Are you new to e-Commerce and full of questions? Or unsure about one specific aspect? Then this e-Commerce guide could be of great help to you.
Everything you need to know to get started in e-Commerce has been answered in plain language by one of the pioneers of e-Commerce. Each chapter is brief and to the point. So delve right in.
An old service back in vogue
e-Commerce is nothing new. It''s just a 200-year-old service repackaged: the latest way to sell goods and services.
OFTEN, when you try to understand something new, it helps to compare it to something old. Like a man did at a seminar on e-Commerce.
As I was talking about the Internet - and how to use it to sell your goods and services to customers in the comfort of their homes - the man suddenly spoke out. "Hey," he said, "that's just like 200 years ago!"
He was thinking back to the days when merchants had to pack their goods onto carts pulled by horses or donkeys and traveled to their customers to show off their offerings.
"If I understand this right," the man said, "then the Internet can be my modern day cart - except I won't have to travel anywhere and customers can buy from me any time."
He was right, of course.
Only today's "Internet cart" is much more powerful. Every day it presents millions of goods and services to tens of millions of customers - anywhere, anytime - even if the sales person is fast asleep.
It helps shop owners provide better services with little effort, increases customer loyalty, helps gain new customers and best of all does it for very little money.
It's not rocket science
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to get into e-Commerce. It's easy. There are some pitfalls - but they can be avoided.
e-Commerce: it may sound daunting to you. But don't be intimidated by the word. Think of it simply as opening a shop in a new suburb. A rather big suburb on a huge freeway, where everyone can easily drive past and with a parking lot that will be the envy of your competitors.
All you have to do is pack your goods into your very own shop in this new suburb called Internet. This has been made very easy with special shop building software allowing you to do this with a few mouse clicks.
Of course first you have to decide if you want to get involved. The information I provide in this book will help you make up your mind.
And once you have a shop, you must protect yourself against shoplifting.
Just like in any other shop.
I'll show you how. If you do it right, you'll have less problems than in a real shop.
What is the Internet ?
The Internet is a huge worldwide network of computers connected to each other.
There is a lot of technology behind the Internet. But all you really need to know is that these computers are connected and can talk to each other.
There is no home of the Internet or a master computer. Just lots of computers all over the world with lots of information all hooked together. If you have access to the Internet, you can read, hear, view and interact all this information from your own computer.
This works, because computer people have developed a complex programming language called HTML. Fortunately you don't need to know it because your computer translates it for you.
Suffice to say it is being used to create pages with information which everyone can easily read on their own computer - so called web pages. Many pages together from the same person or organisation form a web site: just like many pages make up a book. This is why the Internet is sometimes called the world's largest library.
But unlike books in a normal library web sites can include text, sound, images, video and - shops.
Almost anywhere in the world people can get access to these web sites by linking their computer to the Internet via a telephone line and a special computer device called a modem. And although it is a little bit more tricky, people can also make their information available via the Internet - even shops - so that anyone else can get access to it. I'll show you how to do both, soon.
More and more people use the Internet to communicate with each other every day, to get information and entertainment - even to go shopping.
And according to research, millions of people prefer using the Internet to watching TV.
For example according to some research one third of all Internet users in the USA with access at home would rather give up their TV than their Internet (Arbitron/Edison Media Research ).
You couldn't demonstrate any clearer how important the Internet has become.
How the Net became a mall
At first, the Internet was only used by governments and academics. But as it continued to grow and improve, more and more people gained access to it - even people with little computer knowledge.
Today there are hundreds of millions of people using the Internet anywhere in the world. Whilst it didn't start like this, smart business people realized years ago that, wherever lots of people meet, you can sell them something. e-Commerce was born when the first shop opened on the Internet in 1994.
Some business people went absolutely crazy and spent hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to try to sell their goods on the Internet. Of course especially at the beginning there weren't enough customers on the Internet to support such huge investments. So they went broke. Or are going broke even today.
But things have changed. Today tens of millions of people buy online. And a few hundred dollars allow you to start selling them goods. Quite obviously the situation has changed dramatically since the early days - which after all weren't all that long ago.
The low costs of getting started and the positive results many businesses are experiencing, have led to an explosion of online shops. ShopFactory solutions have been used to create tens of thousands of shops in 55 countries.
What is an Internet shop?
You can do business on the Internet by selling goods and services on special interactive web pages.
As you can display virtually any information you want on the Internet, nothing stops you from displaying information on your products and services - for everyone to visit who has access to the Internet.
This is exactly how eCommerce started. In the early stages this was all many people did. And even today this is better than to completely ignore the Internet.
