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Five things to consider before you set up an online shop

If you want to start selling online there are a few basic things you need to consider before you sign up to anything.  Working through the following five points in order will lay the ground work to let you choose the right system for your business.

  • Which currencies will you accept?  It would be really nice for users from different countries to be able to buy products using their own currency, or even present different users with different prices depending on the country in which they live.  Unfortunately most off-the-shelf shopping carts will only accept a single currency and only allow a single price for each product variant. If you plan on selling internationally and want to accept different currencies or present different RRPs, you’ll most likely need a custom shopping cart developed for you.
  • Hosted or Non-hosted?  There are two basic forms of online shop: hosted and non-hosted.  A hosted system is one where the hosting, the shopping cart software and the SSL certificate are taken care of by a single company, you simply sign up to an account, set up your store, point your domain at it and start selling.  Examples of hosted solutions are Shopify and Volusion.  A non-hosted system is one where you set everything up yourself; you rent some hosting space, get a domain, install your own shopping cart software and SSL certificate and create your store much as you would a normal website.  Some examples of popular non-hosted shopping carts that you can install on your own hosting space are Magento and ZenCart.  Which system you choose depends upon your requirements.  A non-hosted solution gives you total control over every aspect of the code; you can alter it as you wish to fulfil your requirements.  Hosted solutions don’t have as much flexibility but are much easier to set up.  Price also plays a part: the setup costs of a hosted system are much lower but you will be most likely charged a monthly fee and a percentage of the sales.  With a non-hosted system there are no monthly fees and no percentage fees but you will have to pay for the hosting and SSL certificate which can amount to much the same.   Another thing to consider is maintenance.  Hosted solutions are also maintained by the companies that run them, if something goes wrong they will fix it.  If your non-hosted system breaks it will be your job to fix it.  If you have your own IT department, that might not be an issue, but if you don’t then maybe a hosted system is right for you.
  • What Shopping Cart Software?  Once you’ve decided whether to go hosted or non-hosted, you need to pick a system.  There are many different shopping carts available and each one has its pros and cons.  It’s really important to make sure that the system you choose does everything you need it to.  Don’t assume that it will do something just because you’ve seen those features on online stores you’ve used in the past.  The way shipping is handled for example is one of the most important things to consider.
  • Which Merchant Account?  Your Merchant Account is the bank account where your funds will be stored.  Online merchant accounts are not the same as regular bank accounts and you will need to set one up regardless of whether you have a business bank account or not.  Bear in mind that not all merchant accounts link to all Payment Processors so you must choose one that links with the system you have chosen.  Set up time varies as well.  Merchant Accounts from high street banks often take a long time to set up (eight weeks or more) so if time is a crucial factor then they are not the way to go.  On the other end of the scale large Payment Gateway companies such as Paypal (which offer a merchant account and payment processor in one) can be set up in a matter of days but have restrictions on withdrawing your funds.  It all depends on your requirements.  Remember that all of them will charge fees.

By making these five decisions right at the start you can save yourself a lot of time a potentially money and make sure you end up with the online store that is exactly right for your business.

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