eCommerce Merchant Account Setup and eCommerce Web Site Software...
Is Ecommerce Right for Your Small Business?

Getting a solid handle on what's actually a quivering mass of Jell-o requires attention to a pair of practical issues about e-commerce: what it really is and who it's for. Only after considering these basics can you determine what your specific e-commerce strategy could or couldn't be, or should or shouldn't be. What follows is my attempt to break down the issues into five statements that I hope will guide your thinking.

1. In your business, e-commerce is a concept that is aligned with, if not directly related to, your presence on the Internet.
When the Internet was "new," which I define as the time it was opened to the general public as opposed to the academic or scientific world (before Al Gore invented it, right?), everyone "had to have the Internet" to be competitive, and heck, to keep their doors opened. A lot of flutter swirled around getting on the Internet and not nearly enough around what that meant.
During this new era, I counseled many a worried business owner about what to do. At that time, the Internet was thought to be a marketing tool-no more, no less. So my counsel went like this: "The Internet is just another way to share information. It's just another tool."
My message, then and now, is that the Internet can enable you to sell and deliver products to your customers via a ecommerce merchant account. If it's the appropriate tool, then use it! If it isn't the appropriate tool, then don't use it.

2. E-commerce allows you to gather information from customers, while delivering a marketing-and-sales pitch through a Web site.
Although the information you gather concerns ecommerce merchant account orders, you can also ask customers or clients questions about who they are, where they want products shipped and billed to, what method of shipping they would like you to use-indeed, just about any question you would like to ask! In addition, ecommerce merchant account could enable you to process credit card information on the Internet, as well as take "cyber cash" from customers.
As an information dispensing-and-gathering device, e-commerce becomes a catch-all for using the Internet to conduct business per se. It allows you not only to advertise, market, and sell, but also to keep track of accounts receivables and payables, provide technology support...you get the idea, all from a single source: your Web site.

3. E-commerce can be fully integrated ecommerce and shopping cart solutions or a technical "front-end" to a business that otherwise isn't wired.
Once you look at ecommerce and shopping cart solutions, you will need to consider the flow of information from your Web site into your back-office operations. Do you want a customer pushing a button to enter data into your client database, send shipping instructions to a warehouse, charge a credit card, enter information into your accounting system, and, for that matter, deliver a cup of coffee to your desk as you sit reading your morning paper? It's up to you to decide how much or how little of the process you want to "go electronic."
Regardless of your approach-full integration, partial integration or no integration-you need to understand the process from start to finish before you proceed. If you don't understand the process up front, you run the risk of designing, redesigning, throwing out, starting over, and redesigning again, all of which is very, very expensive. The cost can range from $200 a month for a simple ecommerce and shopping cart solutions setup to hundreds of thousands a month, all of which is comparable to the difference between using Quicken versus an enterprise-wide accounting package.

4. The online world has as many ecommerce web site software solutions that suit a specific need as The Body Shop has bath products. If you don't feel you have the data to sort through and choose the best solution, you're hardly alone!
You can lick this problem easily. Work with a knowledgeable person you trust to help you understand not just the technical issues of the ecommerce web site software solution you're considering, but also the business issues. Examples of such professionals include consultants for the Internet, systems integrators, and technology-savvy marketing types.

5. E-commerce is not about technology-it's about your business. While it is tempting to think of your ecommerce web site software solution as something "the geeks need to worry about," don't go there.
E-commerce is a part of how you run your business. It will be expensive to implement and should be seen as an investment. You should exercise the same care that you would use in choosing a 401K provider, suitable office space, your key personnel, or your enterprise-wide accounting package.
The e-commerce decision is one that you, the entrepreneur, have a choice in making. Do you want to conduct your day-to-day business online? If the answer is yes, then you need to work with sales, marketing, finance, tech support, customer service, information systems, network administration, support staff, and the receptionist to make sure you incorporate all pieces of an ecommerce web site software solution and inform all people about the purpose of the solution.

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