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Setting up an online shop has been simplified over the years as various tools have come into play to make the Internet buying & selling process easier from both a customer and business perspective. You can set up an online store in just four steps (that’s eight less than AA!):
1.) Pick a Domain. If you don’t yet have a domain, you can typically buy a domain through your web host. Otherwise, you can buy the domain elsewhere and point it at the host company’s servers. (The host company will have instructions on how to do that.) As we all know, this is one of the most important decisions you will make about your website. Make sure that your domain name is easy to remember and spell and that it represents your business well: it’s the first thing customers will see. Unfortunately, http://www.PleaseGoAway.com is taken, but there are still some good options available.
2.) Choose Your Website Layout & Flow. Some online shopping sites are just that, without any additional pages. You may want to choose this route if you just want a place for your current customers to go and pick up products or if you want your website as streamlined as possible. However, most online store owners want the shopping cart to be part of a broader website – which allows for the site to grow, with room for additional content and features. It also adds a sense of community and culture (non-bacterial) to the site. A good CRM like Wordpress can provide additional features and space for things like a blog, About Us page and so on, while making your website easy to build and maintain.
3.) Set Up the Shopping Cart. You can do this either with freely available “open source” script, such as osCommerce, or by purchasing a shopping cart program like XCart. You can also use an online managed service or program the cart yourself. The quick and dirty solution is a website template that includes shopping cart capabilities. Keep in mind that anything that along the way is faster and easier will also tend to have less flexibility and freedom (think two-week clown school vs. eight-week clown school) – but there are certainly benefits to keeping things easy at the outset.
4.) Create a Merchant Account. PayPal is one of the fastest and most trusted ways to start selling immediately. However, you will want to look into alternatives because not everyone uses PayPal and PayPal fees tend to be higher. A popular alternative to PayPal is Authorize.net. You can take credit cards directly, but keep in mind that reputable merchant processors have systems of checks and balances in place to prevent fraud and keep you legal (or illegal if that’s your goal), which is worth the protection in the long run.
Keep in mind as you analyze the various options that customer service can be important to prevent downtime on the store and other customer frustrations. Reading forums can be helpful to see how unbiased users review the companies. Of course you can always modify and improve these choices as your business grows or sinks like a mighty steamship into the Atlantic (farewell Leonardo!). Good luck. And if you have any questions, other than what I'm wearing, place a comment on this page and I'll write you back.