Starting an e-commerce website from scratch can be a daunting prospect, and a task that requires a lot of time, knowledge and management skills. It can be very easy to get confused by all the jargon that surrounds online selling, and all the inter-dependent components needed to get an e-commerce website launched.
Inter-dependent is the key word in that last sentence. Every component needs to be carefully considered beforehand as a wrong decision on one could mean another component is rendered useless.
From domain names to SSL certificates and everything in between, this article will clear the mist surrounding e-commerce websites, and explain each component’s function to help you get your online sales project up and running.
The need for a domain name is not unique to e-commerce websites, but it is worth mentioning briefly. Choose a domain name that is easy to say, easy to remember and if possible contains the words that people will use to search for your products.
For example, a high street hardware shop called R. J. Martin could trade very well in their town, but online would be better with a name like martinhardware.com
One other very important thing to consider with a domain name is how it looks when typed out as one word. Some examples of domains that weren’t thought through are at http://www.grupthink.com/topic/22/Easily_mispronounced_domain_names_What_are_your_favorites
As with a domain name, every website needs a host. This is simply a computer that your website is saved on, and which has an internet address that doesn’t change. This means it can always be found by people who are looking for it.
Unless your website is getting a massive amount of traffic and has millions of transactions per month, the best place to go for hosting is a specialist hosting company. They look after backups, security, databases and other features that would be prohibitively expensive to run from a home or office computer.
When choosing a hosting company you should consider the location of the host computer (should be in the same country as your target market), customer service and of course price; but the most important consideration is the operating system.
The two main operating systems for hosts are Linux and Windows, with Linux being the most popular by a wide margin. It is important to note that although you may be using a Windows computer the likelihood is that you connect to a Linux host when you view a website – the choice of host operating system is nothing to do with your own computer’s operating system.
So why is it so important to make the right choice between Linux and Windows? The answer lies in your choice of shopping cart.
‘Shopping cart’ has quite a broad meaning in terms of e-commerce. It is the system that allows your customers to view products, add them to a basket, remove them from the basket and take them to a virtual checkout, creating a subtotal and shipping costs. A shopping cart will also have an administrator section where you can add/edit/delete products and product categories, update prices, launch special offers, cross-promote items and manage orders.
In short, the shopping cart allows your customers to create orders and you to manage them.
Now, to get back to why your shopping cart influences your hosting. Shopping carts are built by programmers, and in the main they use one of two programming languages: PHP or ASP. Generally speaking PHP only runs on Linux hosts, and ASP only runs on Windows hosts.
Therefore if you have bought 12 months of Linux hosting and decide you like the look of an ASP shopping cart, one of them is going to have to go.
So why would you choose one over the other? What makes some people choose PHP and others ASP? The following table sets out the main differences between each, however it is important to know that these are generalisations and there are exceptions, but in the main the situation is as follows:
||Telephone, email, forums.
||Usually free, and the popular ones have been widely tested*
*Modern PHP shopping carts such as Magento have reliable and tested extensions.
There are probably thousands of different shopping carts available, with some of the most well known ones being Magento, osCommerce and Actinic.
Tomorrow we look Payment Processing, SSL Certificates and Electronic Data Interchange in Part 2