e-Commerce Guide

Are you new to e-Commerce and full of questions or unsure about one specific aspect? Then this e-Commerce guide written by one of the company’s founders way back in 2001 could be of great help to you with most of info still very relevant to today’s eCommerce environment.

Are you new to e-Commerce and full of questions or unsure about one specific aspect? Then this e-Commerce guide written by one of the company’s founders way back in 2001 could be of great help to you with most of info still very relevant to today’s ecommerce environment.

e-Commerce is nothing new. It’s just a 500-year-old service repackaged: the latest way to sell goods and services.

Often, when you try to understand something new, it helps to compare it to something old. Like a man did at a seminar on e-Commerce software.

As I was talking about the Internet — and how to use it to sell your goods and services to customers in the comfort of their homes — the man suddenly spoke out. "Hey," he said, "that’s just like 500 years ago!"

He was thinking back to the days when merchants had to pack their goods onto carts pulled by horses or donkeys and traveled to their customers to show off their offerings.

"If I understand this right," the man said, "then the Internet can be my modern day cart — except I won’t have to travel anywhere and customers can buy from me at any time."

He was right, of course.

Only today’s "Internet cart" is much more powerful. Every day it presents millions of goods and services to tens of millions of customers — anywhere, anytime. A shop owner can be fast asleep and still sell online by allowing his customers to add goods to their shopping carts.

It helps shop owners provide better services with little effort, increases customer loyalty, helps gain new customers and best of all does it for very little money.

It's not rocket science

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to sell online. It’s easy. There are some pitfalls - but they can be avoided.

e-Commerce: it may sound daunting to you. But don’t be intimidated by the word. Think of selling online simply as opening a shop in a new suburb. A rather big suburb on a huge freeway, where everyone can easily drive past and with a parking lot that will be the envy of your competitors and with a shopping cart for every customer.

All you have to do is pack your goods into your very own shop in this new suburb called Internet. This has been made very easy with special shop building software such as ShopFactory (www.shopfactory.com), so called shopping cart software, which allows you to do this with just a few mouse clicks.

Of course first you have to decide if you want to get involved in selling online. The information I provide in this book will help you make up your mind.

Should you decide to go ahead, you will also have to protect yourself against shoplifting — or as they call it today, Internet fraud.

Just like in any other shop.

I’ll show you how. If you do it right, you’ll have less problems than in a real shop.

What is the Internet?

The Internet is a huge worldwide network of computers connected to each other and you can use it to start selling online.

There is a lot of technology behind the Internet. But all you really need to know is that these computers are connected and can talk to each other.

There is no home of the Internet or a master computer. Just lots of computers all over the world with lots of information all hooked together. If you have access to the Internet, you can read, hear and view all this information from your own computer.

This works, because computer people have developed a complex programming language called HTML. Fortunately you don’t need to know it because your computer and your ShopFactory software translates it for you.

Suffice to say it is being used to create pages with information which everyone can easily read on their own computer - so called web pages. Many pages together from the same person or organisation form a web site: just like many pages make up a book. This is why the Internet is sometimes called the world’s largest library.

But unlike books in a normal library web sites can include text, sound, images, video and - shops.

Almost anywhere in the world people can get access to these web sites by linking their computer to the Internet via a telephone line and a special computer device called a modem. And although it is a little bit more tricky, people can also make their information available via the Internet - even shops - so that anyone else can get access to it. I’ll show you how to do both, soon.

More and more people use the Internet to communicate with each other every day, to get information and entertainment - and to go shopping.

And according to research, millions of people prefer using the Internet to watching TV.

For example according to some research one third of all Internet users in the USA with Internet access at home would rather give up their TV than their Internet (Arbitron/Edison Media Research ).

You couldn’t demonstrate any clearer how important the Internet has become.

When you want to sell online, you can make use of all this technology, even if you know no more than explained on this page. This is because special shopping cart software such as ShopFactory can take care of all the complex techical bits - from creating your online shop right through to publishing it on the Internet.

How the Net became a mall

While the Internet has been around for decades, it hasn’t always been used for e-Commerce.

At first, the Internet was only used by governments and academics. But as it continued to grow and improve, more and more people gained access to it - even people with little computer knowledge.

Today there are hundreds of millions of people using the Internet anywhere in the world. Whilst it didn’t start like this, smart business people realized years ago that, wherever lots of people meet, you can sell them something.

e-Commerce was born when the first shop opened on the Internet in 1994 and started to sell good online - only a year before Steffan Klein and Michael Veith hatched the idea for ShopFactory - the world's first Do-It-Yourself shop building software for non-programmers.

The first shops before ShopFactory were handcoded shops costing huge amonts of money.

Some business people went absolutely crazy and spent hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to try to sell their goods on the Internet. Of course especially at the beginning there weren’t enough customers on the Internet to support such huge investments. So they went broke.

But things have changed since then. Today hundreds of millions of people buy online. And shopping cart software solutions such as ShopFactory allow you to create your very own websites for just a few hundred dollars. There is no need to go broke to start selling online.

The low costs of getting started, the positive results many businesses are experiencing and the ease of use if e-commerce software have led to an explosion of online shops. ShopFactory solutions for example have been used to create almost 200,000 shops in more than 80 countries since 1996.

What is an Internet shop?

You can do business on the Internet by selling goods and services on special interactive web pages.

As you can display virtually any information you want on the Internet, nothing stops you from displaying information on your products and services - for everyone to visit who has access to the Internet.

