And a crop of new companies are emerging, with dedicated mobile services that include everything from m-commerce to short messaging service (SMS, also known as text-messaging), mobile coupons, and other mobile features.
At the low end, you can get a simple shopping cart set up quickly and for no upfront costs with PayPal. At the high end, you can spend tens of thousands of dollars to get a program like Magento fully integrated with your store’s inventory and other systems. And in between, many sites do well with an ecommerce extension or a WordPress plugin.
UPDATE 7-2013: This article no longer covers Google Checkout. To learn more about why Google has cancelled this service visit https://support.google.com/
Four flavors of ecommerce to choose from
When it comes to eCommerce on the Web, you have a wide range of options. Here’s a quick overview of the top three approaches:
1. If you’re selling just a few items
At the low end, you can add a PayPal Buy button with copy-and-past ease. This option is ideal if you’re selling something like an ebook, tickets to an event, or a service.
- Pros: You can add PayPal buttons in a few minutes and there are no upfront costs. Plus, everything you need is in one package, so you don’t have to worry about setting up credit card processing. It’s all taken care of for you.
- Cons: Although you can use the basic shopping cart features, if you are selling lots of items, you’ll want a more sophisticated solutions.
- Instructions for how to create a PayPal Button: Add a Simple Buy Now Button with Paypal — you can learn the basics in a few minutes with this tutorial.
2. If you’re selling up to 50 items or so, you can create a simple shopping cart
If you sell more than one thing, you’ll definitely want a shopping cart so that customers can add items as they move through a web page or multiple pages on your site. Graduating to a simple simple shopping cart from PayPal is an easy upgrade from the Buy Now Button, and with no upfront fees and no advanced technical skills required, you can add a real shopping cart that’s perfect for a few or even quite a few items in an afternoon.
- Pros: You can complete this task in an afternoon and there are no upfront costs — you pay only when a purchase goes through a requires credit card processing and PayPal will issue you checks or transfer payments directly to your bank after keeping a small percentage for the transaction fees (current fee is 2.9% of each transaction).
- Cons: Although the PayPal shopping cart makes it possible to sell more than one item, you have limited options for saving product descriptions, tracking inventory, or formatting the look of your shopping cart.
3. Create your entire online shopping site with the Shopify or Yahoo! ecommerce services
If you want a relatively simple online service that can handle large sales volume without a lot of technical programming or custom technical development, consider setting up an online store with Shopify or Yahoo! Both offer small business services, and handle to some of the largest shopping sites online.
4. If you want to add ecommerce to a WordPress site
If you use WordPress (and 1 in 5 websites today is made with WordPress so there’s a good chance you do), then you want to consider one of the many great themes and plugins that include shopping carts and transaction services, such as: The Woo Commerce Theme or WPMU Business Plugins or any of the other options you can find by searching for WordPress resources online.
5. If you’re selling hundreds or thousands of items online, you need a high-end service
If you need a sophisticated web-based shopping cart, you’ll find a range of options, including custom shopping systems that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to design and deploy, and a wide range of online shopping services. But most web designers seem to agree that one of the best ecommerce services for large websites is Magento. Magento provides all the tools you need to create a shopping site as complex as Amazon. But buyer beware — implementing an eCommerce system as complicated as Magento requires professional programming experience, or many thousands of dollars in licensing and development costs.
Dedicated shopping carts provide the greatest options for customization as well as tracking and other CRM features, but they are much more complex to set up and they require a separate transaction service to handle payment processing.
Don’t be confused by the fact that even if you use an advanced shopping cart, you can still use PayPal as one of the transaction services. PayPal offers may ecommerce options. You may also be able to handle transaction processing with your own bank if it offers these kinds of merchant services, or through any online or brick and mortar bank you want to work with, but if you choose to set it up yourself, prepare to manage all of the complexities, including security.
High-end shopping cart services can be complex to install and set up, but if you sell a lot of items, or need your online system to be integrated with your brick-and-mortar inventory system, it may be worth the cost. If you let Google or PayPal handle the transaction, they do it over an SSL protected connection for you. If you prefer to do it yourself with your bank, you may need to set up SSL on your own server.
- Pros: You can better control how your merchandise is displayed, manage more products more easily, and even integrate online and offline inventory management. Some shopping cart services offer added features to help manage customers, product discounts, coupons, and so on.
- Cons: Using a shopping cart service requires considerable work to set up the software on your server and integrate it with your website. These services are also more expensive and generally only worth the added cost and effort if you sell at least a dozen products.