Ecommerce Solutions * Shopping Carts *
The Internet has been the primary instigator of change in how we engage
in commerce during the past few years. This trend is likely
to continue and accelerate over the next decade. The Internet
has very quickly become a part of our everyday life. You can access
it from just about everywhere on the planet. Given this incredible,
inexpensive communication tool, new ways of doing business are evolving
Entrepreneurs are able to start up new businesses
much more simply and easily--with smaller initial capital investments.
Existing businesses are able to transform existing ways of doing
business into more efficient, flexible, online solutions. The costs
of processing transactions and information gathering are plunging.
Electronic Commerce or "Ecommerce" as it is called is the
leading catalyst for productivity increases. Ecommerce is providing
businesses with automation and lower costs in marketing, sales, and
customer service. Optimized inventory levels, lower purchasing
costs, more efficient purchasing cycles, and other efficiencies are
enhanced by the use of ecommerce solutions. (By the way,
there are lots of ways to spell Ecommerce: E-Commerce, eCommerce,
E-Commerce, e-Commerce, etc. There isn't a standard yet, so you
may see all sorts of variations)
Ecommerce has been growing quite rapidly. Currently, (2002) total
business done over the Web is around $500 billion per year. For
the next few years, 30% growth rates are predicted. More and more,
having an ecommerce site is a necessity, not a fanciful experiment.
If the competition can do business 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, who will
get those marginal sales?
Numerous retailers have reported that there are synergistic effects
to having an ecommerce site in addition to their physical stores,
catalog, phone/fax orders, etc. By giving your customers various
options for their purchases (and returns), overall sales have
increased. Creating an ecommerce solution is just a part of
the overall customer service mix for larger retailers.
For smaller companies, an ecommerce site may be the most economical
way to branch out to the entire world.
Frequently Asked Questions about Ecommerce:
What is Ecommerce?
Electronic Commerce or Ecommerce or E-commerce is simply the buying
and selling of goods and services utilizing the Internet. An
ecommerce site can be as simple as a catalog page with a phone number,
or it can range all the way to a real-time credit card processing site.
Goods and services can range from large bulky items, to consulting
services, to instantly downloadable software. An ecommerce
solution can range from a few pages for a small business with a few
items for sale all the way to a large online retailer such as
Amazon.com, with thousands of pages and items.
What is a 'shopping cart'?
A 'shopping cart' (sometimes called a 'shopping basket') is software
that allows your customers to accumulate
different items that they want to buy. It remembers the item
names, numbers, colors, sizes and so on. A well designed shopping
cart allows for easy additions, deletions and modifications.
Why would I need an
An ecommerce enabled web site allows you to service your
customers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week--without having to have
a clerk on duty. By having an ecommerce solution set up
on the World Wide Web, you have access to millions of potential
new customers. If your competition has a web site, you can
level the playing field. Besides a being a selling tool,
your ecommerce site is a great communication tool. If properly
positioned in the search engines, your customers can find your site
in seconds, and email or phone you about their questions or
concerns. Questions that you have answered many, many times
can be posted on your ecommerce site, saving you a great deal
What are the
advantages of an Ecommerce site over a physical "bricks
and mortar" store?
- Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week--Available whenever
the customer wants to buy.
- Your market expands to the world. Anywhere there is Internet
access, you have potential customers. This is especially important
for specialty shops--there may not be enough of a customer base in a
particular geographic market.
- Convenience: your customers can shop at home, at work, at
a friend's house. They don't have to travel to your store.
- Low customer service costs - fewer people are necessary to
run and manage compared to a physical store.
- Rent, utilities, etc. are likely to be much less. For an
ecommerce store, it isn't necessary to be situated in the most expensive
- 'Infinite' shelf space - many more products can be displayed
on a website.
- Inventory efficiency - Items don't necessarily need to be
in stock--can be drop shipped from suppliers. For companies with
multiple retail stores, items for your web store can be sourced from all
your retail stores.
- For software, ebooks, and other electronic documents, no
physical inventory is necessary, nothing needs to be shipped, and
can be delivered instantly.