However today things have become a lot more sophisticated - and consumers expect more.
Simple information pages are no longer enough. Today a real Internet shop is interactive. It allows customers to easily navigate through your product information pages, to search for specific products and to preferably get more information than they would for example get from a catalogue.
It also allows customers to click on buttons to add products to a virtual shopping cart - a software program which remembers which products a customer wants to purchase. It calculates total costs payable, including tax and shipping, and sends the shop owner the orders from his Internet customers. For the customers it makes the shopping experience interactive, easy and fast.
e-Commerce: here to stay
People enjoy the convenience of shopping on the Internet. And more and more are discovering it.
EVERY day, more and more people go shopping on the Internet - and this is just the beginning. It is predicted that soon almost everyone will be doing it. But even today hundreds of millions are doing it worldwide - although not as often as some may want you to believe, and of course not all in your country.
It is easy to see why. Imagine, for example, a young mother who needs to get to the shop. She could bundle the children into the car and battle the traffic, noise, queues - or she could log on to the Internet at home, order what she needs and have it home delivered. Some supermarkets already offer this service - delivery guaranteed within two hours. My wife can't wait for this service to become available in our home town.
Or imagine an elderly person or someone who is housebound, an executive with a busy lifestyle or someone looking for a product he just can not find in the shops nearby - if he finds the time to go there to look ...
As e-Commerce grows, more and more people are enjoying the convenience of shopping in their own time from home.
And as e-Commerce grows up and overcomes some of the concerns people still have about it, it will become more and more essential. Put simply e-Commerce is here to stay, because it makes life generally easier for the majority of people using it.
Get on top of it or get run over
You are facing a revolution. If you don't get on top of it, you may be left behind by those who do.
A few years ago nobody had heard about the Internet. Today everybody has. Many even prefer it to TV. It is as simple as that. The fact that you are reading this book shows you are taking things more serious than many of your competitors. Congratulations. Because with all these people shopping on the Internet, you'll at least need to know what is going on.
Granted, you could just ignore e-commerce, continue with business as usual, and it mightn't even hurt you - for now.
But shopping habits are changing dramatically. Customers expect more and more service. Among these services access via the Internet rates high. Because it saves time. Remember how no one thought fax machines where needed? Or mobile phones? By providing e-commerce as a service, you ensure your customers stay loyal to you - and you will gain new ones.
Research in the USA has shown profits increase by up to 10% in brick and mortar shops, who also opened a shop on the Net, and promoted it to existing clientele. This included purchases by many customers who checked out the products on the Internet to save time, but then purchased them in the real shop, anyway. Keeping in mind it only costs a few hundred dollars to get involved, it sounds like a good deal to me.
And just think of all those businesses which successfully sell only on the Internet, competing and surviving against the big chains.
Get your foot in the door
e-commerce is still young. But it is continuously growing. More and more consumers go online every day. Most of them have more money to spend than the average consumer.
Your Internet shop can be a sideline to an existing business - or a new venture.
Your Internet shop can generate direct sales - from people ordering directly via their computer - and indirect sales - from people who browse your web site and then visit you in the real world to buy or call you up. So even if you don't sell much via the online shop, your overall sales should still go up if you promote your Internet shop properly.
Low cost e-Commerce entry
You don't have to spend thousands to put a shop on the Net. Doing so might actually be a bad idea.
IF you still think setting up a shop on the Internet is expensive, think again. If you can put in some work on a weekend or two, a few hundred dollars will do. That's how much professional software costs which makes it point and click easy - no special skills required. Or get in a student to do the work for you for a little extra.
Unless you have money to burn, or special circumstances, that's all you should spend. The software will ensure your shop has the right look and functions to compete with the biggest stores on the Net.
Your biggest problem comes after you build the shop - it is letting other people know that you have one. So rather than spending thousands on setting up, you should concentrate on promoting your shop to your customers. Smart thinking will take your e-commerce venture far without big spending (I'll tell you some tricks later).
Consider this: two small businesses have an e-commerce budget of $2000. One spends the money on having a designer create a basic shop for him. The other spends a few hundred dollars on software, employs a student to do the work and the rest to promote the shop. Who'll do better?
The answer is obvious. Unless you tell others about your shop, you may wait forever for orders.
Your Shop Building Options
To open an Internet shop, you must create web pages with your information. You have four options:
1. Create your own web pages from scratch.
2. Pay someone else to create your shop for you.
This may be a good option, depending on your budget. It can be very expensive, if you are not careful. Get a fixed price contract so you don't get caught out. However with the right developer it can make your life easier.
