In the last post I discussed the basics of eCommerce, what it is, some terminology, and some options. This post covers the questions you need to ask yourself, your website designer/manager, and the eCommerce option you chose.
Will my eCommerce site be part of a community?
Some third-party eCommerce providers have a marketplace set up where customers can search across all merchants. Etsy, EBay, and Yahoo Stores are examples of this. On the other hand, it is harder for your store to stand out among the others and optimizing your store to return well in Google or Bing searches is more difficult.
What Payment Options does this eCommerce Application Offer to my Customers?
Consider the type of payments you can expect. Will most of your customers being paying with credit or debit cards? Will your customer need an invoice which s/he submits for payment (common in large companies)? Will you accept checks? Do you need escrow services where the customer makes a payment, but the payment is held in escrow until the item is received by the customer? This is most common for big-ticket items.
Almost all eCommerce solutions will have debit/credit payment options, so you are really looking at any additional payment methods you may need to offer.
How Will This eCommerce Solution Transfer Money to Me?
To accept money electronically you will need a merchant account and a gateway. Some merchant accounts offer gateways with their service – though often for an additional fee (Authorize.net is a popular merchant account service). If your merchant account is through a bank, especially a local bank, you may have to pay for a gateway separately, which may double your per-transaction fees.
If you don’t already have a merchant account set up I suggest starting out with PayPal. Your customers do not need a PayPal account to use it, it is easy to set up, and the fees are comparable or lower than other merchant account services.
With all of these services – even with a gateway that works with your current bank – you will need to transfer the money from the service to your own bank account. This usually takes 3-5 days.
Will this eCommerce Solution integrate with USPS, UPS or FedEx?
Most eCommerce packages have a way for shipping charges to be automatically added to orders. Many require a plugin that communicates between the shipper’s server and your store. When a shipping quote is needed your store sends the information (size, weight, etc) to the shipper’s server, which sends back options and prices.
Some eCommerce solutions offer deeper integration by letting you print labels and schedule pickups. Usually these are third party solutions and you will pay additional for these features, but if you ship a lot of goods it may be worth it.
Can the Customer Log in to See the Order Status?
This is highly recommended as part of your customer service arsenal, however it does put a greater burden on you. When an order is placed it is automatically assigned a status (i.e. Pending or In Process) to signify that the order was received. As each stage of the shipping process is completed you will need to manually change the status of the order. Let’s say you make custom leather goods. An order is received and the customer can log in and see that his order is “Pending”. When you start on the order you can change the status to “In Production”. When the product is finished and packaged to ship out you would change the status again to “Shipped” and add a note with the shipping number. Obviously you don’t need to record every step of the process (although if it takes awhile for your product to ship it is a good idea).
There are pros and cons to this. First – customer is always aware the status of the order and knows it wasn’t forgotten. It is also a good way for you to track your orders and see at a glance where in the process each order is. However it does add the burden on your of making sure to update the order at each step.
I suggest to my client to definitely use the “Shipped” notice and include the shipping number, or method of shipping if there is no shipping number.
In the next article I will talk about terms and conditions and privacy considerations.