If you’re finally convinced that selling your wares on the Internet is a viable option, but don’t know how to get your electronic storefront off the ground, take heart. There are now several products on the market designed specifically to let small companies with little Internet experience and limited resources tap into the growing volume of sales taking place on the Net. Once you’ve established that your audience is on the Net, the only prerequisite for getting a piece of that action is having a Web site equipped for e-commerce.
“If you’re thinking about selling via the Web, make sure you enlist the four Ps,” advises Kim T. Folsom, president and CEO of The Business Source Technology Solutions Inc. (TBSTS), a San Diego-based Internet commerce provider. “Good Product, great Prices, Placement materials (efficient modes of distribution such as mail order or retail) and Promotion (communicating your products’ value to the Netizens most likely to purchase them).” Once you’ve nailed down those factors, it’s time to look for a secure e-commerce solution that fits your needs and budget.
Your choice should be dictated by your existing technology and level of technical proficiency. For example, companies that would prefer not to get involved with HTML coding or any part of Web site management can outsource the entire process by signing on to a virtual mall or e-commerce hosting service. Folsom created The Online Marketeer (www.onlinemarketeer.com), a subsidiary of blackowned TBSTS, to provide secure encrypted Web stores for small businesses. “Most of our customers see a 10%-20% increase in sales as a result of opening a store online,” says Folsom.
The Online Marketeer offers a complete Web store solution including design of the store, maintenance, hardware and software, and the conversion of catalogs and order forms into online marketing materials. Prices range from $1,000 to $7,000 per year depending on the complexity of the store. The setup cost is $750, plus fees of $50 per month for up to 100 products plus 50 cents per processed order. Folsom also hosts her clients’ stores on a secure e-commerce server. “If you’re going to sell online, you have to provide your customers with a secure place to buy. Otherwise, you can’t expect people to enter personal information on your site,” she says.
ViaStore is another hassle-free solution. It’s a service provided by ViaWeb (www.viaweb.com) that lets business owners advertise and sell products on their own Web site, which ViaWeb will host, upgrade and keep secure. Merchants simply log on to ViaWeb’s site and design a store online; the rest is taken care of by the company. The service costs $100 per month for up to 50 products, and the fee for 1,000 or more products starts at $300.
Another option is to enlist an Internet service provider (ISP) to run your site for you. ISPs typically work with e-commerce software vendors like iCat and Mercantec, two market leaders, to create and host sites for a fee. You pay an initial fee for use of the software, sometimes as much