- Education or advice can be reliably given to your customers on your
site. The bricks and mortar sales clerk may not be able to take
the time--or worse, gives incorrect information.
- Online marketing methods like email newsletters, banner ads and
affiliate programs are available and can be implemented.
What are some of the
drawbacks of an ecommerce solution vs. "bricks and
- Inability to directly see, smell, touch and compare goods.
A well-designed ecommerce solution will have multiple photographs, with
different views of the products. A professional ecommerce site
will have full descriptions with all aspects of the products explained.
- Bricks and mortar stores allow you to buy a product and take it
home today to use.
The best an ecommerce site can do is get something to a customer the next
day. This is only a slight disadvantage in many cases. Also,
many people find that they save time by not having to travel to a physical
store. They can order it at home or work, and have it delivered
where they want it.
- Credit card and overall site security.
There is a great deal of fraud and attempted fraud on the Internet.
A properly designed ecommerce solution uses a minimum of 128 bit encryption
for all credit card numbers and other sensitive information.
Credit card numbers should not be stored on a server that is accessible
by the Internet. Unfortunately, many ecommerce sites--even major
ones--still continue this practice. For even the most secure computer
operating systems, there can always be some flaw that a hacker might
- Distrust of Web retailers and impersonal nature of ecommerce.
The Internet and ecommerce are still in their early stages so it is
natural to be hesitant, especially for new users of the Internet.
Therefore, an ecommerce site must be designed to lower the perceived
risk to the customer. A friendly site, with endorsements from
chambers of commerce, the Better Business Bureau, etc. should be
displayed on the site. Links to third party rating and
ranking organizations are also helpful. A digital 'site
certificate' from a well known issuer is necessary as well.
If you take the time and effort to make your site welcoming or 'homey'
yet professional looking, this will help allay the fears of
your potential customers. Your company name, address, phone number,
hours of operation and email address should be on every page.
Of course, money-back guarantees, warrantees, and the like will
calm fears too.
- Customers are reticent to disclose personal details.
should usually include a provision about not disclosing any of the
customer information to other parties. In general, it is better
to not ask for information, unless it is actually needed.
- Time consuming and/or complex order process.
Unfortunately, many e-commerce sites inherently contain these flaws.
They weren't well thought out with the novice Internet user in mind.
A properly designed e-commerce solution minimizes the steps necessary to
buy something, have a simplified layout, and don't lose the 'hard
fought' items that the customer has acquired in their electronic
shopping cart, even if they need to modify something. The flow
of the process must be logical and natural if you don't want to
frustrate and lose your customers.
- Where is the order?
This is one of the biggest, if not THE biggest complaint of online
shoppers: 'Where is my order?'. It is such big complaint that
those of us in the e-commerce/e-retailing industry have a short hand
term for it: 'WIZMO'. Many e-commerce sites ignore this
obvious problem. A professionally designed site will automatically
send emails at each stage of the process: order placement, order
acceptance, & shipment. The shipment notice email MUST have
a tracking number so that the customer will know exactly where their
package is and when it will arrive. By answering these common
questions automatically (and before they arise) it saves you a great
deal of time, and reassures your customers of your professionalism
What are the
elements of an Ecommerce site?
What are some of the ways that
customers should be able to pay me?
- Domain name
A 'domain name' is simply the name of your website. Amazon.com,
US-Webmasters.com, Ebay.com, are all domain names. Domain names
don't have to end in '.com', but that is the most popular suffix.
You can check
here for cheap domain name registration and to
see if a domain you would like is available.
Some rules on domain names:
Can use letters, numbers or dashes "-"
The underline character "_", and spaces aren't allowed
Can be up to 63 characters total
Case doesn't matter: eBay.com and Ebay.com are the same
The suffix (or TLD - Top Level Domain), can be .com, .net, .org or many others
- Hosting Server
When someone enters your Web address (URL) in their Web browser, it looks up
the location of the computer associated with that domain name.
This 'host' computer then sends the files that make up that particular
web page to the person's computer that requested it. In other words,
it's your server or host that contains all the files that make up your
ecommerce site. This Web server or Web host makes your website
available to the world. As such, it should be available 24 hours
a day, 7 days a week (or at least 99.9% of that time).
