E-Commerce Primer - A Getting Started Guide

Are you thinking of starting an e-commerce website? Do you want to e-commerce enable your current website? Should you take your product or service to the web? Merchant accounts, shopping carts, and payment gateways… what do they all mean?

E-commerce can often be confusing, or even scary to the average web developer. If you're not careful you can spend tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on an e-commerce system and not have what you need. This article will give you a crash course on e-commerce, so you'll have the knowledge you need to go on to the next step.

Should I even bother with e-commerce?

Now, I don't want to discourage you from starting an online store but not everyone should take the leap. Why not, you ask? If your product or service is best described in person, is difficult to ship, or needs to be tried on you need to really consider whether e-commerce is right for you. Food, furniture, collectibles and clothes are just some products that are more difficult to sell online.

This doesn't mean you can't sell them online. I personally know of at least one successful store in each of the categories listed above (one of which I own). There are exceptions to every rule. Of course, just as there are reasons you might not want to start an e-commerce site, there are instances where you might be better suited with an e-commerce site than a brick and mortar store.

If your product is really easy to ship, or better yet, is a service - you might be better suited for an online store. Think of Amazon… books, music and movies are small and easy to describe with a few pictures and a paragraph description. Services such as web hosting or software are better suited for online selling. Instant delivery and reduced customer service costs are just some of the reasons why they excel online.

Does your product or service fill a niche? If so, you're in luck. Niche markets are best suited for online or catalog sales simply because there are usually not enough customers in any one particular area. With the Internet, however, you can reach the entire world.