If you want to sell products and services through your Web site, you’ll need extra features and capabilities.
Before you start planning, make sure your Web host supports e-commerce. For more information on selecting a Web host, see An Intro to Web Hosting Services.
Most likely, you will contract with a Web design or development company to implement your ability to sell online. Before you shop around, consider these features:
- Database: A If your business sells a large number, or a wide variety, of products, you will probably need a database to hold your product lists and feature tables. This database is attached to your Web site, and therefore separate from the one you maintain, but it should link to your internal system.
- Shopping cart: Shopping carts let online shoppers keep track of their purchases in a holding area. They connect to a check-out system that includes a facility for accepting credit cards (also known as merchant accounts), or some other payment method such PayPal.
- Shipping: Shipping is an important component of the fulfillment process if you sell physical products. Your Web hosting services should offer a way for you to integrate your regular shippers’ tracking information into your site. Some hosting services also provide their own shipping service.
Customer registration: Asking customers to provide contact information via a registration form lets you build a postal mailing or e-mailing list for marketing your products to them. More important than the basic list is the ability to let customers and prospects state their fields of interest, which will let you customize mailings when new products are available that may interest them, or when there are updates or upgrades available for your current products. It can also keep track of returning customers, so you can offer them special discounts. Be aware, however, that requiring registration can reduce site traffic.
Payment mechanism: You’ll also need a merchant account that handles charges made online. Some Web hosts also provide this service, and PayPal, a service owned by eBay, lets customers pay either with their own credit cards or with cash stored in their PayPal accounts. For more about online payments, read Getting Started with Your Merchant Account.
- Analytics: Once your e-commerce site is up, you will want to know how many visitors are seeing your site over the course of time. Web-site tracking systems give you data about the “hits” to various pages on your Web site by day, week, and month. Most such tracking systems are fairly basic. When you’re ready for more sophisticated analysis of your site traffic, upgrade to separate analytics software and services.