Ecommerce Demystified: How to setup your online store with real life examples.
Ecommerce can be really confusing, especially when it is explained to you
by programmers and merchant banks. They speak a language that most of us just
don't understand. I'm a web designer who used to be completely befuddled by
the whole ecommerce thing. So, in this article, I want to demystify ecommerce
for you and tell you exactly how I do it from start to finish. This tutorial
is about my personal experience and therefore only covers one way to do ecommerce,
but I know it works. Here is what you will learn in this order:
- How to set up web hosting for an online store.
- Installing an online store.
- Getting a merchant account and payment gateway.
- Configuring the store with the gateway.
Where to get a web host
Any web host should work for your online store that will allow you to install
your store software, has the necessary requirements for your store software,
and allows SSL certificates to be installed.
All of the store software that I've used gets installed through a browser,
so all you really need is an FTP or SSH connection to the server.
As for software requirements, you'll want to make sure that your host has
what your store needs. For the stores that I use, that means my host has to
have PHP and MySQL.
My host will install my SSL certificates for me, so that is a good deal since
doing this yourself requires the knowledge of how to do it (which I lack).
A lot of web hosts will do this since they also sell the certs.
What host do I use and recommend? Dathorn.com is a great host that I've been
using since 2001. It is a shared reseller host, so if you need a dedicated
server, this is not the place to go (although Andrew can probably set something
up for you), but for stores just starting out, this is the perfect place. You
can sign up through my affiliate link to kick me back a few.
What online store to use
I personally use and recommend LiteCommerce. It is easy to set up and install,
and has a lot of extra features that you can purchase. The pricing structure
allows you to purchase just the store, and then additional add-ons if you need
them. I like how easy the store is to customize, both the look and feel and
the features. Plus they have pretty good support (I don't say great because
it can take a while to get some help sometimes).
I've also tried and don't recommend Zen Cart and CubeCart. Both are too difficult
to make them look how you want, and are just confusing. Plus, since Zen Cart
both of is open source, your only recourse for support is through forums, which
I spent a ton of time in. According to Al down in the comments, Cube Cart has great customer service, but last time I installed it, it just didn't jive with my style. Just spend a bit of cash to get a store that works
Installing your online store
Once you have purchased your store software, use the installation instructions
that came with it to install. For LiteCommerce, all you have to do is upload
the files to the server with FTP, and then use the install wizard from a web
browser. It is very easy.
Getting a merchant account and payment gateway
This is probably the most confusing part of the whole deal and was the biggest
road block for me when starting ecommerce sites, but it is really pretty easy
once you understand what these two elements of ecommerce are. While this isn't
the most technical explanation of what these two elements are, it is how I
understand them as a layman. The payment gateway is the same thing as a POS
box in a bricks and mortar store. It is the thing that validates or denies
the customer's credit card and sends the transaction to the merchant account.
The merchant account is a kind of bank account that can accept transfers from
financial institutions and transfers money into your personal bank account.
That's it and is all you really need to know.
Where can you get a merchant account and payment gateway? Well, they are
all over the place, but I've done the searching for you and have found CDG
Commerce to be a great place to do business. They offer great customer support
through live chat help and email. They are also a one stop shop for buying
both a merchant account and a gateway. If you want CDG Commerce to work with
LiteCommerce, just make sure you purchase the Authorize.net gateway along with
the merchant account. You can sign up for CDG Commerce, or just get a rate
quote, through my web development business, Ehly Design, here.
Configuring the store with the gateway and setting up SSL
Lastly, once you have purchased your store, gotten a merchant account and
payment gateway, then the last two things to do are to set up the store with
the gateway, and set up SSL.
First you'll need to set up SSL. Like I said before, I purchase these through
my host and have him do this for me. Then all I need to do is configure LiteCommerce
to have SSL enabled. Simple. The only caveat here is that your site has to
be live on your host at the domain name it will be at. For example, if you
are building your store on a test server, and are going to move to a live server,
then you can't get an SSL certificate because you can only get a certificate
for where the site is actually located (in other words, the certificate is
tied to the domain). This means that you'll need to develop your store in
an unlinked folder on the "final resting place" server to hide it from the
rest of the world and then either move the store later, or simply link to it
once it is ready.
To set up the store with the gateway you'll need to configure the store to
use the gateway's API for transactions. That sounds difficult, but it is really
not. For LiteCommerce, this means installing the Authorize.net transaction
add-on module, and entering your transaction key and account id in the module's
configuration options. It is all in the manual that comes with the add-on download.
Once correctly configured your store is ready for processing. You can do some
test orders in test mode to make sure that the transactions are going through.
Once you do that you can process a live transaction and void it from the gateway
Well, I hope this tutorial has helped you get a grasp of an actual way to
do ecommerce and has demystified it a bit for you. I wrote this because I
got so tired of reading about this in the abstract and wished someone had jus
told me how they did it when I was researching this stuff. Your next steps
to making millions :) with your online store are to:
Have a great day!