For an all-in-one solution, check out Encanto Networks' e.go Commerce (http://www.encanto.com). This miniature Web server costs $1,295 initially, plus $49.95 per month. The system's features include Web store creation, order processing and electronic payment processing.
A new addition to your lineup of options is the AT&T Networked Commerce Services' eCommerce Suite (http://www.att.com), which bundles a set of services, including Web hosting, a secure payment service and consulting services for site design and implementation. For $695 a month and a setup charge of $500, this isn't a bad buy.
For a product designed to make your Web foray as easy as possible, check out iCat Commerce Online. This service includes tools to create a simple storefront in minutes, and it offers features such as search indexing, and tax and shipping calculations.
ICat hosts the site through major ISP facilities running on iCat-owned computers and servers. This relationship allows the system to run 24 hours per day and offers customers secure shopping as well as a CyberCash option that makes real-time credit card authorizations and encryptions. Stores selling 10 items or fewer can be created for free; fees for larger stores are based on the number of items. A 50-item store is $49 per month, for example, and a store with 3,000 products is $349 per month.
Hiring a consulting firm is another option--and for small businesses with no MIS staff and a limited knowledge of technology, this may be the way to go. In fact, according to one recent study, one of the reasons Web commerce has been slow to evolve until now is that small businesses are afraid of the many components of Web stores, which must all work together seamlessly. Consulting companies are experts at putting all the pieces together, which is especially important if you plan to link your site to legacy applications, such as inventory and accounting systems. Prices for these services vary, but to give you one example, Snickelways Interactive, an e-commerce consulting company in New York City, charges around $50,000 on average for its services.
This is just a sampling of the many options available to help you get started. With a little research, even novices can join the ranks of entrepreneurs who have made the leap online--and never looked back.
Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing & Communications and Sales & Marketing Management magazines. You can reach her at email@example.com.