For many, the name of the Web game is making the sale. For those businesses dependent on online sales, getting the right shopping tools and transaction software in place can mean the difference between success and failure.
There are two popular ways to sell items on the Internet: through ready-to-go solutions like an eBay Store and Yahoo Merchant Solutions or by adding customized e-commerce functionality to your Web site. Naturally, turnkey solutions will eliminate many of the headaches required to set up a Web site from scratch, such as designing pages, programming, and implementing sales tools.
Sales sites are also more flexible than you might think. For example, you can add your own logo, descriptions, colors, and choose your desired layout. It’s kind of like buying a car, you don’t have to build it from scratch, but you can still make it your own by choosing extras like a sun roof.
Perhaps the biggest benefit to joining Yahoo or eBay is that you instantly become part of a community and will reap the benefits of a built-in audience and marketing. Think of it as opening a store in a mall. You can decorate and customize your store as much as you like, set the prices you want, and benefit from the passing traffic.
If, however, you already have a Web site or desire more independent representation, you’ll probably want to add your own e-commerce tools to your existing Web site.
The first thing you’ll need is shopping cart software. Check with your Web hosting company. Many offer shopping cart software bundled in with their existing services, and they might offer you a better deal than a stand-alone shopping cart company.
Shopping carts vary and can have different functionality. Here are some features to consider:
- Live-order tracking (real-time information on placed orders)
- coupon and gift certificate acceptance
- order history
- cross-selling and upselling tools (e.g. “customers who bought this also purchased…”)
- wish lists
- inventory management
- shipping calculator
- reporting (sales, repeat customers, abandonment, etc.).
Most shopping cart providers charge a setup fee of a few hundred dollars, plus a monthly or annual fee. For a bare-bones shopping-cart solution (that doesn’t include many of the features listed above), prices can start at less than $50 per month. If you need a number of more sophisticated features, the monthly price can quickly jump to over $1,000 per month. As mentioned above, your hosting company might be able to offer you a good deal.
Some of the big shopping cart providers to consider are: StoreFront.net, NetSuite, GoECart, and ShopSite. Many of these will offer various packages from “starter” to “pro.” View their comparison charts to see which solution is right for you.
Aside from the basic selling tools, there are some features you can add to jazz up and drive sales on your Web site:
- vendor modules (sell items based on the manufacturer — e.g., all electronics from Black & Decker)
- customer group modules (price products according to the customer type — e.g., “Gold Member price”)
- tell-a-friend tools
- customer reviews
- live person chat (connect with your customer during their purchasing process)
- accounting software integration (e.g., sync with QuickBooks)
Many, if not all of these shopping tools, will require a package upgrade or one-time add-on fees.
Getting visitors to digitally drop items into their shopping cart is only half the battle; the most important part is executing the transaction (i.e., getting paid). Think of transaction software as your cash register. Many times, your host or shopping cart provider will provide access to all of these tools, but you’ll need to set them up and purchase them separately.
For transaction software, tight security should be your top priority. For starters, your transactions must be done with what is known as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protection — essentially this encrypts the channel of communication between the store and your customer.
Some leaders in online transaction software to consider are CyberSource, the parent of the widely used Authorize.net; PayPal; 2Checkout.com; and Moneybookers. These providers typically require a nominal one-time setup fee, a regular monthly fee (starting around $25), and a per transaction fee (a few cents). Other fees may also apply. These software companies allow you to accept credit cards and eliminate the need to deal with the credit card companies individually. In addition, these companies also take care of the security, such as VeriSign.
When you’ve selected your transaction provider, be sure to post its security seals on your site. Most customers will feel more comfortable knowing that your site has taken all the necessary precautions to offer secure online payment transactions.