This is exactly how -Commerce started. In the early stages this was all many people did. They created a number of web pages and included information on their products on them.

And even today this is better than to completely ignore the Internet.

However today things have become a lot more sophisticated - and consumers expect more.

Simple information pages are no longer enough when you want to sell online. Today a real Internet shop is interactive. It allows customers to easily navigate through your product information pages, to search for specific products and to preferably get more information than they would for example get from a catalogue.

It also allows customers to click on buttons to add products to a virtual secure shopping cart - a software program which remembers which products a customer wants to purchase.

Such a shopping cart software program can get integrated into your website by shopping cart software solutions - making creating such an Internet shop easy for you.

Shopping cart software calculates total costs payable, including tax and shipping, sends shop owners orders from Internet customers and may even accept payments on their behalf.

For the customers it makes the shopping experience interactive, easy and fast. For shop owners getting involved has become easy, thanks to e-commerce software such as ShopFactory.

e-Commerce: here to stay

People enjoy the convenience of shopping on the Internet. And more and more are discovering it.

EVERY day, more and more people go shopping on the Internet - and this is just the beginning. It is predicted that soon almost everyone will be doing it. But even today hundreds of millions are doing it worldwide - although not as often as some may want you to believe, and of course not all in your country.

It is easy to see why. Imagine, for example, a young mother who needs to get to the shop. She could bundle the children into the car and battle the traffic, noise, queues - or she could log on to the Internet at home, order what she needs and have it home delivered. Some supermarkets already offer this service - delivery guaranteed within two hours. My wife can’t wait for this service to become available in our home town.

Or imagine an elderly person or someone who is housebound, an executive with a busy lifestyle or someone looking for a product which just can not be found in a shops nearby - if customers even find the time to go there to look ...

As e-Commerce grows, more and more people are enjoying the convenience of shopping in their own time from home.

And as e-Commerce grows up and overcomes some of the concerns people still have about it, it will become more and more essential. Put simply e-Commerce is here to stay, because it makes life generally easier for the majority of people using it.

And everything that makes life easier, is guaranteed to be a winner.

Of course e-Commerce can also make life easier for shop owners. With the right e-Commerce software you can open a web shop with a very small investment - and start selling online shortly after making the decision to do so.

Get on top of it or get run over

Wether you like it or not, e-Commerce has revolutionized shopping. The message is clear. If you don’t sell online, you may be left behind by those who do.

Just over a decade ago almost nobody had heard about the Internet. Today everybody has. Many even prefer it to TV. It is as simple as that. The fact that you are reading this book shows you have understood this. Congratulations. Because with all these people happily adding products to their online shopping carts, you’ll at least need to know what is going on.

Granted, you could just ignore e-Commerce, decide not to sell online and continue with business as usual. It might not even hurt you - for now.

But shopping habits are changing dramatically. Customers expect more and more service. Among these services access to goods via the Internet rates high. Because it saves time.

Remember how no one thought fax machines were needed? Or mobile phones? Today e-commerce software is in the same category.

By providing e-Commerce as a service, you ensure your customers stay loyal to you - and you will gain new ones.

Research in the USA has shown profits increase by up to 10% in brick and mortar shops, who also opened a shop on the Net, and promoted it to existing clientele. This included purchases by many customers who checked out the products on the Internet to save time, but instead of adding them to online shopping carts then purchased them in the real shop, anyway.

Keeping in mind it only costs a few hundred dollars to to set up a website with integrated shopping cart with e-commerce software such as ShopFactory, this sounds like a good deal to me.

And just think of all those small businesses which successfully only sell online; competing and surviving against the big chains.

Get your foot in the door

e-Commerce is still young compared to other forms of trade. But it is continuously growing. More and more consumers go online every day. Most of them have more money to spend than the average consumer.

And the new generations growing up now have already accepted e-Commerce as way of life already - taking it simply in their stride.

Your Internet shop can be a sideline to an existing business - or a new venture.

Your Internet shop can generate direct sales - from people ordering directly via their computer - and indirect sales - from people who browse your web site and then visit you in the real world to buy or call you up.

So even if you don’t sell much online via your online shop, your overall sales should still go up if you promote your Internet shop properly.

Low cost e-Commerce entry

Thanks to shopping cart software you don’t have to spend thousands to start selling online. Doing so might actually be a bad idea.

IF you still think setting up a shop on the Internet is expensive, think again. Shopping cart software solutions which can create webshops for you, such as ShopFactory, are an affordable solution to setting up shop on the Net.

If you can put in some work on a weekend or two, a few hundred dollars will do. That’s how much professional e-Commerce software software such as ShopFactory costs. And they make shop building point and click easy - no special skills required. Or buy a software packet and get in a student to do the work for you for a little extra.

Unless you have money to burn, or special circumstances, that’s all you should spend. The software will ensure your shop has the right look and functions to compete with the biggest stores on the Net. And the same e-commerce software which makes building the shop easy, also makes it easy to maintain and update it regularly.

Your biggest problem however comes after you build the shop. Now you need to let other people know that you have such a shop. So rather than spending thousands of Dollars on setting up shop, you should concentrate on promoting your shop to your customers.

Smart thinking will take your e-commerce venture far without big spending (I’ll tell you some tricks later).

Consider this: two small businesses have an e-commerce budget of $5000. One spends the money on having a designer create a shop for him. The other spends a few hundred dollars on professional software which takes care of the design, employs a student to do the work and the rest to promote the shop.

Who do you think will do better?

