We've covered a lot of territory. Now it's time to summarize and make some recommendations about how various businesses ought to proceed.
Over the course of the 9 previous parts of the series, we described the major steps in a typical eCommerce process, identified the 4 major scenarios for how to divide the eCommerce functionality between the merchant's website and outside providers, and examined a number of different factors that you should consider when evaluating which scenario to deploy. We then went into some detail about our four scenarios. We also covered a lot of items that were not specific to the platform you choose, yet that are critical to the success of your online store.
As a reminder, the chart to the right shows the 4 major eCommerce scenarios that we have discussed in some detail.
With this in mind, let's look at the key decisions you need to make.
Which Approach to eCommerce?
If the discussions so far have already convinced you that some particular approach is best, then go for it! But if there's any doubt in your mind, this section will make some broad recommendations. Although any of the approaches can be forced to work in just about any situation, matching your needs with a solution that correctly meets those needs can save you a lot of headaches.
The flowchart below outlines the general decision-making process for picking an appropriate eCommerce scenario.
The table below summarizes this information in a somewhat different way. It lists each of the 4 scenarios, and explains what types of businesses are most likely to find each appropriate.
|Scenario||When is this appropriate?|
|Merchant Store||You have (or expect to have) a high-volume online store. You want complete control over the buyer experience, and are willing to take on the effort of PCI-DSS Validation (or to hire a consult to handle it for you). This scenario has the lowest per-transaction cost, as you are only paying for the specific services you can't do yourself, i.e. payment card processing.|
|Hosted Payment||Most other medium- to high-volume stores. This approach provides most, if not all, the benefits of the Merchant Store scenario without the burden of PCI-DSS Validation. The main difference is that the page on which the customer enters their payment card information is hosted by your Payment Services provider. If you choose the appropriate provider, this page will fit in seamlessly with your store, and the cost will be no higher than the Merchant Store scenario.|
|Hosted Cart||Your typical customer makes only single-item purchases. This approach is a good one for small companies that have only a few products or non-profits who wish to allow donations via credit card. A "Buy Now", "Donate" or "Subscribe" button on your website allows customers to pay via credit card using one of the well-known payment processors (for example, PayPal). This approach is cumbersome if the customer will typically want to pay for multiple items, but can be the most cost-effective approach in the more limited circumstances.|
|Hosted Store||When you want an online store but don't want to host it yourself. You will probably pay a little more for this service, but you do not have to worry about the details of operating your own store.|
Merchant Account or Integrated Payment Processor?
Ultimately, this comes down to personal preferences and a cost analysis. In previous sections, we described the fees charged by various service providers with and without a separate Merchant Account. This, plus your own investigation into any other services you might be interested in, should allow you to estimate how much it will all cost.
Besides the costs involved, you need to decide whether you feel more comfortable dealing with a bank (i.e. using a separate Merchant Account) or whether you feel that a non-regulated financial services company is sufficient.
Who's Going to Build Your Online Store?
The considerations here depend on which of the scenarios you pick:
- Merchant Store or Hosted Payment. For either of these, you need to install and customize an eCommerce software package. Unless you have very simple needs, you'll generally benefit from hiring someone with experience to do this for you. Even if you have some experience in developing web pages, you'll probably find that eCommerce software is sufficiently different that you'll face a steep learning curve.
- Hosted Cart. In this case, you don't need an eCommerce software package. These services have administrative interfaces you can use to customize them to your needs. There are two aspects to this customization:
- Checkout page branding. Hosted Cart checkout pages are typically "co-branded". This means that they are the vendor's standard page with room for your logo and some branding. You use the administrative interface to customize your page. You can easily do this yourself, or have your web developer take care of it.
- Buy/Donate buttons. The administrative interface also allows you to create the buttons to put in the appropriate places on your website (for example, product pages). You specify what type of button you want and the nature of the purchase, and the interface provides you with the HTML to insert. Again, you may be able to do this yourself.
- Hosted Store. Here, your entire online store is hosted by your provider, so again you don't need an eCommerce software package. As with the Hosted Cart solution, these types of services have administrative interfaces you can use to customize the look and feel of your online store. The customization in this case is more complicated, but again can be divided into two categories:
- Store Design. Unlike the Hosted Cart scenario, in which the look and feel of the cart and much of the branding is determined by your service provider, here you have almost complete control over how your store looks. You're essentially designing a new website. Many of the hosted services offer professionally-designed templates that can be a good starting point for your store design. If one of the templates fits your needs, and you are a little technically inclined, you might consider handling this yourself. If you want something more sophisticated, or are not technically inclined, you are probably better off hiring someone to design your store for you.
- Store Operation. You will most likely have a lot of options for how your store operates—categories, product structure, checkout flow, customer registration rules, etc. You will need to become familiar with the various options and choose what makes sense for your business.
There are eCommerce solutions to fit virtually every situation and budget. I hope that this series has been helpful in guiding you along the path to a successful implementation.
When you're ready, I have the skills to help you implement your online store.Get a Quote