Exploring E-Commerce

Understanding Technology Needs

Now that your business has a plan and a strategy for its online store, what do you need to build it? Just as with a brick-and-mortar store, the first two lines on the checklist are a name and a location. In cyberspace, they're usually the same thing. The address of the online business is expressed as a URL (Uniform Resource Locator). Usually the address is a name that ends in dot com (.com), which indicates a "commercial" site, or dot org (.org) for an "organization." If a business is lucky, its address will be the same as its company name or a close reflection of it.

Staking a Claim in Cyberspace

Businesses can register and claim a URL for a small annual fee. Two of the most popular sites for obtaining a URL are www.register.com and www.networksolutions.com. The URL, however, is simply the address--the entrepreneur will need a piece of property that the address defines.

That plot of cyberland is the space on a computer where all the electronic files that compose the web site will reside. Numerous commercial "hosting" services, called Internet Service Providers (ISPs), will rent businesses space on their large computers (called servers) for a nominal monthly or annual fee. Some mid-size and larger companies host their sites on their own in-house web servers, but they remain responsible for maintenance of the site and the hardware to be sure it's accessible 24/7. An ISP can also speed the time it takes for online shoppers to download your web pages.

Online Shopping Carts

Another requirement for efficient online store operation is a virtual shopping cart. This actually is an electronic order form that serves as the first step in the fulfillment process. Its purposes are to securely:

  1. Enable shoppers to browse and select items, and then later decide which ones they want to purchase.
  2. Display a summary of items that the shopper has selected.
  3. Provide links to information for the shopper to consider before confirming the purchase, such as the return policy or the description page for each product.
  4. Allow the shopper to change the quantities ordered or remove items before checking out.
  5. Enable the customer to navigate to the checkout process or to return to the store to choose more items.

This shopping cart software allows merchants to accept orders for multiple products from their websites. It automatically calculates and totals the customer's order, including tax and shipping charges. Some shopping carts are even integrated with the fulfillment capabilities of UPSor the U.S. Postal Service to make the order acceptance and shipping process much smoother.

There are several services that offer secure online shopping cart technology. PayPal, for instance, offers a free shopping cart program to its merchant members. At checkout, shoppers indicate that they want to make their purchases through their PayPal accounts, and the process rolls out automatically. Other application service provider (ASP) companies also keep the merchant's shopping cart on a third-party site, where it is secure and regularly updated. Securenetshop.com and GoMerchant.com provide this type of service for a monthly or annual fee. Popular software packages that can be purchased include Miva Merchant and QuickStore.

Turning Shoppers into Buyers

Online shoppers are finicky. Those who aren't experienced customers--who haven't yet discovered the convenience of two-day delivery or easy returns--tend to be skittish during the entire shopping experience. A well-planned, secure shopping cart should make the checkout process easy, clear and flexible for the shopper.

Jupiter Research found that 54 percent of internet shoppers have stopped buying from certain online stores in the middle of a transaction because they have concerns about service, delivery, shipping or handling. Other estimates range as high as 60 to 90 percent abandonment of shopping carts on some e-commerce sites. Sometimes it's because of confusion; other times, frustration over the process or lack of information. Some shoppers just use the cart as a place to hold items they're considering and, in the end, never buy.

When setting up an online shopping cart for a business, consider the following tips:

  • Don't force the shopper to go through a lengthy process of logging in, creating passwords and filling out voluminous forms. Privacy issues and complexity of the process can lead the buyer to end the process before even registering.
  • Include a link to a page detailing customer service policies, such as warranties, delivery guarantees, return policy, and shipping fee structure.
  • Provide "help" tips, a frequently-asked-questions (FAQs) page and a toll-free phone number for consumers to use if they have problems or questions relating to checkout.
  • Offer assurance that credit card information is protected through encryption and a highly secure online transmission process.
  • Allow customers to call up information about the items being purchased without having to leave the checkout page, with links to windows that contain the product information page.
  • Make it easy for buyers to add or remove items, change quantities, or select different models and styles of a product once they are on the checkout page.
  • Indicate the progress buyers are making during the checkout process, revealing the number of steps involved, showing which step they are on at any given time and allowing them to return to earlier steps to make changes.
  • Show the shipping costs at the front end of the checkout process. For some products, these costs determine whether the shopper will buy online and the quantity they will buy.
  • Clearly indicate a button or link to move on to the next checkout step and make it more prominent than other links on the page.
  • Provide multiple options for payment, including credit cards, checks or an online payment service.

1. Create a Site
How to Name Your Business
Securing a Domain Name
Creating a Content-Rich Website
A-Z of Legal Issues
A Site for Your Service Biz

2. Drive Traffic
Exploring E-Commerce
7 Ways to Turn a Profit Online
Payment Options
3 Ways to Boost Online Sales

3. Sell Products & Services
7 Deadly Sins of Online Marketing
New Ways to Market Online
Attracting Visitors to Your Site
21 Ways to Promote Your Site
Promote Your Biz With eBooks
Marketing Your Home-Based Biz

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