In the early days of the web, many people were anxious about using their credit card online, but now a wide variety of businesses exist who sell solely through the internet. Read on for our guide to setting up in e-commerce.
Nearly all financial systems are electronic now, from the Stock Market to paying by plastic in a shop, but e-commerce refers specifically to buying and selling over the Internet.
Security and encryption
Initially many people were anxious about giving their credit card details over the web and just a handful of online traders like Amazon were considered trustworthy enough by people to buy goods from.
Since then website encryption and security has become much more robust and widely used. The majority of web users are familiar with the padlock symbol which signifies that a website is secure - also check for https at the beginning of the address. Modern browsers check a website's SSL (secure socket layer) certificate for authenticity and warn users if it is out-of-date or inaccurate.
Payment gateways such as Paypal and Worldpay have become trusted ways to transfer money online. At the same time, traditional payment methods such as credit cards and high street banks have enhanced their online banking with methods such as the three-digit CCV (Card Code Verification) numbers and Verified by Visa.
The choice of e-commerce options for small traders has moved beyond the prohibitive charges of merchant bank accounts. The wide variety of payment gateways and e-commerce options available offer online shopping solutions ranging from large catalogues to single-item sellers.
So what are the options and what do you need to start selling online?
One of the quickest and easiest ways to start trading online is to become an eBay trader. You don't need your own website and there is a large, ready market of eBay buyers to shop securely in the trusted eBay environment.
There are charges and commission to pay, but it's a good way to test the water with new products before investing in an e-commerce system or splashing out on your own website. There may be restrictions on what can be traded either imposed by eBay or your suppliers, so check before you sign-up.
Buy Now buttons
Paypal and Google Checkout both offer Buy Now buttons. This system allows you to create an account, manage your stock through Paypal or Google Checkout and generates the code for each product's Buy Now button to copy onto your webpage. This system is suitable for traders selling a limited number of products.
There are myriad shopping carts available, some open source and free to download like Zen Cart or osCommerce, others are available for purchase off-the-shelf. Externally hosted shopping carts like Roman Cart or Paypal's shopping cart will store the contents of a shopper's cart on secure web servers away from your website, while others like CubeCart are hosted within your website.
Some gateways support only specified carts and vice versa, so check your chosen cart and payment gateway are compatible. If you are hosting a shopping cart yourself you will need to confirm that your website meets the minimum technical specification, which may include purchasing an SSL certificate.
Shopping carts give shoppers the freedom to buy multiple items at once, lets you manage your stock through your chosen cart and collect valuable marketing information about your customers and their purchases. On the downside, they are more complicated to set up and configure than Buy Now buttons.
Merchant account charges can be prohibitive but they won't charge the commission which eBay and other payment gateways do. If you will be selling a large volume of products online, this may be the best option. Most high street banks offer merchant accounts.
A merchant account is not something to go into lightly. Integrating merchant account payment processing into your e-commerce website requires advanced technical skills and involves thorough testing.
What is right for me?
Iteracy have a wide range of experience in building websites ranging from Buy Now buttons using Paypal to merchant account processing.
Get in touch today to discuss what's right for your business.