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Basic questions about e-commerce

Ecommerce Buyer's Guide

What type of system do you want?
The first thing you need to decide is the type of e-commerce system you want. Do you want a straightforward electronic shop window with orders placed by email, or do you want instant purchasing and despatch that links with other aspects of your business?

Who do you want to host your e-commerce software?
If you already host your own website and have the relevant staff available, then it's certainly logical to consider hosting your e-commerce facility. You should be able to integrate the new software with your current stock and ordering system; customise your e-commerce shop to suit your products or service and your style of business; and maintain and update the e-commerce process as necessary.

If you don't currently host a website but you favour this option, you'll need appropriate servers, an SSL security certificate, and in-house expertise.

Another option is to use an outside company to manage your e-commerce software. This is possibly the best route to take if you want to experiment with online sales and not commit too much money to the venture. It's also a good choice for small companies wishing to increase their sales by developing an Internet presence. The drawback is that you may have less control over the type of e-commerce system you want, and you may have problems linking the software to any of your internal systems.

Who do you want to create the online shop?
Whoever hosts your e-commerce software, you can either create your online shop yourself or ask an e-commerce service provider to do it for you according to your specifications. If you're new to e-commerce or if your proposed online shop is likely to be complicated, you may do best to choose a professional e-commerce developer.

Developers resolve potential problems and make sure your software runs smoothly and effectively: the last thing you want is for your online shop to confuse customers or give them trouble when they try to make a purchase.

If you want the shop to integrate with your other computer-based systems, you might want to consider using an e-commerce consulting company. Such a firm can review your current set-up and give you advice about your options.

That said, your own technical staff may well be able to handle the project. Creating an online shop and hosting it can be straightforward for someone with experience, although arranging a credit and debit card processing service as part of a merchant account, and ensuring that Internet security is 100% foolproof, can pose difficulties.

Who do you want to maintain the shop and manage the orders?
You can control your online shop by maintaining it in-house. If you ensure you get an interface that's simple to use, you should be able to do this without much of a problem. On the other hand, an e-commerce service provider can do the maintenance and updating for you and administer the orders you receive. You'll obviously have to pay extra for this service but the time you save within your business may make this option attractive.

Do you want to use an online payment system?
Increasingly, most online shops allow customers to pay for the goods there and then by credit or debit card. Your bank can almost certainly offer you a system that links directly to your account. It's also probable that your e-commerce service provider can work with any system a bank offers, although it's wise to confirm this in advance.

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