eCommerce Sites

Entering the Internet Marketplace

The days when the average shopper felt uneasy and insecure about online buying are in the past. Today, most shoppers often prefer shopping online for important purchases. If they don't actually make the final transaction online, most use the internet to gather product information and for comparative shopping. Retailers and B2B operations of all sorts are missing out on their share of the ever-expanding eCommerce market if they haven't yet integrated eCommerce into their business model.

My web site was redesigned by MRM Web Design two years ago. With the new professional design and easy access to online shopping my business has been steadily growing.

Tomi Ito-Levin
Green Jade Oriental Art

This page includes an overview of eCommerce today. We advocate a commonsense approach to eCommerce, emphasizing preparedness and cautioning against unrealistic expectations. The page concludes with a concise guide to what's involved in establishing an online shop.

We are experts at world-class, cost-effective eCommerce development. If you need a professionally designed, full-featured, secure and easy-to use eCommerce site, we can provide you with one for as little as $2,450. For small operations having only a few, or a few dozen, products to market via the internet, we can provide a low-cost, secure, and effective eCommerce site for as little as $895. On top of that, if you use the highly-secure online payment services provided by PayPal or 2Checkout, you can safely avoid costly online credit card merchant accounts and the monthly fees and minimums which can eat into your profit-margin.

 Have a look at our cost-effective, world-class eCommerce packages for small to mid-size businesses.

Contact us for a formal proposal based on your unique needs and requirements and when you're ready to move forward.
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 eCommerce Today

The expectations of internet shoppers become more sophisticated as eCommerce sites become more attractive, feature-packed and easy-to-use. To keep pace with online buyers' expectations, many eMerchants revamp and upgrade their sites regularly. While eCommerce start-up and maintenance costs are not as high as during the late-1990s, significant capital and manpower is often involved, and return on investment is often modest. Many smaller operations understandably hesitate entering the eCommerce arena, while others have neglected their eCommerce sites due to disappointing ROI. (Neglecting an eCommerce site assures your investment will never bring a reasonable return).

Wealthy individuals, who used to depend on elegant boutiques for purchases, have begun buying products and services on the Web, according to a study conducted by the Luxury Institute.
   Ninety-six percent of Americans whose annual income is more than $150,000 buy products and services online. Fifty-five percent do this regularly and almost all (99 percent) use the Internet as a research tool prior to buying.

28 March 2007

MRM Web Design and Development understands the concerns and imperatives of small to mid-size businesses in our eCommerce age. We never encourage a client to launch a large-scale eCommerce venture unless a number of factors justify it. The "back-end" programming required to develop a full-featured eCommerce site can be significant. Content-development, writing product descriptions, and product photography may be more than some operations can handle on their own. Additionally, a successful eCommerce site requires an ongoing committment.

In view of the above, we suggest a well-prepared, commonsense approach to the eCommerce market, combined with realistic expectations and incremental investment.

Some of the first things we ask a prospective client interested in an eCommerce site are:

  • approximately how many products do you plan to offer online?
  • approximately how many categories do they fall into?
  • do you have a print catalog or existing product photos and descriptions?

How the client answers these three simple questions gives us a good idea of how prepared the client actually is to take the leap into eCommerce. It also helps us determine whether the client requires a full-featured eCommerce system or is best served by a small-scale, lower-cost solution.

If you are able to answer the first two questions, you are on the way. If you haven't yet developed site content, product descriptions, and product photos, you may be surprised how much is involved in something which seems so simple. Think about how you will develop these key components. Will your team handle it? or will you outsource some or all content development and photography? We are a full service firm eager to meet all your web needs.

If you have determined the products you wish to market on the internet, and already have product photos and descriptions, as well as at least an outline of the informational pages your site will require, then you are in a good position to move forward. Indeed, if your company already has a print catalog, there is usually no viable reason to forestall creating an online catalog or eCommerce shop, which usually involves a relatively small additional investment over print catalog production expenses.

