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Why would I sell over the internet?
Online stores help you increase the reach of your company to national or worldwide audience. If your product or service is such that it can be delivered online or through mail, you can serve thousands of more customers than what a brick and mortar store can do.
Things to consider before you start searching for an e-commerce solution to build your online store.
1. Who will build the online store? If this is your first experience with e-commerce, hire a designer to build the online store for you. Many sites offer do-it-yourself interface that can help you build basic sites yourself.
2. Who will host and maintain the e-commerce software? If you host it yourself, you will have to buy servers, install software, build and maintain database, procure SSL security certificate, and hire technical staff for maintenance of the system. If you host your e-commerce site at a hosting company, you lose the flexibility in feature set, appearance and integration with your existing software system. But hosting e-commerce site at a vendor is certainly less expensive for a small business.
3. A self service interface to maintain product catalog and fulfill orders is a must. It will be cheaper than asking your vendor to do it for you.
4. Accept credit cards for payments. Get a merchant account that would work for online payments.
5. What features do you want for your e-commerce site? Following are some of the important features for your online store. Depending on your situation, you may not need all of them.
- Ability to search the online store and the catalog to locate merchandise
- Shopping cart with order processing and tracking system. Contents of the shopping cart are saved from one visit to the next if user does not complete the order
- Ability to offer and process discount codes and coupons
- Ability to cross-sell and suggest products that may complement items already in the shopping cart.
- Tax calculator based on the location of the customer
- Shipping calculator with multiple shipping choices
- Payment processing with credit, debit and charge cards including fraud prevention using sophisticated systems like Automatic Address Verification (AVS).
- Order processing including means to inform you about orders and providing order tracking to customers
- Interface for email marketing and communication with your customers.
- Stock keeping unit (SKU) management is an important feature. Ask for a demo to see how easy it is to add, update and delete items, edit text and add images. Can the system accommodate all your products?
- Multiple browser support: Internet explorer (IE), Firefox and Chrome are the top browsers that should be supported by the e-commerce vendor.
- Ability to schedule price changes in advance to manage sales.
- Reporting to analyze and improve your business. Details including total sales, visitors per page, demographics of visitors, landing pages, time spent on each page.
- Ability to connect your inventory tracking system or a customer database to the backend of your e-commerce solution for data exchange.
How do I select an e-commerce site hosting vendor?
Following are some of the things to keep in mind when selecting a vendor to host your online store.
- Compare your list of requirements with the functionality offered by the e-commerce vendor
- Ask the e-commerce vendor for sites they have built in the past. Try them for user friendliness. Test the shopping cart and payment feature. Watch for esthetics and color combinations.
- What is the guaranteed uptime for your online store? Ask for 99.99% availability.
- Does the e-commerce vendor back up data regularly? Backup should be stored off-site to prevent loss in case of an onsite fire. How much time does it take to recover from any data loss?
- Customer support is critical. Are you comfortable with business hours of your e-commerce service vendor? Check online forums to get an idea about the quality of after sales service.
- Ask for a demo version of the software so that you can test store management, order processing etc.
- Check references. Make sure current customers are happy with the e-commerce service vendor.
- Setting up a site is not sufficient. You have to do search engine optimization (SEO) so that your site appears higher in the search results than your competition. Ask your e-commerce service vendor if he can help you with SEO.
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