To create an online shop with functionality beyond the basics, you will need an e-commerce package. Functionality can vary, but you can usually expect:
- catalogue management
- enhanced order processing
- a broad range of design templates
An e–commerce package can provide you with a professional looking design, full ordering and payment functionality. It may also include value-added features such as account information, customer references and customer alerts. However, you should be aware that it may not suit you if you wish to offer more complex products and services.
You can expect encryption for secure ordering as part of an e-commerce package. Making sure checkout procedures are secure and user friendly are essential if customers are going to feel confident about ordering a product or service. Many people will abandon purchases at the checkout stage if the process is not quick and easy. Using Secure Socket Layer technology to collect card details (denoted by the 'golden padlock' symbol in your browser's status bar) is key to encouraging online sales.
Some e-commerce packages offer a degree of back end systems integration, ie they connect to your product database and accounts systems, streamlining the order process and keeping the website up to date. If you update your site content regularly, you will encourage customers to come back to you rather than switch to a competitor.
If you use a broadband connection, you can also receive orders in real time and update your website automatically. Be aware that some internet service providers offer combined web hosting and software packages, so it's worth doing some research.