starting an e-commerce site


This Article was written before PCI Compliance became a requirement in most states.

Most small businesses need online-ordering to supplement their business.

static-content sites

You can have e-commerce with something as simple as a paypal pay form. this requires a paypal seller's account and at least some knwledge of HTML so you can insert the form in the appropriate place in your page. If you don't want to make your customers uneasy, you will also want to put your order form under SSL. usually this means a hosting company that has the SSL feature and typically keeps SSL stuff in a separate directory.

shopping carts

What you need to think about in terms of your business strategy, and things to get:

  • If you haven't already, you might need to think like a mail-order catalog business.
  • Your existing merchant account (if you have one) probably isn't internet-enabled.  That is something they charge extra for. Paypal is very inexpensive option.
  • A return policy.
  • Bulk orders:
    • Do you offer a price discount for orders of a certain quantity? Price breaks are often at 1, 5, 25, 100, 500, 1000, 5000, 10000.
    • How different will shipping and pricing be if a customer orders in bulk, and what sort of delivery options will you choose?
  • Is shipping all a flat rate regardless of quantity, or does shipping costs disappear for the user after a certain quantity?
  • Will shipping and handling costs be folded into the product pricing?
  • Do you have the appropriate packaging boxes and materials for bulk ordering?
  • Quotas for order quantities above a specified limit. For example,
    • If you can only handle 150 orders in a week, any order above 150 will be handled specially.
    • If a large company orders 10,000 as gifts to their employees.
    • If they do, it would be a good idea to communicate your lead time.
  • If you do receive a sudden large order, do you have a relationship with a manufacturer who has the capacity you require?
  • Merchant accounts often have a startup fee (grand-totals about $700-$1000), monthly report fee ($10?), in addition to percentage-of-sales fees (2%) and per-transaction fees ($0.30). If your product is less than $1, there probably won't be a profit margin unless you require a minimum order and package in bulk.
  • Do you have professional-quality pictures or image files of your products?
  • Brief and long product descriptions
  • Do you have the text you require on a word processor for the main page
  • Company logo in a file (not in print)?
    • Please note that scanned images and digital camera photos may not come out well!
    • things generally work better if they are done with a vector graphics editor such as Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw X4, since vectors are scalable, which means that you can have any size you want without the jaggies.
    • Generally this is done by a company that does logo design.
    • Have them produce a number of sizes of images for you, some for the web, some for print, some for boxes, etc. you will need to specify sizes in inches and dpi and for what purposes and they will do the rest.
    • for web images, consult with your web designer. probably no more than 100-200 pixels high, likely smaller.
  • Images for any animations? - this is often gotten from a database from the vendor.
  • images for products - this is often gotten from a database from the vendor.
  • Product categories - this might be gotten from a database from the vendor - maybe.
  • Product Specifications - this is often gotten from a database from the vendor.
  • Product overviews - this is often gotten from a database from the vendor.
  • Who is the audience for your site? Who are your customers, if you have a specific target?

Please consider that an e-commerce site takes several weeks to put up. Site look-and-feel changes, textual changes, order/setup/verification of SSL, link editing all require time. Figure 1 week for SSL, 1 week web hosting setup, and site design is minimum 1 week simultaneous with the previous 2 items.
Non-Recurring Engineering (NRE) charges include your hosting, SSL, merchant accounts, domain name registration, any associated setup fees for these items.

Copyright©2001 Jim Michaels