The answer is obvious. Unless you tell others about your shop, you may wait forever for orders.

Your Shop Building Options

To open an Internet shop, you must create web pages with your information. You have a number of options and technologies available to you from e-commerce software to employing designers and developers.

1. Program your own shop from scratch
This requires a strong knowledge in writing your own HTML computer code, knowledge in CGI programming and Perl, PHP, JavaScript or Java to create or integrate a shopping cart. This is obviously not the easiest way. These days even professional web page developers use special e-commerce software for the purpose. You can also get e-Commerce scripts, which allow you to simplify the creation of a shop, if you are familiar with setting up such software on servers.

2. Pay someone else to create your shop for you.
This may be a good option, depending on your budget. But it can be very expensive, if you are not careful. Get a fixed price contract so you don’t get caught out.

However with the right developer it can make your life easier. You can also ask a developer to use an e-commerce software package which you purchase for yourself, such as ShopFactory. The developer can then build the shop for you, and when it is ready hand it over including the software - so you can maintain it yourself. But make sure you agree with the developer that you will get ALL files. That way making a few small changes, such as changing a price and adding a few products can easily be done - and costs you nothing.

3. Use an e-commerce software solution.
I may be biased here, but I always liked this option best. The shopping cart software takes care of all the issues, such as design, tax and shipping calculations and so on. All you have to do to sell online is add products and content and publish your shop. Or get someone to come in and do it for you.

You are incontrol of your website and its content - even if you have someone else come in to help you. This can make a huge difference, should your online shop grow and you want to make changes. Since you have the content data under your own control, no one can hold you at ransom.

Website design customization should not be a big issue, either. Solutions such as ShopFactory allow you or your designer to extensively customize a provided website theme or even to create a website theme specifically for you.

4. Build it directly on the Internet
Some ISPs or Service providers allow you to build your shop directly on their system via the Internet. This usually means they assign you an Internet shop address, and if you become unhappy with the service, all the work spent on the shop is lost, as you can’t take it with you.

If you want to build your shop using such a service, at the very least make sure you can point your own Internet address to this shop. You will spend a lot of effort promoting your shop address. If it is owned by someone else, they effectively control your shop. Also make sure you can access your content data. You will effectively be locked in with the service provider, if they will not release your data. Sure, you could rebuild a shop. But would you really have the time to do so?

Also check the connection speed. Building a shop directly online can be very time consuming and frustrating, if you do not have a very fast Internet connection. And very expensive, if you are subject to timed phone call charges.

Your Window to the world

Your web site is like your business window to the world. If you sell online it should look as professional and appealing as possible.

Ever noticed how you always walk past some shops in a mall - never giving them a second look? Or how a dirty front window or dusty display of a store keeps you outside?

It’s the same on the Internet. A web site that looks unprofessional immediately signals to a customer low quality. Even if the products you are selling online are high quality. Just like in the real world.

But there is one big difference.

Unlike in the real world the Internet allows you to create a first class impression without spending much money by using e-Commmerce software.

To create a great impression in the real world, you must spend big on building an impressive shop. On the Internet even a small merchant can look big. After all, customers are only looking at web pages. If these are well designed, customer may even perceive you as bigger than you really are.

This is exactly the trick used by many on-line businesses, who have managed to compete successfully with the big boys.

And it is a trick available to you, too. Wether you use shopping cart software such as ShopFactory with award winning designs provided or spend money on a designer to do this for you.

If you put your business on the Internet, do it properly. Don’t risk your reputation with an unprofessional Internet presentation.

Your Home Page

The first page of your web site - your ‘Home Page’ - is like your street window display. It is usually the first page potential customers who visit your website get to see.

It should look professional - and entice people inside.

Many web sites have a nice logo picture on the first page and nothing else. New visitors have to guess what the website is about.

You would rarely see a shop in the real world which does not let people walking buy quickly know what they have on offer.

Don’t think the Internet is different. Just as people can quickly walk past a shop in a mall, they can move even more quickly away from your webshop on on the Net.

Professional design however does not mean lots of gimmicks. A clean lay-out, a single image and some interesting text work much better than some overloaded pages, which appear confusing and give no clear idea of what the site is all about.

Don’t blow your 10 seconds

While the Internet is getting faster, for many it is still slow. You have 10 seconds to catch your customer's attention. Starting now.

Regardless of how your shop is created: there is one rule you must know. It’s not even a new rule: More is not always better also applies to the Internet.

If you have been looking at different web sites on the Internet, you may have noticed that it sometimes takes a long time before a web site can be seen. Actually sometimes it takes so long, you stop waiting and move on to another web site.

While sometimes a bad Internet connection can be to blame, it is more often than nor caused by web design overkill.

The web site designer has used so many graphics, images, sound effects or other dazzling functions on the page, that the resulting page takes for ever to download.

This is as bad as forcing your customers to stand in a long queue.

The result: Your potential new customer turns away - you don't sell online and customers don't add products to your shopping carts. Some research gives you as little as ten seconds or less before this happens. So during these first ten seconds your web site must start showing at least some information or items to visitors, to make them stick around.

Bad programming of a page even with little information can cause the same problem. Always make sure to have a shop designed for speed - so you don’t blow your 10 seconds.

Make it easy to reap rewards

Your visitors want adding products to a shopping cart to be easy. Don’t give them a hard time.

Have you ever been to a web site where you simply could not figure out how to navigate around? Did you give up in disgust?

