The first in a series of articles on how to set up and manage e-commerce sites, which platforms are best, payment merchants and the disadvantages and advantages of running an online store
You can sell all these: Products, appointments, webinars, access to website content, online tours, teach courses, sell tickets to online events
If you feel we could add something or you have any questions, we're more than happy to help, tell us all about it here
Online shop - Sell your stuff online!
First of all, what is e-commerce? You’re going to read this term a lot, and I guess you might have already heard it.
E-commerce is any website with a feature that takes money transactions, but usually this is an online shop, but can be any site that sells physical products, file downloads, classes, bookings, tickets and anything else you can think of paying for.
Taking payments online
What is a payment merchant and why do I need one?
A payment merchant is a company that deals with your customer's payments and the bank on your behalf. This means they process the transaction securely, taking any risk and may store the payment details for you depending on the merchant. You've probably heard of PayPal and maybe Stripe for example, they process the payment and encrypt the transaction making it secure for your customers to pay online and for you to receive the payment.
Years ago payments were processed by a website's built in payment system, this meant all the responsibility rested with the website developer or owner if something went wrong.
We recommend Stripe or PayPal as they are the most straightforward to set up on a website, and widely supported by both WordPress and Drupal which we build our websites in.
They will take a fee, this is to pay for the upkeep of the payment merchant’s services, which in turn means you can take payments safely. PayPal currently takes 2.9% per transaction whereas Stripe takes 1% per transaction as of writing this article.
Make sure it’s mobile
It's very unlikely you'll end up with a website which doesn't work well on mobiles, but just in case here's why it's important.
Most online shopping is done via a mobile device these days, often this is a smartphone but tablets too especially for older shoppers who need a bigger display, and I don’t just mean silver surfers, I’m 45 and sometimes struggle to read stuff on my little iPhone!
The basics of making any website mobile, is to make the buttons easier to tap with a finger or thumb, rather than click, thus buttons on mobile friendly sites are bigger and the content is stacked vertically as well as simplifying the structure.
Sounds complicated, but if you use a decent well supported theme or any decent website developer will make sure it's mobile friendly.
You may need to tweak some content to keep it to the width of the screen such as images and embedded videos from YouTube or Vimeo. those can sometimes end up too wide for mobile screens and involve horizontal scrolling if not made responsive, if you're finding this an issue, do contact your website developer for help, or we're happy to if that's not possible here Contact us
You can test to see how mobile friendly your website is here: https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly and be sure to sign up for Google Analytics and Google Search Console to get alerts to any issues on mobile compatibility.
Have an SSL certificate
If I tell you that SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer that doesn’t really explain what it is at all. What I can tell you is that it allows a site to encrypt data being sent from the website user to the website. So even if your website isn’t taking payments, any data such as a contact form is encrypted and can’t be intercepted by a third party. This also applies to people entering their email and address details when checking out of a shop.
That’s a very good reason to have an SSL, plus most browsers are displaying security warnings on websites if there isn’t one. A few years ago Google started penalising sites that didn’t have an SSL, so sites whose addresses did not start with https were listed lower in Google. Most website hosting companies provide these as standard and we offer SSL certificates with our Website Hosting and Support service.
Tickets to online events
If you’re hosting online events you’ll want to be able to sell tickets online. You can use a third party service such as EventBrite or Fatsoma. You may need to limit place numbers if it’s an interactive event to make it manageable, both these event services offer a way to sell a set amount of places.
Selling your time - Coaching, therapy sessions, online tours and teaching courses
You don’t have to sell physical products to generate money online, you can sell your time and skills to one person at a time or whole classes!
Sell access to your website content
Got some brilliant in depth knowledge you want to sell online?
If you have useful information you want to share and monitise you can sell access to this by creating a website where people pay to read and interact with this content. These can be pages with text, images and even video.
This can be a passive way to teach courses in anything from yoga, cooking and mental well being. Apart from writing and creating the content the website pretty much manages the rest once set up.
There’s a great plugin called Paid Memberships Pro which does just that. You can add and define content as paid for, this content will be hidden until people login. Visitors can pay regularly with payments processed online, monthly or yearly. They can apply for an account and set up payment. This will be processed by Stripe or PayPal or another compatible payment merchant. The account set up can be managed by you just in case there are some ne'er-do-wells you don’t want on there. So you have full control of the content and access to it. We’ve set this up on our Website helper site here: polyspiralwebsitehelper.co.uk
What you should get sorted if selling online
These come as standard with all of our websites. Find out more here What is an SSL Certificate and why do I need one
As you may be handling your customers personal information and this comes under UK and EU data protection regulations.
Terms and conditions page
It helps make everything clear as to what you offer and what the customer can expect. It can seem a daunting to write these at first and you may be tempted to copy someone else’s but it’s better to write your own, cover everything you think you need your customers to know and in cases where you have an awkward situation you can mention that this is what they’ve agreed to. You can then get a legal person to check it over and add anything you may need to cover you further. It might mean spending a few hundred pounds but it could be well worth it if you find yourself in a dispute with a client.
Getting your customers to agree is usually simple when adding an online shop. Shopping cart plugins usually have a setting in the backend where you choose the Terms and Conditions page which will allow for the customer to tick this in order to complete checkout with a link to the page to read the terms and conditions. Likewise for appointment booking such as Bookly. If this isn’t possible, you can create an online form with a tickbox and add a link to it either in a direct email or on the content you're selling.
If you have a copy of these on your website your customers can decide first if they want to proceed and it makes it convenient to make sure they agree before they buy.
For help with terms and conditions, we recommend kingfisherhr.com who offer HR and commercial business advice' is that ok