Our Ultimate Guide To E-Commerce

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Girl shopping online on ipad (caption: E-Commerce for Businesses)Are you thinking about starting an online business or adding an online component to your existing brick-and-mortar store? There’s a lot you need to know about e-commerce (electronic commerce) and its unique challenges and benefits. We can help you start your business on the internet, and we review some of the unique e-commerce tools you’ll want to consider, including e-commerce platforms, website plugins and more. We also help demystify the industry jargon by explaining in laymen’s terms what everything means.

Article Overview

Launching Your Online Business

Whether you’re creating an online retail store or launching a service-based business on the internet, there are so many details to consider. Here are some quick tips to help you get started.

  1. Decide on your niche. What type of services do you plan to offer? What type of products do you want to sell? Do some strategic research to find out if there’s a large enough audience online for you to be profitable.
  2. Will you store your own inventory or go with a dropshipper? If you plan on selling products and don’t have storage space, a dropshipping service is a great alternative. These companies already have their own inventory in stock and handle the shipping for your business. Learn more about the pros and cons of dropshipping.
  3. Create your business name. Guide to Web Hosting ServicesTry to keep it short and sweet and related to your niche to boost your brand recognition.
  4. Set up the foundation for your website. There’s a lot to learn about setting up a successful website. Be sure to check out our comprehensive guide to websites, which can help you cover all your bases, including registering your domain name and finding a reliable web hosting service.
  5. Choose an e-commerce platform (see below).

Choosing The Best E-Commerce Platforms

This decision can really make or break your online company’s success. You need a well-oiled and polished platform to exchange your goods or services. But there’s much more these platforms can do. Most of the top options deliver built-in marketing, SEO, shipping integration, social media selling, sales reports and a host of other tools to enhance your ability to manage your online store and engage with your customers.

Because of the popularity of online stores, there are so many great platform choices out there now — how do you decide? We’ve done a ton of research into the best-known e-commerce platforms, like Shopify, BigCommerce and Prestashop, and some lesser-known options that also make excellent options. Find out our take on 10 of the top e-commerce platforms, which include reviews, pros and cons, features and more. We also give you in-depth reviews of Shopify, Shopify Plus and 3dcart.

If you plan on running your online store on WordPress, WooCommerce is, hands down, the most popular e-commerce plugin for retail stores on WordPress. WooCommerce is a good standalone tool, but you can enhance many of its features with advanced plugins. See which WooCommerce plugins we recommend and how they can boost your store’s functionality.

E-Commerce Terminology

If you’re new to e-commerce, all the technical terms can be overwhelming. Here are some common terms defined so you can understand various aspects of the online selling experience. You’ll run into many of these terms when you’re shopping around for your store’s online platform.

  • Amazon & eBay sync: As an e-commerce merchant, you can sync your online store with Amazon, eBay and other online merchants to see your products through their websites.
  • Application Programming Interface (API): An API is a software protocol that allows separate software to communicate with each other. Developers use APIs to connect or integrate systems and services.
  • Content Management System (CMS): In e-commerce, a CMS is used to manage a store’s product catalog. Overall, CMS is software that makes content management easier to maintain on the Internet from a single tool or interface. CMS manages creating, editing, publishing, and displaying content from a sole software.
  • Cross-selling: When an online store suggests complimenting or related products or services to a customer who is considering a purchase.
  • CDN (Content Delivery Network) is a system of distributed servers (network) that deliver webpages and other Web content to a user based on the geographic locations of the user, the origin of the webpage and a content delivery server.
  • Domain name: used as an Internet address to identify the location of particular Web pages. Domain names are used to identify one or more IP addresses.
  • Dropshipping: An order fulfillment strategy in online retailing wherein the retailer does not actually inventory the drop shipped product, but instead passes the shipping address to either the manufacturer or a distributor that actually ships the purchased items directly to the customer.
  • E-commerce: The exchange of goods or services via the internet.
  • Fraud protection: A feature that helps identify fraudulent orders before they take place.
  • Merchant account: Online retailers can obtain a bank service account that allows them to accept credit card transactions.
  • Payment gateway: An internet service that connects your e-commerce site with your merchant account. A payment gateway takes your order information and connects to your Merchant Account to authorize and transfer funds.
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization): Strategic methods used to boost the ranking or frequency of a website in results returned by a search engine. SEO is an excellent way to maximize user traffic to your site.
  • Shopping cart: The part of an e-commerce site that maintains a list of the products the consumer chooses to purchase. It can be stand-alone (using HTML, for example) or part of an e-commerce platform.
  • SKU (StockKeeping Unit): An SKU is an identification, usually alphanumeric, of a product that is tracked for inventory purposes.
  • SSL (Secure Sockets Layer): SSL is the standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between a web server and a browser. This encryption ensures that all data passed between the web server and browsers remains private and secure.
  • Transaction fee: a flat fee paid by the merchant for each credit card transaction.
  • Web hosting: the act of providing storage space and access for websites. Web hosting services are businesses that maintain your website on their servers.

What type of online business are you launching? 

About The Author:

While attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s graduate school for journalism and public relations in the late 1990s, Sally began a long career researching and writing about business, technical and scientific topics.

Her decades of experience as well as a passion to stay on top of the latest online tools and resources combine to help small businesses (and freelancers like herself) flourish. Her work has appeared in many notable media outlets, including The Washington Post, Entrepreneur, People, Forbes, Huffington Post, and more.

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