Next, we usually inquire about the company's corporate identity and branding, assuring the client that we can design their eCommerce shop or online catalog in harmony with (or faithful to) their established identity. If the company is a start-up, we inquire if a logo and identity package is being developed.

One of the most complex aspects of an eCommerce site deals with shipping methods. Here it is best to keep the variables as simple as possible. Implementing complicated and unusual shipping methods may involve costly custom programming. Additionally, the lower-cost eCommerce solutions for companies offering a small number of products support a limited range of shipping methods.

Not only are online shoppers spending more online, they are buying more different types of goods. Consumers are now buying big-ticket items on the Internet like refrigerators and treadmills, and even luxury goods such as designer apparel and jewelry. This opens new possibilities for creative Web retailers.

US Retail E-Commerce
Jeffrey Grau, June 2006

Another important factor is the scope of features your eCommerce site will require. We suggest implementing only the features you and your customers will really need and use. Too many features and variables tend to confuse users, and unnecessary features will impact the project's timeline and cost. Additionally, the low-cost eCommerce solutions for companies offering a small number of products provide a limited range of special features.

Most importantly, we urge our clients to be realistic in their expectations. Just because you launched an eCommerce site doesn't mean you'll immediately have a successful new revenue stream. Your eCommerce site will require nurturing, work and patience, just like brick-and-mortar operations.

Don't rely solely on Google and other search engines to attract traffic to your site. Even more importantly, don't fall prey to scam artists promising you the impossible dream of placing your site at the top of Google and other search engines listings almost overnight. Place your eCommerce site's URL on all your advertising and communications. Consider a well-planned Google AdWord campaign. Try to get other sites to link to yours. Participate in online forums and communities, mentioning your site when policies permit.

 Establishing an Online Shop

An eCommerce site has a number of special requirements over and above those of a typical, informational web site.

 The fundamental requirement of an eCommerce site is a payment system. eCommerce – electronic commerce – requires electronic payment and transaction processing. In simple terms, there must be a mechanism in place which allows 1) the customer to pay online with her credit card, 2) for the merchant to communicate with the financial network, and 3) for funds to find their way from the buyer's credit card account to the merchant's bank account.

Conventionally, for all this to happen seamlessly, the online merchant requires:

  • An online credit card merchant account. The merchant probably will not be able to use his POS or phone merchant credit card account for online transactions. An online merchant credit card account is best acquired through your bank. The set-up cost generally ranges from $200 to $350. Discount rates are negotiable, and may go as low as 2%.
  • A transaction processing gateway account (aka an Internet merchant account), which gives the merchant's web site access to the financial network. Expect fees and minimums in the range of $40-$60 monthly. We recommend VeriSign.
  • A private or shared SSL Certificate for secure, encrypted transactions. Private SSL certificates are available for as low as $185 annually.
  • A web site programmed to accommodate online transactions. This typically means integrating "shopping cart" software, such as osCommerce or Miva Merchant, into your web site. 

For large, established operations, the initial investment and recurring monthly costs of a conventional eCommerce payment system may be relatively insignificant. But for start-ups and companies offering a small number of products, such expenses can eat deeply into the profit margin. There are, however, viable and secure alternatives.

Here's the good news for small and start-up operations wanting to take an incremental approach. Most high-end shopping carts accommodate payment processing via PayPal or 2Checkout. We'll discuss these payment processors in detail at the end of this section, but for now the important point is that by using them you can bypass the setup and recurring costs delineated above. And, when your online business takes-off in a bigger way, you can always upgrade to the conventional system.

 An eCommerce site requires the integration of "shopping cart" software. If you need to offer a large number of products online, you will probably want to integrate a full-featured shopping cart into your site. Because large-scale eCommerce shopping carts use a database to store all product information – dynamically generating product pages, much like a CMS (content management system) – they take much of the tedium out of creating eCommerce sites consisting of hundreds or thousands of products.

