Setting up your own online shop can be hugely exciting and a great way to add to your income, particularly if you already have a physical shop on the high street. However, an e-commerce website is a bit more complex to build than your average ‘brochure’ site and requires plenty of planning and thought as well as thorough execution. Here are just some of the questions you might have before you get started:

How much is it going to cost me?

The cost of your e-commerce website will depend entirely on its complexity and functionality as well as on the overall design, layout and content. The actual cost of setting up a simple e-commerce solution (the system that allows people to pay for your product/service) is not all that much – but once the technology is in place there are other things to think about. They include:

Professional graphic design that ensures your site looks great. Think of this as the decor of your store.
Branding, colours and layout so that your site is in keeping with any logos or existing branding that you have.
The addition of product information and images so that customers get a really good idea of what your products look like and are encouraged to buy them.

All this takes time and real design flair, and unless you feel confident that you have the skills and software to do it yourself, it’s a much better idea to get a professional to do it for you. But don’t worry – it’s a good investment.

Will I need to set up a credit card merchant account?

Not necessarily – there are other options. You can ask your customers to print out an order form and post it to you along with a cheque, or you can ask them to call you and give you credit card details over the phone. There are also a number of payment process companies that you could consider using – PayPal or Worldpay are just two examples. However, if you want to make the shopping experience as hassle free as possible for your customers then we would strongly recommend setting up a credit card merchant account. If customers feel that paying for or processing an order is going to be a nuisance there is a chance they will just abandon their shopping cart and bounce to another site – which is definitely not what you want. Make it as quick and easy for them as possible and you’re more likely to get the order.

If you decide to go down this route then your best bet is to deal with the same bank that handles your business account as you’re more likely to get a better deal on the transaction fees – plus you already have a good relationship with them. If this isn’t going to work out then make sure you do plenty of research before you make a final decision. Pay particular attention to the fee structure so you know how much each transaction will cost you.
What is a payment gateway?

If you have a physical store on the high street, your payment gateway is the credit card machine where customers enter their PIN. On an e-commerce site the payment gateway is a software interface that takes the payment information from the shopping cart or checkout page and processes the payment.

How can I make sure my site is secure?

Online security is hugely important for your website and if customers don’t feel safe making a purchase you could end up losing a lot of potential orders. A security certificate reassures customers that your site uses technology that will encrypt any information they provide and make it very difficult for phishers to capture payment details. Some of the most reputable security providers include Verisign, Thawte and GeoTrust and your customers will be much more likely to continue with their order if they see one of these logos on your site.

Should I have a shopping cart?

In a word, yes. This allows customers to add lots of different products to their order, just as they would in a high street store. If they have to make separate transactions for each item they want to buy, they probably won’t come back for a second visit!

How do I make sure people find my site?

Just as a high street store will suffer if it’s tucked away in a little known corner of the town, if people don’t know that your website exists, you’ll struggle to make a profit. A good marketing and advertising campaign is essential and can include traditional media like radio, TV, and print as well as online advertising like banners and digital press releases.

You can also use pay-per-click online advertising on all search engines that offer a sponsored listing. This means that you pay a certain amount every time someone ‘clicks’ on your ad and is taken through to your website. It can be expensive but is a great way of kick-starting your campaign.

It’s also very important that people can find your website in a natural or ‘organic search’ and in order to make sure this happens you’ll need to undertake a search engine optimisation (SEO) campaign. The aim of an SEO campaign is to ensure that your website appears on the first page of a Google search when people are looking for your product or service and type a ‘keyphrase’ into the search bar. Bear in mind that, unless you are in a very niche market, competition for those keyphrases can be fierce, so it can take months of work to get you near the top. But once you get there, you’ll really start to notice the difference in your traffic.

How do I receive orders from my customers?

A system like OM E-commerce provides a simple and easy to use administration panel. Your orders will all be stored on an ‘orders’ page which is password protected so that only you can view the information.

How do I update my site with new products and information?

A simple user interface will allow you to add products and information to your site as and when you need to update it. Don’t worry – you don’t need to be a HTML expert, as it is all pre-coded for you to create professional looking listings.