You can also ask a developer to use a software package which you purchase for yourself, such as ShopFactory. The developer can then build the shop for you, and when it is ready hand it over including the software - so you can maintain it yourself. But make sure you agree with the developer that you will get ALL files. That way making a few small changes, such as changing a price and adding a few products can easily be done - and costs nothing.
3. Use shop building software.
I may be biased here, but I always liked this option best. The software takes care of all the issues, such as design, tax and shipping calculations and so on. All you have to do is enter your product and shop information. Best of all you should be able to get away with a once off payment which you can easily budget for and which may even be tax deductible. And you are in complete control.
4. Build it directly on the Internet.
Some ISPs or Service providers allow you to build your shop directly on their system via the Internet. This usually means they assign you an Internet shop address, and if you become unhappy with the ISP service, all the work spent on the shop is lost, as you can't take it with you.
If you want to build your shop using such a service, at the very least make sure you can point your own Internet address to this shop. You will spend a lot of effort promoting your shop address. If it is owned by someone else, they effectively control your shop.
Also check the connection speed. Building a shop directly online can be very time consuming and frustrating, if you do not have a very fast Internet connection. And very expensive, if you are subject to timed phone call charges.
Your Window to the world
Your web site is like your business window to the world. It should look as professional and appealing as possible.
Ever noticed how you always walk past some shops in a mall - never giving them a second look? Or how a dirty front window or dusty display of a store keeps you outside?
It's the same on the Internet. A web site that looks unprofessional immediately signals to a customer low quality. Even if you are selling high quality products. Just like in the real world. But there is one big difference.
Unlike in the real world you can create a first class impression without spending more money.
To create a great impression in the real world, you must spend big on building an impressive shop. On the Internet even a small merchant can look big. After all, customers are only looking at web pages. If these are well designed, customer may even perceive you as bigger than you really are.
This is exactly the trick used by many on-line businesses, who have managed to compete successfully with the big boys.
And it is a trick available to you, too. Wether you use shop building software such as ShopFactory with award winning designs provided or spend money on a designer to do this for you.
If you put your business on the Internet, do it properly. Don't risk your reputation with an unprofessional Internet presentation.
Your home page
The first page of your web site - your 'home page' - is like your street window display.
It should look professional - and entice people inside.
Many web sites have a nice logo picture on the first page and nothing else. New visitors have to guess what the website is about.
You would rarely see a shop in the real world not using the street window to let people quickly know what they have on offer.
Don't think the Internet is different. Just as people can quickly walk past a shop in a mall, they can quickly move on on the Net.
Proefssional design however does not mean lots of gimmicks. A clean lay-out, a single image and some interesting text work much better than some overloaded pages, which appear confusing and give no clear idea of what the site is all about.
Don't blow your 30 seconds
While the Internet is getting faster, for many it is still slow. You have 30 seconds to attract your customer. Starting now.
Regardless of how your shop is created: there is one rule you must know to make sure you get the best for your money. It's not even a new rule: More is not always better also applies to the Internet.
If you have been looking at different web sites on the Internet, you may have noticed that it sometimes takes a long time before a web site can be seen. Actually sometimes it takes so long, you stop waiting and move on to another web site.
While sometimes a bad Internet connection can be to blame, this is also often caused by web design overkill. The web site designer has used so many graphics, images, sound effects or other dazzling functions on the page, that the resulting page is so big, it takes for ever to download.
It takes too long for a browser on a standard telephone line to take in all the information it needs to display such a page. This is as bad as forcing your customers to stand in a long queue.
The result: Your potential new customer turns away. Some research gives you as little as 30 seconds or less before this happens. So during these first 30 seconds your web site must start showing items to visitors to make them stick around.
Bad programming of a page even with little information can cause the same problem. Always make sure to have a shop designed for speed - so you don't blow your 30 seconds.
Make it easy to reap rewards
Your visitors want shopping to be easy. Don't give them a hard time.
Have you ever been to a web site where you simply could not figure out how to navigate around? And given up in disgust?
You are not the only one. And unless you make easy navigation a priority on your web site, you risk losing your customers in much the same way.
One of the reasons the Internet has become so popular is, that it has become fairly easy to use. But with more and more people connecting, you should expect less and less computer experience.
Which is precisely what your web site design must take into account.
While you should be able to expect a minimum in navigation skills from your visitors - they ought to know how to click on words and pictures to view other pages - you should not expect them to go for a treasure hunt on your website to find the one link word that opens your Internet shop.
A good web site design should take the guess work out of the navigation and give the visitor the power to move around with ease.
If you are unsure, simply use common sense. For example: When your home page comes up, is it immediately obvious that there are links you can follow?