There should be one page that has all your categories and subcategories.
This way, a visitor can see the complete range of your products at a single
glance. They will be able to very quickly zero in on the product
that they need.
- Specials Page
Also essential to a complete ecommerce solution are pages that have
items that are on sale, close-outs, etc.
- New Arrivals Page
A new arrivals page will allow frequent visitors to see new items that
have recently been added to the site.
- Cross Sell Suggestions
One of the best ways to increase revenues is to display complementary items
on each page. If it's a toy car, then the proper size batteries
may also be displayed on that page.
- Digital Coupons
If an ecommerce solution is comprehensively designed, it should allow your
your customers to type in a coupon code in order to receive discounts on
items that they are purchasing. You can issue digital coupons in
email newsletters, banner ads, newspaper ads, and so on.
More and more, people are becoming wary of giving out personal information
since it could be divulged to other parties that may bombard them with
state that you will not divulge your customers' information to third
- Contact Us Page
Besides having your phone number, email address, hours of operation,
and physical address on each page, there should be a separate page
that explains in detail all the ways that your customers can get in
touch with you.
- Customer Service Page
The customer service page should clearly spell out your policies
for the way you do business. Your returns policies and procedures
should be completely explained here.
- New to online shopping Page
If you want to get maximum sales out of your site, you should
definitely have a page for novice online shoppers. By clearly
explaining all the ecommerce terms and procedures, you can educate
a new user, and give them confidence about your site.
- Search Box
A professionally developed Web site should have a search box on every
page. By typing in a few keywords, a visitor can quickly have
a list of all the pages where those keywords are used. This allows
for very fast navigation for those who know exactly what they want.
- Shopping Cart
As mentioned previously, a shopping cart is just software configured
to remember the items that a visitor may purchase. Properly designed
shopping cart software lists the quantity and SKU number of each
item, as well as the color, size, and other attributes. It keeps
track of the current subtotal amount. It will be easy to understand and manipulate for the visitors to the ecommerce website.
- Secure Server / SSL
SSL stands for Secure Socket Layer. It is the technology that allows
a secure server to work. A properly designed ecommerce solution will
employ SSL in a secure server in order to encrypt sensitive data
traveling back and forth between a customer and the ecommerce server.
128 bit encryption is the minimum encryption level necessary for secure
communications. Usually, the ecommerce site will switch to SSL mode
only after a customer is ready to place their order. The reason
for this is that the encryption takes quite a bit of processing by
the ecommerce server as well as the customer's computer, so it slows down
the process significantly.
- Site Certificate
A site certificate or digital certificate is a computerized means of a
well-known and respected firm vouching for your authenticity.
Customers want to know that your ecommerce site is legitimate, and
not someone trying to defraud them. A certificate is issued
by a company that specializes in this area. Its actual form
is a file stored on the ecommerce server. It integrates with
the SSL code to facilitate encryption.
- Merchant Account
A merchant account enables you to process credit card
transactions. It is essentially the receptacle for funds that
you collect on your ecommerce site. If you have a good relationship
with your bank, they will be glad to set up a merchant account.
Otherwise, we can help you open up a merchant account with a firm
that specializes in ecommerce websites.
- Check out
Once a shopper has finally decided which items they want to purchase,
they click on the 'check out' button. This is the point where
the site collects the name, address, city, state, email address, and
other personal information about the shopper. Usually it is at
this point that the shipping cost and taxes are calculated. During the
check out procedure the customer's credit card number, and expiration
date is collected. As stated above, it's essential that this
is done in SSL mode so that the data is transmitted over the Internet
in an encrypted format.
- Confirmation email
Once a customer has placed an order, a confirming email should be sent
out immediately. This gives confidence to the online shopper that
their order didn't just disappear into a black hole somewhere.
As stated above, it is extremely important to keep your customers
informed. The confirmation email should also let the customer
know that once the order is shipped, there will be another email
sent to them which will have the final details as well as a shipment
- Shipment confirmation email
Once a tracking number is generated, the shipment confirmation email
is sent to the customer so that they know their order has been shipped,
and when it is scheduled to arrive.
