If you have just decided to turn your website into an online store you should think carefully about what you want to achieve. Successful online stores will focus on user experience and trust. Emphasizing this to the user will assist in increasing your customer base and help facilitate business growth.

Studies show that online consumers are unlikely to shop around and show enormous loyalty. Once a customer has a satisfactory online shopping experience, they are unlikely to go elsewhere. This is often referred to as 'customer lock - in', a term to describe customers repeat visits to the site. The inertia of online customers means that it is vital that your business makes a good first impression. One bad online experience is likely to mean that the customer will not visit again.

Customers opt for online stores because they can be more convenient than brick and mortar stores. However, one of the biggest challenges of conducting an online business is making sure that the customers trust your website. To be a successful online store, you need to instill trust in your customers. Your online business needs to provide a strong framework for trust and be able to engender trust amongst its users. Trust and loyalty is promoted through the use of a secure payment system. However, in order to create a secure payment system, you first have to convert your business into a site where e-commerce can take place and where your customers can purchase your products and/or services with ease.


Initial Set-Up

There are three major elements to setting up your e-commerce website; a payment gateway, a merchant account and a shopping cart. When building your website you need to ask the following questions.

  1. Will you use an existing software package to handle your shopping cart/storefront or will you develop your own shopping cart application?
  2. Do you need real time credit card processing?
  3. Do you have a merchant account set up?
  4. Do you need to have secure web pages in order to accept credit card information from your customers; and will this be via a host website or will you create it on your own website?

The Front End

In your ecommerce set up, you need to choose whether you are going to use a vendor built shopping cart system or a custom developed application. The benefits of a vendor built shopping cart system are:

  • Quick web development time
  • A customized shopping cart to fit your website
  • Easy upgrades without the need for further development work; and
  • A structure which supports many different processing companies.

The benefits of a custom-developed shopping cart system are:

  • Fully customizable and built to requirements;
  • The store can be developed towards the different Payment Gateways;
  • Built using the scripting environment of your choice; and
  • Complete knowledge of your store in case of problems.

Merchant Account

After you set up your payment gateway and shopping cart, you need to set up your own merchant account. This account will enable you to accept payments for the products you sell. Under a merchant account, you can use a bank or other financial institution to accept and deposit credit card payments into your account. Usually, your bank will have an online facility for your transactions and fees associated with this service.

There are a plethora of other companies who specialise in merchant accounts and the fees vary from company to company. You can be charged for the setup, license of the merchant account as well as the ongoing service of processing the transactions.

Merchant accounts may have two other types of fees: a reserve fund, which may be required to cover charge backs, and charge back fees, which are similar to NSF-fees a bank charges for returned checks.


Security & Trust

There are four basic steps to providing trust. The first two are easy enough, telling the customer who you are and stating your privacy policy. It is the last two, providing secure transactions and making it easy for customers to pay which are the failings of many ecommerce sites. Trust and security are two intertwining issues.

The security infrastructure is vital to the ongoing relationship with partners and customers. You may need to use privacy certificates, escrows and digital security to promote trust amongst your users. In order to accept credit card information from your customers, your website's will need to be secure to prevent hackers from using your customer's information fraudulently. More importantly, customers will be concerned about confidentiality.

Technologies like "SSL encryption" are used to encrypt data as it is being sent, so that the information cannot be intercepted and read in transit. SSL encryption requires the use of a "Certificate", which can be thought as a "key" that "locks" the incoming data, and unlocks it when the information needs to be used. Another alternative is that you can purchase your own 'certificate' from a company which specializes in encryption. Once installed, you can secure any of your web pages. By ensuring confidentiality and trust, and having a user-centered focus, your e-business will succeed where others have failed.

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