If not, you may have problems. Think of the links as the map to your web site. If you do not give your visitors the map, they will get lost - and will probably not purchase from you.
Ten tips to make your Website a success
A few simple rules can make all the difference, when creating a website or Internet shop.
1. Map out a plan of your website and shop, and arrange your different products and services into different departments for easy navigation.
2. Decide how you want your shop to look. Make sure the text colour and the colour of the background work together - if the text is hard to read on the background, make a change.
3. Different computers support different text styles. If you want your web site to look the same on everyone's computers, only use Arial, Verdana or Times New Roman.
4. The first page of your Web site - your "home page" - is your welcome page. Make sure you mention who you are and what you're about. This may sound obvious, but many Web sites fail to do it - and lose customers as a result.
5. Your home page will have links to the different departments inside your shop. Make sure this is obvious, so people can find their way around.
6. Make sure you include all your contact details, even a direct e-mail link from your Web site to you. Missing details can make customers suspicious that you may be hiding something.
7. Make sure your Web site is not overloaded with images and visual tricks, like a cheap radio with too many blinking lights. Gimmicks distract customers from the message you want to convey.
8. Make sure pictures only have a small file size in kilobytes. The larger the file, the longer it takes to appear on people's computer screens. If it takes too long you will lose customers. If you must use a larger image, have a link to it from text or a smaller image - then the customer will be prepared to wait.
9. There are two main Internet browsers today: Internet Explorer and Netscape. Your Web site can look completely different in the two if it is not constructed properly. Make sure your website looks good at least in Internet Explorer, which covers more than 80% of the market. However good development software should create shops looking good in both.
10. Most people have computer screens with a resolution of 800 x 600 or above. Make sure your Web site is designed to look good in different resolutions. If programmed for one resolution only, it may fall apart at a different resolution.
Security - the perception counts
Most horror stories you may have heard about doing business on the Internet are wrong.
What is true however is, that many people ignore common sense when moving their business onto the Net.
Security is an important issue on the Internet. But the reason for security being so important is not really that there are so many problems. The reason is that so many people think there are many problems. Even when all research shows this is not true.
On the contrary: Web-based transactions are, in many cases, safer than those that take place over the phone or even in shops built with bricks and mortar.
A shop on the Internet can be best compared with a mail or phone order business. Customers buy products from you without you actually seeing them or their credit card.
According to VISA and MasterCard transactions via the Internet pose no extra risk to customers compared to mail or phone orders.
Other research has shown that companies selling via the Internet actually experience less problems than their phone and mail order counterparts in the real world.
Knowing this takes care of two issues. Your customers don't need to worry when shopping on line. This knowledge is slowly spreading, with more and more people willing to buy on the Internet. And you don't have to worry about doing business on the Net - if you use common sense and don't ignore basic safety rules.
Because if you use common sense, the Internet will be a safer business environment than the real world.
Security for customers
Worries about lack of security are the number one reason stopping people from buying over the Internet. Even if these worries are not based on reality.
In 1999 it took newcomers to the Internet on average more than 12 months before they made a purchase on the Internet. Today this average is down to less than four months - and falling. Of those who have bought on the Net, 98% want to do it again. These figures clearly indicate security concerns are declining. Yet as long as concerns are around, you must take care of them so you can turn all visitors to your Internet shop into customers.
The most basic way is to provide all your contact details on your website. If possible allow people to call you on the phone. Often just being able to talk to a real person helps overcome worries.
If you have a real brick and mortar shop, list the address on your web site. You will find that people worried about security check you out on the Internet and buy from you in your real shop. In which case your Internet shop has worked like a high powered low cost add for you.
Allow customers to print out their order so they can fax it or mail it to you. While this is not more secure it gives people the feeling of more security. If it gets you the order, it is worth doing.
And of course you should accept orders in your online shop in a secured environment, in which all orders get encrypted while being transferred over the Net.
The two browsers Internet Explorer and Netscape support a special encryption method. It ensures nobody can read an order, while it is being sent via the Internet. This encryption method is called SSL.
Because of the high security SSL offers, it is widely used in Internet shops to secure orders.
ShopFactory comes with free SSL support included. If you combine this with PGP encryption, your security will be above and beyond that of most businesses. With ShopFactory this is easy and free.
A small padlock or a key at the bottom of a browser window usually indicate to a customer, when a website is secure - although a connection can be secure even if this symbol does not come up. Seeing it however is a guarantee.
Because SSL is widely known and accepted, you should always use it when accepting orders online, to make customers feel more comfortable.
