Many of our merchants already have a website, and many more are ready to make the jump online. If you have been considering what adding a dot com to your name will do for your profit margins, look no further.
There are three primary reasons for a business to add an Internet presence. One is to have a simple advertisement to facilitate potential clients/customers to find your business if they are searching online and to project a certain image to your viewers. Another reason involves doing actual sales on the website via a "shopping cart" where money is exchanged (usually in the form of credit cards or electronic check transactions) and real goods shipped. This can be accomplished wither via a real-time authorization "Gateway" service, or the merchant can receive the transactions via e-mail and physically key the sales into a terminal or software system for later batch. A third purpose is allowing businesses that sell products or services primarily to other businesses to shorten their distribution channels (i.e. cut out the middlemen) and therefore lower the costs of the transaction. Jupiter Communications expects this segment of the online market to exceed the $1 trillion mark by 2003, with the retail-shopping segment growing to $78 billion.
Whether selling retail to consumers or selling to businesses, the important thing to know is that it is better to get into the market now rather than waiting to see how the market will develop. Larger retail chains are now losing money to aggressive Internet newcomers and this trend will probably continue. This industry is still relatively new, and the key to achieving a good market share is to establish your web-based business earlier than your competition. Once established however, it is important to continually market your site in new and effective ways in order to attract customers to your virtual store, not unlike attracting customers to your physical location. The Gartner Group has estimated that nearly 60% of the new Internet merchant base will go out of business within 3 years due to a lack of good aggressive marketing or customer service.
When you do decide to take your business to the web keep in mind that consumers in this market are looking for particular things in a website to shop from. According to BizRate.com, consumers who are shopping for retail goods consider competitive prices far more important than any other feature, with good product representation on the site considered secondly. Businesses to business sites have to be aware that on-time delivery is of primary importance to their customers, with low prices having a lesser priority.
What is a "Gateway" and How Does it Work?
To have a presence online, all that is needed is a registered domain name (or a place in another online company’s directory), a website to view, and some hard drive space on a hosting server where your website resides. If you want to conduct business online (involving the exchange of money for goods or services) however, your requirements are more complicated. The simplest procedure would involve having a contact page available where the viewer can request more information or a return phone call. When the merchant calls the prospect, the transaction can be conducted over the phone. A more sophisticated system would utilize a "shopping cart" program, where the merchant’s website would include numerous pages detailing the individual products that they sell along with pictures and prices. The prospect would search through the inventory pages to find the desired items, adding them to the "shopping cart" until they are ready to "check out" and make the final purchase. At this point they will submit either a credit card number or an electronic check. The merchant will receive the information via e-mail, which he will manually key into his credit card terminal or software for approval.
This system works fine for the merchant receiving few transactions per day or in any other scenario where an immediate approval is not necessary. But imagine the chagrin of the merchant who is accepting hundreds of Internet transactions per day under this system. This merchant would turn on his or her computer (usually at the end of the day, after the retail business day has ended) access the e-mail account, and have to begin manually keying in all of those transactions. Only then would they discover if the card was valid or the sale was able to be authorized (i.e. not declined due to lack of available credit). The customer would never have received any form of e-mail confirmation of the sale (which generally serves as their receipt) unless the merchant manually sends one at this point.
The most elaborate scenario involves the combination of the "shopping cart" with a real-time "gateway" service. A gateway obviates the need of the merchant to manually key in sales by sending the transactions directly to the authorizing network when the customer submits the information. The customer gets an immediate response in the way of an e-mail confirmation of the sale, and the merchant gets the same along with details of what was purchased. The gateway is primarily used by merchants processing a large volume of sales, but also by any merchant needing immediate authorizations and e-mail confirmations.
Mark Wilson is President of Advanced Payment Solutions located in Tampa, Florida. He can be reached via telephone at (813) 985-5600 or email at [email protected]. You may visit his web site at http://www.apscreditcards.com.