Frequently asked questions about: electronic commerce sites

What is electronic commerce, and how is an e-commerce site different from a "regular" one?

Electronic commerce is an online process that enables web site visitors to view and select merchandise, place an order, and submit payment, all directly from your web site.  An e-commerce site, in essence, functions as an automated sales machine.

At its most basic level, an e-commerce site needs a way to display and describe merchandise, a way to place an order, and a secure payment method for customers to use a credit card.  These features are components of an e-commerce site, but do not, in and of themselves, comprise the site.

The only real difference between a "regular" and "e-commerce" site is that the latter incorporates these additional components to enable online sales.  A web site can be built around these components, or they can be added to an existing site.

What do I need for successful e-commerce?

An e-commerce site, if it is to make the sale, has to anticipate and answer questions, overcome objections, and generally inspire confidence on the part of the visitor.

We can set up a fast-loading, easy to use site to sell your products.  The success of the site, though, is up to you.  Obviously, you have to have a product that someone wants to buy, but some degree of salesmanship also is required.  It's really not enough just to show your product.  Your web site has to sell it  You'll need clear digital photographs, showing your products in the best light possible, with full, informative descriptions.

Although the focus is on your product, you'll also need to reassure prospective customers about your reliability as an online vendor.  Although a well-designed web site goes a long way in gaining trust, anything you offer in the way of reinforcing the idea that you're "for real" will help to make the sale.

How does it work?

Once it's been set up, an e-commerce site functions as an automated sales machine.  Customers select and order merchandise, enter payment information, and submit their order.

The web site automatically notifies you via email, telling you an order has been placed.  You then retrieve the order information, fill it, and process payment through your selected payment gateway service.

What is a payment gateway?

An e-commerce site requires some type of payment gateway- a secure way to collect, transmit, and process buyer information, and to enable you to accept payment via Visa, Mastercard, or other credit cards.

This usually involves a merchant account with a credit card processor, which usually requires that the site be hosted with a service that provides a secure server for safely encrypting buyers' information.  Once you have a merchant account, the web site can be configured to store order information for manual processing, or to utilize a "real time" interface for automated processing.

For relatively small or low-volume sites, there are alternative payment gateways that don't require a merchant account or secure servers for your site.  Although these were once very awkward for customers to use, they have evolved into viable alternatives for many online sellers to accept credit cards.

Either way, the web site must be able to transmit the order details to the payment gateway, and notify you that an order has been placed.  Any of our e-commerce enabled sites perform these basic functions, and many more are available- depending on what you need for your situation.

What about a shopping cart?

Besides allowing customers to select multiple items, the shopping cart component typically tallies up the order, calculates basic taxes and shipping, collects information from the buyer, and transmits the total to a payment gateway.

More advanced carts function as a total online sales solution, providing a way for you to add, delete, or change merchandise descriptions, track inventory levels, confirm shipment to your customers, and more.

We offer basic and advanced shopping cart facilities, depending on your needs and future plans.

Does e-commerce require expensive hosting?

Not necessarily.  We'll show you where to host a full-fledged e-commerce site, complete with advanced shopping cart and secure server, for as little as $20 monthly.  If you don't really need that much flexibility and use one of the alternative payment gateways, we can host your site for as low as $10 monthly.

What other expenses are involved?

Aside from the design, construction, and hosting of your site, your payment gateway service will charge a percentage of your transactions, and may charge a "per transaction" fee.

Merchant accounts through your bank or other credit card service provider may require set up and/or subscription fees.  These vary by provider.  Automated payment processing is usually an extra-cost option for a basic merchant account.

Alternate payment gateways charge very small or no setup fees, but have a higher rate for transactions.

Where can I get a merchant account?

We do not provide merchant accounts- getting an account that suits your needs is up to you.  If you currently accept credit cards, you might check with your provider about accepting online transactions.

Our advanced shopping carts interface with the real-time payment gateway provided by, one of the largest and best-known online payment processors.

If you don't need real-time processing, you can use any processor that allows manual transaction entry.

How can I accept credit cards without a merchant account?

Not everyone needs (and not everyone can qualify for) a traditional merchant account for online credit card transactions.

We can set up your site to interface with PayPal or, two viable alternatives for online sales with no merchant account required.  The user interface for these payment services is almost as smooth as it would be with your own account.

Besides being less expensive to set up than a regular merchant account, these alternative services don't require a secure server for your site, so you can take advantage of our low-cost, no-charge domain name hosting plan.

Can I change my selected payment gateway service?

We can set up two kinds of e-commerce sites.  At the low end, sites set up to interface with PayPal or are "hard coded" for these services.  Changing them would require extensive work.  Our full-service sites can easily be reconfigured to interface with PayPal, a manual merchant account, or automated services through

What else is involved, and how much does it cost?

Like any web site, the cost of setting up an e-commerce site varies with its scope, complexity, and your degree of readiness.  Since electronic commerce is essentially an optional component for a "regular" web site, we suggest you review these materials.


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