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A Sustainable Design Blog

De-Mystifying E-Commerce

by Jennifer Stewart | Oct 25, 2011 | Advice

While you would think that the plethora of online stores these days would have caused the process of setting up an e-commerce website a cinch, you would be wrong. The reason that websites like Etsy and Ebay exist is because setting up an online store is more complicated and expensive than most people think. However, having an e-commerce platform tied to your website is always the most professional solution, so if that’s the route you want to go, there are some things you should know.

First of all, there are about as many different options associated with e-commerce platforms as there are websites to put them in. The basic compenents of an online shopping experience are the shopping cart that takes the order, the payment gateway that processes the credit card, and the merchant account that recieves the money. These three components are how you get paid for your items (a rather important feature). There is a great article on the details of the online payment process here, so I'll let you read that rather than rewrite it myself.

There is quite a bit beyond just processing payment though. The first is that you must choose whether to go for a fully custom shopping cart (read: expensive, but seemlessly built into your existing backend, and made just for your unique products) or a plug-in solution like Big Cartel or Amazon Checkout (read: hosted outside of your website and not very customizable and probably doesn't have all the features you would like). When choosing a shopping cart think of all the things you will want to offer customers like different coupons, free shipping at a certain price point, discounts on full price items but not sale items, shipping carriers, etc. Then work with a developer to find then solution that fits your needs.

Once an order is placed, fulfillment is that next logical step. Are you going to use a fulfillment company or attempt to fill orders yourself. If you use a fulfillment company, what information does the shopping cart need to send them and what form does it need to come in (XML, text, comma delimited)? Do they provide you with a login so that you can track inventory live? Do they send order tracking info to customers? If you are processing the orders, how will you create a packing slip?

Answering these questions and working with your developer can help you find the best solution for you and your product. Even if you're not prepared to launch a self-hosted online shopping store, if that's the goal, there's no harm in talking about this with your current developer so that you can get an idea of what to budget for in timeline and pricing.

Jennifer Stewart is the Office Manager and wanna-be organizational psychologist at Modern Species. For more posts from her, click here.

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Simple is good.- Jim Henson