From the January 2004 issue of Startups

Shoppers spent close to $45 billion online in 2002; 2003 figures are expected to reach more than $55 billion. Yet to my astonishment, there are still "static" Web sites out there that provide nothing but product information, with the occasional unimpressive ability for visitors to call, fax, or print and mail in orders.

We live in an era of impatience, and visitors require the ability to click "Order Now," fill out shipping and credit card information, and move on. If your product-oriented company doesn't provide this, you're going to lose out to your competition.

E-commerce scares many site owners because of the common misconception that you need a merchant account to accept credit cards. Small businesses are wary of the merchant account application (which isn't easy to obtain approval of), and the associated monthly and per-sale fees the bank charges. There's also the matter of paying a programmer high rates to revamp your site to integrate a shopping cart system, and then monthly fees to a company such as Verisign for transaction security.

But there's a way around all of this: There are companies that offer full e-commerce solutions, including pre-built, easily integrated shopping cart systems, and the ability for merchants to accept credit cards without dealing with a bank. These companies make money by taking a percentage of each sale; some also requiring a small monthly fee.

PayPal, recently acquired by eBay and often associated with sending and receiving payments for auction items, also provides full e-commerce solutions for Web site owners. More than 44,000 sites currently use PayPal to accept credit cards because of the free membership, integrated shopping cart, and low commission paid on each sale: 2.2 percent plus $.30 on each transaction. One major downside is that shoppers are required to open a PayPal account before they can pay and checkout. This could turn some potential customers away.

iBill.com offers a service called Catalog Complete which includes a full-featured shopping cart system and the ability to accept all major credit cards. Shoppers aren't require to register for an account, but iBill charges a 15 percent commission on each sale-a major hit to the bottom line.

Finally, for the past five years, I've used a company called CCNow to accept orders for my stock footage company. In my opinion, CCNow provides the most bang for your buck. They take only a 9 percent commission from each sale once sales exceed $100 in a month. They also charge a $9.95 monthly fee (voided for the first month) for their mandatory promotional program in which they submit your site to 125 of the top search engines, including AOL and Microsoft Network. Anybody can apply for an account and be up and running, e-commerce-enabled, within a day.

After creating an account, clients log in to name their store and add products, prices and shipping rates. After each product is entered, CCNOW provides the HTML snippet that simply needs to be copied and pasted onto the web page where you want the "Order Now" button or text to be located.

After getting setup with CCNow, your store is also added at no charge to their shopping directory (similar to Yahoo Shopping), which is visited by thousands of shoppers each day. This acts as a great advertising tool and could help your customer base grow significantly.

To see how the CCNow shopping cart system works, you can visit their demo site and get a demonstration of the steps a customer would go through. You can also visit my site to see the system in action.

So now that you know it's possible to add e-commerce to your site in just one day without breaking the bank, what you are waiting for? Set it up and start selling!


Joel Holland, 18, has been starting and running businesses since he was 12. He's currently the Chief Marketing Officer for Nortel Networks Kidz Online, as well as the producer of Streaming Futures, a national teen career show dedicated to helping teens choose the right career path. Holland is ranked in the top 10 nationwide for his marketing skills through DECA, a national organization with more than 300,000 teen members, and was named Business Student of the Year by the McLean, Virginia, Chamber of Commerce last year.