A question that we often get asked at RMLalchan is 'Is it complicated and does it cost a lot to sell my products or services online?'
A good question too. I remember years ago - when ecommerce was in its infancy - having to spend hours discussing ecommerce setup with banks and then filling out reams of paperwork just to be able to help a client sell a few low-value products from their website.
Thankfully, today, it's a heck of a lot easier. Whether you're using a system like PayPal to add 'buy now' buttons to your site or needing a fully fledged shopping cart system which caters for international ordering, as long as you know the right questions to ask, you can be up and running –or have a plan to get up and running, in a relatively short time.
So what are those questions you need to ask –either yourself, or your web developers, to find the best solution for you?
What are you selling?
Are you selling physical products such as CDs, cards, printed books, house signs? If so you'll need to think about issues such as stock inventory, postage and packing and the implications of selling internationally. Posting a product to Japan is going to cost a lot more than posting within the UK. You need to make sure you’re passing this cost on to the customer or that you are at least accounting for it in some way.
Selling physical products can vary in complexity if you are offering the products directly - you're packaging them up and posting them out yourself - or via a third party, such as selling your book via Amazon or your album via the iTunes store. Having a third party take care of the order fulfilment process will be a lot less of a headache, but naturally you pay the third party a fee for this –usually a percentage per item sold.
Are your products digital downloads? A digital download covers products such as music and video files, ebooks, digital images and artwork that visitors will usually have immediate access to once they have virtually handed over their money.
Just like physical products and third parties mentioned above, the same applies with digital downloads. If you have an album on the iTunes store, Apple will handle the ordering process which includes the system for taking credit/debit card payments, any compliance issues to make sure the site is secure enough, as well as dealing with issues such as refunds.
Services cover a whole host of products such as paying for your time if you offer consultancy sessions. It can also include online training, membership and subscription services. Let's look at them one by one.
Life coaching is something that is often paid for either by the hour or by purchasing specific packages. Your customer might select the package that suits them and choose a date for their session, then pay for it straightaway.
Online training may take the form of a one-off payment giving you indefinite access to a course or access for a fixed period of time. Online training increasingly uses a subscription model whereby you pay a monthly fee to have access to a range of courses.
This model also works if you have a membership group that you want to offer exclusive access to a range of high-quality content via your website. Members may subscribe to this on a monthly basis and you may offer several tiers allowing access to higher quality - more exclusive content - when paying a higher subscription fee.
So that covers some of the types of goods you may be selling. What other factors are there when deciding which system to choose?
How do I accept credit/debit cards?
Payment gateways are companies that authorise credit and debit card payments for businesses. Essentially, they facilitate the secure flow of information between your website and the customer’s bank.
You've heard of PayPal right? They are by far the most popular payment gateway. Others include GoCardless and Stripe, both of which we use.
Payment gateways often have quick 'buy now' button integration which usually requires adding a few lines of code from their website and including it in yours. To pay, the customer will essentially leave your site, be taken to the payment providers’ screen (e.g. PayPal) to complete the transaction before returning to your site.
More complex integrations requiring the skills of a developer are available so your customer doesn't ever leave your site. The whole shopping experience remains within your branding.
For quick setup, if you have a few products or services that you are selling and you don't mind the customer being taken off to the payment gateway's website, I would recommend using GoCardless. They have a very simple fee of 1% up to £2 per item sold.
If trading internationally PayPal buttons may be a better option. I must be honest and say that I'm not the biggest PayPal fan. They haven’t always had the best customer service, but their system is so well known around the world, it's hard to ignore. Their fees are higher than GoCardless too at 3.4% + 20p per transaction.
Stripe is a new provider to the UK having launched in August 2013. They are the gateway of choice for Squarespace (see below). I've not used them outside of Squarespace but from what I understand it's a very similar setup to GoCardless, though slightly more expensive. They charge 2.4% + 20p per transaction.
What ecommerce systems work with my Content Management System?
We’ve previously reviewed the main CMS systems we use at RMLalchan and they each have their own set of features and benefits when it comes to ecommerce.
Wordpress –the most popular CMS
WordPress has a variety of ecommerce plugins that allow you to get up and running fairly quickly. One of the most popular plugins is WooCommerce and we have used this for some of our clients.
It is a full shopping basket system allowing your visitors to select multiple products and then 'checkout' at the end. You can use it for international orders, for physical and digital products. Subscription services are possible via an additional extension.
If you already use WordPress you'll need to check your theme is compatible with WooCommerce. You will also need to set up a payment gateway as mentioned above.
If you're using the Squarespace system, they have their own built-in ecommerce system called Squarespace Commerce. This is quite a comprehensive solution and very quick to sign up.
You can sell both physical and digital goods as well as accepting donations and services. Like WooCommerce on WordPress, you can also add your own discount coupons to your products to help with promotions and sales. Who doesn't like being offered a discount, eh?
Squarespace use Stripe as their payment gateway and at time of writing it's the only option –not that that’s a problem.
Perch and other CMS's
For other content management systems, such as Perch, there are a variety of other systems that can be used such as RomanCart, FoxyCart or of course you can use the code snippets as described above in the Payment Gateways section.
Selling products online really has come a long way since the heady days where the banks didn't really understand what it was, and not many people had heard of PayPal. It’s much easier now to get up and running and therefore a great time to make use of technology that can generate an additional income stream, if you're not already.
I'd love to know your thoughts around selling online. If you have any questions post them in the comments.