Set-up Your Online Store in 10 Easy Steps

Starting an on-line store may seem very complicated with a lot of technicalities that are very hard to understand. That’s why I have created this easy to follow checklist for you to Get Started in 10 Easy Steps. Feel free to print this out and check them off as you go on your way to start your on-line business.

Considering that you have chosen a name for your business…

  1. Decide between hosted or licensed shopping carts.
  2. Choose a Shopping Cart platform after deciding on the previous point.
  3. Upload your products.
  4. Sign-up for a Merchant Account.
  5. Sign-up to use a Payment Gateway.
  6. Get an SSL Certificate in place.
  7. Set-up a shipping method/carrier if applicable.
  8. Run a thorough link test.
  9. Run a thorough order  process.
  10. Make sure money gets routed to your bank account.

 


1.- Decide between hosted or licensed shopping carts.

A hosted shopping cart means that you will have a monthly bill to pay to the shopping cart company. They install your store in their own servers and you pay for a limited amount of bandwidth and disk space. Bandwidth is measured monthly by the amount of information transferred between your store and your visitors (pages views, downloads, etc.). Disk space is the amount of Megabytes or Gigabytes that you are allowed to use to store product images, files, etc. It has 2 important factors: it is usually the cheapest start-up cost and the least technical from both options. You could instead decide to go with a Licensed shopping cart; this means that you will purchase the software upfront and install it on your own hosting. This is usually cheaper on the long run but it will require some technical knowledge to install the shopping cart on to your hosting service.

Hosted shopping carts usually include lifetime upgrades as the software company releases new features. Licensed shopping carts may include a year (1) of free upgrades and then you will have to pay to continue to upgrade. Also ask about Support, hosted shopping carts will include phone, e-mail, and chat support; while purchasing the license may only get you limited support.

List of Top 10 Hosted Shopping Carts.

2.- Choose a Shopping Cart platform after deciding on the previous point.

Once you decide between Hosted or License research your options, you will find great reviews on this site but we encourage you to visit the developers’ website for accurate pricing and for other details that we may not cover on this site. Google “hosted shopping cart” or “licensed shopping cart” depending on your preference and ALWAYS go find forums and discussions about the product you are leaning towards. Call the shopping cart at hours when you may actually be calling them. If you plan to work on your on-line store at night, try reaching them at that time and get a feel for how helpful they will be once you are in business.

3.- Upload all your products.

Make a list of your most important products and start there. Maybe even follow this approach:

  • Important and Urgent
  • Important not Urgent
  • Not Important and Urgent
  • Not Important not Urgent

Upload a good number of them. If not all, at least a good sample so that you can proceed to number 4 in our list.

4.- Sign-up for a Merchant Account.

Visit your bank, yes… pull out your checking account or credit card and go visit them. Ask them about “Merchant Accounts for on-line businesses” most reputable banks have a department that deals specifically with these kind of requests. Most of the time banks will charge a small % per transaction, so be ready and do not be surprised. Some banks have a minimum monthly fee whether you sell or not. Get ready to start the process, they will not open you a Merchant Account in 24 hours, sometimes it can take up to a week. Your bank will need to review your website; a Privacy Policy and an SSL Certificate may be required for them to approve it, so get these in place to save you some time.

Are you going to be dealing with adult content in your website? Get ready to knock on a couple of doors before getting approved. Banks are very strict about this policy. I will post here soon about your options if these is your case.

5.- Sign-up to use a Payment Gateway.

Upon approval of your Merchant Account you will be able to get a Payment Gateway. A payment gateway is basically the company that will act as a terminal to run and authorize credit card or other payment transactions such as PayPal. Ask your Merchant Account representative about Gateways, they should be able to point you in the right direction. Some time banks have special connections with a certain gateway and can get you a good rate. “Good rate”?? Yes, payment gateways will also charge a small fee per transaction, somewhere between 2.9% and 3.5% so sometimes you may be able to set something up through your Merchant Account to only get one (1) single fee instead of paying two (2).

