10 Steps for setting up an online store

27 June 2010
1) First, get informed 
The more you know, the better decisions you will make. So look
out for articles about ecommerce in the press, attend a trade show or two, and talk to people who are selling online already. Search on Google for related themes such as ‘ecommerce’ and ‘shopping carts’, find some informative web sites, and read up about the subject.
2) Make sure that ecommerce is right for you
If you are selling goods that customers do not need to touch, taste or smell before buying, at a fixed price, then the web is the place to be - especially if your products are hard for customers to find by conventional means. The web can offer your customers the convenience of being able to shop when it suits them, without having to travel or queue. And it offers a level of automation that can help drive down your costs, so you can offer keen prices into the bargain. You can check out the competition by looking on Google for some of the products that you plan to sell.
3) Get your offering right
Think about why people would want to buy from you. You need to provide them with something which they believe offers more value than the amount they pay, and which you can supply for less than you charge. It’s as simple (and difficult) as that.
4) Keep control of the cost 
The less you spend on technology, the more you can afford to spend on promoting your site and bringing in customers. So look ideally for a solution that is low cost and can do what you want to begin with, but offers an upgrade path for the future.
5) Use technology that already works
Use technology that works, not stuff that’s a masterpiece in progress. Why bother debugging software from some start-up, when you could be using an application that is already working on thousands of online stores?
6) Find a reliable host 
Your online store will be able to take orders 24 hours a day - but only so long as it is accessible. You will need a third party to provide the internet space for it. This can be your internet service provider, your ecommerce provider, or a specialized hosting company. Either way, choose one that is reliable. Get a personal recommendation from someone you know, check out one of the regular magazine reviews, or talk to your ecommerce provider.
7) Make security a priority 
Both you and your customersneed tofeel confident thatyou have adequate protection against hacking and fraud. Choose an ecommerce solution that provides full Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCIDSS) compliance. There's more advice on this later.
8) Choose an appropriate payment solution 
In virtually every market, it's vital to be able to take card payments. In order to do this, you normally need a merchant account which is granted by a “credit card acquirer”. All the major banks provide this service. You also need a payment service from someone like WorldPay or Actinic, which will securely handle the transfer of funds from the customer's bank account to your own. However, if you are a start up business it's hard to get your own merchant account, so you may be better off using a service like Paypal. Your shopping cart should be able to support these and a full range of other payment options.
9) Do it yourself - or not? 
The decision whether to go it alone or bring in a professional will depend on a variety of issues. These include your budget; your level of technical knowledge and familiarity with the internet; the amount of customisation you require; the amount of time you have available; and whether you enjoy playing with computers. An ecommerce package can enable you to deploy a good-looking, fully functional site quickly, and at low cost. A web designer will add a professional finish and enhanced features that can generate confidence and boost sales. Either way, make sure the finished site is easy to use for both you and your customers.
11) Don’t forget the marketing 
It is all very well opening your shop on the internet, but you need to think about how customers are going to find you. This is probably the most crucial point so we devote a couple of sections of tips to the whole subject.

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