Selling your product online — whether it’s artwork, greeting cards, books or games — is an exciting but daunting proposition. In this article I’ll go over three very basic and general options to help point you in the direction of where to start looking in terms of getting your e-commerce store online.
Naturally you need to have a good product that you know that you can sell to people — so I won’t go over this aspect of eCommerce. So let’s talk about the basic options for getting started:
1) Hosted eCommerce.
Hosted eCommerce is the term used to describe a turn-key setup for an online store. You simply signup with a vendor (do a Google search for “hosted eCommerce”) and the vendor takes care of the overwhelming majority of the aspects of running your store. They will let you pick a nice template, handle the payment and payment processing for you, and will make it easy for you to upload your product images. These sites usually charge you based on how many products you have, or based on your sales volume. In addition to the monthly fees, these stores may also charge you a percentage of your sales or some kind of transaction fee. Lastly, when it comes to making a custom or very complex sales website design, hosted eCommerce can be somewhat limiting. Ultimately you need to take a look at hosted eCommerce websites to see what features these sites do and do not have, and then make a judgement for yourself. Also note that with some companies you will need have a web address such as mystore.website.com, as opposed simply to mystore.com. Lastly, hosted eCommerce solutions, in addition to handling the payment options as discussed above, will also usually take care of the security concerns such as encrypted connections with SSL (that’s the padlock icon you see in your browser when you are working over a secured or encrypted connection).
2) eCommerce software.
In the same way that Microsoft Word is software that’s designed to help you write things, eCommerce software such as OSCommerce is online software (you install it on a web server) that’s designed to help you run an online store. If you wanted to type a letter on your computer, you could call a programmer to write you a program that will allow you to complete this task — but it would be a heck of a lot easier and less expensive to simply go out and buy Word (or at least to use Notepad that comes with Windows [or Pages for the Mac crowd]). So while you could hire someone to write you a program that could help you run an eCommerce website, these eCommerce programs (such as ZenCart) are setup so that you install the software on your web host (or someone does that for you) and then you configure the software. You still will need to enter products, manage SKU’s and inventory (if you need to do so), and you will need to setup a payment solution (such as PayPal), but using software like OSCommerce or ZenCart can often times give you a little more flexibility than you have with a Hosted eCommerce solution. But when you are using eCommerce software, there are more things you need to keep track of — such as the web hosting itself and website security. Because of the complexity of setting up one of these programs, I’d recommend this solution for someone who has already proven success with Hosted eCommerce (or in the brick-and-mortar world — though success in phyiscal retail does not always translate to success in online retail) because if you are going to invest the time and money to get it right — you should already have an established base of sales to help you recover some of the costs.
3) Wordpress as an eCommerce Platform, and “Add to Cart” Buttons to Sell a Limited Number of Items
For some people who are selling one or two products, and don’t need a full blown eCommerce infrastructure, Wordpress can be a tempting solution. While Wordpress is a blogging platform at its heart (like Word is a document writing program), it’s not designed to really do eCommerce. (If you’ve ever tried to layout a page in Word and position graphics you know what I mean. If you are going to layout a single page then you can get by with Word, but if you are going to layout a 100 page book with tons of images, you really need a dedicated desktop publishing program like InDesign). There are a few plugins (software additions) for Wordpress that will help you sell products, but ultimately if you have one or two products that you want to sell, and don’t need a management tracking system (e.g. how hard it it to keep track of 10 sales per month by hand?) — then using PayPal with “Add to Cart” buttons is a great place to start. Without getting too techincall, the concept is easy. You go to PayPal and setup and account and then setup a product or two or three. For each product you setup, PayPal will give you HTML code for a button. You simply paste this code into your website and a button will appear to the user. The user sees your page, sees your item and your “Add to Cart” button, and then can press the button to begin to purchase your item. The cart is hosted at PayPal and the processing is done by PayPal. So you simply stand back and set it up so that when someone buys your product, you get an email from PayPal that a purchase has been made (and that you’ve been paid) and then you can go ahead and send out the item. It’s a little more complex than I describe above, but the above method is the simplest way to get your foot in the eCommerce door.
This article covered three ways to start selling your product online. There’s a lot of material out there to cover and I encourage you to do a lot of reading before you take any action. I hope this article provides you with some direction and as always, please feel free to ask questions is you have them. Happy Selling!
Once you install one of these programs (do a Google Search for “eCommerce sofware”)