Once you’ve decided to go into business online, and you’ve worked out what that business will be, who your potential clients are, and how you will market your products to them, then it is time to start thinking about building an e-commerce ready site. There are a lot of different ways to do this, and you have a lot of choices in front of you. Most of those choices come down to two main things: how much money you have for start-up and whether or not you have any website building skills.
There are options available to you ranging from the free to the expensive, and from having no prior internet knowledge to being a computer programmer versed in several languages. No matter how much money or knowledge you have, there is a way to build your e-commerce site. Of course, if you are a trained computer programmer who knows how to use HTML, you can build your own e-commerce site in Notepad. This article is more for the people who don’t know how to build a site from scratch.
The (Almost) Free Option
That’s right, these are free. They don’t charge any money. There are a lot of sites out there offering free websites, and you can find them through a simple Google search. They usually have a click and drag based website builder, so they are extremely easy to learn & use. A click and drag based website builder offers a website template with a lot of features you can add on (called Widgets). You click on the widget you want, you drag it to where you want, and you leave it there. You put the images you want, wherever you want, the text boxes where you have decided they’ll go, and you just need to type in the text to go in them. The design templates are available for you to choose from, and you can pick up that best reflects your business needs and customize it.
You don’t even have to pay for a domain name as the site provides you with one. However, these are sub domains and contain the parent domains name. In other words, your web address would be something like http://yourcompanyname.freewebsitebuilderdomainname.com. And that isn’t pretty. However, the free website builders offer upgrades that you pay for, and the more you pay, the more things you get. One of these is always having your website have its own domain name, or http://yourwebsite.com.
The Negatives: Not all of these offer e-commerce features, so make sure they do before you sign up to it. Not having your own domain name looks unprofessional, and it is harder to get your site’s search engine optimization techniques to make you appear high in web searches.
The Positives: If you are willing to pay to upgrade your site, it can be beneficial to build it for free first. You get to see what it will look like. The website builders are coming up with powerful features and simplified dashboards, allowing easy customization and the ability to go live in a few minutes, which is always beneficial if you have a short time span in hand.
The Mid-Price Option
The mid-price option is actually WordPress. Yes, WordPress offers free blogs, but you don’t want a blog, you want an e-commerce ready site. For a fee, you can set up a site on WordPress that is far more than just a blog. Some of the things you get include an e-commerce section, an email address, your own domain name, site hosting, and no adverts on your site.
For an additional fee, you can have your own custom-designed WordPress template, ensuring your site looks sufficiently different from all the other sites.
The Negatives: despite all the add-ons, WordPress is a blogging site and works best for blogs. But, not everyone is suited to writing blogs, and if your strengths lay elsewhere, then a blog-based website might not be the best thing for you.
The Positives: Wordpress staff is always on hand to help you out with any problems you might have.
The Full Expense Option
You can go to sites that sell domain names and buy your domain name, although it’s more like renting it as you have to pay for it every year. Then you can find a hosting company that will rent you virtual space where you can put your website. And lastly, you can pay an expert to design the site for you.
The Negatives: This can be extremely expensive, depending exactly on what you are after and how much the experts charge. Also, you won’t have any tech support if you notice problems a few months down the line.
The Positives: You will have the most professional looking website, the way you want it.
Whatever method of building an e-commerce site you choose; there are more things you need to consider. Most importantly perhaps, how will your clients pay you?
You have several options here, and all of them have pros and cons.
Standard Merchant Accounts: These have a literal mountain of paperwork for you to fill out and fax or mail in. They require a credit check, and it can take you days or even weeks to receive your payments. They will hold back a percentage of your income for several months. Some merchant accounts charge as much as 10% or even 15% on all transactions. However, a merchant account doesn’t care what you sell, as long as it’s legal and your chargebacks stay within what they consider as normal parameters.
Google Checkout: There are terribly mixed reviews on Google checkout. The charges are extremely low, and they offer favorable terms to Google ad words users, and customers like it because they don’t need to enter their details on every new website. But, Google is a data-based company, and this is their latest way to get as much data as they can.
PayPal: All things considered, PayPal is possibly the best option. It is certainly the most widely accepted option. But as with everything else, PayPal has its pros and cons, and you should be aware of them. On the plus side, charges are a low 1.9 to 2.9%, with an additional $0.30 tacked onto every transaction. They have a built in recurring billing system, it’s easy to set up payment buttons, and it is a lot easier and faster to open a PayPal account than a standard merchant account. On the flip side, PayPal has a lot of rules you need to agree to follow, including rules on what you can sell. Failure to comply with these rules will cause your account to be locked, and your money held for up to six months while it is investigated. They also have a buyer protection policy. This means that if an item you ship doesn’t reach its destination and the client complains to PayPal, your account will be locked and your money held as stated above. Oh, and sometimes they will just temporarily lock your account for a variety of reasons, one of which includes a sudden increase in the amount of money you are handling. And if this happens, you will have to deal with no. of processes to get it corrected. PayPal can also be difficult to contact, and when you do finally get through to someone, it’s usually not the right person.
Yet despite all this, PayPal remains one of the best options.