Planning an ecommerce website is like building a house – architecture and budget need to be agreed before the decoration. Once the specification has been agreed then solutions need to be evaluated and costed against that specification are:
– Project management
– Web design and software
All aspects of the project need to be managed. Decide who is going to do it and properly plan the requirements, activities, outcomes, milestones and timings.
Your choices here are a managed service or your own server. The security and disaster recovery aspect that is achieved by hosting with a major provider is very important. Only go with your own server if you have the experience and facilities.
Design and Software:
Develop site templates and test them with real people. They have to be easy to use and navigate. Don’t let “design” drive the site; let ease of use and sales drive the “design”. Think how the customer thinks.
At least 3 solutions need to be considered.
– Shopping cart
There are 2 realistic routes here. Either an online or an offline, PC based content management system (CMS). The online CMS can be either an Open Source CMS (Open Source means any application that has been made available, generally free, to developers to view and modify freely. Examples of Open Source applications are MySQL and PHP) or commercial.
There are pros and cons to both routes. An online system is available to anyone with relevant security clearance anywhere any time. A PC based system is, obviously, limited to the PCs running the licenses. An example of a PC based system is Macromedia Contribute which integrates with Dreamweaver. There are a whole range of online Commercial and Open Source options such as SuiteWise, Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress etc. However, even this is complicated by the fact that some of the shopping cart solutions also contain CMS that may be sufficient for many companies’ requirements.
There are other factors to consider with the shopping cart:
– Does it have its own or does it easily integrate with your exiting stock control systems?
– Does it integrate easily with accounting systems? (e.g. Sage, QuickBooks)
Most CMS, shopping carts and forums have email solutions. However, some solutions are very basic. If the chosen shopping cart solution that best meets the ecommerce and other requirements does not have an effective integrated email solution and if the same be true of the CMS and forum solutions then stand alone Open Source applications such as PHPlist are one alternative solution and the other is an online solution such as Constant Contact or many others.
This is arguably the most important part of the package. If you do not know how visitors to your website and in the shop are behaving, what turns them on and what turns them off then it is far, far harder to improve sales and site profitability.
Cost! well how long is a pice of string, but you could be up and running for far less than the cost of new premises.