Introduction to the E-Commerce Website Components
Congratulations on your decision to create an E-Commerce enabled website. Whether your goal is to supplement your existing brick-and-mortar, or create an online-only business, adding an E-Commerce site is an exciting time. But with this excitement also comes many questions about how to implement a solution. You will need to work with several vendors, each of who will supply a piece of the puzzle. This is true regardless of whether you decide to ultimately go with a custom built or ready-made solution. E-Commerce solutions consist of five layers as follows.
1. User - you guessed it, these are the people that ultimately purchase your products or service.
2. Secure Socket Layer (SSL) Certificate - An SSL Certificate ensures that the two parties of a transaction, in this case the server and the customer, are who they say they are. By verifying both parties, the SSL certificates helps create a secure environment through which sensitive data like credit cards can be sent.
You may not have realized it, but if you've ever purchased products or services online, you've seen an SSL certificate in action. Does this "lock" icon look familiar?
This icon indicates that an SSL certificate is in place and that the information being transmitted to the server is secure. There are a number of SSL certificate providers, and each provider has their own set of certificates. We can help you decide which provider and certificate is right for you.
3. Server/Host - The server where you host your domain (e.g. www.yourwebsite.com) is an important factor in your site's success. There are two things that need to be considered when selecting a host: (1) reliability (aka uptime) and (2) support. Many hosts will boast numbers such as "99.9% uptime." Our experience shows us that this is less than true. The best way to select a host is through direct referral from someone who has used a host for an extended period of time. Support, on the other hand, is also crucial because you need to know that if and when a server problem does arise, that the people behind the systems are competent enough to handle the problem.
Everyone likes to get the best deal for the best price. For this reason, many companies elect to use a shared-hosting package. With a shared hosting package multiple accounts/sites are hosted under one roof (server). Shared hosting packages work great for small informational websites that don't receive a lot of traffic, but can be detrimental to E-Commerce websites for several reasons. First, when you host your website on a shared hosting package, you leave your website open for attack by malicious users with accounts on the same server. The chances of this may be slim, but the last thing you will want with your e-commerce site is to have your customer's sensitive information compromised to would-be hackers. The second reason, and the more realistic of the two, comes as a result of the number of people being hosted per server. Let's say, for example, that there are 100 accounts on a shared server. Now, let's say that just one of those users writes some bad programming code - that code, in turn, crashes the server. Guess what - now your site is down. Unfortunately we have seen this happen quite a few times, and when it does, your site can be down for hours. We have worked with a number of hosts and have finally settled with one that we feel comfortable with. They have a wonderful and reliable support staff. We happily recommend them to all of our clients.
4. Payment Gateway - The payment gateway serves several functions. Perhaps the most important function for you, as a business, is that it serves as the "gateway" between your clients' credit cards and your bank account. Behind the scenes, the payment gateway verifies both the card holder's account information, as well as available funds. Upon approval, funds are deposited into your merchant bank account.
5. Merchant Account - The final layer of the E-Commerce application/website is the merchant bank account. If you already have your brick-and-mortar merchant account in place, you will need to make sure that your account can accept internet transactions - not all merchant accounts can. Otherwise you will need to sign up for a new merchant account that allows a "direct connect" internet option.
E-Commerce Information FlowNow that you have been given a brief taste of the elements required for an E-Commerce site, let's take a quick look at how each of the elements work within the context of an E-Commerce transaction using the diagram below. A customer (1) browses your catalogue, (2) adds products to a cart, (3) decides to checkout and make a credit card payment. The payment is (4) processed, (5) deposited into your merchant account, and (6) confirmed. Finally the transaction is complete. An (7) order notification is sent to your shipping fulfillment department where the (8) order is shipped, and a (9) confirmation is sent to the user.
Contact Us today to begin working on your next E-Commerce project.