Also tell them right on your home page that your shop is secure. The more you inform them about security, the better they will feel about buying in your shop.
Or you could use a real-time payment service provider doing the transactions for you. While this comes at a cost, it means you have a 3rd party taking care of security issues. Many of these services also can screen out a number of fraudulent transactions.
And of course you will not have to manually approve payments yourself via the telephone.
Security for shop owners
Research shows shoplifting is less of a problem on the Net than in the real world. But don't take this for granted.
Dealing with payments on the Internet is no different to dealing with payments in a normal business - you need to take the same precautions. Every day, shop owners in the real world must be wary of credit card fraud, bouncing checks and shoplifters. Fortunately on the Internet you have one big advantage over bricks and mortar shops. While a shoplifter can walk into a normal shop, grab a product and walk out, this is usually not possible on the Internet. The only way a customer can shoplift from you on the Net is by presenting you with a false order. Using for example a check from a bank without having money, or a false credit card.
Your advantage of course is, that at this stage you still have the products. And you should only send them out, if you feel comfortable that the order is real and the customer can pay.
One Internet business delivered goods to a man waiting on a street corner - and wondered when they lost thousands of dollars in a fraudulent deal!
If an order is suspicious in any way, check it out. Call the customer. Verify the address. Cancel it, if you have any suspicions. Always remember: If you make around 30% profit and one item gets stolen, you will have to sell the item 3 more times, just to make up for the loss.
On the Internet you have the advantage over the shoplifter. Use the advantage, and your shop will be safer than those in the real world.
Encrypt your orders with SSL and PGP
Three letters can make all the difference. They stand for encryption methods which ensure your customers can shop in safety.
Internet browsers such as Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator support a special encryption method. It ensures nobody can read an order, while it is being placed on the Internet. This encryption method is called SSL.
Because SSL is widely known and accepted, you should always use it when accepting orders online, to make customers more comfortable.
Also tell them right on your home page that your shop is secure. The more you inform them about security, the better they will feel about buying in your shop.
Because of the high security SSL offers, it is widely used in Internet shops to secure orders. Of course ShopFactory comes with SSL included free of charge - no need for you to worry about it. Any order details sent via the Internet by ShopFactory shops are by standard SSL encrypted.
To top off your security, you can with ShopFactory even use PGP, and additional encryption package, which protects your email orders when they are sent to you.
How do you get the money?
You have addressed all security concerns. But how do you get the money from a customer?
For some reason many people think everything is different, if they do business over the Internet. This is wrong. The Internet is just an additional sales channel - albeit a very powerful one. So accepting money over the Internet is no different to accepting money from a customer who orders a product from you by telephone.
You can ask people to send you a check, money order or to transfer money into your account. Or you can offer them Cash On Delivery or use any other payment method you can think of. Of course you should be satisfied that the selected payment methods meet your security requirements.
Accepting credit cards is a little more complex - as it requires you to have a special bank account. This bank account is called a merchant account. Talk to your bank to find out if they can provide you with a merchant account or ask them who can.
Your merchant account provider will also be able to tell you which cards you can accept. MasterCard and Visa are the most common cards used around the world.
If you run an existing business, you may already accept credit cards.
Ask your bank, if this account may be used to do business over the Internet. If they don't allow you to do this, just talk to another bank.
Accept payments in real-time
If you don't want to process credit card payments yourself, or your bank is not willing to give you a merchant account to process credit cards, a real-time payment service provider can help you.
Real time payment service providers can help you in two cases: If you have an existing merchant account and if you do not have one. A merchant account is a special bank account, which allows you to accept credit card payments from your customers.
If you have a bank account allowing you to accept credit cards over the Net, then such a service can make the payment approval process easier.
Without a real-time payment service you would receive for example credit card details of a customer with the order, and would have to approve them manually yourself. This you would do by typing the details into a little terminal hooked to your bank or by calling a special phone number. It is the most cost effective method and works well, unless you receive lots of orders. It could be a good starting point to keep your costs low, until you have established your shop.
If you get many orders, using a real-time payment service can help you streamline your operation. Some of these services also use sophisticated credit card fraud detection methods, helping safeguard you from fraud. ShopFactory is compatible with around 50 different services.
If you do not have a merchant account, then these service providers can support you by either helping you get such an account or by accepting credit cards in your name. This may well be worth using, as the majority of people on the Internet pay by credit card. Not being able to accept these cards will cost you customers. You will need to decide if the benefits outweigh the costs of such a service.
In both cases the service provider checks every order immediately when it is being made, approves or disapproves it and eventually transfers the money into your account. You will find these services with the help of search engines on the Internet. Many are also included in ShopFactory, the shop building software on the CD.