- Order Management
A sophisticated ecommerce solution will allow your customers to log
back onto your website and review their account. They should
be able to track orders, confirm shipments, and view a history
of their purchases.
- Virtual Terminal
A well-designed ecommerce solution will have this feature built-in.
A virtual terminal allow you to use your website to place orders for
your call-in or mail-in customers. This allows you to integrate
these types of orders into the system so that you can manage them in the
same way you manage online orders.
- Store Manager Interface
A fully-integrated ecommerce solution would not be complete without an
easy to use site manager. This component of the site should allow
you, the store manager to add and delete items, as well as modify
prices, descriptions, etc.
- Email Newsletter Mailing list management
To keep your customers informed about events, sales, and changes
going on at your site, an email newsletter is essential. Nearly
every serious ecommerce site uses email newsletters to enhance
'top of the mind awareness' with their customers. Professionally
designed ecommerce solutions integrate mailing list management
into the overall design.
- Affiliate Programs
Another great marketing method to utilize is affiliate programs.
Affiliate programs are simply paying other websites commissions when
they refer someone to your site and a sale occurs. Ideally,
a well thought out ecommerce solution will integrate affiliate programs.
- Credit card
- Debit card
- money orders
- cashiers' checks
- Internet Draft
Why is your custom ecommerce
solution better than some of these packages that I've heard about?
It has been our experience that other 'off the shelf' packages
are usually hard to configure and cumbersome for the shopkeeper
to manage. We've designed our systems with maximum ease of
use for you.
Also, our ecommerce solution allows for all items in your catalog
to be indexed by the search engines. Many sites have only
their home page visible to the search engines.
Initial search engine submission to top search engines is
free. Others charge as much as $200 for this service.
How many products can I sell on
my ecommerce site?
A US-Webmasters ecommerce solution does not have limitations on the
number of products you can sell.
I've already spent thousands of
dollars on my existing site, why should I have you build me another
This is a very important question. If your site is generating
the maximum amount of sales for you with the minimum amount of
maintenance and hassle, then there is not much we can do to improve
your situation. However, in our opinion most ecommerce solutions
out there are difficult for the shoppers to use, difficult for
the store owner to maintain, and hence don't maximize the return
What are some of the key
design principles for making an ecommerce site easy to use for my
- Fast loading pages
- Fast loading images
- Easy to navigate site quickly--3 or 4 clicks to any page
- Consistent look throughout the site
- Uncluttered appearance
- Bullet points make text quick to read
- Descriptive text, that isn't too wordy or hard to understand
- Enough images to properly show different views, or possibly colors and
- Search box
- Email newsletter sign up (Specials and Promotions)
- Phone number and address on every page
What about the search
engines? How is my site submitted so that Web surfers can find my
new ecommerce site?
Your site is manually submitted to all the major search engines.
Initial search engine submission to top search engines is free.
Others charge as much as $200 for this service.
How long will it take to
activate my ecommerce website?
With our current workload, your site should be active with 4 - 8 weeks.
How do I get data and pictures of
my items uploaded to the ecommerce site?
Initially, if you have your data in a spreadsheet format, we will upload
the data for you. Images should be on a CDROM.
Once your site is operational, our easy to use interface allows you
to quickly upload new items or modify existing items.
How much does an ecommerce solution
- Design = $1,000 (This is a promotional price--may change soon.)
- Site Certificate = $200 - $1000
- Payment Processor Setup = $200 - $500
- Domain name = $15 or less (annually)
- Hosting = $45 / month
- Payment processing:
a. 2% - 4% of purchase amount total
b. 20 - 50 cents per transaction
c. Monthly fee: $20 - $100
Ecommerce Inquiry Form
Whether you are ready to order or just shopping, please fill out our
form. You are under no obligation and you will receive an estimate
based on a clearer understanding from the information supplied below.
Please note that all information is optional and we will keep your information
Once we receive the above information, we'll get back to you as soon as
possible to discuss a quotation specific to your needs and configuration.