Do You Sell Online? Want To?

by Sherryl Perry on October 21, 2015

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Building an eCommerce website or simply adding an online shopping cart to an existing site can seem like an overwhelming task. There are so many options available including: selling on popular online marketplaces (like eBay, Etsy or Amazon’s Handmade Marketplace), adding WordPress plugins to an existing site, using services such as PayPal, or creating an online store using eCommerce software. Many of  the eCommerce solutions available today will handle many (if not all) of the components you need.

In addition to an online storefront (or simple shopping cart), you need: payment processing, website building & hosting, inventory management, marketing and even CRM (customer relationship marketing) tools. Given the wide variety of options, you should be able to find a solutions that requires either zero technical skills or build-it-yourself options. With the right solution, you can get a store up quickly and easily.

To give you a basic understanding of what goes on behind the scene, let’s take a look at this simple list  of the main components of selling online.

  • Shopping Cart Software which enables you to organize your products, upload images and manage the checkout and payment services. This is often accomplished with scripts, eCommerce software products, WordPress plugins or services such as PayPal.
  • An SSL Certificate (Secure Socket Layer) and a dedicated IP address to secure your customers’ transactions.
  • A Payment Gateway which is the software that forwards your shopping cart transactions to the payment processing system (which allows you to accept credit cards). PayPal is an example of a payment gateway.
  • A Merchant Account with a bank or financial institution where you will receive your payments.

Getting Started With eCommerce:

There are many ways to go about getting an eCommerce store for your business. If you want to do it all yourself, you will need to create a website, and because it is an eCommerce site, you will need to have shopping cart software, inventory management software and at least one payment processing service. In addition, you will need to obtain a domain name and buy web hosting for your site. Some of this can be done by others. For example, you can have someone else design your website and do the work yourself. However, it often makes more sense to obtain all of these needed items from a single source.

3 Reasons for Choosing a Complete Solution:

  1. It is faster to get your business on the Internet.
    A company that provides all of these services has skilled professionals to do a job that is better than you could do yourself, and they have a streamlined operation. So, they are able to produce a finished product for you in a short period of time. This can easily shave months off the time it takes to get your eCommerce business up and running on the Internet. One of the biggest obstacles you will face as an online business owner is getting started. A business that provides all-in-one eCommerce solutions knocks down this barrier for you.
  2. The end product is better
    Attempting to do all of the work yourself can lead to issues with compatibility. Trying to integrate a shopping cart program with your website can become a nightmare. When this happens, it can be difficult to get help because there are many shopping cart programs and many different types of website designs. With an all-in-one solution, compatibility issues have already been worked out.The same is true with payment processing. Often you will need to educate yourself about the entire process of processing your customers credit cards in order to get everything working right on your website. An all-in-one solution already has everything you need to process all of the major credit cards for your eCommerce site.
  3. Maintenance of your site is non-existent
    Everyone will have problems with their site from time to time, but when you have an all-in-one solution, you’re outsourcing the back end of your website. For example, backups for your site are done automatically, and everything associated with your site’s security will also be taken care of. This frees you up to do what you do best, and that is selling your products.Before traveling down the road of do-it-yourself eCommerce website building, you owe it to yourself to investigate all of the services that an all-in-one solution will provide you. In addition to website building, free shopping cart software and payment processing, many companies also offer marketing solutions for your website. This makes an eCommerce package even more attractive, because online marketing can be difficult and time consuming. (Note: Some free eCommerce solutions are for a trial period and you will need to sign up for monthly or annual billing to continue using them.)

Before Deciding:

Before you decide which eCommerce solution is best for you, take into consideration the following.

Your Current Situation:

  • Will you be selling digital downloads, services and/or physical products.
  • Do you currently have web hosting with a SSL certificate and private IP address?
  • What is your time frame for launching?
  • What is your budget?

Software Features that You may Need:

  • Bulk uploading of products
  • Catalog search
  • Credit Card Processing
  • Order/customer tracking
  • Email notifications and invoices
  • Multiple shipping & sales tax options
  • Secure checkout & order processing
  • Inventory management

Learn More:

To learn more about which options will work best for you, check out this article by Sara Angeles on BusinessNewsDaily.com. Their staff researched and reviewed several eCommerce and shopping cart solutions from multiple vendors.

