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The Five Basic Components of an e-Commerce Storefront

by Steve Fisher on January 22, 2010

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Over these last two months I have gotten a real education in the construction of an e-commerce system. Beyond building the basic web site there are the five key components of an e-commerce site which include the secure certificate or SSL certificate. Now that we have the storefront software installed I am learning a whole new world of building the shopping cart, adding products, setting rates, etc. I figured for those that might have bought things online they know what a shopping cart is and what it does. What many have never seen is what is under the hood and what you have to do at the basic level from the full out-of-the box e-commerce storefront to the customized built from scratch version.

1.) Products Catalog

This is obviously the core of the storefront because it is the catalog of what you sell. You need to have good images and many storefronts allow for lots of options which you could go crazy with so be careful. Options are good with things like T-Shirts where you have a product and need specifications to fulfill the order.

2.) Categories

These go with the products catalog and helps you organize the products. It can get very cumbersome and if you will remember the earlier days of Amazon.com they had tabs for categories which worked well when they had just books, music and DVD’s. As they expanded their tab structure got out of control which you can see below:

It is a lesson in carefully structuring your catalog in a way that people can find things easily and quickly so they add it to their cart because you still to get them to put in their credit card.

3.) Promotions

The whole purpose of promotions is to draw customers back to your store and get them to buy. The concept of things going on sale is old as people have been selling things. We all love a sale and some of us even live for them which is why promotions are key in customer retention and acquisition. Many times customers will find your site and buy something but the big challenge is bringing them back and learning their behavior (personalization is for another post)

4.) Shipping and Taxes

This is probably the most boring and mundane but if you don’t do this right a few things will happen – you will get stuck with the shipping bill and lose money, you will estimate taxes wrong or not add them in and lose money. Are you getting the picture? You will need to get the right shipping partners that fit your products and deliver to where your customers are. You will also need to check if you have to pay taxes locally and also if you ship to certain states. It is a complicated subject and I would recommend this great article from Startup Nation on e-Commerce Sales Tax.

5.) Payments/Checkout

This is last step for buyers and for integrators and web site developers the most challenging. You are simultaneously dealing three separate parties – merchant account provider, secure certificate provider and shopping cart solution and if one thing does not work correctly the whole site is useless. You can also have fingers pointing at other providers when are trying to resolve an issue. You need to make sure you have the accounts tested and working and when testing turn on the logs and error tracking. The last thing you want if for errors in the checkout process for paying customer. If they get an error once they might re-try and check their stuff. If it happens the second time you will definitely lose them.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Network Solutions is a sponsor of the film, Browncoats: Redemption and has provided many of the services for us to use. I am just sharing this experience for all interested in learning how this stuff works.

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    • robertflorish

      Wow ! thanks for sharing the nice information about the shopping carf software.

    • http://www.iopensuite.com/ ecommerce storefront

      Any time an individual sells a product online, they are competing with thousands of other websites to capture a customer’s attention. While simple website pages are helpful, an online storefront provides a nice clean, professional look that instills a sense of credibility. Those who opt for a storefront design are known to have better sales than those who do not.