In a three-year study of 40 Fortune 500 companies, Peer Insight found that those focused on customer experience design out performed the S&P 500 by a 1:1 margin from 2000-2005.
Ecommerce is not easy, but it is getting easier. There are a number of hosts that offer storefront systems. They are called Commerce Service Providers (CSPs). There are some excellent software solutions you can buy. I have listed a number of both further down this page. Before you open a store, you need to get a lot of ducks lined up in a row. Here are some considerations:
- The most important requirement of an ecommerce site is that the user experience must be comparable to other ecommerce sites, especially your competitors. Sites like Amazon.com have set high expectations. You cannot look amateurish. The customer's satisfaction must come before your own.
- Your site must adhere to the requirements of the W3C (the World Wide Web Consortium), it must be optimized so it is viewable on all recent computers, all major operating systems (Mac, Windows, Unix, Linux), and with all major browsers (Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Opera, Netscape). It must meet minimum standards for the visually impaired and it be easy functional on mobile devices such as cell phones, Blackberries, Palm Pilots, and other PDAs.
- Security. Security. Security.
- Greet repeat visitors.
- Easy cart review and modification.
- Customer can choose between account registration and express checkout.
- Easy checkout.
- Easy registration after cart is filled.
- Easy password reminder system.
- Easy customer profile editing.
- All major credit/debit cards must be accepted. House credit card, Google wallet, Microsoft wallet, and PayPal accepted.
- Ability to enlarge product pictures or turn them around.
- Return to browsing from cart works intuitively.
- Persistent cart if customer logs off.
- Clear cart button.
- Wish lists and gift lists.
- Search and sort robustness.
- Robust help system.
- View past orders.
- Printable pages.
- Robust shipping options and calculators and the ability to prevent orders from the wrong states or countries. Calculate by weight, distance, carrier, mode. Ship to multiple locations.
- Gift certificate redemption.
- Email opt-out.
- Coupon redemption or club membership discounts at checkout.
- Easy return system.
- Rapid email confirmation of orders.
- Ability to rate products.
- Send to a friend feature.
- Mac friendly.
- Competitive pricing with free upgrades.
- Competitive credit card processing fees.
- High quality free unlimited tech support with rapid response time.
- Easy to manage without programming skills.
- Easy to add, delete, and change product info.
- Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) design and cell phone compatibility.
- W3C compliant.
- Many templates from which to choose.
- Ability to easily modify canned templates.
- Customizable look and feel and compatibility with your navbar.
- Supports Dreamweaver, GoLive, php, ftp.
- Interface with your current pricing and inventory system.
- Unlimited product capacity.
- Ability to create many categories of products.
- List a product in several categories.
- Multiple levels of password access. In other words, can you let some employees edit product descriptions but not prices, and let others edit prices but not descriptions?
- Calculate minimum order for delivery or free delivery.
- Handles product options such as different sizes and colors.
- Storage for wholesale prices and ability to calculate profit per sale.
- Featured products box.
- Quantity discounts.
- Regular/sale prices.
- Show related products for up-selling and cross-selling.
- 1-click enable/disable switch for products and categories.
- Rapid payment processing.
- Direct deposit.
- Ability to delay card charging until products shipped.
- Rapid email and or RSS transaction activity notification.
- Contact people who abandon shopping carts.
- Calculates taxes properly. Multiple tax options (one rate for groceries, another for merchandise, another for tax exempt).
- Giftwrapping and gift card options.
- Customizable thank-you page, merchant policy page, confirmation email.
- Event sales.
- Recurring billing and renewal for memberships and subscriptions. Subscription hold service.
- Add invoices for orders taken by phone, in person, or via email.
- Print shipping labels, packing slips, and back orders. Shipper interface.
- Accounting software export or interface.
- Back order and futures handling.
- Paypal compatible.
- Google Checkout compatible.
- Google Analytics compatible. Other analysis tools if needed.
- Source tracking at entry and source code at checkout.
- Moderated product reviews.
- Ability to create sections, promos, featured items.
- Out of stock management.
- Search engine friendly.
- Submission to popular shopping search engines including Yahoo! Shopping, Shopping.com, Shopzilla and Froogle.
- Side-bar "mini-cart" viewable at all pages.
- Audit trails showing who has modified things.
- Recommended by current customers in your industry.
- Mac friendly.
