A frequent question is “What do I need to build an e-commerce site?”. We’ll try to answer this question in this article.
- Design Template
- E-Commerce Software
- Web Hosting
- Domain Name
- SSL Certificate
- Payment Gateway(s)
- Merchant Account
A desgin template is a collection of HTML and graphics that define the look and feel of your site. You can have a custom design template created by a graphic designer or you can purchase a pre-designed template from any of hundreds of sites on the Internet.
If you’re going to have a custom template created, then make sure your designer coordinates with Reliable Penguin to make sure the finished design is compatible with the other elements of the site.
If you plan to purchase a pre-designed template then get Reliable Penguin to review the template before you make a purchase.
The dynamic functionality within an e-commerce website requires software. Such dynamic functions include a database driven catalog, shopping cart, payment gateway integration, mailing list manager an more
You can have the software custom developed from scratch by a programmer or you can purchase an existing “shrink-wrap” software package and have it customized to meet your requirements. In most cases it is more cost-effective to start with an existing package.
Your e-commerce software must be compatible with the web hosting service that you are planning to use so check which your hosting company before purchasing software.
Reliable Penguin recommends a “open-source” package call osCommerce. Open-source software is developed an contributed by the programmers to the community free of charge. This means you do not have to pay for the software to use it. More importantly, the underlying “source code” that makes up the package is fully available. This means that your programmer (Reliable Penguin) can customize the software to fit your needs.
There are two variations of osCommerce that we frequently use: ZenCart and CRE Loaded. ZenCart is osCommerce with a number of free enhancements pre-installed. CRE Loaded is osCommerce with a large selection of free and commercial enhancements pre-installed. We’ll make a recommendation as to which version of osCommerce is most appropriate for you project based on a review of your requirements.
Your e-commerce site must be hosted on the Internet so that the public can access it an make purchases. There are a wide range of hosting companies offering a diverse selection of services. We suggest that you consider the following factors when selecting your hosting service:
- Reputation – Choose a hosting company that is popular with their customers.
- Price – Choose a hosting package that fits your business budget.
- Reliability – Choose a hosting company has a track record of reliable service.
There are two basic types of web hosting – shared and dedicated. With shared hosting, multiple clients share the same physical server. With dedicated hosting you’ll have the entire server committed to your website. Shared hosting is a good solution for smaller websites. Larger sites will want to go with a dedicated server. Of course dedicated servers are significantly more expensive.
Reliable Penguin offers low cost shared hosting services to our clients. For dedicated hosting we recommend RackSpace (http://www.rackspace.com).
A “domain name” is the address that people use to find you on the Internet. It’s kind of like a phone number. You want a domain name that is easy for people to remember and that promotes the brand or image of your company.
Domain names must be registered with a “domain registrar”. The registrar will be responsible for publishing your domain to the world. You must renew your domain name each year.
There are many registrars to choose from. A resonable price for new domain registrations is $10 to $20 per year. Reliable Penguin recommends GoDaddy (http://www.godaddy.com) for domain registrations.
It’s vital that you protect your customer’s personal information such as credit card numbers. This is accomplished though the use of an “SSL certificate” which make your site “secure”. Most people will not use an e-commerce site that is not “secure” or fails to display a valid seal of authenticity.
There are several different companies that offer SSL certificate services. The exact procedure for purchasing an SSL certificate will depend on your hosting company. In most cases you’ll need to generate a “certificate signing request” (CSR) from the control panel of your website and then send the CSR to the company that is going to provide the certificate. They will then send you the certificate which can be installed through your control panel or by your hosting company
SSL certificates must be renewed on an annual basis. A reasonable cost for an SSL certificate is $30 to $100 per year. Reliable Penguin uses GoDaddy for SSL certificates.
The next thing that you’ll need is a way to collect money from your customers. This is generally accomplished with a payment gateway. The payment gateway allows you to accept credit card and in some cases other forms of payment from your customers.
Of course there are a wide range of payment gateways to choose from. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Some things to keep in mind when selecting a payment gateway:
- What types of payments to they accept? Credit card, echecks, etc.
- What is the monthly cost of the gateway service?
- What are the setup costs?
- Is the payment gateway compatible with the web hosting and e-commerce software that you’ve selected?
- What is the per transaction cost for using the gateway?
Reliable Penguin recommends both Authorize.Net and PayPal Website Payments Pro. Both of these payment gateways are supported by our web servers and osCommerce.
A merchant account is a special type of bank account that is setup to receive credit card payments. Your payment gateway will either include a merchant account or your local bank can provide one. If you are selecting your own merchant account make sure you take a close look at the fees that will be charged.
Authorize.Net usually provides a merchant account through Wells Fargo with their gateway service. Paypal WebSite Payment Pro uses your PayPal account as the merchant account.
I hope that this article has helped to explain the basic components that make up an e-commerce website. At first is can be a confusing process. Just keep in mind that it is no more complex then opening a retail store front.