If you're considering entering the world of e-commerce then one of the most important decisions you can make is which e-commerce software to use. But first it helps to think about what the key features of an e-commerce store are. What do you need your e-commerce software to do for you in order to make your store a success. Below we set out the most important features of any e-commerce solution.
Clearly the first thing an e-commerce store needs to do is showcase your products. This is generally in the form of some sort of catalogue. A catalogue should enable you to create new products and add useful descriptions, images and perhaps videos or documents. This sort of information is the basis of any website and even the most basic store should tick all the boxes here.
One of the most common requirements for a catalogue, above and beyond the basics, is to support variations. A variation on a product is a way of selecting a different version of the same product. For example you may sell the same t-shirt in 4 sizes. Each is identical in description except for the size (and perhaps price). A variation is a feature that allows you to enter a product once but specify that there are multiple variations of it available. Commonly on the front of your store a visitor would select a variation by selecting options (such as size) from drop down lists.
If you want to take payment on your site then you need a payment gateway. Not every e-commerce store has to take payment, you could invoice for payment for example, but most do. There are generally two types of payment gateway integration.
The first type sends a visitor to an external website controlled by the bank or payment company involved (e.g. PayPal). Usually these sites can be branded to look similar to your own site. The visitor will pay on the external site and then return to your site to confirm the sale. The advantage of this kind of integration is that your own site is not responsible for handling any sort of credit card details. As soon as you handle credit card details on your own site you need to take into account additional costs for PCI complicance (an industry standard for credit card handling).
The second type takes payment details (including credit card details) directly on your site, and then sends these details directly to the payment gateway. The advantage of this arrangement is that the look and feel of the payment pages will exactly match your site as it is your site, although you will need to pay for PCI complicance procedures, and SSL security on your site (SSL is a means of encrypting card details between the visitors PC and your site).
Next time we'll look into more detail at the checkout process of an e-commerce store, and what can (and should) happen there.
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