Getting started in E-Commerce

How to get started in e-commerce with your own website and online payment solutions.

First and foremost, you need a (really good) website.

While it may sound obvious, creating a user-friendly website is the first crucial step for any business wanting to go online. How it works, what it looks like and even what it’s called, could make the difference between success and failure. This is not something you should rush or skimp on. So, consider the following factors….

Design: Who’s going to be in charge of designing the site? Ideally not Colin from Accounts’ little brother who’s ‘an absolute whizz with computers’! This is a job for a professional web design agency or in-house designers. The website architecture and navigation is key to the success of your shop. It should be a doddle to use and reflect your brand in every way.

Domain name: This is the online front door to your business. What’s written on it will make the difference between people opening it or going elsewhere. And are you going to be a dotcom, dotbiz, dotorg, dotnet, or a dotcodotuk? This all needs research and serious thought. For instance, you don’t want prospects searching for you and ending up on a competitor’s site.

Hosting provider: There is no shortage of companies providing online hosting solutions. Many of their packages come with free domain names, so shop around for the best deal overall. But remember that cheapest is not necessarily best. Make sure your chosen solution can be adapted to your needs, particularly in terms of the webspace you require and the integration of your preferred shopping cart solution. Also consider secure hosting/SSL solutions if you plan on keeping customers on your site through the payment process.

Next, find a shopping cart solution

Yes, it really should be ‘basket’ but the American terminology is more commonly used. Cart or basket, this is the interface that allows customers to view your products, put them in a shopping basket and purchase them. We’ve all been on sites where the shopping cart is the online equivalent of the supermarket trolley with a wonky wheel. Don’t let yours be one of them.

There are three main options…

Custom-built: This is a tailor-made solution that matches your requirements precisely. You go and ask a web developer (preferably one recommended by a business peer/satisfied customer) to build you a completely bespoke cart or website store. Admittedly, it’s the most expensive and potentially complex option, but it does have its advantages. The most likely type of operation to benefit from such an approach is a small-scale, niche business. However, it may prove harder to integrate (See below.)

Off-the-shelf software: A halfway house between custom-built and hosted. You buy shopping cart software or software for building web stores, either of which will generate the necessary code to upload to your website.

This way of doing things offers you some flexibility of design and configuration, while providing all the necessary tools for easy integration with your existing website. You might need to enlist the help of a technically-minded person or web developer to get the best out of such a solution, but by-and-large the software can be handled by someone with limited technical knowledge. Just make sure you read the manual.

Hosted solution: Got to be online yesterday? Well, this could be what you’re looking for. Taking the hosted route is technically the easiest and quickest-to-market, because your online store is created and hosted by a shopping cart provider, only leaving you to make minor design and administrative adjustments. On the upside, this minimises development time and eliminates most potential problems. The downside is that you only get a limited amount of control over the look, feel and functionality of your online presence.

Choose a Payment Service Provider

A Payment Service Provider (PSP) is a company offering online payment solutions. These range from complete solutions - which include both an Internet Merchant Account (IMA) and a Payment Gateway or, for those businesses that already have an IMA, just a Payment Gateway.

We’re not going to be coy here. Both of these are exactly what we - at PayPoint.net - do, and we reckon we do it better than anyone else. While many PSP’s offer just one of these solutions, we can offer you the online payment solution to fit to your needs, whatever the size of your business or your trading history.

However, you’ll obviously want to check out the competition, so here’s what to look out for when choosing a PSP for your business:

Real choice: Whether you already have an IMA and just require a payment gateway, or you need a complete solution, including the Internet Merchant Account, a PSP should offer you flexible solutions targeted at your needs, not their capabilities.

Ease of integration with your shopping cart: A good PSP should provide you with a variety of ways to collect card details and process payments. For example, they should offer you a Virtual Terminal if you need to process telephone payments. Buts most of important of all is the PSP’s ability to integrate with your chosen shopping cart solution. Many PSPs have solutions that are already integrated with shopping carts, which means you don’t get a choice. Not good.

Competitive rates: Shop around for the best rates. Set-up fees and transaction costs vary greatly. But also consider the relative long-term costs. For example, check for services not included as standard and look for areas of weakness, such as a limited fraud solution or fee-based (rather than free) support. These may impact on your ability to grow your business efficiently without additional cost.

Reporting and administration facilities: A PSP should provide you with reporting and administration tools to manage your merchant services in real-time, 24/7. The latest fraud protection: When you’re accepting card payments online, fraud is often the single biggest threat to your profits. Any PSP worth a second glance must provide the latest anti-fraud measures, protecting you from costly chargebacks.

Security certification: Your PSP should be Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard Level 1 compliant. Accept nothing less.

Ample technical support: Integrating and maintaining a payment processing solution is never going to without hiccup, so you need to ensure your PSP is there to help you (and not at a premium charge) whenever needed.

Get an Internet Merchant Account

An Internet Merchant Account (IMA) enables your business to process credit or debit cards and receive funds from cardholders. In short, it’s essential if you want to accept payments online.

You can either open an IMA at a high street bank (AKA an ‘acquiring bank’) or via a PSP that has a relationship with financial institutions to supply cost-effective Internet Merchant Accounts as part of a complete solution. Not all PSPs can offer an IMA but those that do (including PayPoint.net) are most likely to have the experience and expertise to meet all your online business requirements.

Both solutions have their advantages, but high street banks usually have more stringent approval requirements, reducing the chances of your success - especially for smaller, niche or new businesses. And you should be aware that having an existing merchant account with a high street bank does not guarantee that you’ll get an IMA.

This article was originally published on PayPoint.net