IMPORTANT: Make sure the shopping cart you have selected is compatible with your Payment Gateway. The shopping cart doesn’t need to be compatible with the Merchant Account but it needs to be able to integrate with your Payment Gateway. Basically the Payment Gateway will be ready to process the payment from your shopping cart’s checkout page, authorize the transaction and route the money to your Merchant Account (bank account).

6.- Get an SSL Certificate in place.

“SSL” stands for Secure Socket Layer and it is the standard for secure on-line transactions. Not having an SSL Certificate in place may delay your approval for a Merchant Account or your Payment Gateway. An SSL Certificate also provides peace of mind and security to your visitors and encourage them to make a transaction knowing that your website is safe and secure.

Many shopping carts offer basic SSL Certificates that get installed right from their control panel. An SSL Certificate looks like a bunch of meaningless code but once it is installed into your store it will secure the checkout page until the transaction has been completed.

7.- Set-up a shipping method/carrier if applicable.

If you are dealing with physical goods you will need to set-up a shipping method. Some shopping carts come ready to produce a real-time quote for shipping. This is based on the weight and dimensions your input for each individual product into your shopping cart. Your shopping cart must be able to connect with UPS, FedEx, and USPS at least so you can choose which one to display for your customers. These shipping calculators are not perfect and may need some tweaking from your part. Sometime you can add a handling fee to bump the shipping up a little, or if you are offering Free Shipping after a certain purchase amount then you may not need it at all. If your store is located in a different country other than the US, make sure to check the shopping cart can integrate with your shipping provider.

Digital products for download such as music, images, or files will be exempt from this step unless you want to charge a “digital handling fee”.

8.- Run a thorough link test.

Ask a couple of friends and family to test your site. Have them navigate, maybe assigned them tasks like finding and adding certain products. See if they can navigate your site properly. Are they getting stuck? Are they finding everything they need on a timely manner? Does your Search box works and gives meaningful results? Ask them for their honest feedback. Check on all your pictures and links, your contact forms, your Terms of Sale page, copyright notice, Privacy Policy, etc. Make sure everything works and displays correctly.

9.- Run a thorough order  process.

Now it is time to checkout and place your first test order. Some chopping carts will allow you set your Payment Gateway in “Test Mode” so you can run test orders without incurring in processing fees from your Payment Gateway. I have found that many times having these set to “Test Mode” will give errors while trying to run the entire order process. So I suggest you lower the price on a couple products in your store down to $0.50 for example and actually go all the way to run your credit card. Your order may cost you $1.50 or $2.00 but if your order doesn’t go through then you know something is wrong.

IMPORTANT: make sure your Payment Gateway is set to “Production Mode” and not in “Test Mode”. You may have your shopping cart set to “Production Mode” and still get an error because you haven’t activated your Payment Gateway to “Production Mode”. Log-in to your Payment Gateway control panel and double check this if you are having troubles.

If both your shopping cart platform and your Payment Gateway are set-up correctly, your transaction will go through successfully.

Testing is not over yet! If you entered an e-mail address while at checkout, make sure to go to your e-mail inbox and check for an e-mail from your store. Some Shopping Carts will send an automatic Order Confirmation e-mail to your customers, it should outline the items, quantity, price, and shipping charges. Look for any links in the body of the e-mail and click on them to make sure they link to the correct place.

10.- Make sure money gets routed to your bank account.

At this point you may have the option to go into your Payment Gateway control panel and void the transaction but I would advise you against that. Let your Payment Gateway process your transaction and allow 24 hours to see the money in your bank account (Merchant Account). If everything is set-up correctly you should see the money reflected in your balance.

This concludes the 10 steps to set-up your on-line store.

As you can see it can be an easy road to getting your store up and running. With a good plan like this and investing the right amount of time each day, you should be able to complete this in about 30 days. it is doable, I have gone through it several times and it feels great when you get to number 10 and see the money flowing correctly from start to finish.

Print this page and follow the steps on your own schedule.

Remember to come back and let me know your results!

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