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Ecommerce Solutions * Shopping Carts * Merchant Accounts

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 and growing.

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 Ecommerce site?

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 of time.


• 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 shopping mall.


  • '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 mortar"?


  • 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 discover.



  • 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.

    A 'privacy policy' page is a must for ecommerce retailers.  It 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 and integrity.




• What are the elements of an Ecommerce site?

  • 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).



  • Catalog

    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.



  • Privacy Policy Page

    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 unwanted marketing offers.  Your privacy policy page should explicitly state that you will not divulge your customers' information to third parties.



  • 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 tracking number.



  • 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.



• What are some of the ways that customers should be able to pay me?
  • Credit card

  • Debit card

  • checks

  • money orders

  • cashiers' checks

  • Internet Draft

  • PayPal

  • CyberCash


• 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 ecommerce site?

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 on investment.


• What are some of the key design principles for making an ecommerce site easy to use for my customers?
  • 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 sizes

  • 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 cost?

    INITIAL COSTS:

  • 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)

    RECURRING COSTS:

  • 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 private.

Firstly, do you already have an existing site you want redesigned?
Yes
No
If yes, please copy and paste your URL address here:


If yes, generally describe what you'd like done:



If your site is completely new, how will it be used?
Business
Personal
Other

First name:


Last name:


Your business's name:


Your website address:


Your email address:


Street Address:


Street Address2:


City:


State:


Zip(Postal Code):


Country:


Phone number:


How do you prefer to be contacted?

By Email
By Telephone 
  (Best time to phone: )

Please briefly describe the business/activity you are engaged in:



What do you want your site to accomplish? (Please check all that apply.)
Give information about my products/service

Generate Sales Leads For Me

Give contact information: phone, address, email, etc.

Other

Please describe any other tasks that you want your site to accomplish:




Will you want a domain name registered?  (Strongly recommended)
Yes
No
Please indicate what you want your domain name to be (or at least some ideas of words that it might contain):


Please indicate Some Keywords For Your Site.
Keywords are 1 to 2-word general and specific descriptions of the contents of your site.

This is necessary for search engines to properly list your site.  For example, if you sell radios, then some keywords might be: 'radios', 'AM FM radios', 'portable radios', 'antique radios','shortwave radios', etc.



Approximately how many different items do you plan to sell?



Approximately how many pages do you want your site to have?
1
2
3
4
5
6 - 9
10 - 100
100 or more
Don't know

Approximately how many photos do you want to have on your site?
1
2
3
4
5
6 - 9
10 - 100
100 or more
Don't know
How will the photos be supplied?
Email

CDROM sent by regular mail

Photos sent by regular mail (need to be scanned)

Do you have product descriptions and advertising copy prepared?
Yes
No

Can you provide any of the following?
Brochure
Logo Slick
Flyer
Letterhead Stationery
Business Card
Newsletter
Other Promotional Material
If you have other promotional material, please describe:




Please check any of the following that you wish to appear on your site:
Company Logo
Drawings
Price Lists
Product Descriptions
Other graphics
Music
Streaming Audio
Streaming Video
Banners
Shopping Cart
Feedback Forms
How many?

Custom Programming
Please describe:

Other
Please describe:


Do you have a preference for colors or styles for your site?

Background Color
Background Pattern
Text Color
Menu Color
Link Color


If you have information that needs to be updated either on a regular or irregular basis, approximately how often would updates need to be made?
Hourly
Daily
Weekly
Bi-Weekly
Monthly
Quarterly
Semi-Annually
Annually

How much have you budgeted for web design?


What is your time frame for this project?


How did you hear about US-Webmasters.com?

Additional Comments or Questions:



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.



Here are some websites that we have designed, consulted on, or hosted:

HunterTodd

Cruise Odysseys

TaxCheck

Branson Condo

Overland.com

Dr. Heller
Mental Well Being


The Original Digger

John Baker Jewelry

Optical Energy

Casa Caribe

Non-GMO
source.com


Central Iowa Delphi Users Group

JamCoach

Brezner Consulting

USW Start Page

San Luis Bay Inn

PayPhonesDirect

Twin Galaxies

Musical
Schwartz.com




"My husband and I own a small hotel near Cancun, Mexico and have had our website with US-Webmasters since September 1999.  The website is our only form of advertising and it keeps our hotel booked solid most of the year.  Site creation and hosting fees have been very reasonable for the quality work and reliable hosting.  Almost every guest comments on how much they liked the site, how easy it was to use and how easy to find.  We feel we have the best website around and have compared it to lots of other hotel websites.  US-Webmasters has also been pleasant and reliable to work with which is important to us doing business from a very long distance.

     -- Patti Davis, owner Casa Caribe, Puerto Morelos, Mexico



"Thanks for everything you are doing for us.  We really appreciate it.  When we first looked at our site, we were tickled pink.  We were extremely pleased with the quality of the site for the money we paid.  We are so happy we ran across you to help get our condo rental business going.  We know so little about computers it is scary--thanks for explaining things so clearly so we can understand them.

We have been showing off the site to all our friends and family.  A fellow condo owner was a bit jealous when he took a look.  A computer engineer friend of ours also was very impressed.  We seem to be getting good placement with the search engines already.  Thanks, US-Webmasters.  We've been very happy with the work you've done--you've really gone the extra mile for us--we love our website!."

     -- David and Nadine Bieker, Branson-Lodging.org



Info on Web Design:
Web Design FAQ  |   Ecommerce  |   Inquiry Form


Info on Web Hosting:
Web Hosting FAQ  |   Inquiry Form  |   Inexpensive Domain Names


Info on Marketing:
Copywriting  |   Publicity  |   Search Engines


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