So you're thinking about selling via the Internet?
Perhaps you are planning to promote and sell your existing products or services, or a you have an idea for a completely new business?
The Internet provides a great opportunity to reach large numbers of potential customers, 24 hours a day, but there are several issues you need to resolve in order to create a successful ebusiness.
Your first consideration will probably be how do you set up your Web Site or "shop front". Is your business suited to a catalogue style of selling where the customer searches, picks products and then orders, or is it more orientated to "soft" products such as software, images, music where "try before you buy" deals are more likely to be expected?
The most obvious difference between a traditional sales outlet and an ebusiness is that prospective customers are remote! They are accessing your product/service information via a browser screen and your descriptions and images must overcome the distance limitations.
Your site content is the key to winning sales. Product marketing information must be accurate and concise, it should emphasise your product features and benefits and it should lead the prospect to an easy buying decision.
In making the buying decision the customer will, as usual, be comparing your prices, features and facilities against any competitors - but the Internet will add some new dimensions!
For instance, the customer will probably want to know that the product is available for despatch, how and when the product will be delivered and, if all else is satisfactory, will need to be able to order and make payment easily and securely.
Creating an ebusiness site, or "shop front", used to be a major undertaking, involving significant software and content development costs and ongoing software and service support costs.
Over the past few years a number of software suppliers have introduced complete ebusiness solutions packages that can generate your shop front, and supply all the necessary supporting services including hosting and payment services.
Typically, to generate your own "shop front" and associated services you;
Most of these steps can be completed within a few hours but item creation for your
catalogue could take hours, days or weeks depending on the number of product items and availability of suitable product description, benefits information, up to date images, and ebusiness pricing (which might be different from your traditional channels).
Once completed your ebusiness "Shop front" will be generated and loaded to a Web Server, usually belonging the ebusiness package provider(part of the service). You should be able to connect to your shop at any time from an Internet connected PC to build/maintain your product and price information, collect statistics etc.
Generating ebusiness service using one of these packages is quick and easy and provides an ideal way of getting into business quickly and cost effectively.
To be successful any ebusiness must provide a easy to use, secure ordering and payment procedure. Your ordering process will need to include packaging, delivery, insurance and tax - as appropriate, resulting in a simple single payment requirement.
You will need to consider which currency you will use for pricing - US dollars are most common for global businesses. Payments into your bank can be converted to Sterling as a payment service (see below).
The most popular form of payment on the Internet is the Credit Card. Its quick and easy to pay by Credit Card and so can encourage some impulse buying!
Processing remote credit card payments is higher risk than "face to face" transactions because there is no way of sight checking signatures, identification etc. Equally it can be risky for customers to make payments to unknown organisations - they may never receive their goods. For these reasons anyone wanting to process Card payments must establish a Merchant Account with their Bank. The Bank will usually charge a set-up fee and may place other conditions on your business depending on credit rating, type of products you are supplying and expected turnover.
The actual processing of payments involves quite complex technology - secure network links, access to the VISA/MasterCard and banking networks etc. Again the increase in ebusiness volumes has encouraged the development of payment processing services from major Banks and financial organisations.
Payment services typically "plug-in" to your Web Service. When the customer completes your order form and moves on to the Credit card transaction, the Web server transfers the transaction to the Payment Processing service for processing. The payment service uses secure networking to collect the customer details and forward them to the customer's Bank for authorisation.
If authorised, the payment service transfers the payment from the customer's Bank into its own accounts prior to forwarding to ebusiness's merchant account. Some services offer next day payments from Credit Card transactions in the currency of your choice!
The customer's Credit card can usually be processed and the transaction confirmed/rejected within a few seconds.
Most of the ebusiness package suppliers now include a number of payment services, not just Credit Cards but also pre-payment accounts, premium rate telephone calls (for instance to collect charges for a software or music download)- the customer pays via their monthly phone bill. They can advise you on the most appropriate methods for your business
It is worth considering the roles of the various parties involved in a customer Credit card purchase;
Each of these parties is trying to make a living from processing your sales!
They will each charge a fee - usually a percentage of the sale value. These fees are deducted as the transaction is processed and the net sales revenue is transferred into your account. You should make sure you know how much each of these parties will charge you before committing to a service.
The major credit card companies offer their card holders the right to contest charges on their statements that may be the result of theft, fraud or error. A contested charge is referred to as a chargeback. When a chargeback occurs, merchant will end up paying the charge to the issuing bank, in addition to a chargeback fee. You should ask your ebusiness solution provider about your liability for any such charges.
Although there are new charges involved with ebusiness trading it is worth remembering that ebusinesses have much lower overheads than traditional businesses and sales volumes can be very high!
Using an ebusiness package can provide you with a fully functional service quickly and easily. However, before you open your shop for business you should also review the backoffice functions - processing orders from the site, accounts, arrangements for order despatch and delivery, stock levels and replenishment arrangements.
Back office procedures can benefit from Internet facilities such as Email, directly linking into Order processing systems, electronic orders and invoices to/from suppliers etc.
The market for packaged ebusiness solutions is very dynamic and site builders, payment service providers, hosting businesses, Banks and IT companies are merging, collaborating and partnering to be able to offer full ebusiness service capabilities. The intense competition has had a beneficial effect on start-up and ongoing operational services, it has never been easier to "set up shop" on the Internet!
For the latest information on payment services, charge rates, merchant accounts etc - use an Internet search engine. It might also be useful to contact your own bank and ask them fro details of the ebusiness support services - keeping accounts within one Bank can have useful advantages.