When you decide to open an online store, you have a number of options to choose from. Choosing the appropriate e-commerce system is possibly the first, most important task, and even if you’re not going to do it yourself, you’ll still need enough information to make the right decision. To help you choose we have outlined the many options available, along with their advantages and drawbacks.
When creating your own online store it is possible to customize every feature of the site so as to optimize its performance and combine it with its existing inventory, accounting and other systems. You can customize your store until it’s exactly how you want it to be, and you can quickly extend it to take advantage of new opportunities.
Several sellers offer tools that help you create a custom online store. Companies such as Microsoft and Macromedia offer e-commerce toolkits providing the technology and the development tools for constructing an e-commerce site. These toolkits include the basic software that runs an online store, software “hooks” that can link to databases or other back-end systems, and even their own programming languages.
If you are going to build an online store from the ground up, you have to be prepared to provide some very basic development, using your own source code to connect together the various database, shipping, tax, fulfillment and page-serving modules that will constitute the finished site. These are time-consuming tasks, and your store will take longer to build than some ready-to-use system. To create even a basic on-line store, expect to spend $10,000 at the minimum, and a great deal of stores cost hundreds of thousands to create and keep running. So unless there are some very special reasons for devising and implementing your own system, we’d recommend using an existing e-commerce tool.
Buying an existing e-commerce system
Many sellers produce e-commerce software packages suitable for a wide range of business needs. By matching and mixing features provided by these packages, you can create an advanced e-commerce site in rather a short order.
Basic e-commerce systems commonly offer ready-to-use store templates or “wizards” that guide you through the setup process and help you get your store up and running. They also come with ready-to-use shopping cart soft that keeps customers’ purchases as they select them, calculates prices, collects the information about customers and then submits credit card information to your bank. More sophisticated systems of electronic commerce let you import and publish existing catalogs on the Web and link your online store to a database or other systems.
Of course, if you agree to use an off-the-shelf system, you lose a great deal of flexibility, both now and in the future. Many of these tools strictly limit the way you can customize your shopping cart, catalog and even the way your online shop looks. Even with such limitations, most businesses find e-commerce software that meets their requirements, and the fact that sellers allow for service and support is a great advantage.
Becoming partners with an e-commerce provider
The most rapid and perhaps the easiest way is to sign up with a service that constructs and maintains your storefront for you. You won’t require your own software, hardware or technical expertise, the only thing you’ll need to provide is the name of your company and a list of goods and/or services that you provide. Some storefront providers have a strict per-month fee depending on the quantity of items in your online catalog, while others charge a percentage of the sales. These providers offer e-commerce leases, and they handle all of the transaction processing, web serving, backups, etc. Some providers of e-commerce services can even set up an account for you if there hasn’t already been one.
E-commerce providers are the most inexpensive way to create an online shop, but you’ll have to sacrifice the flexibility. Most of these services provide a very narrow set of options to customize your shop, and it may be that all of the stores on a provider’s site basically have the same design and look very alike.
Finally, although the majority of e-commerce providers are reputable businesses, some can have hidden charges. A small minority can also be insecure, which is why you should always check a provider, and the most valuable thing to do is not make your choice in haste.