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Advice for those who want to purchase a web shop solution

You don't need millions to buy a web shop. You only need a few hundred dollars, good ideas and determination - and time, of course, a lot of time, contrary to what most people think. But first you need to find the right shopping solution. It's a matter of building an online store that is functional - both for you and for your customers.

Most people who want to start selling through the internet is new to this and to everything else related to web shops. To them (you?) the fastest way to launch a store is to buy or rent a software or web tool that takes care of the design and the technology for you. You should choose a talented and friendly (service minded) provider that offers all the technology you need - complete and at a package price. It involves technology that allows you to:

- Set up your products in various categories.
- Build products with title, description and image.
- Add an additional price that applies within a certain period.
- Get orders via e-mail and see orders via a web interface.
- Create custom shape and color of the shop.
- View order history for customers.
- Enter shipping costs and delivery conditions.

Anyone who has plenty of money can hire a consulting firm that develops a customized e-commerce system, others choose to invest in an ERP system from IBM, Microsoft and SAP. Then you get a really neat solution, but it also costs - expect a minimum of 100-200 000. Luckily, there are other low budget options where you can take care of much of the work yourself.

Buying a web shop:
In order to choose the right web shop solution, you have to know what you need. Today you can both rent and buy e-commerce solutions. The first question is whether you should rent or buy.
If you purchase a program, you will develop your shop using the program. When you are satisfied, you put it all up on your web hoster and update through a web interface or directly in the program and then upload the changes via a file transfer. Renting a program works in the same way, except that you don't have to pay for the purchase of the program. It's good if you are short of initial capital or just want to try in a small scale at first. By renting, you will also have everything up and running faster, it only takes a few minutes to begin to make the initial settings. If you rent you will pay a fixed monthly fee and a slightly higher one-time fee. Be sure that you feel comfortable with the length of the contract and notice period. Double check that there aren't any additional costs beyond the program and the monthly rent. If, for example, a web host isn't included, you must include it in the budget. A wise idea might be to select a single supplier of both web host and an e-store solution. Then you have everything in one place and just one supplier to maintain contact with when to buy your web shop.

Buying a web shop – the time aspect
There's always the aspect of time. How much time do you have? If you don't want to build the website yourself and master HTML coding, you should choose a solution where you don't have to deal with such things. Most vendors are working this way today, they promise you an html free view. Virtually all programs, so-called design templates, offer more or less unique shop-layouts. Anyway, this is very important. You need to really know how much you can customize the look. If you already know how your e-store should look, then check if it's possible with the system you are considering choosing. On the providers' websites there are links to reference customers. By looking at them you will get a sense of what is possible and not possible. Also contact reference customers and ask if they are happy, what they think about the support and contact with the supplier. Then you just have to bombard the provider with questions until you feel satisfied and ready for a purchase decision. My advice is to compare only those who have demo versions that you can try for free. Only then you will get a realistic chance to know what it will feel like to work in the system.

Buying an online store - your own requirements
Discuss with the provider how you imagine that your store will work from order to delivery. What requirements do you have concerning payment options, order processing and integration with your ERP or Enterprise Financial-system? Check out whether the store can communicate with the business system your company is using. If it does, your system can import and export data to the online store regarding accounting, customer lists, product directory etc. Most commonly when it comes to the care of the shop is that you make simple design changes, storage of product categories, the addition of new articles and uploading images and captions in the browser. Some providers also offer the ability to update content using a file, usually an Excel file. This is especially good if you have lots of products and prices and everything changes quite often.

If you sell to retailers, you should also use it to collect facts. Check if the systems are supported for sales to resellers, that you can see the pre-defined range of merchandise, order with current discounts and see what you purchased earlier after login. These are good features that your dealer will appreciate. If they also sell abroad, you should choose a system that supports multiple languages ​​and can handle multiple currencies and tax rates. This is important both for those who sell to the consumer and retailer or to both.

What e-store solution should you choose when you buy a web shop?
How much is reasonable to pay to buy a web shop? Well, that's something only you and your company can decide. A couple of years ago the net was swamped with expensive web shop solutions, but now the situation is the reversed. There are plenty of easy, good solutions that don't cost much. But, like I said, it's all about your budget, your needs and goals. The difference between the solutions is often more advanced features. As a rule, you always get what you pay for, a higher price means that it's possible to do more advanced things. Meanwhile, the advanced is even more complex to manage – it's part of its nature. Most offer both cheaper and more expensive options and also fully custom designed features at an hourly rate.

How much does it cost to buy a web shop?
The entry fee can vary greatly, two providers with a virtually equivalent offer may charge different prices and often there's a big difference in price. Setup fees are motivated by you - the customer - get a special adaptation of the appearance, ie. it's tailored to your company's visual identity. You also get help getting started. Some providers even send staff to the customer and offer a course in how to look after the shop. Few companies give any guarantees of the operation of the web shop. If it is important for you with high security against computer hackers, you should make a special arrangement with the provider about this before the purchase.

Another great ”detail”: Your company may not have focused on the sale of physical goods that are packed and sent out by mail after the order has been made. You may need a complete support for the delivery of digital products. There may be files in the form of drawings or reports, music, and movies. It's becoming common among providers to also offer this kind of technology - nothing is impossible anymore.

Here is a check list of what you should consider when you're purchasing an online store solution:
Monthly fee?
Entry fee?
Can you create a test store?
Do you have your own domain name?
Engine warranty?
Support for digital products such as music or text files?
Possibility to use other currencies?
Can you import and export to the business?
Credit card payment available to the end customer?
Other payment functions than credit cards?
Update via web, file, or both?
Fixed terms of the contract?
Long notice?
How much data traffic is allowed to go via your store?
Do you get small or large storage space?
Can you contact companies that have already chosen this solution?

My advice: Compromise as little as possible with your needs or at least see to it that you can grow easily when required.

About the author

Stefan Ekberg has worked in marketing for small business for 20 years and has written around 30 books on how small business owners can market themselves with limited resources. . In 2012 Stefan was nominated as Entrepreneur of the Year in Stockholm.

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