Additionally, they have a questionnaire that will help guide you through choosing a solution based on the following criteria:

  • Your plan is to build an eCommerce site from scratch.
  • You’ll be redesigning an existing eCommerce website.
  • You have an existing eCommerce site that you want to maintain or update.
  • You’re looking for eCommerce/Shopping Cart software to add to an existing site.

Your Turn

What are your thoughts? Do you have an eCommerce website (or do you have plans for one)? Do you have a shopping cart or are selling products through an online marketplace? What has been your experience? Feel free to share your thoughts, ideas and recommendations.

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Abigail Crawford December 14, 2016 at 9:15 am

Hi Sherryl! I wanna say thank you for all your effort, help and information! that´s awesome!!

I am really excited to start this adventure selling in Amazon. But I am a little confused at this point. Because I’m a noob in all this and have no background neither in business nor e-business . I have chosen my product that I want to sell in the USA and I am actually european. I dont have any idea about how to handle all the taxes stuff and if i have to register my brand in the states… The thing is I am starting from Zero now and frankly don´t even know if this is gonna be a succesfull bussines, i wanna try it but i guess my prodedure is not gonna be the same as if it is already an stablished business. I`m kinda stucked in this phase of the process and i dont really find much information on the internet about it.

Do you have any suggestion about it?

IBPS Clerk
Twitter:
August 22, 2016 at 6:03 am

Hi Sherryl Perry, greatly explained post.
Selling online is not as easy as it looks. You first needs an eCommerce website. It can be your own or you can sell on websites like flipkart, amazon, ebay etc.

Selling on your own website is always beneficial for you. But as Sherryl Perry mentioned here, a payment gateway is necessary to do all the transaction. And getting a payment gateway is not an easy task. Pay pal is good but thy charge quite a lot amount of money through your each transaction.

So if you are planning to set an eCommerce website, think of buying a reliable payment gateway first.

John Carni July 17, 2016 at 1:53 am

Thanks for the overview, recently I tried to start an e-commerce service but delivering the product throughout our country costs a lot, its not possible unless we have huge budget for couriers. Adding the courier cost to product price makes it more expensive than “offline price” of the product.
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David B
Twitter:
July 19, 2016 at 10:00 pm

Hi John
It depends on what you’re offering. Some products are not as easily available in “offline” bricks & mortar stores. They don’t sell enough to stock or they don’t carry the size range or other variations the outliers need. Or the person lives away from major centers. For some, on-line has replaced catalogue shopping. People like that are used to paying extra for shipping.

Another angle is to sell through larger stores like Amazon. But you do want to talk to shipping companies to arrange a better price. Otherwise, you can’t compete.

Key for a small business is to find a niche demand and fill it. Selling what everyone else is, you can’t compete.

Don Purdum
Twitter:
November 4, 2015 at 5:50 pm

HI Sherryl,

I’m so glad someone out there is talking about this is simple manner. It is a very confusing issue.

When I owned my web development company, I became convinced that the regulators were trying to keep the average business from having their own merchant accounts and self-hosted ecommerce sites.

The regulations in 2012 were getting extremely strict for PCI compliance and the costs were being driven up as a result.

It’s almost easier now to use a third party company like PayPal, among many, who assume the risk of the PCI compliance. They have the right legal teams and technical staff to pull it off.

It’s become an even bigger deal with security breaches at some the world’s largest retailers, Target just being on of them.

I know many development companies won’t even touch a true ecommerce site anymore due to the liability that they are now exposed to and the big companies are being forced to bring it all in-house.

It’s a serious issue small businesses that can have big time fines if not adhered to and the truth is I’m not sure it’s worth the risk anymore. Which is the way I think the regulators like it.

Interesting post Sherryl.

Have a great evening!

~ Don Purdum
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Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
November 5, 2015 at 1:34 pm

Hi Don,
You’re certainly building a case for why most of us who are thinking about online stores should definitely use a 3rd party solution. Thanks for that! Unless we have deep pockets and the skill set necessary, it’s enough for most of us just to select the right solution for us.

Security breaches are rampant. I can’t imagine storing confidential data. It’s too big of a responsibility.

Thanks for letting me know that you found my approach simple. That’s what I strive for. I know several people who are interested in selling on their sites. So, I thought they might find this info helpful

Ecommerce isn’t a subject that I tackle often. In the past, I’ve had guest bloggers who have shared their insight with us. (For example, Dave Rekuc from Ripen eCommerce has blogged for me before and he’s one of my top resources. Readers can find him on Twitter as @DaveRekuc.)

