Congratulations! You’ve decided to start an online business and build an e-commerce website. But where do you begin?
I Want To Start An Online Business, But Should I Host My Own E-Commerce Site?
Although the Internet has matured over the past two decades into a mainstream, stable and relatively secure platform for facilitating business transactions of all types, that doesn’t mean it’s too late to “join the party” and create an e-commerce website! In fact, chances are you’ve already conducted business as a merchant online. Millions of people in the United States have sold items through online auction sites like eBay and classified advertisement sites like Craigslist, and many of those people maintain thriving, ongoing businesses using these marketplaces and others like them to sell goods and services without the need to host their own e-commerce sites.
Using Third Party Platforms
There are advantages and disadvantages to using third-party marketplaces as a means to conduct e-commerce. Third-party e-commerce sites such as eBay offer hosting, checkout services and many secondary services such as shipping services, insurance and advertising their site to attract new potential buyers. Some disadvantages of these marketplaces include seller fees, restrictive terms of service, and restrictions and lock-in policies on payment methods and other services. Hosting your own e-commerce site allows you to select your own platform, your own merchant services, your own terms and conditions of use and eliminates costly selling fees.
Okay, I’m Ready To Start My Own E-Commerce Site!
Before you begin selecting a platform and services for your e-commerce site, it is important to carefully map out what you are selling and how your online business will operate. Even if you are an experienced online merchant who has utilized third-party marketplaces in the past, it is necessary to review your existing business plan in detail with your web designer and developer.
How Are You Selling?
First, it is necessary to identify not only “what” you are selling, but “how” you are selling. Are you selling one good and/or service or multiple goods and/or services? If you are selling physical goods, are you selling goods that require third-party shipment, or are you selling and delivering perishable goods such as fresh foods or flowers yourself? If you are selling virtual goods, will you be selling items strictly as one-time downloads, or will your customers be paying an ongoing subscription fee to access content on-demand? Will you require all of your customers to pay via major credit cards, or will you also offer alternatives such as PayPal? Will you be offering digital products or services for complimentary download with a method for accepting voluntary donations?
The What and How
It is important to establish both the “what” and the “how” of your e-commerce site beforehand so your web designer and developer can assist you in choosing the right platform and services to meet your needs. While almost all e-commerce sites have common elements, such as a virtual shopping cart and checkout process, it is important to know beforehand if you want to incorporate elements such as user accounts, promotions and virtual coupon codes, currencies and taxes options and product customization such as color and sizing options.
Food For Thought
One platform or service may be appropriate for one type of business, but not for another. For instance, if you are creating an e-commerce site for a pizzeria, product customization is absolutely crucial while shipping options are not. If you are an art gallery specializing in unique works of art, product customization is pointless while offering the proper shipping options is crucial to your business. Our local pizzeria may only have one or two locations, and therefore customers, in a single city, while our art gallery has patrons all over the world. Multiple currency and tax calculations are a non-concern for our pizzeria, but they are a real concern for the art gallery.
By planning and identifying exactly what your business will require of your e-commerce site, you will be ready to make the right choices regarding platforms and services.