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Key Considerations for an eCommerce Project

These are most of the key elements in a nutshell to consider when starting an eCommerce website, or when adding eCommerce functions to a pre-existing site.  Each one is a factor in implementation time & cost, business functions, and the customer's overall experience. 

1. Create a Sitemap

Develop a sitemap/flowchart of all website pages (Home, About Us, FAQ, Questions, Policies, Disclaimer, etc.).  This needs to be done on all sites of course, and needs to include pages like Shopping Cart, Checkout, Product Category pages, etc. for use with an eCommerce system.

2. Catalog Structure

For the eCommerce planning, it's good to start developing the basic Category/Product structure to determine at least a ballpark number of how many categories and actual products will need to be added into the system.

3. Product Details

It's good to know what product details to expect.  Is each item a standalone product with no options?  Or are there different sizes, colors or other attributes available to choose between?  How many photos will products generally have?  Are the products all physical items, or are there be products available as electronic downloads?

4. Tax Structure

A tax structure needs to be integrated depending on what kind of products are available and which state the business is registered in.  Special state and federal laws may need to be taken into consideration as well depending on your location and the products you're selling.  For instance, California recently changed their tax laws so that all physical products have to be taxed no matter what state they're sold to, so that's a new configuration that would have to be implemented for eCommerce businesses registered in that state.

5. Shipping Structure

Shipping methods need to be determined.  Will there be a tiered pricing structure based on weight or overall purchase price?  Or there can be flat-rate shipping or other methods.

6. Payment Methods

Choosing a payment method is important.  The two most popular are Paypal and Authorize.net, and generally for good reason.  There are many others, but be extremely careful as most deals are too good to be true and/or can require extensive, additional programming to implement.

When considering the two primary options (which can be setup independently or together on the same site) there are a few key differences:

Paypal Off-Site

This is as simple and cost-effective as there is, and Paypal takes care of all the security protocols in this integration method.  There is no monthly fee, so all you do is pay per-transaction fees.  The (generally minor) downside is that the customer is taken from your site to Paypal's site at the last part of checkout in order to complete the transaction.

Paypal On-Site

This method uses Paypal as a standard credit card processor, so the customer never leaves the eCommerce site to complete the transaction.  In turn, it requires website additions such as SSL encryption, and carrys monthly fees to Paypal for the account as well as credit card fees.  The overall cost is still very reasonable.


Authorize.net is the industry standard payment gateway for onsite-based credit card transactions.  There's a setup fee that's generally around $100, and plus monthly fees in the range of $30-40.  Transaction fees also apply, as with all payment systems.  The advantage is that the customer never leaves your site, so they checkout directly on your site using your site's pages.  It can look much more professional and is a seamless process.  However, since the customer is entering personal data directly on your site, for security purposes an SSL certificate must be installed which normally run from $50-100 per year.  SSL certificates also require that your site have an exclusive IP address which normally adds about $5 per month to your base hosting costs.

7. Site, Category & Product Page Design

The design is a big factor to keep in mind.  A cleaner look can often keep costs lower, while a graphics-heavy site with lots of interaction or animation can go to the other end of the spectrum.

8. Order Fulfillment

Be ready with a workflow to fulfill orders.  If your business already has methods for packaging and shipping, then you're already likely going to be in good shape once orders start coming in from the website.  However, early startups don't always prepare for this part of the process.  Being ready and understanding the steps to ship orders quickly and professionally before taking orders is essential.

9. Fine Print & Policies

Determine your returns policy, privacy policy, plus any disclaimers or other special notes or requirements your customers will need to know and have the text ready to post clearly on the website.  Not only will this reduce customer relations issues, it's also a requirement for many payment processors before they will approve your site.

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