You are not the only one. And unless you make easy navigation a priority on your web site, you risk losing your customers in much the same way.

One of the reasons the Internet has become so popular is, that it has become relatively easy to use. But with more and more people connecting, you should expect less and less Internet experience.

Which is precisely what your web site design must take into account.

While you should be able to expect a minimum in navigation skills from your visitors - they ought to know how to click on words and pictures to view other pages - you should not expect them to go for a treasure hunt on your website to find the one link word that opens your Internet shop or provides access to your shopping cart.

A good web site design should take the guess work out of the navigation and give the visitor the power to move around with ease. Of course shopping cart software such as ShopFactory do this automatically for you.

But if you are creating your own navigation, simply use common sense if you are unsure. For example: When your home page comes up, is it immediately obvious that there are links you can follow?

If not, you have a problem. Think of the links as the map to your web site. If you do not give your visitors the map, they will get lost - and will probably not purchase from you.

Ten tips to make your Website a success

A few simple rules can make all the difference, when creating a website or Internet shop.
1. Map out a plan of your website and shop, and arrange your different products and services into different departments for easy navigation.

2. Decide how you want your shop to look. Make sure the text colour and the colour of the background work together - if the text is hard to read on the background, make a change.

3. Different computers support different text styles. If you want your web site to look the same on everyone’s computers, only use Arial, Verdana or Times New Roman.

4. The first page of your Web site - your "Home Page" - is your welcome page. Make sure you mention what your website is all about. This may sound obvious, but many Web sites fail to do it - and lose customers as a result.

5. Your home page will have links to the different departments and the shopping cart inside your shop. Make sure this is obvious, so people can find their way around.

6. Make sure you include all your contact details, even a direct e-mail link from your Web site to you. Missing details can make customers suspicious that you may be hiding something.

7. Make sure your Web site is not overloaded with images and visual tricks, like a cheap radio with too many blinking lights. Gimmicks distract customers from the message you want to convey.

8. Make sure pictures only have a small file size in kilobytes. The larger the file, the longer it takes to appear on people’s computer screens. If it takes too long you will lose customers. If you must use a larger image, have a link to it from text or a smaller image - then the customer will be prepared to wait. e-Commerce software such as ShopFactory will automatically resize images for you.

9. There are two main Internet browsers today: Internet Explorer and FireFox. Your Web site can look completely different in the two if it is not constructed properly. Prefessional shopping cart software such as ShopFactory or your designer should create shops looking good in both.

10. These days most people have computer screens with a resolution of 1024 x 768 or above. However there are still monitors with resolutions of 800x600 around, and many laptops have gigantic proportions - including wide screens which cause many websites to fall apart. Make sure your website is designed to look good in all resolutions and does not fall apart.

Security - the perception counts

Many horror stories you may have heard about selling online are exaggerated or even invented. What is true however is, that many people ignore common sense when starting to sell online.

Security is an important issue on the Internet. But the reason for security being so important is not really that there are so many problems. The reason is that so many people think there are many problems. Even when research shows this is not true.

On the contrary: Web-based transactions can be, in many cases, safer than those taking place over the phone or even in shops built with bricks and mortar.

A shop on the Internet can be best compared with a mail or phone order business. Customers buy products from you without you actually seeing them or their credit card. And you are in charge. They can not walk into your shop to steal your items. You don't have to send ordered goods, if you are suspicious of an order.

According to VISA and MasterCard transactions via the Internet pose no extra risk to customers compared to mail or phone orders if you follow some simple rules.

Other research has shown that companies selling via the Internet actually experience less problems than their phone and mail order counterparts in the real world - partly because of the fraud protection services at their disposal, such as those provided by GlobeCharge.

Because if you use common sense, the Internet can be a safer business environment than the real world.

The next two chapters will help you on the way.

Security for shop owners

Research shows shoplifting can be less of a problem when selling online than in the real world. But don’t take this for granted.

Dealing with payments on the Internet is no different to dealing with payments in a normal business - you need to take the same precautions. Every day, shop owners in the real world must be wary of credit card fraud, bouncing checks and shoplifters.

Fortunately on the Internet you have one big advantage over bricks and mortar shops. While a shoplifter can walk into a normal shop, grab a product and walk out, this is usually not possible on the Internet. The only way a customer can shoplift from you on the Net is by presenting you with a fraudulent order. Using for example a false credit card to pay for the items added to the shopping cart.

Your advantage of course is, that at this stage you still have the products. And when you sell online, you should only fulfill an order, if you feel comfortable that the order is real and the customer can pay.

One Internet business actually delivered goods to a man waiting on a street corner - and wondered when they lost thousands of dollars in a fraudulent deal! Another business lost out when responding to an order which only listed a Post Office box as an address.

If an order is suspicious in any way, check it out. Call the customer. Verify the address. Cancel it, if you have any suspicions. Always remember: If you make 25% profit and one item gets stolen, you will have to sell the item 3 more times, just to make up for the loss.

When selling online you have the advantage over the shoplifter. Use the advantage, and your shop will be safer than those in the real world.

One way to improve your security is by using low cost fraud protection services provided for example by GlobeCharge. This service can alert you to suspicious orders, which even on close inspection may look valid. GlobeCharge checks a number of fraud indicators, such as credit cards issued in another country, customers who are not where they claim to be or orders from high risk countries, for example.

Security for customers

Worries about lack of security are the number one reason stopping people from adding products to online shopping carts. Even if these worries are not always based on reality.

