So you’re ready to sell online?  Congratulations!  The online marketplace is an exciting world (in a virtual sort of way).  And thanks to new technologies and services, it can be a safe, friendly and profitable place.

I’ll assume you have your product or service worked out, along with prices and delivery methods.  And let’s not forget the marketing plan – you have to know how people will find you.   Got all that in place?

OK.  Now of course you already have a domain name and web site with a good hosting company, right?

What – you don’t have a web site?! Well, that’s OK, you can avoid some mistakes by setting it up AFTER you’ve thought through your shopping cart.   As for the web host, It’s important to make sure your software is compatible with (supported by) your web host. For this reason, your choice of software may effect your choice of web host (or vice versa).  For more information on setting up a web site / host, check my article  Web Site 101 – Costs. My current favorite hosting companies are BlueHost and Lunarpages.  They both offer some easy installation options for  shopping cart software.

OK, NOW you’re ready.  But wait – there are a few things you should consider first – preferably before you set anything up.   These are:

Since these technologies all have to work together, it’s best to make the decisions before you implement anything.  I’ll talk about each one, and how they work together.  I’ll also discuss some possible “shortcuts”.

Shopping Cart Software

What Does It Do? It uses a database to allow you to display, price and sell your products.  It keeps track of customers choices, and sends their order information to the payment gateway.  In most cases, it also helps you keep track of your orders and collect information about your customers.  Other possible features include:  autoresponders (confirmation emails to your customers and you), eNewsletter capabilities (so you can send updates to all your customers), inventory management, shipping and tax calculations, shopper registration / login, product promotion options, and more.

Do I Really Need It? In a word, Yes.

What’s the Best Way? Well, that depends.  Here are some options:

Commercial Software: Best for those setting up a large shopping cart with high volume.  OR if  user friendliness and technical support are high priorities (and you’re willing to pay for them).  Many companies are out there.  Here are just a few:  X-Cart, Cart32, ShopSite, MonsterCommerce

Open Source Software: Open source software is free, publicly shared software.  There are some very good open source shopping carts.  Technical support comes in the form of documents and online forums.  In other words, there’s no 800 number to call – you have to read the directions!  Here are a couple of popular ones:  ZenCartosCommerce and CubeCart.

Hosted Shopping Carts: You can have someone else host your shopping cart for you.  In other words, you pay for web hosting and shopping cart on one account.  You still have to set up your shopping cart, maintain it, etc.  BUT you don’t have to install it, your technical support will probably be better, and you’ll have help setting up your merchant account and payment gateway, which will then work properly with your shopping cart.  What’s the catch?  Well, you’ll pay monthly fees on the order of $50 (web hosting is included in this fee).  AND you may pay additional transaction fees.  Still, this approach is a viable one for folks who need a web host and a shopping cart, and want to get started without large upfront costs or hassles.  Try Yahoo Small Business or Volusion.

Is There a Shortcut? Well, sort of.  Here it is…..
Buy Now Buttons
If you’re only selling a small number of products on your web site, you can use PayPal or Google Checkout to set up “BUY NOW” buttons.  You create buttons and install them on your own web site, next to your products (assuming you can work with HTML).  When a customer clicks the button, they go to PayPal or Google Checkout to complete the transaction.  In this way, PayPal or Google Checkout acts as your shopping cart, your payment gateway and your merchant account, thus saving you several steps.  Your customer support will not be as good as with a commercial or hosted shopping cart, and you won’t have all of the features.  Still, this approach is a great way to get started, since you could shift to a different system later on.   You pay no upfront or monthly costs, but you do pay transaction fees.   I have set this up for several clients, with good results; My fees are smaller because it takes me less time than setting up a full-on shopping cart.  Right now Google is advertising transaction fees of 2% plus $ .20 per transaction.  PayPal will be about 3% plus $ .30 per transaction.

Payment Gateway

What Does It Do? It accepts you customers’ credit card or eCheck information on a secure server, encrypts it, and communicates that information to your financial institution (merchant account).  There are many services out there.  One reputable one is authorize.net.  You will notice more  – pay attention as you shop online – see who your favorite shopping web sites use.  Your payment gateway may be bundled with a merchant account, or may recommend a compatible merchant account.  See fees below, under Merchant Account.

Do I Really Need It? Yes.  But if you use “the shortcut”  discussed above, PayPal or Google Checkout can act as your payment gateway (and merchant account).

Merchant Account

What Does It Do? It’s a financial institution that’s connected with your own banking account. It receives information from your payment gateway, processes credit cards and eChecks, and allows you to transfer funds between your merchant account and your business / checking account.  Your payment gateway may be bundled with a merchant account, or may recommend a compatible merchant account.

Payment Gateway and Merchant Account Fees
Expect to pay a monthly fee and a transaction fee.
For example, FreeAuthNet and Merchant Account Express are Authorize.net resellers that offer a package deal on a merchant account and Authorize.net gateway. Their rates for merchant and gateway accounts combined are approximately:    $10 – 25 per mo plus 2.15% – 2.33% + $ .25 per transaction

Do I Really Need It? Yes.  But if you use “the shortcut”  discussed above, PayPal or Google Checkout can act as your payment gateway (and merchant account).

SSL Certificate

What Does It Do? Secure Sockets Layer protocol allows private data to be transmitted safely over the internet.  Web sites using SSL start with https: instead of http: an SSL Certificate tells the customer’s browser that the web site is secure.   If you’re selling online, it will be important to your customers that you use this technology.  It’s important to you, too.  You don’t want to be involved in a credit card fraud or stolen identity incident.

Do I Really Need It? In my opinion, yes.  BUT you may be able to share your web host’s SSL for a small fee (or for free).  Also, if you use the shortcut we discussed earlier, you won’t need your own because your secure transaction will take place on a PayPal or Google web site.

Summary

There you have it.  I’d like to say it’s simple, but, well, it’s not.  Hope I’ve shed some light on the process, anyway!  Feel free to contact me if I can help!

Suzi Beaumont
BeauCreations Web Design

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