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E-Commerce Features
Features and Relationships to support your Internet Store

Despite the media hype, most Web sites still cannot process credit cards online. Many sites that do accept credit cards actually process them offline, using online forms to gather a customer's information and then processing the transaction on their POS terminal when the product ships.

If you plan to take credit cards or other forms of online payment as part of your business model, you'll need to plan on these Web site features and business relationships:

Product catalog. You'll need a product catalog to profile multiple products for your Web audience. It will integrate with your shopping cart program and may even be a feature that is included in your chosen shopping cart package or turnkey Web site solution. You'll need to decide which items you'll sell on your Web site and obtain high-quality photos of your merchandise. Your catalog will include a product image, description, product code, product category, and price as the basics.

Shopping cart. Shopping carts are used online to keep track of and record customers' purchasing decisions. Shopping carts also do the final addition, and add in sales tax and shipping charges.  Shopping cart tools are typically stored on your Web server. But it is possible that your shopping cart program will be hosted on a remote server.

Merchant account provider. A bank or financial institution that provides you with a means for accepting and processing credit card transactions over the Internet is known as a merchant account provider . MAPs, as they are called, may charge you a monthly or yearly fee, a set-up fee, and a per-transaction fee.

Payment gateway software. The term payment gateway refers to code that is embedded in your site, or stored on your host's server, that allows your customers' orders to be transmitted to and from your bank's transaction-authorizing agent. In most cases, this transaction-authorizing agent will be your merchant account provider. Your merchant account provider or other authorizing agent will most likely provide you with the code to use on your site. This payment gateway usually includes a secure socket layer (SSL) , which is a system for encrypting confidential data sent over the Internet.  An example of a payment gateway system is www.authorize.net There are well over 60 different payment gateways to choose from.  Determining the right one for you depends on which shopping cart system you use, which merchant account provider you have, and the fees associated with clearing the credit cards real-time.

Alternative payment options. Internationally, credit cards are not as popular as they are in the United States, and younger buyers often do not have access to credit cards. So you may want to offer alternative payment options to your customers who do not wish to use (or cannot use) credit cards.

Order fulfillment. Before you offer your product for sale, you need to make sure that you can deliver on promises that you make to your customers. This means that you need to figure out how to get their orders to them quickly and without hassle. Completing the sale to the satisfaction of your customers so they return and order again takes planning and organization. You also need to make sure that you can make a profit once you take into account the logistics of getting your products to your customers in diverse locations. In order to fulfill your online orders efficiently, you'll need to assess your order fulfillment requirements and determine whether you might want to hire an order fulfillment house or drop shipper to fill your online orders.

Customer service. There are lots of ways to provide excellent customer service over the Web . And the good news is, lots of customer service tools are available, such as free scripts, downloads, and services. Some of the specific customer service tools that you should look into are:

E-mail notification. You'll want to have an automated system of sending e-mail notification messages to your clients to let them know that their product has been shipped, their order has been processed, and so forth. Many times this is a function of the shopping cart. 

Customer service FAQs. It's important to allow your visitors access to a list of frequently asked questions so that if they have specific concerns in mind, they can quickly and easily get answers and help. Providing an FAQ list is great for you and your customer service team as well, because it saves you time. Instead of repeating your customer service policies and practices over and over, you can simply direct visitors to a single, inclusive page.

On-site search. Think about it. If your customers come to your site for one thing and one thing only, you want them to be able to find it quickly and easily before they decide to go somewhere else.

The right staff. You will need to successfully hire and train your customer service staff in order to have a profitable site.

This article contains excerpts from www.workz.com, a resource for small businesses.


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