In 1999 it took newcomers to the Internet on average more than twelve months before they made a purchase on the Internet. In 2001 it was four months - and adding products to an online shopping cart to buy it on the Internet is for many just part and parcel of being online.

This clearly indicates security concerns about buying online have declined. But they will never completely disappear.

This means you must take care of these concerns, so you can turn all visitors to your Internet shop into customers.

The most basic way is to provide all your contact details on your website. If possible allow people to call you on the phone. Often just being able to talk to a real person helps overcome concerns.

If you have a real brick and mortar shop, list the address on your web site. You will find that people concerned about security check you out on the Internet and buy from you in your real shop. In these cases your Internet shop can work like a high powered advertisement for you.

And of course you should accept orders in your online shop in a secure environment, in which all orders get encrypted while being transferred over the Net.

The two major browsers Internet Explorer and FireFox support a special encryption method. It ensures nobody can read an order, while it is being sent via the Internet. This encryption method is called SSL.

Because of the high security SSL offers, it is widely used in Internet shops to secure orders.

An e-Commerce solution such as ShopFactory for example comes with free SSL support included. Because SSL is widely known and accepted, you should always use it when accepting orders online, to make customers feel more comfortable.

Also tell them right on your home page that your shop is secure. The more you inform them about security, the better they will feel about buying in your shop.

Or you could use a real-time payment service provider such as GlobeCharge to take care of the transactions for you. While this comes at a cost, it means you have a reputable 3rd party taking care of security issues - which makes customers feel even more comfortable when they add products to their shopping carts.

Don't send orders by E-mail

It used to be that sending orders via e-mail was a reliable method to accept orders. Thanks to spam and mail filters this is no longer the case.

If you are sending an important message to anyone via the Internet, you can no longer rely on them receiving it. It is as simple as that.

This is the result of spam and the many methods people have invented to try to rid themselves of it. Today an e-mail can get lost anywere on the way from your shop to your computer - or even on your own computer.

Your ISP, which gives you access to the Internet, may delete orders thinking they are Spam. Your computer's anti-virus and antispam software may do so, and even your e-mail program may simply file an order away as Spam - never to be seen again.

Unfortunately these days the risk of e-mails getting lost in transfer have become from a business point of view unacceptably high. If you want to be 100% sure that a recipient receives a message, e-mail is not an option.

The same applies to orders generated by your shopping cart software. If you sell online, you should not rely on order forms filled in by customers during the shopping cart check out process and emailed to you. To safeguard the orders, you should use e-commerce services which can store your orders and customer details for you online.

While this will often result in monthly charges, the upside is, that you will not lose orders and should not have to deal with irate customers whose orders you never received. Even one lost order might make more than up for the tax deductible fees of such a service.

Order processing gateways such as GlobeCharge can store the orders for you online - removing the need to use email. And as added benefit many of these services also often offer fraud protection services, alerting you to potentially fraudulent orders. This can often save you far more money than you would save by going down the e-mail route.

How do you get the money?

You have addressed all security concerns. You are ready to sell online. A customer has added products to your shopping cart. But how do you get their money?
For some reason many people think everything is different, if they do business over the Internet. This is wrong. The Internet is just an additional sales channel - albeit a very powerful one. So accepting money from a customer who has added products to your shopping cart is no different to accepting money from a customer who orders a product from you by telephone.

You can ask people to send you a check, money order or to transfer money into your account. Or you can offer them Cash On Delivery or use any other payment method you can think of. Of course you should be satisfied that the selected payment methods meet your security requirements.

Accepting credit cards is a little more complex - as it requires you to have a special bank account. This bank account is called a merchant account. Talk to your bank to find out if they can provide you with a merchant account which allows you to accept credit card payments, or ask them who can. Some banks will require you to have a special Internet enabled merchant account.

Your merchant account provider will also be able to tell you which cards you can accept. MasterCard and Visa are the most common cards used around the world.

If you run an existing business, you may already accept credit cards.

Ask your bank, if this account may be used to do business over the Internet. If they don’t allow you to do this, just talk to another bank.

An other alternative to accept credit cards, if you can not get a merchant account yourself, is to work with a company such an payment service provider, such as GlobeCharge, who will be able to point you in the right direction. Or you can look at PayPal, which is supported by GlobeCharge, and which also allow you to except credit card payments.

These services can automatically approve payments on your behalf when you sell online, saving you the time to have to do this manually after receiving an order (see Accept payments in real-time)

Shopping cart software such as ShopFactory automatically integrates with many payment service providers, making accepting the money online easy. The customer adds products to the shopping cart, an order is created, the customer provides payment details, the payment service deducts the money from their credit card and eventually passes it on to you. And presto, you have the money.

Alternatively the credit card details can be stored and you can verify and approve them yourself by contacting your bank after reviewing them.

Accept payments in real-time

If you don’t want to process credit card payments yourself, or your bank is not willing to give you a merchant account to process credit cards, a real-time payment service provider can help you.

Real time payment service providers can help you in two cases: If you have an existing merchant account and if you do not have one. A merchant account is a special bank account, which allows you to accept credit card payments from your customers.

If you have a bank account allowing you to accept credit cards over the Net, then such a service can make the payment approval process easier.

Without a real-time payment service you would receive for example credit card details of a customer with the order, and would have to approve them manually yourself. This you would do by typing the details into a little terminal hooked to your bank or by calling a special phone number. It is the most cost effective method and works well, unless you receive lots of orders. It could be a good starting point to keep your costs low, until you have established your shop.