Commerce Service Providers
Here are some, but by no means all, CSPs to consider. Features change rapidly so the info below might be slightly out of date. Let me know if you find discrepencies, please.
http://www.paypal.com - They offer a very good credit card processing service and shopping cart at no charge other than the card processing fees. This is a very good option for small merchants.
http://checkout.google.com - Google Checkout allows your customers to login quick and easy if they have registered with Google or any other site using Google Checkout. And the number is growing rapidly. It is an appealing option because you can use thei AdWords funtion in conjunction with Checkout and have your products show up in ad panels on related swebsites. They even offer you a discount on the transaction fee if you use AdWords. There are some restrictions on products you can sell, however. For example, not alcohol is allowed.
http://shopify.com - This may be the easiest cart system on the net. Easy to set up and manage, they host for you and charge a small percentage of the sales.
http://rightcart.com - Very clever technology to offer products for sale on your website and blog by simply adding some code to your pages. There is no purchase price. They take 1% of sales. You don't have to have your own products to sell, you can sell books from Amazon with rightcart easily.
http://www.virtuemart.net - I've heard very good things about this system. Highly customizable.
http://www.prostores.com - Owned by eBay, this hosted shopping cart solution is suitable for large and small marketers and is easily customized. Has many devoted followers.
http://www.bigstep.com - Inexpensive website hosting and e-commerce.
http://freemerchant.com - Similar to Bigstep. One nice feature allows you to import your catalog. A division of DigitalRiver.com (below).
http://www.digitalriver.com - A service that offers complete highly customized e-commerce solutions from top to bottom. Considered one of the best.
http://www.gobizgo.com - Similar to Bigstep and FreeMerchant, but fewer templates and controls. Owned by OfficeMax. Built on templates running on NetObjects Fusion, a leading web development tool.
http://www.doteasy.com - Ditto.
http://www.homestead.com - Allows you to upload home made pages via ftp. There are free sites and professional sites for $29.99/month.
http://www.yahoo.com - Build a store with a template and you might get listed in the Yahoo shopping guide. Then again, you might not. You pay $100/month for a store selling 50 items, $300/month for up to 1,000 items. There is no startup fee and you can cancel whenever you want.
http://www.ebaystores.com - Limited customization of look and feel, eBay stores aren't pretty, but there is no better location on the net. And you DON'T have to auction your work, you can use the Buy It Now feature their another Fixed Price system.
http://www.amazon.com - Build an "aStore" with Amazon and you will have a full featured store and a store neatly integrated into their service.
http://www.verisign.com - Verisign is a specialist in secure servers, necessary if you take orders online. Now they have branched into offering hosting, shopping carts, and credit card processing.
http://www.goemerchant.com - Template driven site with a nice feature: the "Buy_Me Button" that you can cut and paste into any page. $49.95/mo.
http://www.digibuy.com - Designed for software sellers, it caters to making people pay for large downloads. Could be used for selling digital files to clients by credit card. They take a 14% commission plus several other fees.
http://www.dellhost.com - Dell, famous for computer manufacturing, offers an entry level e-commerce solution for $29.95/mo.
http://www.bcentral.com - Microsoft's small-business center offers a template-driven e-commerce site for $29.95 per month.
http://www.ibill.com - Internet Billing Company, sells turnkey e-commerce solutions. Their Processing Plus service includes "Pre-approved Merchant Account, Credit Card Processing, Online Reporting Tools, Subscription Capabilities, Fraud Protection, Shopping Cart Functionality, and Affiliate Management."
http://www.entrepreneur.com/Your_Business/YB_Static/1,3097,mysite_tour1,00.html - Sponsored by Entrepeneur Magazine and Vista.com, there is a very full feature set starting at $29.95 per month. I know the price because it was in a magazine ad. The only way you can get pricing on the site is by filling out a form with address, phone, email etc. Not until I know the price, bubba.
http://www.ipservices.att.com/sbh - AT&T offers hosting, hosting with e-commerce, and e-commerce only that can be bolted onto an existing site.
http://www.kagi.com - Build your site, host it anywhere, and for a small fee, Kagi will set up your shopping cart and process orders.
http://www.zwebcommurce.com - Search engine friendly shopping cart software.
http://www.macdock.com - A Mac hosting specialist.
http://www.mediatemple.net - Specialists in hosting Adobe GoLive sites.
Shopping cart software
http://www.bea.com/solutions/ecommerce/index.shtml - Ummmmm, BEAs WebLogic Server is the real deal, folks. Big time serious e-commerce for major retailers. If you have a huge studio or lots of franchises, this may be an answer.
http://www-4.ibm.com/software/webservers/commerce - IBM's WebSphere Commerce Suite. Remember the two guys in the space suits? Aimed at medium to large businesses.
http://www.microsoft.com/commerceserver - Microsoft's e-commerce server software is more for the midrange business. Download a demo.
http://www.imacination.com - Built on FileMaker Pro and Lasso, Ch-Ching is the only such package for Mac. Ready to go out of the box, or modifyable. Fine for small biz.
http://www.x-cart.com - A very impressive list of features.
http://www.billpoint.com - Free to payers. They just register and Billpoint charge their credit card. Payees register and give them a bank to which Billpoint makes deposits. They charge a small fee.
http://www.x.com - PayPal. Similar to Billpoint.
There are numerous companies who want to process your credit card transactions. Many CSPs partner with banks and clearinghouses that will issue a merchant account. Fees vary significantly and I have not done a thorough study of the options. Begin your research by going to http://www.google.com/search?q=credit+card+processing
http://www.wilsonweb.com - By Dr. Ralph F. Wilson. Numerous articles on e-commerce. What works, what does not. Best practices. Book reviews.