Hosted E-Commerce

“Think different”, when it comes to E-commerce these days.

Not too long ago, E-commerce was for larger companies with deep pockets, programming and database experts, and a warehouse full of products ready for shipping. Financial demands for e-commerce included expensive secured servers, purchasing a secured certificate, and fees payment gateways for your merchant account. If there were no resources for a darn good (expensive) web designer, the sites looked sophomoric. The monthly costs, combined with a learning curve which sucked up a lot of billable hours, made e-commerce pricey and laden with a horrible ROI.

So, what is different? Everything.

It’s time to take a look at 3rd party. There are many e-commerce solutions or known as “hosted e-commerce” which have embraced today’s small business clients needs for a complete CMS (content management system), blog, social media, shipping, marketing and more combined into their e-commerce package.

The ability to customize templates along with CSS is a huge plus for using these platforms. In addition to the highly customizable options, eliminating the costs procured by secured hosting and merchant account, make the deal even sweeter.

Not all “hosted e-commerce” solutions are built the same.

Cheap is an option. Many large, mainstream hosting companies are offering click and go e-commerce for very low monthly costs. GoDaddy, 1×1, Register, LunarPages all offer e-commerce for dirt. What they are offering is another article all together, but it’s definitely “caveat emptor”, when signing up for these accounts. Remember, these are hosting companies, new to the game and scrambling to offer hosting clients as much as they can to keep money rolling in each month.

Quality is an option. Many new 3rd Party companies are showing their pre-built muscle every upgrade. They are powerful, flexible, and easy to use, have great support and look great. And it seems there are new platforms coming out every week. However easy these “Plug and Play” e-commerce sites are, you can still hit the glass ceiling, when trying to fully customize these sites.

And awesome is an option. With using a professional web design firm, clients can match their corporate design elements, and even their website layout, into their e-commerce pages easily with help of a professional web designer, who is proficient in CMS and CSS, create a custom shop for a fraction of what was available.

Many hosted e-commerce sites can be done very quickly, some with a turnaround of 2-3 weeks. Of course the client must be prepared; a good idea is to make a checklist. Prepare your inventory, organize all photography, and get all the content and copy written, your merchant account set up,, Google Check Out, Pay Pal or account is in working order.

Do some homework, and you’ll be selling in to time. To help our clients, we create a punch list for our clients; this keeps costs down and enables the client to get their “ducks in a row”. Other companies should do the same.

What to watch out for when designing your hosted e-commerce site.

Watch out for “Option Overload”. After organizing your information and files, getting the necessary accounts going, be aware of all the options your hosted web store offers. Many e-commerce companies offer a massive amount of additional services:

CSV import and export of inventory, including image upload and editing

Coupons, gift wrapping option, wish lists, suggest to a friend, create a t-shirt (yes, a t-shirt)

eBay integration

Mail Chimp Newsletter

Social media options such as in-depth Facebook options

Inventory control systems

Advanced shipping and UPS options

Taxes, Multi-Currency, and more

Mobile platforms

Be prepared and have a clear and concise goal outlined, or you could be held up for weeks scrambling because of “Oh, I need that too”.

A good web development company should be able to project manage any hosted e-commerce project. Saving time is something they specialize in, since they are knowledgeable in what pitfalls to watch out for.

Even if hosted e-commerce sites come with “Set up Wizards” and “Drop and Drag” design, there are many frustrations created due to not understanding CSV files, CMS, CSS, FTP or preparing images.

In addition to getting your shop started, use your web design company’s knowledge of marketing, social media, Google and more when working with them. Don’t be afraid to ask; “What do you think?” or “Any other good ideas?” A good team has plenty of ideas.

Don’t get weighed down by muddling through a hosted e-commerce site. Let the experts get you up and running, then do solid training, and offer support. You shouldn’t be overwhelmed with techspeak, or the feeling you are trapped by a complex system. If you are, fire them. Get comfortable with a good team, and get ready to get busy!

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