If you get many orders, using a real-time payment service such as GlobeCharge can help you streamline your operation. Some of these services also use sophisticated credit card fraud detection methods, helping safeguard you from fraud. E-commerce software solutions such as ShopFactory are compatible with many different services.

If you do not have a merchant account, then these service providers can support you by either helping you get such an account or by accepting credit cards in your name. This may well be worth doing, as the majority of people on the Internet pay by credit card. Not being able to accept these cards will cost you customers. You will need to decide if the benefits outweigh the costs of such a service.

Open your doors to the world

Creating a shop is one thing. If you want to sell online, you must let the world know about your shop.

YOU have used your shoppping cart software to create your shop and you have access to the Internet. But the Internet doesn’t have access to you. If you want to get serious about e-commerce, you will have to change this.

Don’t worry - it’s not difficult. First you must have Internet access. And you need space on the Internet for your shop.

Usually when you get an account from an Internet service provider for Internet access, they give you some Internet space to go with it.

That’s all you need to get started, if you want to do it really cheap. Unfortunately it normally means you can not get a good Internet address which your customers can remember, as the ISP will assign you an address.

For a more professional appearance, you can rent Internet space from your ISP or from web hosting companies such as santu - companies which specialize in renting out Internet space on their computers (check the search engines or ask friends).

They provide you with virtual servers - a term which basically means they give you space on their hard disk in return for a fee. You transfer your shop via the Internet onto their computer - and the world will be able to view it.

Many e-Commerce software solutions such as ShopFactory do the publishing for you - all you have to do is enter your password and username provided to you by your hosting company.

A place on the Web for your shop

To give others access to your online shop, you must publish it to the Internet. Using a web hosting company for this purpose can make your life easier. It also makes you independent.

Web hosting companies specialize in renting out space for people who need it. While some Internet Access Service Providers (ISP’s) offer very good hosting services, Web Hosting Companies can be a better option.

This is because of the traffic they have to deal with. An ISP has to cater for people who want to get to the Internet and with traffic from the Internet by people who want to see pages hosted by the ISP.

A web hosting company only has to deal with traffic from the Internet. In an ideal world your website should come up faster when a visitor calls it - especially during busy times - although of course this does depend on the company you are dealing with. Some will have no problems dealing with access in both directions - while some smaller hosting companies may not even have enough capacity to deal with traffic in only one direction. However keep in mind that by using the same provider for Hosting and Internet access may be like putting two eggs into the same basket. If you can get cheaper access elsewhere, you may not be able to switch your provider, as your hosting account may be linked to your access account - making switching much more difficult.

If you are connected to the Internet, using a web hosting company such as santu.com is easy. You can find a large number of Hosting Service Providers on the Internet simply by searching for them in a Search Engine. If possible, use one which has been recommended to you. Ideally your hosting service provider should allow you to use your own Domain Name (Internet address) and should provide you with the ability to execute PHP programs, as PHP programs can extend the functionality of your website.

When signing up with a hosting company, you will receive a special address to which to publish your web site. Shopping cart software such as ShopFactory can do this automatically, once you have entered this address and your username and password in the software.

If you decide to host with your ISP, as it already provides you with some free space, remember to get your own Internet address. ISP’s usually charge extra for this, because they know using your own Internet address makes you independent of them. After all, as long as you use and promote the address the ISP has assigned to you and not your own, you are unlikely to switch to a competitor.

Your own Internet address

To sell online you need your own Internet address. You can use the one provided by your ISP. A better option is using your own domain name. Make it easy to remember.

If you want to sell online, you want customers to come to your website to add products to your shopping cart. This means you need your own internet address - and easy to remember name which will make customers come back to your website.

The correct name for such an Internet address is Domain Name.

A Domain name is a Web site address that belongs to you exclusively. It is your ‘domain’ and may even contain your own name, such as www.shopfactory.com. No one else can use it. It’s like your own street address.

However unlike a street address a domain name can move with you. So if you decide to switch your web hosting company or ISP, you can take the name with you. This means even if you move, your customers do not have to learn a new address for you.

Your Domain Name should closely reflect your business name or what your business is about, to make it easy to remember. Your Web site address should also always stay the same - so customers can always find you again.

Unfortunately finding such a Domain Name may not be easy, as many names have already been taken up. Nevertheless, the shorter and easier to remember or the more closely the name reflects your actual business name, the better. Also ideally avoid words which could easily be misspelled.

There are also many new extensions to domain names, such as net, org, biz and info, tv and of course the main country extension of your country. Nevertheless today the .com or the main extension used in your country are still most highly regarded among customers. The new European extension .eu is also shaping up to be an interesting alternative to companies doing business in Europe.

When an ISP gives you a free domain name, it is usually not a proper domain name, but an internet address address based on their own domain name - such as www.my-ISP.com/homepages/SteffanKlein.

This is not really your domain name - it is just a website address based on their own domain name. If you move on, you must give it up. Which means you have become dependent on the ISP to maintain your shop address. 

Proper domain names also allow you to have your own email addresses, making you independent in this regard, too - and look more professional.

It is not hard to get a domain name nor very expensive. Ask your ISP or Web-hosting company to help you. Just make sure they list you, not themselves, as the owner of the name. Because if you do not own the name yourself, moving it from one provider to another can become a serious problem.

Let people know you exist

Putting your website and shopping cart on the Internet alone is not enough. If you want to sell online you have to also start fishing for customers.

