E-Commerce is a pretty scary concept for many small businesses. The thought of putting an online store onto the Internet can be a very big deal, and costs can range depending on what your business wants to build.
While there are various options for e-commerce, this article will focus on the very basics and how small businesses, with only a few select products, can quickly add e-commerce functionality to their web sites.
Third Party Payment Gateways
The first and easiest method for accepting credit cards online is by using what we call a payment gateway. This service allows users to click a link or button on your web site and access a secure third party computer which will accept their credit card and then return them to your web site. The payment is stored in an online bank account, similar to your existing bank account, and can be withdrawn at any time by transferring the funds to your personal or business account. This system is fast, easy and takes very little time to setup.
To set up a gateway all you need to do is create a webpage with your product or service and include a link to your payment gateway with a small amount of HTML code. Many payment gateways supply tools to create this link, allowing you to simply copy and paste the code from their site into your web page.
Payment gateways charge a small fee to handle online credit card transactions. Rates vary from one service provider to the next. We recommend small businesses use PayPal which is a part of eBay and one of the largest payment gateway service providers on the web.
Shopping Cart Solutions
For businesses that wish to sell dozens of items, the manual method of creating web pages will be overwhelming, so we recommend using a shopping cart system instead.
A shopping cart is simply a database which allows a store owner to post items, control inventory and accept sales from visitors. Shopping carts may cost very little or may involve a significant investment depending on the complexity, size and number of controls your business requires.
The most basic shopping cart service on the web today is an eBay store, a system which allows the owner to post products in up to 12 categories and will provide a link from his web site to the eBay store specific to his product or service. This type of store is very easy to setup and has a low monthly cost, but will not provide branding for your company and you risk loosing your business to other eBay hosting stores.
Typically, the cost to install a complete shopping cart package on your website with a custom interface to match your business and integration into a payment gateway to accept credit cards is much less than many small business owners would assume. A shopping cart also allows the business to grow over time by adding services when needed.
Whatever method your business chooses to use remember that a shopping cart or payment gateway links need to be updated regularly and managed the same way you would manage your retail business. Attention to detail and prompt responses will keep your online customers coming back.