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Is your website equipped to turn visitors into gold? E-commerce isn’t as hard to accomplish as you might think.

We’ve outlined the basics below, and we’d love to help you turn your brochure website into an e-commerce juggernaut!

Types of Commerce

E-commerce can look differently based on your needs and those needs can lead to a very simple approach or a highly complex strategy.

Sometimes an organization needs a very simple solution to handle online donations; in other cases a robust solution is needed to handle ticket sales, product sales, donations or gifts, monthly subscriptions, or any number of other types of potential commerce scenarios.

There are 3rd party systems available to handle nearly all e-commerce needs and when those systems are not exactly what you need, you can always have a custom solution created to meet your exact specifications.

Payment Gateways…Merchant Accounts…Oh My!

Regardless of your needs you’ve got to start with the basics, and the basics start with a Merchant Account and Online Payment Gateway. Without these two components there is no way to transfer money.

The merchant account is the service that handles the transfer of funds from the customer bank account into your bank account. Most banks provide some form of online merchant account services; however, there are services available that specialize in this and are generally more affordable (lower rates).

The Merchant Account holds the money from all customer orders and then sends a batch deposit to your account once a day (generally). We recommend CDG Commerce as a turnkey Merchant Account and Payment Gateway.

Internet sales also require an Online Payment Gateway/Processor. The Online Payment Gateway is the service that handles the actual electronic sale process: it verifies that customers actually have funds available in their account for the transaction and either approves or declines the transaction.

In a brick and mortar store, this is the Point of Sale (POS) machine or cash register. Once the funds are validated, it transfers the funds into the Merchant Account to be held for batch processing later that day. We recommend Quantum Gateway along with CDG Commerce and Authorize.net (contact us for assistance in getting setup with Authorize.net).

Shopping Cart Solutions

Once you’ve got your Merchant Account and Payment Gateway settled, you’re ready to select a shopping cart system. There are a plethora of them on the market today. We use primarily three different systems based on our clients’ needs: PayPal, FoxyCart, and Shopify.

PayPal: This is the most affordable solution but also one of the most limited. It’s great if you’re looking for a simple way to process credit cards, and the cost of entry is free. There are some hassles with getting your money back out as the funds are retained at PayPal until you decide to take them out manually.

FoxyCart: FoxyCart is a robust cart system that can handle a multitude of e-commerce needs including donations, event registrations, monthly subscriptions, invoice payments, product sales, digital download sales, and much more.

Foxy is highly customizable and allows a great deal of creative freedom. While the system is a hosted cloud platform it functions on your site for a very transparent appearance. The biggest downside to FoxyCart is a lack of inventory control and the need to manually update all products.

A few additional features: coupons, discounts, configurable tax rates, live shipping rates with UPS, FedEx, USPS, and much more. You can learn more at the FoxyCart website. Cost starts at around $15/month.

Shopify: If you need all of the bells and whistles – inventory control and all the e-commerce enterprise level features of the big boys – look no further than Shopify! Shopify is both a CMS and a fully functional e-commerce platform that can handle any need you can imagine.

This system includes many back office features such as inventory control, mobile access, bulk uploads, mass editing, and extended applications built to plug into other systems such as Quickbooks. Pricing with Shopify comes in a tiered format and costs range from $29/month to $179/month depending on features, number of products, and storage needs. Learn more at the Shopify website.

We have also created custom e-commerce solutions from scratch. Unless you have a large budget though, it’s best to start off your e-commerce project with one of the hosted systems.

Product Positioning

After you’ve got all of the technical aspects taken care of, turn your focus to your products. The internet is no longer just a field of dreams: you can’t just build it and expect people to arrive and buy.

There are simply too many options available and too much noise on the web. If you want to have a successful e-commerce website be mindful of your product positioning with the following tips:

  • Use Great Images: Nobody wants to buy a product that looks bad. Use great lighting, a good camera, good angles, and a quality backdrop.
  • Be descriptive but brief: Use one or two sentences to vividly describe your product. Sell it, but don’t over-promise.
  • Specials, Promotions, Coupons: Use specials, coupons, and promotions actively. Everyone wants a good deal and people expect to find them on the internet.
  • Cross Sales / Up Sales: E-Commerce provides an excellent platform to introduce customers to new or similar products that relate to the item their purchasing. Use that info to your benefit.

Getting the Word Out

Now that you’ve got all of your products loaded and everything is ready to rock… you just need customers. There are many ways to get the word out. We recommend the following at a minimum:

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO): SEO is a vital component of getting found on the search engines. If you’ve got an amazing website and a fantastic store with wonderful products, but no one can find it… you might as well not exist. Deploy an effective SEO strategy to drive customers to your site.
  • Email Blasts: Begin gathering email addresses from your customers (permission based!) and send them monthly or weekly emails highlighting new products, specials, or other store related items. Email is still a primary method of reaching new customers and retaining existing customers.
  • Social Awareness: Leverage the various social networks to get your store out in front of customers. Provide contests and promotions in the social sphere and watch your store go viral. A little work here can go a long way in driving sales to your store.
  • Mix in Brick & Mortar Tactics: If you have a physical store, be sure to mention your web store in all of your print and media tactics. Provide free local pickup or delivery if appropriate.
  • Web Only Deals: Entice people to shop at your store with web only deals. Make it easy for people to share your web only deals with their friends and to build brand loyalty.

Conclusion

Whew… that’s a lot of work to get your store off the ground, and it can be overwhelming. That’s why we exist. We’ve helped several clients deploy their e-commerce solutions.

One success story begins with a client who struggled for a year to get their store off the ground. We were able to help them with a FoxyCart solution and had their store running within a week. We’ve got the experience necessary to help build your store and drive customers to the front door. Contact us today to get your store off the ground!

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