Getting your shop onto the Internet is a great achievement. But it is only the beginning. You have built it with you shopping cart software - now you must make the customers visit you.

Because unfortunately this does not happen by itself. And if they don't come and products to their shopping carts, all your effort were in vain.

If you want customers to enter your Internet shop, you will have to tell them about it. It is unrealistic to believe you can put a web site on the Internet, then sit back and wait for the money to roll in.

For a start, how will people even know your Internet shop exists?

Like in any business, marketing and promotion will be the keys to your success. That’s why - as explained before - you shouldn’t overspend on developing your web site. You will need some money to advertise and promote it.

There are many guides on how to market your shop on the Internet. But there are also some very obvious methods which cost little money and will help you drive customers to your web site - some of which will be listed on the next page.

Of course the idea is not to spend millions on making your site work. Bigger companies have tried this and failed. It’s all about being smart. Always remember: On the Internet you have every opportunity of competing with the big boys.

How will people find you?

No matter how urgently you want to sell online, people will not find your online shop on the Internet, unless you make it easy for them.

One of the most important marketing tools you will need was explained to you in the last chapter. Your own Internet address. But getting such an address - and making it one that can easily be remembered - is only the first task of your Internet marketing effort. Once you have it, you will have to let people know about it if you want to start selling online.

In the real world you could do this by placing an add in the Yellow Pages. On the Internet there is a much cheaper alternative: Search Engines such as Yahoo and Google.

Your task is to ensure your shop comes up in search engines, when someone searches for a product you offer.

This requires you to list your site with search engines. Most search engines such as Google or Yahoo allow you to do this by filling in a form on their site. As there really are only a small number of major international search engines and some that may be specific to your country, it is not a huge task.

By letting these search engines know your shop address, you are inviting them to your site. They will index your site so it can be found and displayed when someone searches.

E-commerce software such as ShopFactory has been designed to make this site indexing easy for search engines, by including special website maps, which the so called search engine spiders can use to index your site. These spiders are just small software programs that grab the content of your website.

To rank well in search results, you must make sure that your shop and page titles contain the most important search words your customers are actually searching for - and that the text on your website is relevant as well. This is called Search Engine Optimization or SEO.

There is a whole art to SEO, bu basically it means that if you are selling Dolls, make sure the word Doll is included in your website title for example, that you use it in your text descriptions and that you also use the word Doll on your home page.

But no matter how hard you try, getting to the top of search engine listings is extremely difficult. There are simply too many people who are trying to achieve this.

One of the options you have with search engines is to pay for being listed with them for specific search terms. But be careful about the search words you pay for. Some can be very expensive. And very closely monitor what is happening at all times. You would not be the first one who have lost money on services such as Google Addwords without selling a single product.

Such monitoring becomes possible by combining shopping cart software such as ShopFactory with e-commerce services such as Advertising tracking, provided by GlobeCharge.

There is a lot of information available about this on the Internet.

But Search Engines are only one part of the solution to get customer to add products to the shopping cart in your webshop. You should never rely solely on them. After all their is a whole world out there which has nothing to do with the Internet.

Don't just market on the Net

Being registered with search engines is important. More important is to let people in the real world know about your Internet shop.

While registering with search engines is important, it is not nearly as important as many so called Internet specialist may want you to believe.

The simple truth is that even people who use the Internet regularly, are not always familiar with the best ways to use search engines. Or they may not be using them. Or they may not be using the search term you think they should be using to find you. And, of course, with the size of the Internet, and the amount of results that can be returned by search engines, being listed highly in Search Engines is becoming more and more difficult every day - so they may simply not find you, even if you are listed.

Much more potent therefore can be some very simple rules which ensure you will be found in the real world. Never forget that while you can have customers on the other side of the world, getting the ones around the corner to add products to your online shopping cart can be much easier - and just as lucrative.

If you have a bricks and mortar shop, put up a sign with your Internet address in your window, so that passing traffic and all your customers can see it. Someone driving past may have no time to stop now, but can visit your web site later. A customer may remember the address and use it next time, instead of ending up on your competitor's website.

Do you advertise in magazines or newspapers? Do you have business cards, letter heads, business envelopes or use brochures? If you are selling online always include your web address on all of these. Are you listed in the White or Yellow Pages? Ask if they also list Internet addresses.

There are many similar low cost methods to promote your Internet shop in the real world. One of my favorite ones is the shop owner who created card board coasters with his website details and gave them free of charge to pubs. Of course this suited his business, and the pubs didn't mind using his free coasters.

Even in the offline world you can market your website without having to spend an arm and a leg. If you do it properly, you can have a big impact with only a small investment.

Keep looking after your shop

People need to see you are looking after your shop. If it never changes or you do not respond to requests, they’ll lose trust in you and take their business elsewhere.

YOUR Internet shop will need constant attention - just like your bricks and mortar business. It is not a magical, get-rich-quick scheme that works wonders on its own.

First, you must check your e-mails at least daily - to make sure you respond promptly to any customer inquiries and orders. If you do not respond to e-mails within a day or two (preferably faster), people will lose trust in your business. Your Internet shop should also automatically send an order confirmation to your customers, to make them feel comfortable about the order they have placed.

Consider changing your web site every now and then. This could be as simple as changing the text on your first page, your home page. Or you could change the complete look and feel, depending on the season. Just treat your Internet shop like your real, physical shop. Think of different displays or promotions you could use to attract customers.

Keep your Web site updated with new information, new additions and special prices.

