Question: I’ve been designing web sites and printed materials for a few years now and rather recently I have been approached to develop e-commerce sites. What kind of tools do I need for that? Do I need my own server to set up the database?
Answer: First of all, setting up an e-commerce site can be very frustrating when you are working with more than one person on the project. The more people you have working together, isn’t always an easy task, and can take forever to complete. Something like- “too many cooks in the kitchen”. Second, you need to establish how much your client’s budget is. If you have to make a proposal, and you don’t know what the budget is, then you have to consider YOUR budget. You should know your client enough to see how serious they are about their web site. Would a thousand dollars scare them, would five thousand? There is such a wide range of setting up new e-commerce sites, you would fall over dead trying to figure them all out. I don’t think running out and buying a new server is such a good idea, because you can spend anything between 1,000-10,000 on a new system(maybe more)! We just purchased our own server, but in the past we relied on hosting with an Internet Provider to meet our needs. Even if our client base reaches 1,000, we don’t NEED our own server. It is nice to have your own, but if you can’t find five good reasons why, then hold off.
By all means, if you have a lot of money to spend, sure go for it! There are a few other things besides the initial purchase of a server. You have to get it on a network somehow. We still host our server with an Internet Provider, but we have an actual machine on their network. For a hosting fee, they let it sit on their network. We still have to maintain it, and if it breaks, we fix it. You should keep in mind, that there are some ISP’s that will maintain it for you. If you have a Network Admin handy, then by all means, maintain it yourself. It is a lot cheaper! You may have trouble finding an ISP that will host your server. Try locally if you plan on buying a server. Having your own server, means you can check your mail, host your clients, Impress your friend,etc.
Just because you have a server, doesn’t mean it is ready for a secure site. You need to have a digital certificate. This is meant to protect your software from tampering after publication, ensure software came from a software publisher, and to guarantee the identity of a remote computer. Basically, it lets your client’s customers know that you are safe to do business with. Some ISP’s will let you use their secure server even if you have your own server.
Next, you need to find out if your client wants to have a shopping cart. A shopping cart is software, that acts like a shopping cart you would use at the store. You can add things to your basket, take things out, and it will calculate the total of all your items. This builds a professional image to your client’s customers. There are ways of getting around a shopping cart by using forms, but the calculation will not work.
Shopping carts come in two ways. Software or Vendors. Software must be purchased, and run on your server. Vendors are companies that run the shopping cart software on their server, and you can use their server space to host your cart. Most of the time, this isn’t the entire site, just the items in your store.
You can always fall back on the ISP thing. Try to find an ISP that will give you an allotted amount of space for a certain price. (by the way we do that kind of thing, sorry sales pitch) That way, you have no problems maintaining anything except the person maintaining your site. Sometimes pointing fingers isn’t the easiest solution, getting back to another cook in the kitchen theory. If you go this route, try to get a fair price, so you can mark it up a bit, to make money for maintaining the maintainer. Check around, and don’t always go for the cheapest host! Find out what kind of a network they are running. Check to see how much they are concerned with you. Do they pay attention to your needs?
Sometimes, the amount of space will determine what you need to do to start up an e-commerce site. Don’t over spend on things you don’t need. Don’t worry about building a database, unless you need to. Some shopping carts are so advanced, you don’t need to do anything except add the data into it.
Author: Gina Hutchings
Copyright Lunar Media Inc
Chicago Web Design