How To Make an Online Storefront

Making an online storefront doesn't have to be a chore.  Often the same issues in building an online storefront have equivalents in their physical brick and mortar counterparts.  One particular issue is whether to handle the storefront on your own or hire someone else to take care of the bruntwork.

Choosing storefront technology:  Pre-made or roll your own?

Second only to choosing a proper domain name, choosing the appropriate technology for building and hosting your online storefront is vital to your success.  There are many solutions out there, but all of them generally fall into one of two categories--namely, storefronts that are hosted and maintained by you or those which are maintained and hosted by someone else.

Examples of online storefronts hosted by others would be Yahoo shopping and eBay.  As a storefront owner, you do not have control over the web servers, software, and other bits involved in creating and operating the storefront.  All of that plumbing is provided for you.  You simply fill in your business details, products, pricing, and other details and all of the technical work is handled for you.  This works great for beginners and those with small amounts of inventory.

All of this ease-of-use comes at a price, however.  Online storefronts hosted by another party are generally more expensive than if you ran everything yourself, with higher monthly fees and, such as with eBay, commissions paid on a per-item-sold basis.

For the technically inclined, a homegrown solution may work out better.  You gain more control of your online storefront, and are not limited to features and options provided to you by another party.  You can run the storefront on your own web server however you want.  You avoid monthly fees and pay the same amount whether you sell one item or five thousand--there are no per-item fees to be paid whatsoever!

Examples of self-hosted storefronts include osCommerce, Magento, Zen Cart, and CubeCart.  Each solution has their pros and cons.  Your decision often depends on your online selling experience, technical know-how, storefront size, ease of use, customization requirements, and other details.

Another option is to operate multiple storefronts.  You can set up your own homegrown shop on your webserver, pointing your own domain to it, and at the same time have hosted storefronts on the likes of Yahoo, Amazon, and eBay.  Thousands of businesses operate this way.  Many get their start on eBay and, once they have developed a huge customer base, eventually migrate most of their sales to their own site.  When it comes to building your online storefront you really can have your cake and eat it, too!

Whatever choice you make, be sure your online storefronts can handle a variety of shopping styles.  Include search features for targeted shopping.  This ability aids shoppers who already know what they are looking for.  Include easy browsing features for those undecided shoppers who prefer leisurely shopping.


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