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Building an Online Store What You Should Know

When developing a website with an online store, there are many factors to take into account, from how to build the site, to website design and programming, to all of the upfront and continuing costs involved. Here is a breakdown of some of the important considerations when building an online store:

Building Considerations

There are several ways to build an online store. There are cheap and even free "shopping cart" software solutions on the Internet that are suitable for very small ventures but are not necessarily secure or reliable. Building an online store entirely from scratch can run upwards of 0,000. Here are some options for building tools.

  1. "Off The Shelf" Software - There are companies that produce software products to allow a company and its programmers to add the ecommerce system to a site. These products can range from 00 - 500 but cost of programming and design would be additional.
  2. "Modular" Solutions - Some companies offer "modules" to custom build an online store. They usually offer the service of building the site and inserting the necessary modules so the online store works. Prices for these solutions can range from 000 - 0,000, depending on the company and the project.
  3. Online E-Commerce Providers - Some companies offer solutions that are entirely Web-based and geared toward non-programmers and small to mid-sized businesses. They might include a small set up fee of under 00 and then charge a reasonable "rental" fee per month ranging from 5-0. They might also charge a per transaction fee that should be under 2%. Some all-in-one Web-based solutions might even facilitate setting up your Merchant Services Account and provide credit card approval over an already secure server.

Design Considerations

Fast Downloads - When it comes to website design, fast downloading pages are key to keeping shoppers on a site. The very images that will entice visitors to buy are a crucial factor in the download speed of your web pages. Digital images used in online catalogs should be small both in dimensions and file size. If you're not a graphic designer with web design experience, invest in hiring one to make sure your graphics are strong and effective. Keep in mind that image sizes are described in two ways:

  1. a. Pixels versus inches referring to dimensions of the image
  2. b. Kilobits or "k" referring to the actual size of the file and the amount of space it takes up on a computer

Most online catalogs use "thumbnail" images to display their products on a Web page then allow the shopper to click on the small image to view a much larger image to see the product in detail. Thumbnails are often as small as 50x50 pixels and under 10k. The larger image might be 250x300 and under 75k.

Clear and Detailed Descriptions - Be certain that your online store answers the question, "What is the purpose of this website?" right off the bat. Grab your visitors' attention immediately by showing and telling them precisely what you offer. Product descriptions should be detailed and clear, yet concise and appealing.

Effective Photography - Nothing kills a sale online better than a bad photograph. Without the benefit of touching, smelling or seeing it in person, a clear visual representation of a product is essential. If photos you take yourself don't translate well to the web, hiring a professional photographer is worth the cost to provide stunning images of your offerings.

Cost Considerations

In addition to the fees for building, designing and programming an online store, there are several ongoing costs consider:

Accepting Payments

Consider the costs associated with accepting payment from your customers, such as:

  1. Merchant Services Account - Anyone who hasn't sold products offline probably does not have a Merchant Services Account, an important component to accepting credit cards for purchases. This is an account into which a credit card company deposits your customers' payments for your goods and services. Talk to your bank to get a merchant account.
  2. Online Credit Card Approval - This gives you the ability to actually process and approve payments by credit card. The vendor who provides your Merchant Services Account might also provide a real-time credit card processing system which could cost around 50 for set up with a monthly fee per transactions such as 9.95 per month for less than 1000 transactions a month. If your bank cannot set up online credit card approval for you, there are vendors who can that will work in conjunction with your Merchant Services Account through your bank.
  3. PayPal - Another option for accepting online payments is PayPal. It works like a merchant account, whereby the customer pays with their credit card or through their PayPal account. PayPal´┐Ż then processes the payment and makes the funds available to you. PayPal fees are a small percentage of the transaction plus a few cents per transaction.

Security Certificate - To offer secure transactions on your site, you need a 128-bit SSL Encryption certificate that you license from a security certificate provider. Fees can range from 0 to over 00 a year plus set up charges which might include a set up fee from your web host, the company that is hosting your online store. Offering secure transactions is essential to selling online. Not only does it safeguard your customers' financial data but it assures them that it is of utmost importance for you to protect it as well.

Web Hosting - Costs for hosting an online store are higher than hosting a marketing site that has little or no interactive programming or databases. 0/month with an additional one-time setup fee is reasonable.

There are many ways to build an online store. Finding not only an affordable solution but an appropriate solution for your business is critical to success.

What online store solution have you chosen?

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