For smaller eCommerce operations, a full-scale shopping cart is often "overkill", driving up development costs. If you have a small number of products, your best choice may be using the free, simple shopping carts provided by PayPal or 2Checkout to users of their cost-effective, safe and secure payment systems. Some of our clients have experienced great success with these solutions, which are so cost-effective we are able to offer a mini-eCommerce site implementing them for as low as $895!

We'll explore these free shopping carts – in greater detail below. While we'll at it, we'll review the rates and features of the alterative payment systems offered by Google CheckOut, PayPal, and 2CheckOut.

 A Review of Alternative Payment Systems and Simple Shopping Carts. For start-up and small-scale operations, an alternative payment system makes sense. You don't need the added development expense of a full-featured shopping cart to use them, and you avoid the set-up fees and monthly fees of a conventional system. We use one of the services for our own online payments, and several of our clients have experienced years of trouble-free use.

What's the chief difference between a high-end shopping cart and the mini shopping carts explored below? Full-featured shopping carts are typically database-driven. Product info is entered into an online database – either manually via an online form or imported from an Excel file – and the individual categories and products pages are programmatically generated by the system, automatically inserting pertinent info from the database into page templates. On the other hand, mini shopping carts involve the addition of a few lines of code to conventional HTML pages, so each page must be hand constructed.

PayPal Payment Services is the most well-known alternative payment service. Here's an overview of its rates and offerings:

  • Commission Rates No set-up fees. No monthly fees. 1.9% to 2.9% + $0.30 USD. You can transfer funds to your bank whenever you wish.
  • Mini-Shopping Cart. PayPal offers a very easy to set-up free mini shopping cart. Just paste a few lines of special code into your HTML to create "Add to Basket" buttons. Includes a fair set of features for product attributes like size and color. Shipping options are limited but adequate for straight-forward shipping policies. Can accept electronic gift certificates. Limited checkout page customization, but most buyers are now familiar with and comfortable with PayPal. The PayPal Premium system has better checkout customization, but its $20 monthly fee doesn't make it an attractive good alternative.
  • Third-Party Shopping Carts. Paypal and 2CheckOut also supports most third party shopping carts, though with some limitations.
  • Printable invoices, packing slips and labels. Accepts donations, subscriptions, and recurring payments. Download your transaction history into various file formats, such as QuickBooks. Many more merchant tools. All merchant tools are very easy-to-use.>
  • High Buyer Acceptance, Recognition and Familiarity. PayPal boosts more than 100 million registered users worldwide. Accepts online transactions without registration. Accepts most major credit cards and eChecks

2Check0ut (2C0) Payment Services. Once a strong alternative to PayPal, 2CO is not as attractive as it several years ago, when PayPal was less accepted. Today, its relatively high commission rate and its discontinuance of user-customizeable check-out pages makes it less attractive than PayPal, which is now widely known and respected.

  • Rates and Fees: $49 one time sign-up fee. $0.45 per Sale and 5.5% of sale amount . Funds transferred to your bank account weekly.
  • Mini-Shopping Cart. Includes a free mini shopping cart. All products must be added to the 2CO database via a web form, which is time-consuming. Paste a few lines of special code to your HTML to create "Add to Basket" buttons. Includes a fair set of features for product attributes like size and color, but unlike the PayPal mini shopping cart, attributes must be selected by the buyer on the shopping basket page, not next to the "Add to Basket Button". Shipping options are limited but adequate for straight-forward shipping policies. Your name and logo on checkout page. The checkout process is relatively smooth and checkout pages look professional.
  • Third-Party Shopping Carts. Payment system also supports most third party shopping carts, though with some limitations.
  • Printable invoices. Accepts subscriptions and recurring payments. Download your transaction history into in Excel format. Merchant tools are not particularly easy-to-use and are often difficult to find.
  • Good Buyer Acceptance. Most buyers will not be familiar with 2CO, but are not very likely to abort a transaction when they encounter a 2CO checkout page.
Contact us for a formal proposal based on your unique needs and requirements and when you're ready to move forward.