Thanks so much for dropping by and sharing your insight with us. It’s always a pleasure to see you here.
Sherryl Perry recently posted..Do You Want to Consolidate Multiple Websites?My Profile

Dave Rekuc
Twitter:
January 5, 2016 at 4:43 pm

Hi Sherryl, thanks for the kind words 🙂

Don, its true that PCI compliance keeps getting harder and harder, but sadly the bar for being secured keeps getting raised higher and higher as well.

I think that, at this point, for businesses small and large, it makes sense to off-load the risk of payment processing & card storage to a third party. Whether that’s PayPal or Authorize.net’s CIM program (to tokenize and store credit cards). If you’re blazing your own trail and storing that kind of data on your own systems, its quite a task to be secure.

The funny thing is, most of the security breaches you’ve heard of in the past couple years were because of physical retail locations 🙂 Their point-of-sale machines were infected with malware that syphoned credit cards to the hackers. In some cases for months or years undetected.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
January 8, 2016 at 11:19 am

Hi Dave,

You deserve the kind words. I don’t subscribe to many newsletters but I find yours to be my go-to resource for eCommerce content. What I like most about it is that you don’t use your newsletter as a vehicle to promote yourself. Instead, you use it to establish yourself as both an authority and a resource. I have found several other valuable sources for eCommerce news (and knowledge) simply by reading the articles that you recommend.

As for off-loading the payment processing and card storage to a third party, I couldn’t agree more. That’s a full time job in itself. The risks involved are too great to take in-house for the majority of businesses.

I’m always leery of using point-of-sale machines One of my pet peeves are the new kiosks that many chain restaurants are using these days. I refuse to self-checkout not only because I feel it’s a step toward needing fewer servers but also because I am simply not comfortable entering my debit card info over their wireless networks. I don’t have confidence that they’re secure or that the devices couldn’t have been tampered with.

Thanks so much for weighing in on this. I apologize for not replying sooner but it’s been a busy week for me (on a personal level) and I knew you’d understand. Enjoy your weekend!
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Nikhil November 3, 2015 at 3:48 am

Hi Sherryl,

It has been a long time to be here on your blog. It is the best basic guide that you published over here. you are right actually. It is good to outsource all the responsibilities for making e-commerce site while you are not having any technical knowledge about the development.

An e-commerce is not like a simple blog that each one can setup easily. As you told that we need a payment gateway, a software to handle the products- shopping cart, ssl certificate.

The security is the major concern in the e-commerce portal. so these elements are must have. if a vendor is offering all these things then we do not have to talk to different people and we will be able to get the site live in less time.

After the development, if, in future, we would need of any kind of support then we can contact them easily.

Thanks for getting us the beginner guide for e-commerce site building.

-Nikhil
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Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
November 4, 2015 at 4:47 pm

Hi Nikhil,
It’s great to see you here again. Thanks for adding your insight to the conversation.

I just wanted people to understand what is behind an eCommerce site. It’s one thing if we want to simply add a shopping cart to sell our products but even then, we need to keep in mind merchant accounts and security. It’s in both our and our customers’ best interests to outsource these functions.

There are so many options available these days that there has to be a solution to meet just about everyone’s needs and budgets. I think Sara Angeles did an excellent job in her article “Best E-Commerce Software for Small Businesses 2015”.
Sherryl Perry recently posted..Do You Want to Consolidate Multiple Websites?My Profile

David B
Twitter:
October 28, 2015 at 11:41 pm

I’ve worked with eCommerce off and on for awhile – since Verisign sent me a 500 page document on how to code an application to work with credit cards. Things have come a long way since then.

These days, I work with WooCommerce for a client. I’ve found the interface is not the most clear. It also has the habit of adding more separate sections with each added component making finding stuff challenging. When users reported being flooded with emails over subscription expiration I discovered it was sending reminder emails from 3 different places. It also uses some very odd language in some places, making it hard to understand what something does or when a notice is sent. They do have decent online help – if you know their language.

My preferred Wordpress platform is iThemes Exchange. It’s a newer one but better designed and they’re driving development from customer requests.

