Selecting an On-line Storefront

Whether you have an existing, brick-and-mortar retail store or a mail-order only business, the Internet offers the chance to market your wares to the world. You have the website all planned, the hosting provider selected, and the killer domain name that will send potential customers flocking to your site with credit cards in hand. All you need to complete the package is a way to take orders over the Internet. This is what is commonly referred to as an online storefront or an electronic "shopping cart".

And just like everything else in the world, there are literally hundreds of packages which promise to fill your online sales needs. Here are a few things to consider before you make your selection:

What is the cost to implement the package into your website? There is a range of options here, including: an upfront fee to purchase a software license, a monthly fee in addition to your hosting fee, a "one stop" package that includes secure hosting and a shopping cart, and several low-cost or free shopping carts. As with most things in the world, you get what you pay for.

How complicated is the initial setup? Again, a wide variety here, from storefronts that allow you to perform all setup functions through your Web browser to raw HTML which requires a good knowledge of website programming, while additionally requiring special server configurations and setting of server permissions. There is a definite relationship between ease of use and cost. 

How easy is it to change/update products? The better programs allow you to perform such functions as changing pricing and adding new products and pictures directly through your Web browser, while others require you to make changes offline and use an FTP (file transfer protocol) program to manually upload individual files.

What options are available to customize the storefront? Many of the programs available are of the "cookie cutter" type, with limited options as to how your store will appear online (having the effect of "every online store looking alike"). Look for a program that will allow you to design your store to match your website, keeping in mind optional configurations for shipping, sales tax, quantity discounts, package pricing, etc.

How will you provide your customers with online security when placing credit card orders? While technically not a part of the shopping cart, this is something you need to consider before selecting your hosting provider or shopping cart software.  

So many options to consider! Keep one thing in mind, however… you are in business to sell your product, and you are competing with thousands of other retailers on the Web to capture the same customers. This is not a place to cut corners to save a few dollars.

Virtualtech is proud to offer the Miva Merchant shopping cart program, which we believe to be the finest online storefront available today. It offers a wide range of options and all setup and product maintenance is done directly through your Web browser, giving you the ability to immediately see your updates.

July 1, 2000

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