This will keep up the interest of customers - and help with selling online. Of course it is easier and more affordable to do this, if you have created your shop with shopping cart software, such as ShopFactory, which can update your website at the click of a few buttons.

Stay in touch with customers

The Internet allows you to keep in touch with your customers for very little money.

ONCE you are connected to the Internet, you will have your own e-mail address. This means you will be able to receive and send e-mails. It’s even better if you have an e-mail address combined with your domain name, as it looks much more professional, and gives your e-mailing efforts extra weight.

These e-mails can be a very potent weapon in your e-commerce arsenal.

In the real world, businesses have to spend huge sums of money to stay in touch with their customers, to send them letters or to call them by telephone. On the Internet all it takes is an e-mail.

You can use e-mails to confirm orders after a customer has added products to your shopping cart, let customers know about the status of their order or provide customer service to customers who want to know more about a product or have other questions.

It is also possible to use e-mail to promote your products. However this can be fraught with dangers, if done incorrectly.

This is because by sending product information out to customers without their approval, you could be regarded as spamming them - the Internet term for flooding people with junk mail.

You will have to decide if the returns are worth offending some of your customers.

Also keep in mind that there are laws in place in different countries which regulate email promotions. Be sure to comply with them.

Take web customers seriously

If you want to sell online successfully, you must take your web customers seriously.

When you design your Internet shop, never take Internet customers less seriously.

Many shop owners falsely believe - because they don’t understand the Internet properly or because a shop on the Internet is not a "real shop" - that somehow customers on the Internet are also less real - and therefore require less attention.

This is why they believe they can get away with unprofessional websites and inadequate product information - or why they don't bother responding to emailed requests.

Don’t make the same mistake, if you want to sell online successfully. While you may have a hard time picturing an Internet customer, they will picture you when they see your website - or don't get a response to a question. They will take their money elsewhere, if they feel badly looked after. And that is very real money.

When people look at goods or services in your Internet shop, they want more than just a picture and a price tag. Give them the full sales pitch if you want to get them to add the products to your shopping cart. These are real customers - even if they buy in an unreal environment.

This does not require a major effort on your behalf. Your shop will look professional when created with professional shopping cart software such as ShopFactory. And there is no law that says you must show all your products on the Net. Pick your best sellers for starters and give them a little more effort. More products can follow, as you become more successful.

E-Commerce Glossary

A quick look at words you may come across when dealing with selling online. e-Commerce is really not that difficult. Here are some of the terms you will run into again and again.

Browser:
Software that allows you to read information and navigate on the Internet The most important ones are Internet Explorer and Netscape.
Domain name:
A Web site address that belongs exclusively to you and takes people straight to your Web site, wherever it is stored on the Internet.
Download:
When you transfer information from the Internet to your computer.
e-Commerce:
While there are many definitions for e-commerce, for me it’s simply selling goods and services via the Internet.
e-Commerce Software:
Computer program that allows you to build a shop for the Internet.
E-mails:
Electronic messages that are sent over the Internet, similar to letters.
Encryption:
A process in which information is scrambled so no unauthorized person can read it.
FTP:
File Transfer Protocol - simply a method in which you can upload and download information to and from the Internet. Good shop building software takes care of this for you. But specialized programs can often do a better job.
Font:
The name of a style of text.
GlobeCharge:
An online order processing gateway.
HTML:
The name of the programming language used to create web pages. Shop building software will take care of this - so there is no need to know it.
Internet:
A worldwide network of computers.
Internet Service Provider:
A company that gives you access to the Internet.
Merchant:
Someone who sells goods.
Merchant account:
A bank account that allows people to accept credit card payments.
Meta tags:
Special information embedded in web pages, which allows search engines to index and classify your web site better.
Modem:
A device that lets one computer talk to another computer via the telephone line.
Network:
Several computers hooked together so the can exchange information with each other.
Online:
When you have an active connection to the Internet.
PGP:
Software that encrypts important information so it can be sent over the Internet securely. PGP stands for Pretty Good Privacy - and goes up to military garde encryption.
Real-time payment service providers:
An online service that will process credit card transactions for you - for a commission.
Redirect URL:
A Web site address that belongs almost exclusively to you - and finds your Web site no matter where it is stored on the Internet.
Santu:
An eCommerce solution related to ShopFactory
Search engine:
A Web site that helps you find other Web sites on the Internet.
Secure Online Shop:
A shop on the Internet which allows secure transactions.
Sell online Selling online:
Offering products on the Internet for sale.
Shop building software:
Computer program that allows you to build a shop for the Internet.
ShopFactory:
An easy to use e-Commerce solution which allows creation of online shops with point an click ease.
Shopping cart software:
Computer program which allows you to build a shop for the Internet.
Shopping cart, shopping carts:
A small program which stores products a customer wants to purchase until the customer checks out.
SSL:
Software called Secure Sockets Layer that encrypts information before sending it via the Internet. It is included in all browsers
Secure shopping cart:
A shopping cart connecting to a secure ordering process.
Traffic:
The amount of  information being passed around the Internet.
Upload:
Transferring information from your computer to the Internet.
URL:
Universal Resource Locater - the technical term for ‘Web site address'.
Web host:
A company that rents out space on the Internet to allow you to place web pages on it.
Web page:
A ‘page’ on the World Wide Web.
Web site:
A ‘page’ or group of ‘pages’ on the World Wide Web.
Web site address:
The address for a web site - so you can find it on the Internet with your browser.
World Wide Web:
All web-sites on the Internet combined - used also as term for Internet.