How to build an online shop

Growth figures of 54% a year and a turnover of more than £45 billion (source: CapGemini) are the sort of figures to get anyone in business excited. Even more so when you realise this represents only 5% of the total spend in that sector, so there’s plenty of room for growth. You or your company could have a piece of this action and you don’t need large flash offices or stores – or even a garden shed!

How to build an online shop

Click below for our reviews of online shop services and software:
1&1 eShop
Actinic Business 9
Amazon Marketplace
Ebay shops
osCommerce Online Merchant 2

See Mark’s step-by-step guide to setting up an online shop with 1&1 eShop

We’re talking about e-commerce, but before you turn the page thinking that it’s too difficult or not for you, consider that the UK has the highest online spend per person in the world: the average online shopper spends £1,600 a year, and this figure is set to rise.

This feature will reveal a selection of the options available to add e-commerce to your website, some of which could take less than an hour to implement.

First, let’s tackle the reasons people give for not creating an online shop. Many have been put off by stories that credit card companies wouldn’t be interested if the company applying for a merchant account was newly established. Not only is this no longer true, but many e-commerce solutions don’t even require a merchant account with a credit card company and, although a normal credit card account will make things easier to set up, some will work with a bank account.

You don’t even have to set up a website with encryption by paying for a SSL certificate from VeriSign, as the part of the transaction where credit card details are entered into the web page is handled on the payment provider’s site. You can let them worry about the necessary SSL certificates. So what are you waiting for? Let’s make some money!

Choosing the right route

There are so many ways of doing business on the internet that the range of choices can be confusing. But as with all business decisions, it boils down to potential profits, potential costs and the needs of your business as it grows.

There are four key routes you can take: software, hosted, service and “roll-your-own”. The route you choose depends on many things, but the most visible factor is money.

The charges made by each of the services varies considerably so this may be an important factor if your products are particularly price-sensitive or your margins are low. But it’s not the only consideration.

The time spent coding a solution can be considerable, particularly if thorough testing is required, so time needs to be allowed in your development schedule. This time is translated into a cost: even if you’re doing the coding yourself, you’re not selling while you’re coding.

The big attraction of a roll-your-own solution, aside from lower visible costs, is flexibility. But don’t underestimate the work: it’s not simply a matter of writing a web page that adds products to a basket, you need to consider returning customers – do they want to go through the process of entering their details again or is your website going to store them? If you do store them, the customer must be able to edit their profile. How do you handle the order? Do you just rely on an email to the customer and yourself to tell you of the order, or do you store the details of that order in a database on the web server? How do you handle stock levels, refunds and returns? What management pages do you need? The more you think about it the bigger the project can become and the off-the-shelf products can start to look tempting.

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