E-commerce Cart Software for Running an Online Store

Merchants can now extend their vision and reach customers near and far by using the Internet to sell goods and services. Depending on the scale of the operation, it can range from being a part-time interest or hobby, raising a little extra revenue, to a full-time well paying job.

The online merchant, in common with the traditional merchant will have to make some plans concerning:

  • What to sell: What products or services to make available for online purchase?
  • Whether to carry stock/inventory and if so, how much?: Also, if carrying inventory, where is this to be stored? Will you acquire the use of a secure store-room or warehouse? What are the insurance consequences? The advantange of holding goods in stock is that it enables you to quickly dispatch them once ordered, resulting in timely delivery to the customer and a more satisfied customer. The disadvantage is that it ties up capital.
  • Pricing: What price to charge for the goods or services you sell. You will have to consider such things as:
    • Ensuring that your prices cover your costs, with some mark-up to reward your efforts.
    • The charging of VAT/sales tax, if applicable.
    • What the customer is prepared to pay.
    • At what prices the goods/services can be obtained from elsewhere.
  • Shipping: How are you going to deliver the ordered goods to the customer? Does the shopping cart software have the ability to calculate the delivery charge taking into account the weight of the products and the country they are destined for? Can it enable you to offer free delivery to certain destinations if the order meets some set of criteria? Being able to offer free delivery can be a big attractor for customers, especially if the total amount of their purchase is not trivial.
  • Returns Policy: You need to write a terms and conditions document which defines the rules concerning online orders for your shop. It should provide guidance to the customer regarding what to do should the products be in a faulty or damaged condition upon arrival. These should also state the customer's rights with regard to a "cooling off period" (allowing for a change of mind), or if the delivered goods, although in good condition, don't fit the customer, in the case of items of clothing etc. You must ensure that you are complying with the laws in your juristiction. A useful reference document for those trading in the European Union is the European Consumer Centre's Shopping Online guide.
  • Payment options: What payment methods will you accept? If credit/debit cards are to be among the payment methods, have you got an arrangement set up with a payment processor to handle online payments? Furthermore, if you are going to accept card details on your website, you must address a number of security concerns, such as meeting required standards for encrypting and storing the information, and possibly being audited to international standards in this area. Some shopping cart systems remove the need for you to actually see or store the payment card details, whereby the customer is redirected to a secure payment processor during checkout.

    For more information about online payments and how they work, together with lists of payment providers serving the Irish market look to webpayments.ie

    Other more traditional methods of payment which you might consider support include postal or money Orders, cheques, cash-on-delivery, or gift vouchers.

In addition, the online merchant has some extra things to pay attention to:

  • Privacy concerns and data protection: It is good practice to inform your web site visitors of the information which you collect about them, and how you use it. Also specify whether you pass it on or share it with third parties.
  • Attracting vistors to the online store: How will online shoppers find your online store? How do you intend to market and promote it? Are their directories that you can add your shop to? How about discussion forums, and social media sites?
  • Search enging result ranking: How will your shop's pages be ranked by the search engines? Be sure to optimise your pages for search engine purposes.
  • Overcoming security concerns: How will you convince your customers that it is "safe" to shop at your store and to make online payments. It is important to build confidence.
  • Providing sufficient information: about your products/services so that your customers can determine if it meets their needs. Try to anticipate their questions, and provide photographs, detailed descriptions and specifications.
  • After-sales support: With traditional physical shops, the customer could always go back to the shop for assistance. You need to put some arrangement in place whereby customers can contact you with queries, concerns or complaints. "Word-of-mouth" recommendations, referrals, or "avoid" recommendations, are very powerful force which can work either for you or against you as you attempt to grow your online business. So endeavour to make the experience a positive one for your customers, and help ensure both repeat business from them and also from their friends, family and colleagues.