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E-commerce Solutions for Small Businesses – Setting-up a store

Most small businesses don’t always have the time or the budget for a customised online e-commerce store with all the bells and whistles. Customised stores can costs several thousands of pounds to design, code and build. Not all platforms are easy to manage or maintain, making the task of managing an online store hard for the average small business owner. 


The Internet has come a long way with regards to online shopping, it’s a booming market with a worldwide audience waiting out there, the growth of e-commerce is mind boggling. Recent trends in smartphone usage (Apple iPhones, Samsung and Windows) and tablets such as Apple’s iPad’s, and the Android based tablets are changing how we buy and shop for products. Mobile commerce is booming, customers can now shop where-ever and when-ever they like, shopping is now truly global and mobile.

For small businesses (sme’s) the options are great with a huge range of DIY and off the shelf providers eager to break into this area offering services that go far beyond what was possible a few years back. If a small retailer or business wants to start quickly and easily then the choices are now big. Wordpress the popular CMS used largely for blogging has a solution for creating basic e-commerce Website's using wordpress e-commerce themes and plugins (add-ons). Read this article "The State Of E-Commerce Checkout Design 2012" for an idea of the design issues and how major brands are using e-commerce features and what customers think of them.
Hosted e-commerce is another option which includes the likes of Shopify, BigCommerce, Volusion, Magento and BigCartel. You can read a comparison of "Review of BigCommerce-vs-Shopify-vs-Volusion" and decided which one is right for you. These companies do all the work for you, and have a huge range of features to manage the site. Charges are on a monthly based structure and differ based on the number of products you are selling. Some charge or take a commission on the sale while others just charge a flat fee for the hosted e-commerce service. To get a feel of how things are changing in the E-commerce market take note of the issues here "The Ecommerce Revolution Is All About You" (the customer).
An online e-commerce website store must have a range of features; here we list what we consider to be the bare minimum functions your online store should have. Remember that unlike a traditional bricks-and-mortar store where you have staff members who can answer questions, demonstrate a product, customers can touch, feel, smell and test the product, this is not possible with a virtual store. The online click and buy store must have certain features to help the customer make the decision to by without shying away due to missing information or a poorly designed website missing the very basic functions expected by the customer.  
  • Shopping cart – the traditional shopping bag/trolley is used to allow the user to select the products and add it to the cart. 
  • Check-out – processing of online payments using a range of credit, debit and online payment solutions such as Paypal and Google Checkout.
  • Ability to customise the store and the display settings
  • Email feature to allow confirmation of order, order processing and delivery 
  • Setup and manage specials, discounts, and other marketing features
  • Shipping options and including free delivery option, global, by product, or by subtotal
  • A wide range of payment options
  • Search facility
  • Customer order management and reporting
  • Search Engine Friendly URLs
This is not an exhaustive list, in the next part, we will discuss customised e-commerce websites and the rich features found in sites such as Amazon, Ebay, Apple, Etsy and other such global e-commerce magnets.
Have a question, want help with developing a new e-commerce website, ask us a question. Let us know what you think of this article, did we miss something, what else can we add to the e-commerce must have features list?