What to Consider when Setting up an Ecommerce Website

This article is designed to help you understand what's required to start selling online. It includes help and advice covering some of the options and decisions you will face when setting up an ecommerce website.

As a summary, to start selling online you'll need to have the following elements in place ...

  1. a good business model
  2. an appropriate domain name
  3. a good web hosting package
  4. the right ecommerce application
  5. online payment processing
  6. data security and PCI compliance
  7. the time and budget to start selling

We're going to look at each of these in more detail.

1 - A good business model

We're assuming you already have a business plan and business structure and you've considered your market and your competitors. If you haven't done this yet then you've missed some of the most important steps in setting up a successful online business.

You should take time to find answers to the following ...

About your customers

  • who are your customers?
  • what are their online / offline habits?
  • what do they want / need?

About your competitors

  • who are your competitors?
  • what are they doing well?
  • what are they not doing well?

About your business

  • can you offer something that's as good as, or better than, your competitors?
  • does it make financial sense to sell your product / service online?
  • how can you make it better / faster / cheaper / easier?
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2 - An appropriate domain name

Some domain names are better than others. Some are short, easy to pronounce, easy to spell and describe the product being sold.

Others are not.

The domain name you choose will impact the success of your business - so pick carefully and make sure your domain does its part in making your website a success.

Your ecommerce domain should be ...

  • descriptive of what you do
  • short or medium length (2 to 4 words)
  • catchy and easy to remember
  • phonetically easy to understand and repeat
  • available with different extensions (com. co.uk, etc)

You may be tempted to get a domain that reflects you or your company name but unless you want to build a brand around that name, or your name is the same as what you sell, it would be a mistake to use your name for your ecommerce website.

If you are targeting a local geographic audience or if there is prestige to be had with your location or address, you could add that to the domain as well.

With regard what type of domain to buy, there are so many to choose from that it becomes a little daunting. Our recommendation is to buy just 2 domains ... the main domain for your country (co.uk for the UK, etc) and the main universally recognised extension (com).

Search for your new domain with Krystal Krystal »

3 - A good web hosting package

Some people think they are doing well by finding a cheap web hosting company. Think again! Do you really want to trust your online business to a cheap hosting service?

There are many web hosting companies to choose from so here's a list of criteria we recommend that your hosting service meets (in no particular order) ...

  • they should be in the same country you are selling to
  • they should provide support by phone and email
  • they should be established to support business users
  • they should have been in business for more than 3 years
  • they should have active social media outlets
  • they should have a good selection of customer testimonials

We'll be writing more about this in the coming weeks and pointing out some key questions you should ask your new host provider.

In the meantime, our recommendation for UK web hosting is Krystal who provide extremely secure hosting from inside an ex-military bunker some 25m underground ...

High Security Web Hosting from Krystal »

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4 - The right ecommerce application

The basic function of an ecommerce website is to present product or services for sale so a visitor can search and select items then place an order and pay for them online.

There are plenty of ecommerce website scripts and options for you to choose from but here are a few to consider ...

Commercial ecommerce (paid software)

If you're serious about your online business and you can find a little room in your budget then we recommend you choose to buy a commercial licence for your ecommerce software.

A commercial software will be professionally built and professionally supported and this will give your online business an edge over the competition.

JShop ecommerce | Single site licence £195
JShop is developer-friendly and comes with a full set of ecommerce features including advanced delivery costings for extremely complex delivery algorithms. Whilst it doesn't 'sparkle' like some of the more glamourously presented ecommerce solutions, it's stable and well-built and relatively easy to customise. JShop used to be our preferred choice and we built a fair few sites using this script with great success.

Shopify ecommerce | Monthly subscription from £20
Shopify is a very easy to use, remotely hosted shopping cart software that lets you setup a professional looking ecommerce site in the shortest time. It's very easy to use (considering the things it does) and very good looking and comes with some really nice, time-saving features. It is currently our preferred choice and all our new shopping cart websites are built using it.

Open source ecommerce (free software)

If you prefer not to pay for the ecommerce software to run your site, there are a number of free options available for you to choose from.

