If you have a product to sell, you need to sell it online. While brick-and-mortar storefronts continue to provide consistent business and positive word-of-mouth, eCommerce is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with, and according to Forrester Research, will account for 53% of all retail sales in the United States by 2014. This means you can’t afford to ignore the world of online selling, even if you’re not familiar with the process. Thankfully, the increasing interest in eCommerce means companies have sprung up to fill every niche of the market, making the process of getting set up and selling with eCommerce hosting easier than ever.
First in Line – The Shopping Cart
The first thing you will need to get your eCommerce website up and running is a shopping cart application. Most shopping carts will allow you to create a list of product pages that customers can choose from, as well as place items in a virtual “basket”, while the customer continues to shop. Popular shopping carts include Pinnacle Cart, Magneto eCommerce and Zen Cart, to name a few, and all come with a variety of features to create a streamlined shopping experience for both you and your consumers.
Pinnacle Cart, for example, included with the myhosting.com Professional eCommerce Hosting Plan, offers a drag-and-drop interface that requires no prior programming or Web knowledge. This cart is also PA-DSS and PCI compliant, which is a requirement in order to accept many major credit cards or run SSC transactions. Magneto eCommerce offers a variety of solutions for you to get set up on the Web, from Magneto Go, a turn-key cart which includes hosting, to Magneto Enterprise, which has greater functionality for larger businesses. All of the carts mentioned – Pinnacle Cart, Magneto eCommerce and Zen Cart – are supported with hosting solutions to give you everything you need to get up and running quickly.
Making Sure You Get Paid With Payment Gateways
eCommerce hosting starts with a shopping cart; but in order for you to get paid for the orders that are placed, you must also consider which payment gateway you are going to use. Payment gateways are services that allow information to be transferred between a payment portal (your website) and a bank or front-end processor which handles the transaction. When an order is placed on your website, the payment gateway you choose will handle the transfer of the customer’s credit card or other payment information and send it using SSL (secure socket layer) protection.
SSL protection is essential for data transfers from your website to remain encrypted, and most payment gateways will use this technology in order to ensure privacy. It is a good idea to advertise that your website does employ this technology in order to assure customers that you are, in fact, following best practices.
The time from when a customer clicks on the “place order” button to the time an authorization or rejection is returned is typically two to three seconds, with full payment settlement typically happening within three days. A payment gateway is best thought of as the pinpad or payment terminal in a physical store, and a number of options exist for you to choose from for your store, including PayPal, Authorize.Net, Google Checkout, and many more.
Shipping What You Sell
Once you’ve set up your website for selling, chosen a shopping cart and found a payment gateway, the next thing you should consider is how to ship what you sell. The most common choices in the United States will be UPS or the United States Postal Service, and the benefit to online ordering is that your shipper can pick up wherever your factory or retail operation is located, and then take the product straight to the customer.
Other shipping options include Canada Post if you’re shipping north of the border or the Royal Mail service in Britain, and in many cases US shipping companies will have arrangements with providers in other countries in order to ship products.
Most shopping cart applications will include shipping-cost calculators. But before going live with your website, make sure that your customers can not only see the cost of the items they are ordering in local currency, but that they have a rough idea of how much they will cost to ship and what, if any, taxes will be applicable when they arrive. It is always in your best interest to provide as much information as possible up-front.
SEO, Social Media and Great Deals
Once your site is up, running, and secure, your next task will be to attract visitors. There are several important facets to attracting online attention, the first being the use of SEO or Search Engine Optimization. In order for your website to be found by search engines like Google or Yahoo, it must contain data they are looking for, and this includes things like regular content or product updates that are relevant to the site, as well as keywords that are relevant to the products being sold. A number of shopping carts come with built-in SEO options which can help you tailor the Meta descriptions and page names of your product pages so that they attract favorable search engine attention.
Social media is also a key component in driving interest, and starting a group on Facebook or a Twitter feed can garner attention that will be spread organically. In addition, you should consider offering a deal or promotion with sites like Groupon, Living Social, AtCost or Yipit. While you can also offer deals or discounts right on your website, advertising a promotion through a “coupon” website can provide favorable exposure.
In addition, consider listing your product on sites other than your own – Amazon, Google and eBay come to mind as easy places to generate extra sales and, more importantly, virtual word of mouth.
While a great deal goes into creating a high-performing eCommerce store, going from start-up to up and running is easier than ever.