?

By: Robert Thomson

When you set up your e-commerce site, or add that functionality to your existing site, you need to keep a number of basic considerations in mind. In addition to all the other details of Web site construction, design and functionality, you now have online buying behavior, a relatively new area of study, to deal with. The best idea, of course, is to proceed deliberately, with a well-thought-out plan, while leaving yourself sufficient flexibility to make adjustments along the way as you learn more about e-commerce.

Before you start deciding what shopping cart software or merchant account service to use, you have to deal with fundamentals. The most fundamental consideration in selling is ensuring that customers can locate what they want, in a brick-and-mortar store's aisles or among a Web site's many pages. Astonishingly, there are online stores, even some famous ones, which do a very poor job of this. Without signs, guides, clarity of design and a logical layout, it can be next to impossible for customers to locate what they want.

Simple and straightforward

At the same time that you decide how to organize your services and/or products, with compelling sales copy and appropriate graphics alongside, you need to give site visitors more than a single way to find what they need. Along with the so-called breadcrumb trails that allow customers to make their way back along their virtual paths, you should provide various types of links to various categories of offerings. In addition, a ubiquitous search function for entering product names, and site maps and indexes that are a click away from anywhere, keep customers feeling that they know where they are. More importantly, they know how to get to what they want to buy.

With the number of online scams and rip-offs, it is more important than ever that your e-commerce site be seen as safe, secure and honest. You should completely eschew any sort of fine print, meaning pages with lengthy policies displayed in a small-font. It is best to put your return and exchange policies, shipping and handling charges, contact information and other important information where customers can easily review them. Summarize the main benefits and features briefly on the side or bottom of every sales page, with full, plain-English versions available with a click. Cultivate a buyer-safe atmosphere for your site.

Make it easy and simple

Nothing will halt your ascent into the retail big leagues faster than wasting customers' time. When a site visitor hits your Buy button, they must not get an error message or a four-minute wait. Again, the solution involves a little pre-planning, ensuring that your hosting package has the bandwidth and other features you need (good servers, especially) to handle the anticipated sales volume. If you are using a hosting firm, make sure you know what you're getting. If you are running your own servers, you must make sure you and/or your IT manager know how to get the best possible hardware and software and keep it working.

Whatever shopping cart software you use, whether written by your programmers or bought off a (virtual?) shelf, you want to implement it with simplicity and ease of use as your main objectives. Security in each transaction is essential, which is not quite as much a function of the hardware and software as it is of communications protocols, encryption and restricted access. However, all of these components need to work with, in, through and beside one another in a constantly changing way. If you do not have the systems, computing and communications expertise to stay on top of all of this, make sure you have someone on hand who does. Don't forget to mention your great security (loud and clear, too).

Easy pay, too

E-commerce sites can be designed to accept a wide variety of payment types, from credit cards and electronic cash to purchase orders, cash and checks sent by mail or delivery company, even barter. Of course, different types of businesses will need to accept different combinations of payment types, and your range of options will reflect the methods that your customers use. For any offline payments, like cash and checks being mailed or credit card account numbers sent by fax, your company name and address should be placed prominently throughout your site, and certainly on the completed sales document issued by your system.

Finally, on a subject that is discussed in literally thousands of online articles, there is the matter of taking credit card payments. If your firm has a merchant account already, you can typically use them in a variety of ways, including for e-commerce. Simply contact your bank or third-party processor and find out the details. If you do not have a merchant account, you can apply for one, or you can take advantage of a number of fast-growing alternatives, including PayPal.

Bottom line

There are a number of separate components that work together to create a functioning e-commerce site, from servers and other hardware to software that operates shopping carts, locates products in large databases, encrypts transactions for privacy and records the specifics of each sale. Then other processes occur behind the scenes, such as payment processing and order fulfillment. There is a lot to it, but with each passing nanosecond, e-commerce gets better, safer, faster and easier. If your firm is not involved in e-commerce yet, you might want to consider what you are losing in potential sales by your absence from the online marketplace.

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Moonrise Productions is a full services San Francisco web development company. They offer complete design services, web application development, ecommerce development, social network hosting and more. With New York, San Diego, San Francisco and a Los Angeles presence no matter where you are, we've got people to serve you.

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