In this section we try to answer at a high level the basic questions that many merchants ask before they start selling online.
There are several ways that merchants can take card details securely across the net. If you are just starting out in business, the best way to take payments is through Paypal. This is generally low cost and easy to set up. Paypal enables buyers to use their credit or debit cards as well as using any balance in their Paypal accounts.
The second option is to process card payments in real time on the Internet through your own merchant account. Once you have established your business, this is usually cheaper than using Paypal for all payments, but you do need “merchant status”. This is available from all of the major banks, and they will charge a percentage of each credit card payment, and normally a fixed charge per debit transaction. You then use a “Payment Service Provider” (PSP) to link your web site, the online buyers and your merchant account. Providers offering this service include Sellerdeck Payments, WorldPay, Authorize.Net and many others. As well as paying the bank, you also pay a small fee for each transaction to the PSP, typically 10p / 12c or less. In the past, merchants captured card details and stored them at their site, then later processed them through a PDQ machine. This option is no longer viable as it is not allowed by bank rules and can result in heavy fines. Now, physical stores that already have merchant accounts should apply to their provider for “Internet merchant status”.
There are lots of ways that this can be done, but for any business there are two that should always be tried. The first is to promote the site to all existing customers. If existing customers don’t know about the ability to buy online from you, they may go elsewhere. If they like your online store, they will probably tell their friends. So ‘Order online at’ and the web address should be on every piece of literature and advertising that a company produces. The second is to register with search engines. The important ones are Google, Yahoo and Bing. It may take a little time, but it’s free and can produce good results. If you plan to do this yourself, make sure you choose an E-Commerce solution that will enable you to ‘optimize’ your pages for the search engines without needing a lot of technical knowledge. There is much more information about this later on.
Make everything quick and easy. Use graphics effectively, not for the sake of it. Ensure your supplier has ultra reliable and fast servers with fast Internet connections. Make sure customers can find what they are looking for with a minimum of mouse clicks. Make the checkout process as easy as possible. Remember you’re building a site for shoppers, not art lovers. The key is a professional site where visitors can easily find what they’re looking for.
Packaged or boxed E-Commerce solutions are nowadays hugely powerful and flexible, and offer significant advantages over bespoke – lower cost, quicker site development, more features and greater long-term security. If you use a web designer, it is worth finding one that can develop a professional design based around a standard solution that other web designers could support. A completely custom-built site is only a good investment if you have special requirements that an out-of-the-box solution cannot fulfill. It will not only be more expensive initially, it is likely to be hugely expensive to make further changes in the future.
The beauty of the Internet is that small businesses can compete effectively – nobody knows the size of your company from a web address. Ensure your site is attractive and professional looking. Make sure that you can fulfill orders very promptly - people expect delivery within a day or two. And look for a niche where you can beat the big boys at their own game, before you expand into wider fields.
Less than people think. In fact, the security risks run by web merchants are similar to those of mail-order companies. Just like them, it is sensible for merchants to put anti-fraud technology and policies in place. There’s a whole section on this later on.
The answer varies according to the sophistication and volume of the site. You can get a simple site online for around £20 per month ($30) plus fees to Paypal. More sophisticated software is available for under £1,000 ($1,500) or £200 ($300) per month covering all costs. It depends on your needs. Professional site design will increase your costs, but you can still expect to pay around £2,000 - £4,000 (or about $3-6,000) for an average site. Just make sure you leave enough in your budget for marketing your site. No visitors = no sales.
You should check that you have full control of the site and the means to update it easily. You should also check that the intellectual property rights of any designs are transferred to you. Also, it’s always worth asking what protection you have if your supplier goes out of business.