E-commerce is one of the most exciting business developments in history. It dissolves geographical boundaries and makes it possible for small merchants to vastly expand their businesses. The fundamentals of doing business online are much the same as the fundamentals of doing business in the real world but, from a technical perspective, there are some important points to consider when setting up an online shop.
Create a business plan with realistic, measurable goals
If you already have a successful business there is a good chance that you will be able to use the internet to enhance it; if you are starting from scratch then you need to do the sort of research required by any new business. Essentially, you need to ensure that there is enough of a market to sell your goods or services at a suitable level of profit for your needs. This means not only determining the number of potential customers, but also the number of potential competitors and seeing how you can differentiate yourself from them in order to excel.
Make sure your website is accessible
Being accessible not only means ensuring that people are able to find your website and load it easily on whatever browser or mobile device they are using, but also that they can perform all relevant actions easily, even if they have a disability. The single most common reason for websites failing to be accessible is web designers placing their idea of creativity ahead of clarity. It is crucial to remember that visitors only become customers if they can find what they are looking for quickly and easily. That means designing any business website with simple fonts; colours that read easily, with appropriate contrast between text and background; well-organized menus; and large buttons or drop-down controls which can be operated even by those with poor motor co-ordination.
Make payment simple
It really is imperative that your customers can do what they want to do quickly and easily, right up to the point where the sale is completed. Having an accessible website means nothing if hitting the buy button initiates a complicated sales process, as your customers may still decide that it’s simply too much hassle and take their business elsewhere.
There are three crucial parts to managing online payments and these are: your Payment Services Provider (PSP), yourinternet merchant accountand your shopping basket.
Choose your PSP first
Your Payment Services Provider will be your most important partner in terms of credit and debit card payment processing so it is crucial to find the one which offers you the best deal in terms of both service and support. First and foremost they must be PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) compliant. In short, this ensures that they operate within a data security framework laid down by credit and debit card providers and means that your customers’ details should not be at risk of being compromised. Ideally, your PSP will be able to host your customers’ payment data securely so that you are relieved of the need to ensure PCI compliance at your end.
Before signing a contract with your chosen PSP, make sure that you understand all charges and whether these charges are based on a minimum transaction volume – and, if so, what happens if this threshold is not met. You also need to know the length of the contract and the procedure if you need or want to end it early.
Choose your merchant account
An online merchant account is essentially a specific type of bank account that can accept payments from your payment provider, and also supports refunds and chargebacks. Ideally, your PSP should be able to assist you with setting one up, but if you choose to go it alone then you will need to account for the time it could take to complete, as it can often be a lengthy process. You should also be prepared to be grilled thoroughly on your business and your website as online businesses are perceived as high-risk. If you are a new business your choice may be limited but, if more than one bank is prepared to accept you, be sure to compare all transaction fees; whether there are volume discounts and how to get them; and the contract length and any cancellation penalties.
Make sure your shopping basket runs smoothly
Check with your Payment Service Provider what shopping baskets they support as they may be able to provide a solution for you. If not, there are plenty of simple and affordable software packages that are well equipped to do the job, although the best type for your will be largely dependent on your business requirements. Once you have set up your shopping basket, test it thoroughly. If customers have problems during the purchase process, they are only too likely to go elsewhere!
Dan studied Visual and Online Merchandising and currently blogs about his passion for retail and design.