The world of ecommerce, like the real world, is getting smaller. Only a few years ago, as the medium was beginning to find its feet, a fully functioning ecommerce website was prohibitively expensive to create and maintain. There were a number of reasons for this cost but most prominent amongst them was the complexity of the software required to operate successfully. This lead to a tendency amongst retailers to use their websites solely as a show-case for their products, rather than an online shop and that, naturally, meant lost opportunities.
As most of us now shop online on a regular basis, it’s easy to forget about the logistical hoops an online merchant needs to jump through in order to win your hard-earned cash. His first job is obviously to woo you to a point of sale; which without a real shop to pack full of goods, is technically challenging. If a clothes shop has 1000 various garments and the proprietor wants to be able to sell these online, each must be catalogued (with a number of appealing photographs) on his ecommerce website. Furthermore, being fickle, customers need to be able to find what they’re looking for relatively easily and also have alternate suggestions offered just in case they’re not sure. Supposing that the customer is convinced; sensitive payment, contact and delivery information then needs to be exchanged, which ultimately means a whole host of security measures to ensure that that data is protected.
Considering all this, it’s a wonder that one can now start trading online with a professionally created ecommerce website for as little as £1000. It’s no great miracle though; simply put, the growing maturity of the market means that most of the hard-yards programming have been run and there is now a host of generic ecommerce software packages available. Of course, you can’t knock-up the new ebay with your petty cash and nor can you download for free an original, function-rich ecommerce website. But if cost really matters, it’s much cheaper to start selling online with some of these packages, rather than having a bespoke ecommerce website designed from the ground up.
One of the simplest ways of starting to trade online is to add a payment link onto your existing website. This can be done very simply using well established and highly regarded systems such as PayPal or Google Checkout. These systems enable secure payment via a third party and their popularity is a result of their ease of use and consumer confidence in them.
In fact, both companies assert that as they are household names, consumers are more confident purchasing online using their software than using payment processing associated with unknown websites. This, they argue, is because they can offer better security and being a third party, have established protocols to deal with either merchant or customer related fraud. Ultimately increased confidence, they argue, translates to higher conversion rates and there they may have a point. Another argument presented by both Google and PayPal for increased sales conversions is that, as their systems are widely used, it is likely that prospective customers already have an account with them. This shortens the checkout process and the less payment steps there are (generally speaking) the higher conversion rates will be.
Using PayPal or Google Checkout is, although cheap, not free of charge. To set up a merchant account and add a link to your website can often cost nothing, however, you will have to pay a charge for every transaction made. Usually that charge breaks down as a flat fee of between 15p – 20p and a percentage of the transaction value. The percentage paid is dependent on the account type created and the volume of transactions you make but fees usually vary between 1.5% and 3.5%. This means that although the set-up costs are minimal, you will be paying an ongoing and not insignificant portion of your revenue to the payment company. As such, make sure you do your sums well in advance, as the payment solutions mentioned here are just two of many hundreds available in the marketplace and they may not be the ones best suited to you.
Unless you are operating a very simple, one product shop, it is likely that you will also need additional software to manage the buying process. Shopping carts, as they are generally known, allow the user to collate any number of items before proceeding to the checkout to pay for their order. More sophisticated shopping cart software is also allows the merchant to manage his inventory and can include helpful sales analysis tools to maximise the merchants’ revenue. Similarly to payment engines discussed above, there is now any number of cheap programs available online. The growing number of solutions has led to prices dropping dramatically in recent times and it is not unrealistic to have a shopping cart hosted for well under £20 per month via a specialist company but these generic programs can lack individuality and so won’t be suitable for all. PayPal and Google both also have additional shopping cart software.
OS (standing for open source) programs are a growing internet phenomenon. The programs themselves are free for anyone to use, develop and redistribute, provided they don’t charge a license fee. Ultimately then, OS offers the opportunity to build your own online shop using entirely free software; which for the cost conscious or those lacking start-up capital is a great offer. Thus far there are an estimated 14,000 OS Ecommerce based shops and the number is steadily growing. The hands-on community-minded ethos of the OS also means that there is an ever-growing community of users providing support on technical and developmental issues. On the downside though, it’s just this hands-on nature that may put off most potential users. Building your own online shop is both time-consuming and technically challenging. Furthermore, without some programming skills and creative flare it can be easy to make your shop look amateurish. As such, before investing many man-hours of your own time building your shop, make sure it wouldn’t be better investing some capital having your site professionally designed, which allowing you to spend your time much more efficiently and will almost certainly give you a better end product.
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