Capitalizing on the Ecommerce Revolution

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Most small business owners think they understand the importance of having a quality web site. Unfortunately, many home-based entrepreneurs think of their web site as nothing more than an online brochure. While informing the public about the products and services you provide is important, using the internet to make those products and services more easily available is the real name of the game. If you are not taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the ecommerce revolution, then you are missing out on millions in potential sales.

Establishing Credibility for Your Ecommerce Web Site
Years ago, credibility was a major barrier for entrepreneurs wishing to conduct business on the internet. Luckily, times have changed and people have become more comfortable with ecommerce. However, you still need to make sure that your business has a professional web presence. Whether consciously or subconsciously, people feel a "contact us" page lends credibility to a web-based business. A toll-free number is even better. Testimonials from previous customers can allay fears, especially if your references are willing to post their email addresses for verification.

An overall, professional look for your web site is important, as well. Make sure you have consistent navigability and a crisp, concise design. Avoid cheesy flash gimmicks and other fancy ploys. Take a look at the most popular ecommerce sites on the web - they all have professional yet simple layouts and designs. Don't be afraid to model your look after Amazon, eBay, or other ecommerce leaders.

The Essential Tools of Ecommerce
In order to accept credit cards online, you need shopping cart software, a payment gateway, and a merchant account. There are some all-in-one ecommerce solutions, but they tend to be less customizable and are intended for businesses with smaller sales volumes. It's okay to start with PayPal or Google Checkout, but you should also be aware of what professional ecommerce solutions have to offer, because if you're successful, you will need to upgrade.

There are hundreds of shopping cart software packages available - just do an internet search and comparison shop for the solution that best meets your needs. Payment gateways typically come with merchant accounts (for an additional fee of $30 or so per month), so long as you use a third-party provider. The other option is to use a bank for your merchant account, which normally costs less in terms of fees. However, banks are often reticent to grant merchant accounts to online businesses.

Applying for a Merchant Account
You have to fill out an application in order to get a merchant account. Merchant account providers evaluate your suitability in terms of risk. Their fear is that you will either fraudulently misuse your merchant account, or people will be unhappy with your products or services and file what is called a "chargeback" against you - refusing to pay their credit card bills. Since most merchant accounts deposit funds into your bank account within 48 hours of a charge, the merchant account provider is worried that your chargebacks will exceed your ability (or willingness) to pay for them. Thus, not only your personal credit, but also your business model, will be considered during the evaluation process.

The good news is that even if you're initially denied, there are hundreds of options out there for accepting online payments. Nontraditional merchant account providers may charge higher fees, but when the alternative is to not have ecommerce access at all, the fees are negligible. The typical fee for a $40 transaction is around $0.99; whereas a high-risk accountholder may be charged $2.10. Sure, that's more than double, but if your pre-transaction fee profit margin is $12, the extra $1.11 in transaction fees is more than worth it.

Some Final Tips
Kevin Costner's character in Field of Dreams was haunted by the saying, "If you build it, they will come." Unfortunately, this isn't the case with ecommerce web sites. A better mantra would be, "If you market it, they will come." The good news is that it's never been easier to market yourself on the web. Consider buying some pay-per-click (PPC) ads through the popular search engines, or advertising directly on a couple of blogs that are related to your business. Better yet, you can use internet auction sites, not only for direct sales, but also as a marketing tool to bring people to your web site. Finally, the age of social networking makes it easier than ever to find customers - enlist the help of your online friends to spread the word.

When your business is ecommerce-enabled, you have a full-time sales agent working around the clock, often for less than $1 per day. If you're not taking advantage of ecommerce, there's no telling how much money you're throwing away.
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