Navigating Internet commerce can be tricky. If you're up to the challenge, the key is to put the proper framework in place. In many cases, you'll need to work with a variety of players, from ISPs to Web site designers, and become familiar with software programs, security technologies and methods of selling. So before you begin building your Web store, do your homework.
One necessary step is to choose the right products or services to sell on the Web. Certain items, such as clothing, that typically require a "look-see" before shoppers buy usually won't be bestsellers; neither will perishable goods with sensitive shipping schedules. Currently, bestselling products on the Web include books and magazines, computer software, music CDs and tapes, and travel-related products and services.
But running a Web store takes more than just mimicking a successful retail concept. Experts advise finding a popular product category and then adding your own twist. "You need to find a market niche that's underserved and that fits you," says Rosalind Resnick, co-author of The Internet Business Guide: Riding the Information Superhighway to Profit (Sams Publishing) and president and CEO of NetCreations Inc., a Brooklyn, New York, Internet marketing company.
If you don't already have merchant status, your next step is to apply for a merchant account. Presently, credit cards are the best means for accepting payment on the Web. Checks are fraught with risk, and e-cash is still somewhat experimental. (For more on e-cash, see "Money Clips" on page 50.) Many entrepreneurs jump into the construction and design of a Web store before they have the proper means of accepting payment.
In the past, banks have been leery about accepting credit cards on the Net. However, Resnick says financial institutions are becoming more familiar with Internet commerce and what's required for merchants to accept credit cards over the Web. If your bank isn't experienced with Internet commerce, other banks are--and they're worth hunting for.
If you can't obtain merchant status, there are companies such as Vantage (http://www-Agency.com) that will process credit card transactions for you. The downside: Most charge a hefty fee for this service. The fee is much higher than the 2 percent to 5 percent rate that businesses who do their own transactions are typically charged, so exhaust all other avenues first.
You'll also want to hook up with an ISP early on. Besides hosting your site, an ISP can be an invaluable resource for developing an electronic storefront. For example, the ISP may be able to help with Web site design, sell you software for building an electronic catalog, or recommend vendors that provide credit card authorization on the Net. Some offer better Internet commerce services and have more experience than others, so choose carefully.
After working with many ISPs, David Mutton eventually decided on La Jolla, California-based SimpleNet. A competitive hosting fee ($49 per month), unlimited traffic and storage, and the flexibility to access SimpleNet's server and make Web site changes himself were among Mutton's primary reasons for choosing the company. He has also found SimpleNet's Internet commerce services for building and marketing a Web store helpful.