For a processor, I prefer Stripe. Paypal is the simplest but the issue with services like this is it takes the transaction off your site. If the buyer bails, you have no idea why or where. Stripe keeps the transaction on site but confidential information like credit cards is not stored locally.

Paypal also had some historical issues leading to a small number who refuse to use it.

For simple digital downloads, I like Easy Digital Downloads. Really simple.

The irony I’ve found is that, while the basic components are free, they charge for add-on components that allow charities to accept variable donations or memberships.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
October 29, 2015 at 10:08 pm

Hi David,
Good grief! Verisign had a 500-page document on how to code an application to work? How many lines of code were there? Please don’t tell me you were running programs using punch cards! (I learned to code RPG II on punch cards. I dropped them – once! That’s something you never do a second time.)

Thanks for the heads-up on WooCommerce. I’m sure most (if not all) of the eCommerce options out there have some sort of quirks. I’ve pretty much only played with WordPress plugins to this point. I honestly haven’t attempted building an eCommerce store. Just selecting a shopping cart plugin proved to be challenging. The free versions all seem to get the job done until you try tweaking them. Then, you find out that you need to premium version.

Thanks for the tip about Stripe. I’ll keep it in mind for the future. PayPal gets the job done for the most part but I was using it for a Canadian site and the shipping options were limited. (At least, they were earlier this year.)

I’m glad you mentioned Easy Digital Downloads. Ryan Biddulph mentioned using Selz. It’s good to hear what people are using. As for add-on components, that is often the way isn’t it?

As always, it’s great to see you here. I appreciate your insight and I’m sure other readers do as well.
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Dave Rekuc
Twitter:
January 5, 2016 at 4:36 pm

Sherryl & David B,

Good starter article, Sherryl, I think this will bring first-timers up to speed with things they need to get started.

WooCommerce – I find it best to stick to WooCommerce when you have a very limited number of items you’re looking to sell. Without complex categorization or filters. Beyond that, it starts to come up inferior to other pure eCommerce platforms.

Paypal – you can keep the user on the site if you use PayPal Payments Pro. It takes a more involved integration, but keeps the user on the site. Many people recognize and like paypal for its security, so I think it does have a small plus from that recognition.

Stripe – a nice simple option as well.

As far as DIY eCommerce, I’m really starting to see Shopify emerge as the leader. Its just an easier A to Z than trying to set up something like WooCommerce yourself.

Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
January 8, 2016 at 11:01 am

Hi Dave,

I’m glad you found my article helpful for people who are just getting started with eCommerce. I believe that undertaking something new (like adding a simple shopping cart) can be less overwhelming if you have a broad overview of what is involved before diving into the decision.

Great tips on WooCommerce, PayPal Pro, Stripe and Shopify. I know several well respected bloggers who are using Shopify. It’s good to be aware of them as an emerging leader.

As always, thanks so much for taking the time to share your insight with us. I hope you’re having a great week.
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Jeannette Paladino
Twitter:
October 23, 2015 at 11:38 pm

Sherryl — sound advice. A few years ago I took a course on how to set up my site for online shopping. I got a shopping cart plug-in and struggled to keep up with the instructor. That course helped me to understand my strengths — and technology and building an e-commerce site are not among them.

Before even retaining an outside firm to help you, though, you’ve got to be clear about what you’re selling. My primary occupation now is writing which is highly customized. I know some writers have package prices for brochures, resumes and such. But that doesn’t work for my targets. So the advice I would add to yours is to first know what you’re selling.
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Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
October 26, 2015 at 8:30 pm

Hi Jeannette,

Your advice to know what we’re selling before we install plugins and eCommerce software is sound, There are definitely different options based upon whether we’re selling digital downloads, services or physical products. Also, currency can come into play (as well as much more).

That’s great that you took a course on setting up online shopping. Even if you don’t use it, I’m sure you must have benefited from taking the course. It’s just nice to stay on top of things.

Choosing the right shopping cart can be way more difficult than it seems. I remember going through several different plugins on Doreen’s site. Each one worked but once they were running, I’d find a little quirk that just didn’t quite meet her needs. Then again, that can be true of other plugins as well.

It’s so nice to see you here! I always value the insight that you share with us.

Ryan Biddulph
Twitter:
October 22, 2015 at 9:23 am

Hi Sherryl,

I am all for faster set up. It’s funny; 5 minutes ago during my meditation session I thought about using Selz again to create and sell a video course. Hold me to it. I go get why folks worry about selling online with all the front and back end stuff but using a robust solution makes these worries disappear. Thanks much for sharing the excellent post.

