Selling products on-line requires a very different setup from your run-of-the-mill blogging site. Lets look at the things you’ll need to think about when setting up an eCommerce website and help to explain why they cost more to design.
First let me tell you what we’re not going to cover in this article.
We’re not assuming that an eCommerce website is a single web page with some PayPal button codes inserted onto it.
The PayPal buttons are great and work very well for those selling a handful of items, but we’re taking eCommerce to the next level and giving the customer a better on-line shopping experience.
Most modern eCommerce website are applications. They have a user interface, administration settings, store data in a database and follow a work-flow of processes. We’re going to touch on some of these areas.
An eCommerce website can be thought of as a play with actors performing it’s scenes.
The main actors in an eCommerce website are:
* The Customer – buys products
* The Website Owner – ships bought products & gets paid
* The eCommerce Application – interface between all the actors
* The Payment Gateway – handles payment transactions (more on this later)
* The Merchant/Business Bank Account – Website owner’s business bank account (more on this later)
The main buying process of an eCommerce website (‘the play’) happens as follows:
1. Customer browses product catalogue
2. Customer adds product to basket
3. Customer buys product and enters check-out process
4. eCommerce Application contacts a Payment Gateway
5. Payment Gateway provides secure customer shipping and payment details entry form
6. Customer securely enters shipping and payment information
7. Payment Gateway contacts Website Owners’ Merchant Bank Account
8. Merchant Bank Account processes payment transaction and returns control to Payment Gateway
9. Payment Gateway returns Customer to eCommerce Application
10. eCommerce Application notifies Customer of successful (or failed) payment
11. eCommerce Application notifies Website Owner of purchase
12. Website Owner ships product to Customer
Of course there’s a lot more detail going on in each step, but hopefully you get the general idea that setting up an eCommerce application is a tad more complicated than your regular blog-style website.
Where Do You Start?
Sounds silly right, but the first step you need to do is think about the types of things you’ll be selling on-line.
Are these products?, i.e. physical items that require packaging and posting or services provided by yourself or another provider e.g. Professional Yak Grooming.
How may products or types of services are you going to offer? Local or International? Are some seasonal? Do you have a finite stock level for particular items? Do you plan to use special offers & discounts? Do you even like yaks?
This leads to customer and payment questions.
Who are your customers? Where are they? How are they going to pay; credit card, cheque, PayPal? Which bank account will I need to set up?
And then there are the support questions.
How do you handle returned goods? How do you refund payments? How do you handle complaints?
Having a think about the products and services you’re going to offer is vital because the first thing a web designer is going to ask you when you’re requesting a quote is “How many things are you selling and to whom?”
The reason is of course time and costs.
Selling 50 products to a UK only customer base using PayPal requires a very different setup and hence costs, to one selling 1000+ products internationally and taking credit card payments.
Lets look closer at some of the important eCommerce application areas.
The eCommerce Application
Essentially, an eCommerce application is a bespoke Content Management System (CMS). So as well as updating posts and blogs it specialises in updating products and services and supporting commerce functions.
Like any CMS, the application splits the eCommerce website into two major parts; the front-end or shop-front where the customer can browse and buy goods and the back-end where you login to an administration dashboard and manage the website options, including the product catalogue.
The Product Catalogue
This will likely be your most important concern and is central to any eCommerce website design.
The product catalogue is where all your goods-for-sale data lives. The product name, description, cost, stock level, pictures etc. are all stored in here.
We sometimes get people asking which files their products are stored in and they get in bit of a tizzy when they can’t find them on the server.
Usually, product catalogues are stored in a database, but don’t worry – you don’t have to know how to use a database. The eCommerce application does that for you through the product catalogue interface in the Administration Dashboard.
Being able to manage this yourself is vital, otherwise you’ll be going back and forward to the web developer and the costs will rack up.
Thankfully, the eCommerce applications that we use, Magento and WordPress e-Commerce, once installed, allow you to manage your own product catalogue from within the web browser.
The Magento product catalogue has advanced options and allows for things like adding discount codes, customer reviews, product videos etc., whereas the WordPress e-Commerce catalogue offers a simpler solution while still covering the essential requirements you’ll need to sell stuff on-line.
So how do you go about entering and updating all this product information?
The Admin Dashboard
Accessing a special web page on your site and entering a username and password will take you to the options part of your eCommerce website. This is commonly known as the Admin Dashboard.
Here, you will be able to update almost every aspect of the website including accessing the product catalogue, shipping costs, currency exchange rates, payment gateways, sales reports etc.
Whichever eCommerce solution you choose from us, we’ll setup some or all of your product catalogue and make sure that customers can purchase items and that you get paid through a payment gateway (more on that late