Open your doors to the world
Creating a shop is one thing. Now you must let the world have a look at it.
YOUR shop is set up, and you have access to the Internet - but the Internet doesn't have access to you. If you want to get serious about e-commerce, you will have to change this.
Don't worry - it's not difficult. First you must have Internet access. And you need space on the Net for your shop.
Usually when you get an account from an Internet service provider for Internet access, they give you some Internet space to go with it. That's all you need to get started, if you want to do it really cheap. Unfortunately it normally means you can not get a good Internet address which your customers can remember, as the ISP will assign you an address.
For a more professional appearance, you can rent Internet space from your ISP or from web hosting companies - companies which specialize in renting out Internet space on their computers (check the search engines or ask friends).
They provide you with virtual servers - a term which basically means they give you space on their hard disk for a fee. You transfer your shop via the Internet onto their computer - and the world will be able to view it (ShopFactory does this for you, automatically). If you do not know where to host your shop, we can help you, too. Just contact us and ask for our hosting services.
You can have your own Internet address to appear more professional. And you still won't have to spend big dollars.
A place on the Web for your shop
Using a web hosting company can make your life easier. It also makes you independent.
While ISPs give you access to the Internet and often also provide you with space on the Net, they do this because they have to - else you could go to a competitor who does.
Web hosting companies however specialize in renting out space for people who need it. While some ISP's offer very good hosting services, web hosting companies can be a better option.
This is because of the traffic they have to deal with. An ISP has to cater for people who want to get to the Internet and with traffic from the Internet from people who want to see pages hosted by the ISP.
A web hosting company only has to deal with traffic from the Internet. In an ideal world your website should come up faster when a visitor calls it - especially during busy times.
If you are connected to the Internet, using a web hosting company is easy. You will get a special address to which to publish your web site. Shop building software such as ShopFactory can do this automatically, once you have entered this address in the software.
Hosting companies will also allow you to have your own Internet address for a reasonable price.
ISP's sometimes charge you more for this because they know using your own Internet address makes you independent of them. After all, as long as you use and promote the address the ISP has assigned to you and not your own, you are unlikely to switch to a competitor.
Your own Internet address
You need your own Internet address. You can use the one provided by your ISP. A better option is using your own domain name. Make it easy to remember.
The correct name for a top level Internet address is domain name. Domain name is a Web site address that belongs to you exclusively. It is your 'domain' and may even contain your own name, such as www.SteffanKlein.com. No one else can use it. It's like your own street address.
However unlike a street address a domain name can move with you. So if you decide to switch your web hosting company or ISP, you can take the name with you. This means even if you move, your customers do not have to learn a new address for you.
Your domain name should closely reflect your business name or what your business is about to make it easy to remember. Your Web site address should also always stay the same - so customers can always find you again.
Unfortunately finding such a domain name may not be easy, as many names have already been taken up. You can use up to 64 characters. However the shorter and easier to remember, the better. There are also several new extensions to domain names, such as biz and info and others. However the .com or the extension used in your country are still most highly regarded.
When an ISP gives you a free domain name, it is usually not a top level Internet address, but a name based on their own - such as www.my-ISP.com/homepages/SteffanKlein. They own the domain name and grant you a sub name. If you move on, you must give it up.
Domain names also allow you to have your own email addresses, making you independent in this regard, too.
It is not hard to get a domain name nor very expensive. Ask your ISP or Web-hosting company to help you. Just make sure they list you, not themselves, as the owner of the name.
The next best address
If you can't afford a domain name or want to use the free web space provided by the ISP, you can still get a good address.
IF you don't want to pay for a domain name, or the domain name of your choice is already taken or you have to cut costs, a name redirection service could be the next best option.
For example instead of www.my-ISP.com/homepages/SteffanKlein
you could have the Internet address www.leap.to/SteffanKlein
Because the main domain name - leap.to in the example above - is owned by a company specializing in this service, they will give you more flexibility. After all they don't care if you leave your ISP or Hosting service for another service. ShopFactory can help your with names such as leap.to, leadme.to and hotfoot.to
Best of all, such a service may be free at the most basic level - and therefore be a good interim solution. You could use it until you decide you need a real domain name, then point it to your main site for as long as you want - or until all customers have moved across to your domain name.
Redirection services can also come with your own email addresses to match your redirection address - another advantage which again makes you less dependant on the ISP.
Redirect URLs do, however, have one small disadvantage. It will take a little longer for your Web site to appear on people's computer screens. It's like taking the alternate route to your shop instead of the direct one - like a domain name.
