With these systems in place, you're finally ready to build your electronic storefront. First, take a long, hard look at other Internet commerce sites. Note what you like about their designs, analyze how the advertising copy and products are presented, and see what sales techniques make you want to buy so you can incorporate these things into your own Web store.
If you have technical know-how, one possibility is to design your own Web site. Those who are familiar with the Internet and who have the extra time can select from many off-the-shelf Web design programs. Mutton, for example, used NetObjects Fusion (http://www.netobjects.com) to create a basic Web site in just one day. "I looked at the costs of having a consultant build it, realized that I had much of the artwork and content from my marketing materials, and decided I could probably build it myself," Mutton says.
One popular Web site creation tool is Microsoft's FrontPage 98 ($149). For beginners, FrontPage 98 is a good choice because it allows you to create professional-looking Web pages without learning programming languages. It contains 50 templates, as well as functions to build backgrounds, navigation bars, buttons and hyperlinks. There are also wizards to help you through the process.
Besides ease of use, FrontPage 98 also has advanced site creation and management capabilities. Power users can take advantage of HTML editing and the ability to incorporate Java, ActiveX and other leading-edge features into their Web pages. FrontPage 98 contains powerful image-editing features to crop, rotate or customize images, as well as new features to design and edit navigation buttons. The program also includes site management tools to automatically check the status of hyperlinks and provides many "views" to analyze the working condition of your site; for example, the new All Files View makes it easy to take inventory of all the files in your site in a single snapshot.
Adobe PageMill 3.0 ($99) is another affordable, easy-to-use program. Because it relies less on templates and wizards than FrontPage 98 does, you may find it creates Web sites with a less "cookie cutter" look and feel. PageMill is for those who want ease of use but still want to maintain close control over design. Its familiar drag-and-drop interface makes it easy to create features such as links and frames. WYSIWYG capabilities also give you control over a page's appearance without requiring you to switch between the HTML editor and a browser to see what pages will look like. In addition, this program comes with a copy of Photoshop LE (a light version of Adobe's popular image-editing program) and more than 10,000 Web-ready images.
If you're not very knowledgeable about Web sites, hire a Web design firm. Keep in mind that this will significantly increase the amount of money you spend on designing your site: It's not uncommon to pay several thousand dollars for Web site design. There's no shortage of good Web designers, though, so shop around for a skilled developer with the most reasonable rates.
Begin your hunt for a Web site designer by searching the Internet for sites that are similar to the one you'd like to build and e-mailing them a request for information about the company that designed their site. Also, ask for referrals from business associates who have Web sites. The idea is to have several highly reputable, experienced companies to choose from.
You can take certain steps to keep the price down, as well. First, don't pay by the hour for Web site design. Resnick advises negotiating a fixed price for the entire project before giving the go-ahead. It's also smart to stay away from more advanced (read: pricier) features such as Java or 3-D graphics.
Another important component of any Web store is the catalog software needed for building order-processing capabilities. Also known as "shopping cart" software, these programs typically contain features to help you design a Web catalog complete with product and pricing information, order forms on which you can enter products and have sales tax and shipping costs automatically calculated, and management features that notify vendors when an order has been placed.
By purchasing SimpleNet's Commerce Made Simple (CMS) package, Mutton was able to incorporate these features into his Web site. One main component of the CMS package is access to Htmlscript Corp.'s KoolCat electronic catalog. Mutton used this software, which resides on SimpleNet's server, to customize an online catalog with product and pricing information. KoolCat also has order-management features that automatically notify Mutton via e-mail when orders have been placed. CMS (priced at $802 plus monthly service fees of $65) includes a VeriSign Secure Server Digital ID for security and encryption capabilities, plus domain Web-hosting and e-mail services.
Some Web site creation programs are compatible with popular shopping cart software. For instance, Mercantec StoreBuilder for Microsoft FrontPage 98 ($149) offers the latest electronic commerce features that work with FrontPage to build a virtual store. You can add Mercantec's SoftCart functionality to an existing FrontPage Web site or develop a site from scratch using both programs. To "open" your store, you must purchase a production license for SoftCart or host the store at an ISP offering the software for a monthly fee. Similarly, you can add online shopping capabilities to Adobe PageMill 3.0 with ICentral's ShopSite Express (SSE) for Adobe PageMill, which is available from an authorized SSE provider.
There are a variety of other shopping cart programs on the market. Product features and prices vary widely. For example, on the low end, Easy-Catalog from Software Design Associates (http://www.software-design.com) is priced from $349; on the high end, Encanto Networks Inc.'s e.go webstation (http://www.encanto.com) costs $1,295.