Free ecommerce, or 'open source' software, will do the same job as commercial ecommerce software but often with less ease and finesse. Free software may also be more vulnerable to exploits and attacks.

Additionally, if your ecommerce site needs customisation or additional features, you might find the development time is longer than would be with a commercial platform and you may end up spending more than you would if you went for a commercial licence.

Softaculous shopping carts | Free
All hosting plans at Krystal Hosting come with the Softaculous Script Library which has an extensive range of ecommerce software that is easy to setup through the online installation wizard. The list includes: CubeCart, Magento, osCommerce, PrestaShop, WHMCS, Zen (and many more).

We're seeing lots of activity with the Magento ecommerce software and many people selecting it as their preferred shopping cart system - but there are plenty of others to choose from.

Who Installs the Software?

Installation of your ecommerce software can be a simple or onerous task. Generally, fresh installations are easiest and many are usually fully-automated or semi-automated using online forms. When adding ecommerce to an existing website, care needs to be taken to make sure it works seamlessly with the existing site.

If you're not confident about installing or setting up your ecommerce software then get we recommend you seek help from a professional. Get to know a local web developer who can do the work for you or alternatively, join the community forums from the script you're using and search for someone that can help you set it up.

The web developers we recommend are Poldings Ltd who are long-established developers in PHP and mySQL and work with Shopify, JShop and Expression Engine platforms (among others). They are also the authors of Bond CMS which is a fully customisable content management system with lite ecommerce options.

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5 - Online payment processing

Every online ecommerce website needs to take money: whether online or offline, a transaction of some kind needs to take place. There are a few things to consider ...

Bank Account

Whether you are a small or large business, we recommend your bank account is in the name of our company or your 'trading as' name. This will create a more professional feel when customers ask for your bank details or who to make cheques payable to.

Merchant Account

Favoured by most serious businesses, a merchant account allows your ecommerce application to process payments through the online gateway directly into your bank.

Merchant accounts can take a few weeks to acquire and may cost you a few hundred pounds to setup with ongoing monthly fees and costs. The best place for you to start looking for a merchant account is with your own bank so give them a call first.

Be aware that with a merchant account you still need an online payment gateway which you will need to acquire in addition to your merchant account.

Online payment gateways

There are a number of online payment services that can be quick and easy to setup and use. Often these take a few days to acquire and many have no up-front charges but will instead charge a fee for each transaction that is processed.

All in one processors

These are online services that are fairly quick and easy to setup and use. They generally have no cost to setup and will instead take a percentage of every transaction. They are used by millions of people around the world so you might want to consider including them with your other payment processing methods.

Bank Transfer

Many banks allow you to receive inter-bank transfers free of charge, with no processing fees so this method is ideal for larger payments and transactions. You should be able to configure your ecommerce application to accept bank transfers quite easily. Your customer is then presented with your bank payment details when they select this option to pay.

Cheque / Postal Order Payments

Although this method is used less and less these days, it is still required by some organisations so having it as an option may win you some extra business. As with bank transfers, it should be easy to configure your ecommerce application to accept cheque.

Cash Payments

We do not recommend your online ecommerce business handles cash.

Shopify Ecommerce

6 - Data security

It's essential that your website and all its content is secure. When customers place an order online they want to know the payment is made securely and their information is going to be well looked after. Having the appropriate security levels in place makes your business look more appealing to your customers.

There are various way to help achieve this ...

SSL Certificate
A security certificate for your website will allow information to be processed in an encrypted form. SSL certificates can be installed at any time and we recommend all ecommerce sites have one, even if payments are being processed offsite.

PCI Compliance
All businesses accepting card payments need to meet the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). We recommend you undergo this process after your site is finished but before you go live.

Privacy Policy
Make sure you add a privacy policy to your site so that customers can see how their information will be used.

Terms and Conditions
Make sure present a copy of your latest terms and conditions and that customers are forced to read them before placing an order.

7 - Start selling

When you've got everything in place and you've tested everything works (countless times), then it's time to hold your breath, go live and start selling.

Of course, this is where the really hard work starts - getting visitors to your new website (but that's a whole other topic).

Good luck.

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Vincent Polding - PHP Developer
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