Let people know you exist
Putting your Web site on the Internet alone is not enough. Now you have to start fishing for customers.
Getting your shop onto the Internet is a great achievement. But it is only the beginning. You have built it - now you must make them come. Because unfortunately this does not happen by itself.
If you want customers to enter your Internet shop, you will have to tell them about it. It is unrealistic to believe you can put a web site on the Internet, then sit back and wait for the money to roll in.
For a start, how will people even know your Internet shop exists?
Like in any business, marketing and promotion will be the keys to your success. That's why - as explained before - you shouldn't overspend on developing your web site. You will need some money to advertise it.
There are many guides on how to market your shop on the Internet. But there are also some very obvious methods which cost little money and will help you drive customers to your web site - some of which will be listed on the next page.
Of course the idea is not to spend millions on making your site work. Bigger companies have tried this and failed. It's all about being smart. Always remember: On the Internet you have every opportunity of competing with the big boys.
How will people find you?
People will not find your business on the Internet, unless you make it easy for them.
One of the most important marketing tools you will need was explained to you in the last chapter. Your own Internet address. But getting such an address - and making it one that can easily be remembered - is only the first task of your Internet marketing effort. Once you have it, you will have to let people on the Internet know how to find you.
In the real world you could do this by placing an add in the Yellow Pages. On the Internet there is a much cheaper alternative: the search engines.
Your task is to ensure your shop comes up in search engines, when someone searches for a product you offer.
This requires you to list your site with search engines. Most search engines such as Alta Vista, Google or Yahoo allow you to do this by filling in a form on their site. As there really are only 10 or so major international search engines and some that may be specific to your country, it is not a huge task.
By letting these search engines know your shop address, you are inviting them to your site. They will index your site so it can be found and displayed when someone searches.
To rank well in search results, you must provide special search result text in your shop, so called Meta Tags. This is easy. All you have to do is fill in the appropriate fields in your shop building software. Good software such as ShopFactory should then automatically integrate it in your pages.
Here are some of the more important search engines:
Yahoo - www.yahoo.com
Alta Vista - www.altavista.com
Excite - www.excite.com/
Lycos - http://www.lycos.com
Google - www.google.com/
GoTo - www.goto.com/
Web Crawler - www.webcrawler.com/
MSN Search - search.msn.com/
Look Smart - www.looksmart.com/
Search engines are basically web sites that help you find other web sites. The easiest way to go to a search engine is by clicking on the 'Search' button on your browser. Or type in their web address.
To read the information provided on the Internet, you must of course find it, first. If you know where to look, it's easy. Just like houses in the real world, web sites have unique addresses. They start with www - short for World Wide Web. The address for ShopFactory for example is www.shopfactory.com. Just type it into the address field of your browser, hit the return key on your keyboard and the browser will take you there automatically (you may have to wait a little, depending on your connection).
But if you are searching for an address or even just some information, you can use so-called search engines.
These are websites which have indexed the complete Internet. You type in a word in a search field on their page - and the search engine returns every web site it finds containing this word.
This can be overwhelming. For example a search for reptiles might return almost 200,000 pages. By using the advanced features of search engines, you can narrow down searches to make sure the result helps you.
If you search for +legless +lizards +Melbourne at www.altavista.com, you force the search engine to find only pages containing all three words - and it finds only 45 Internet pages.
If you had an Internet shop in Melbourne selling legless lizards, my son could have become your customer recently. He did not find a shop, but good information on legless lizards.
To use a search engine, you provide details about the information you want - then it returns with a list of Web sites that may have what you're looking for.
Here are some of the more important search engines:
Yahoo - www.yahoo.com
Alta Vista - www.altavista.com
Excite - www.excite.com/
Lycos - http://www.lycos.com
Google - www.google.com/
GoTo - www.goto.com/
Web Crawler - www.webcrawler.com/
MSN Search - search.msn.com/
Look Smart - www.looksmart.com/
Don't just market on the Net
Being registered with search engines is important. More important can be to let people know in the real world about your Internet shop.
While registering with search engines is important, it is not nearly as important as many so called Internet specialist may want you to believe.
The simple truth is that even people who use the Internet regularly, are not always familiar with the best ways to use search engines. Or they are simply not using them. And, of course, with the size of the Internet, and the amount of results that can be returned by search engines, being found on the Net has not become easier.
Much more potent therefore can be some very simple rules which ensure you will be found in the real world. Never forget that while you can have customers on the other side of the world, gaining the ones around the corner can be much easier - and be just as lucrative.
If you have a bricks and mortar shop, put up a sign in your window, so that passing traffic and all your customers can see it. Someone driving past may have no time to stop now, but can visit your web site later.