Ryan
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Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
October 22, 2015 at 3:24 pm

Hi Ryan,

Thanks for mentioning Selz. That’s a great way for people to sell digital, physical and service products without monthly fees. It’s at just 2.0% per transaction too.

I’m looking forward to your video course. I know that you don’t need anyone to “hold” you to it. You produce more content than most people I know.

Thanks so much for joining the conversation. That was a really valuable suggestion. It will be great to see more suggestions from other readers. Have a great week!
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John
Twitter:
October 22, 2015 at 8:21 am

Another big advantages of a full service provider is to keep you from having anything to do with credit card numbers of customers. There are complex regulations about how such information can be handled. And even the largest companies are constantly having their systems hacked and losing customers credit card numbers.

If anyone is thinking of storing credit card numbers of customers just don’t do it. A few companies like Apple and Amazon can probably do it effectively, but most anyone (even huge companies) make mistakes that risk their customers. Even small websites used to capture this information on customers and store it (and then forward details to processors to make the current purchase).
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Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
October 22, 2015 at 3:18 pm

Hi John,

I agree. We have to be very protective of any customer information. Anyone doing any kind of credit card transactions needs to use a payment gateway. It will protect both our customers and us.

It’s always nice seeing you here. Thanks so much for joining the conversation.
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Adrienne
Twitter:
October 21, 2015 at 1:45 pm

Welcome back Sherryl, we’ve missed you here on your blog.

I know you’ve been busy behind the scenes creating some sites like this for clients so you’re the perfect person to share this knowledge with us.

I’ve never given this any thought actually, e-commerce sites aren’t really my cup of tea. I would think that it’s a lot to maintain and make sure everything goes smoothly but I applaud those who take on this type of business.

Anyone eager to get started in this direction should definitely get some advice from you first.

Great to see you again and hope you’re enjoying your week.

~Adrienne
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Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
October 21, 2015 at 11:31 pm

Hi Adrienne,
Thanks so much for dropping by. It feels good to be back in the saddle again! Now, I have to get back in the habit of blogging.

I have been writing sporadically and I haven’t forgotten that I promised a follow-up post to the article I wrote about combining multiple blogs into one website. That is actually very close to being ready to publish. (I just keep going back to it.) My intention had been to add some analytical data to it but that’s a beast I haven’t tackled yet. What I may end up doing is publishing what I have and then tackle that down the road a bit.

One of the first websites I ever built had a shopping cart in it. It was PayPal and it was actually pretty simple to generate the code and paste it in. We were fulfilling our own orders. So, it was really a streamlined process.Unfortunately, we didn’t sell that many but the shopping cart did work.

There are so many solutions available today. I still toy with the idea of setting up a few eCommerce sites for a few domain names that I have. Now’s the time I should do it with the holidays so close. (Uh-oh . . . am I finding something else to do to take me away from blogging?)

It’s great to see you here. I love the direction you’re taking on your blog now. You have a laser-like focus and you’re clearly helping a lot of people. So far, my week has been off to a great week and I hope yours is too.
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Kathy Andrew
Twitter:
October 21, 2015 at 11:35 am

Thanks for giving such a thorough overview Sherryl. One can be lulled into thinking it’s a very easy process to sell online, but it’s much more complex. I looked into it at one point, and decided it wasn’t the right move for me. That said, it’s never been easier and any worthwhile new project needs careful consideration and research. This is a great start.
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Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
October 21, 2015 at 11:02 pm

Hi Kathy,

What’s easy for one person can be difficult for someone else. We all have different skillsets. A lot of it depends upon what you’re trying to do. For starters, would it be your product or someone else’s? Are you fulfilling your orders or is someone else?

PayPal has some relatively simple options for adding a shopping cart. They generate the code for you (based on your configuration) and then you can just paste it in. Then, you’re paying them a slice for being your payment gateway.

There are also some great WordPress plugins that you can use. Of course, there can be conflicts with other plugins and the more complexity you add, the more complicated it gets. Of course, it depends on our budget too.

I know you have a new endeavor underway. If you ever want to pick my brain on this topic, drop me a line, I may be able to come up with a suggestion or two for you. As always, thanks so much for dropping by and kick-starting the conversation.
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