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The Basics of Starting an e-Commerce Site

Hosting + Content + Payment

While bank loans, property leasing and constant monitoring meant that it took an incredible amount of effort to set up a business 15 years ago, the internet has provided entrepreneurial opportunities that nearly everyone can take advantage of. Provided they know the basics, of course.

So, where should businesses begin when creating an e-commerce site?

Hosting
All websites need to 'exist' somewhere and this is where web hosting comes in. Typically offered by third party companies, web hosting involves the placing of a company website on an outsourced server. With many companies offering this service, it's up to business owners to weigh up the positives and negatives of each provider before selecting a trustworthy partner.

For example, will the host keep card-holder data fully secure? Can they provide fast, reliable page loading? Will the host be able to handle intensive e-commerce platforms like Magento and Oracle? Is the host PCI DSS compliant?

Choosing a high quality web host offers two main advantages: effective security measures let users know their sensitive business/consumer data is protected and users will continue to return to a website that is quick and reliable.

Content
Generating regular content may feel like a secondary practice on an ecommerce website, where the main goal is conversions. However, fresh, relevant content can help towards improving a website's rank in search engines, bringing in additional visitors to your site. Content such as unique product descriptions can empower your consumers by giving them more information on a product or service. Engaging content can mean the difference between a purchase and a bounce, so make sure content is given priority within the site.

Payment gateways and merchant accounts
As selling products or services is the inherent purpose of e-commerce, a payment gateway is one of the most important features of an online store. It is the intermediary between the retailer and the bank, which authorises payments.

Once a customer has submitted their credit card information, the data is passed to the web server and the payment gateway through secure socket layers. When the payment gateway receives the data, it can choose to 'accept' or 'decline' the request. The gateway then sends back the required information and if accepted, instructs the bank to charge the card, transferring the money into the retailer's merchant account.

Setting up a merchant account allows businesses to accept credit and debit cards as payment for goods and services. It is important to select a merchant account that offers good rates on processing, round-the-clock support and 24 hour turnaround on settled transactions - customers understandably expect quick and efficient support when making an online payment.

Making e-commerce opportunities available to everyone on the internet can be both a help and a hindrance, as competition could spring up, looking to usurp market share, at every turn. As such, it may appear that starting an online business is hard work.

However, by learning the basics: creating a desirable product; investing in quality reliable hosting services and using gateways, owners can potentially get a great return on their investment and see their endeavour grow into a successful business.

More Stories By Dominic Monkhouse

Dominic Monkhouse joined PEER 1 Hosting as managing director of the company's new UK operations in January, 2009, bringing more than 14 years of IT industry experience to the team. He is the key executive responsible for building and growing PEER 1 Hosting's expansion into Europe. In his role as managing director, Dominic is responsible for sales, marketing and service delivery across PEER 1 Hosting's UK business and ensuring overall customer satisfaction. His role is integral to the company's continued commitment to customer service.

Before joining PEER 1 Hosting, Dominic served as managing director of IT Lab, where he was able to quickly transform the company into the fastest growing IT service provider in the UK SME market. Prior to IT Lab, he was managing director of Rackspace, which grew from a staff of four to 150 under his guidance.

Dominic has a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural and Food Marketing from Newcastle University and a MBA from Sheffield Business School in the UK. He frequently participates in public speaking events on the topic of creating great places to work and achieving continuous client satisfaction. He also is involved as a judge of the Sunday Times Customer Experience Awards.