Do you advertise in magazines or newspapers? Do you have business cards, letter heads, business envelopes or use brochures? Always include your web address on all of these. Are you listed in the White Pages? Ask you if they also list Internet addresses.
There are many similar low cost methods to promote your Internet shop in the real world. If you do it properly, you can have a big impact with only a small investment.
Keep looking after your shop
People need to see you are looking after your shop. If it never changes or you do not respond to requests, they'll lose trust in you and take their business elsewhere.
YOUR Internet shop will need constant attention - just like your bricks and mortar business. It is not a magical, get-rich-quick scheme that works wonders on its own.
First, you must check your e-mails at least daily - to make sure you respond promptly to any customer inquiries and orders. If you do not respond to e-mails within a day or two (preferably faster), people will lose trust in your business. Your Internet shop should also automatically send an order confirmation to your customers, to make them feel comfortable about the order they have placed.
Consider changing your web site every now and then. This could be as simple as changing the text on your first page, your home page. Or you could change the complete look and feel, depending on the season. Just treat your Internet shop like your real, physical shop. Think of different displays or promotions you could use to attract customers.
Keep your Web site updated with new information, new additions and special prices.
This will keep the interest of customers up - and help with sales. Of course it is easier and more affordable to do this, if you have created your shop with shop building software, which can do these things at the click of a few buttons.
Stay in touch with customers
The Internet allows you to keep in touch with your customers for very little money.
ONCE you are connected to the Internet, you will have your own e-mail address. This means you will be able to receive and send e-mails. It's even better if you have an e-mail address combined with your domain name, as it looks much more professional, and gives you e-mailing efforts extra weight.
These e-mails can be a very potent weapon in your e-commerce arsenal.
In the real world, businesses have to spend huge sums of money to stay in touch with their customers, to send them letters or call them by telephone. On the Internet all it takes is an e-mail.
You can use e-mails to confirm orders, let customers know about the status of their order or provide customer service to customers who want to know more about a product or have other questions.
It is also possible to use e-mail to promote your products. However this can be fraught with dangers, if done incorrectly.
This is because by sending product information out to customers without their approval, you could be regarded as spamming them - the Internet term for flooding people with junk mail.
You will have to decide if the returns are worth offending some of your customers.
All about e-mails
People who are connected to the Internet can send and receive electronic messages - the equivalent of letters on the Internet.
These electronic messages are called e-mails - and they are an important tool in e-commerce.
You will need an e-mail address so customers can contact you via their computers and to receive orders. It may look like this: firstname.lastname@example.org (the @ is pronounced like 'at').
You can then use e-mails to answer customer inquiries and accept orders. Special software on your computer called an e-mail program makes this easy. Your ISP will help you set this up.
E-mails are sent and received almost instantly - and cost much less than a telephone call or postage.
Once you have arranged your e-mail address, it will be just as important as your business name, address and telephone number - and should be promoted as such.
While some people will still want to contact you the traditional way - over the telephone, by facsimile or through the old-fashioned 'snail mail' - most people on the Internet now prefer to send e-mails.
If possible, you should have control over your e-mail address, as the address given to you by your ISP is controlled by the ISP - if you move, you can't take it with you. There are companies on the Internet such as Hotmail (www.hotmail.com) , which make this possible. However an email address based on your own business name looks the most professional. You will find more details on this in the chapter on Internet addresses.
Take web customers seriously
If you want your Internet venture to be successful, you must take your customers seriously.
When you design your Internet shop, never take Internet customers less seriously.
Many shop owners falsely believe - because they don't understand the Internet properly or because a shop on the Internet is not a "real shop" - that somehow customers on the Internet are also less real - and therefore require less attention.
This is why they believe they can get away with unprofessional web sites and inadequate product information.
Don't make the same mistake. While you may have a hard time picturing an Internet customer, they will picture you when they see your web site. And carry their money elsewhere, if they feel badly looked after. And that is very real money.
When people look at goods or services in your Internet shop, they want more than just a picture and a price tag. Give them the full sales pitch. These are real customers - even if they buy in an unreal environment.
This does not require a major effort on your behalf. Your shop will look professional when created with professional shop building software such as ShopFactory. And there is no law that says you must show all your products on the Net. Pick your best sellers for starters and give them a little more effort. More products can follow, as you become more successful.
A quick look at words you may come across when dealing with e-Commerce.Experts often hide behind incomprehensible words to make even simple issues appear complex and difficult - something you cannot do without them. Well, with ShopFactory you can. But here are some of those terms that you will run into again and again, anyway.