E-Commerce Building Blocks

Everything you need to know about shopping carts, secure online transactions.

Information on successful e-commerce building blocks

For many people who want to tap the Internet market, believe that an effective e-commerce site must create a substantial headache; it seems so complicated, so big. What we've do is isolate the important building blocks of a commerce site, explain how each block works, then provide additional resources for you to explore on your own. These building blocks include credit cards, shopping carts, security certificates, and marketing.

Secure On Line Sales

Making your site secure should be a top priority. In order to provide that security, you'll need some form of encryption. One standard option is to offer security via an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate and connection. This ensures that sensitive information like passwords, credit card numbers, and other personal information is secure and encrypted as it's transmitted. A closed padlock on the status bars of both Microsoft Internet Explorer, Firefox and other browsers indicates to customers that a web site is using the secure protocol, as does the https: in the URL. Security certificates are issued by an independent third-party "certificate authority." This authority verifies that you own the site you are purchasing a certificate for, and that your company is who it claims it is. Your company's name is then encrypted into the certificate they issue. Many ISPs and other site hosts can help you with processing the certificate. Alternately, some programs offer built-in encryption.

Order Processing

Once you have a merchant account, the next step is to be sure you have the software or services in place to accept orders through the Internet. In most cases, as buyers browse your site they'll collect merchandise using shopping-cart software. Many ISPs offer this software as part of an e-commerce package, and there are many third-party shopping-cart applications you can buy. Many database-oriented commerce software packages have integrated shopping carts. You don't need to be concerned about security during this part of the process, because the buyer hasn't provided any personal information yet. When it's time to complete the purchase, the software sends the buyer to a page that uses the secure HTTP protocol to encrypt information that comes from the browser, such as credit card numbers. A closed padlock on the status bars of both Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator indicates a Web site is using the secure protocol, as does an "S" after the HTTP in the URL. Next, the order goes to the Web server. Most e-commerce packages let you retrieve orders via a Web page interface. This should be done via secure HTTP as well, because it includes the credit card information. The bank must approve each incoming charge. There are two ways to do this. One is to collect the order information and process it manually using a standard credit card terminal-those small boxes with the card-swipe slot, keypad and phone connection you see in retail stores. Another option is real-time authorization, where the card number and transaction amount are sent electronically to the bank for verification at the time the purchase is made. You can search for more companies that offer real-time authorization via Yahoo by keying in "credit card authorization." If you'd rather avoid the complexities of order processing, you can use a service to handle most of the details. When customers are ready to check out of your store, you send them to the service bureau's secure server instead of handling it on your own site. The service bureau collects the credit card information, performs real-time authorization and gives the customer a confirmation number. It then gives you a secure way to retrieve these approved orders, typically through a secure Web page. The most hassle-free way to run your Internet store is to use a provider that offers the shopping card and secure transaction features to host the Web site. Some, such as Yahoo Store, sell their services directly to merchants. Try a variety of services before you commit to one because it's harder to move once you've set up your store. Most services make use of templates to simplify store setup. Make sure there's a template that works for your type of store.

Shopping Carts: Building Blocks:

Your busy web shoppers will need someplace to stash all of their virtual goodies as they move about the store. Shopping carts let shoppers simply click on a button to add a product to their cart, which can accumulate multiple items. When shoppers are finished, the cart system then allows them to "check out." Check out is where all of the final elements of the transaction are handled. Shopping carts can be implemented as a feature that you add to your existing site, using either packaged shopping cart software solutions or online browser-based solutions. This is a great option if you have a design you already like and just want to add transaction capabilities to your site. If you opt to create a complete e-commerce site using e-commerce software, or an ISP or vendor that offers online store development, shopping carts are usually included as part of the site design.

E-Commerce Building Blocks:

Your shoppers will need to be able to pay for their purchases online. Although electronic forms of "e-cash" have been floating around for a long time, they have yet to catch on. Instead, consumers seem to have decided that current security methods are sufficient to induce them to use their cards online: credit cards are by far the most popular payment option on the Web. Credit cards offer a limited risk to the customer, since federal laws give credit card users specific rights to dispute payment for products or services, and limit theft losses. All of the solutions we look at will allow you, using the security features in browsers as well as a variety of encrypting methods, to take credit card orders online. To accept credit card payment over the Web, you must first have a merchant account. A merchant account allows merchants to accept and process credit card transactions. Even if your real world business already has a merchant account, you may need a separate one for your Internet transactions (check with your merchant account provider if you have questions about it). Aces hosting services and ISPs have partnerships that help Web vendors obtain merchant accounts at better rates. As is true in the real world, vendors have the option of manually phoning in the credit card for authorization. Many solutions also offer the more advanced (and typically more expensive) feature of automatically handling credit card authorizations online. While this feature clearly has its advantages, it can be expensive if your store isn't generating enough revenue to warrant the cost. Let Aces of Jacksonville help.



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