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- Vera Chandler
June 12, 2007, 6:06 pm
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How to Set Up an Online Store
There's so much to consider when setting up an online store that it
can seem downright overwhelming to a would-be ecommerce entrepreneur.
responsible for all of it - and practically every last decision point
could be treated in an article of its own. Think of this, then, as an
overview of the process.
Before you even take the first step of going into business online,
need to ask some of the same questions you'd ask when going into any
business. Do you have something to market? That is, can you give your
customers something they want, for which they'll pay you enough money
for you to turn a profit? It doesn't have to be a specific product;
can be a service, or it can even be a combination of the two. One
entrepreneur I know writes and maintains custom software for small
businesses, blurring the line between a product and a service.
Once you've decided what kind of online business you're getting into,
you need to choose a domain name (http://www.domain-name-register -
store.com). This is fairly important, since it will be your company's
online identity. Think of Amazon, for example. The point is, all of
your customers will remember your URL, so you want to choose one that
will stick in their heads, and give a favorable impression. If you'd
like to read more about choosing a domain name, there are a number of
articles on the subject, including one here on Web Hosters.
So, you know what you're going to offer for sale, and you've chosen
your domain name. What's the next step? You want to register your
domain name, and you want to put together a website that will
encourage your customers to trust you and buy. Never mind articles;
there are literally books that cover the topic of good website design
Building the Site
Here you have several options. If you're a programmer or website
designer (or would like to become one) you could build the site
yourself from the code up. Or you could use DreamWeaver or some other
HTML editing program to help you build it. You could hire someone
to do it for you. Or you could find and purchase some readymade
There's a lot to take into consideration when building a website,
whether you're doing it from scratch or basing it off of templates.
Obviously it should be professional-looking. The actual appearance
will depend on what exactly you're selling. Some of the factors you
should take into account when setting up your website include:
=B7 How many products do you wish to display? Too few can leave you
a bare-looking website, while too many can look busy and overwhelming
=B7 What type of products are you selling? That's going to affect
many you display, as well as how you display them. You wouldn't want
to display basic furniture in the same way you display highly
jewelry, for example.
=B7 Do you have digital pictures of the products? If not, can you
them? And are they of a quality that shows off the products to their
best advantage? (You should also consider how quickly these pictures
will load; you might have to settle for some kind of compromise
between highly detailed pictures and faster loading).
=B7 Include item descriptions, prices of items, and discounts (if
applicable). Your customers will definitely want to know this
information! In order to keep this data up to date on your site with
minimum of hassles, you might need a database or content management
system from which the site can pull information.
=B7 You might already have this set up if you're taking a bricks-
mortar business online, but you need to keep in mind all of the
information that your database requires so that you can keep track of
your products and sales. This might include the item number, product
ID, a description of the product, and its price. You might also need
to know its weight, at the very least so you can calculate shipping
Obviously, if your online business is service-oriented rather than
product-oriented, some of these points won't apply to you. But you
still need to build a website that is easy to navigate and not
confusing to your customers. You need to tell your customers clearly
what to expect from your business. That's the first step in building
trust; it's important in any business and even more important for an
online business where customers often don't interact with a real
person (even in email) before deciding whether or not to place an
Choosing Your Web Host
This is a site dedicated to web hosting (http://www.domain-name -
register-store.com), after all, so you knew we'd get to this topic
sooner or later. Again, there are plenty of articles on this topic
(and you can find a few of them on this site). Right now I'm going to
cover, very briefly, some of the things you need to look for in a web
host, if you want to give your online business startup the best
If you're going to handle any kind of financial transactions through
your website, you need to make sure your web host offers secure
servers. This means that they offer SSL encryption. You should find
out whether your prospective web host offers SSL encryption as part
its regular package or charges extra for this service.
When your website is your storefront, if your website is down, your
store is closed - or worse, effectively nonexistent. So you need a
host that offers at least a 99 percent uptime guarantee (and will
provide some kind of compensation if it doesn't live up to its
guarantee, so it has some incentive to keep its word). While asking
about a web host's uptime guarantee, you might also inquire as to its
back up systems in case of emergencies.
You will also need a private CGI-BIN directory if you are conducting
ecommerce through your website. It is into this directory that you
upload binary scripts and/or interactive programs. These kinds of
programs are involved with payment processing and shopping cart
Even small offline businesses try to keep track of customer
information and sales records; indeed, if the business is big enough
to pay taxes, this is essential. Online businesses have a somewhat
easier time of it, since web logs and statistics give them the raw
data they need (which of course still needs to be processed and
analyzed). Make sure your web host will give you access to your web
How comprehensive is the hosting company's customer support? You want
a company that will offer 24/7 support. May companies say they
that level of support, but what about the quality of support? This is
something you may have to research online at the various web hosting
forums. Web hosting customers will be quite forthright in the
condemnation of a bad host.
Of Payments and Shopping Carts
Obviously, this is one part of the business you have a strong
incentive to get right. There are a number of options here. You can
buy an online shopping cart program. You can use the services of an
application service provider (ASP) to manage a shopping cart system
for you. Or you can program a shopping cart yourself. Some web hosts
offer a shopping cart program you can use on your website; you might
want to look into that as well.
Googling "shopping cart services" (without the quotes) turns up
hundreds of millions of web pages. You might find it is worth
around to compare prices, features, and customer service. If you have
friends who engage in ecommerce, you might also check with them as to
their shopping cart services.
Buying a shopping cart program can be an expensive option; you can
expect to spend at least $200 if you choose that route, and some
shopping carts cost $800 or more. Some shopping cart software might
seem affordable at first, but then the company charges you extra if
you want certain plug-ins (such as one that lets you display the
shipping rates from all the shippers you use at the same time). You
might want to put this off until you are more established and have a
good idea of what shopping cart features are most important to you
Your best option might be following through with a decision you may
have made earlier, when you built your website: using ecommerce
website templates. Many of those have shopping cart systems pre-
installed. They make setting up an online store quick and easy.
Shopping carts bring up the issue of how you will accept payments. If
you are doing business on the Internet, you'll want a way to accept
instant payment from your customers. PayPal might work for a while
when you're starting out, but you'll need a more direct way to accept
credit cards. That means you'll need a merchant account from a bank
financial institution that accepts Internet transactions
I haven't covered everything involved in setting up an online
business, but I hope I've given you some idea of what's involved.
it step by step, and you'll be on your way to success!