The Bare Essentials for Selling Online

If you’re planning to sell your products or services online, there are certain elements you’ll need. The bare essentials include:

  • Catalog
  • Shopping Cart
  • Merchant Account
  • Payment Processing Options


Just like a standard mail-order catalog, an online catalog presents the items you have for sale.  However, a good online catalog will also include tools to help you manage your online store, such as being able to keep track of your inventory.

Laying it out with images and descriptions


What to consider:

  • Image Capable – People are more likely to buy if they can see your products, so check if you can use images.
  • Layout Options – Make sure the layout options present your products in the best possible way. If your product is very technical, like software, you may want the option to provide a detailed description. If it’s more visual, like clothing, you’ll want to be able to show pictures.
  • Product Details and Variables – If you’re selling items that require the customer to select different options, like a clothing size, make sure that you can do so easily.  You should be able to simply fill out the details and have all the information lay itself out (including pricing, product descriptions, etc).
  • Downloadable Product Compatible – If you’re selling a downloadable product, like software or ebooks, make sure that your catalog will support it.
  • Purchase Comments – You may want to offer your customers the choice to send comments, like a message for a gift card or item personalization. Make sure that your catalog can be configured to do so.
  • Inventory Management – Automatically keep track of what’s in stock and let customers know if a product is unavailable.

Shopping Cart

A shopping cart makes it possible for you to sell your product online . Like a real-life shopping cart, it allows shoppers to choose the items they want to buy. They are also able to review and add or remove items from the cart. Once they've finalized their selections, they are then able to proceed to the checkout, where payment is processed.

Review what's been purchased before buying


What to consider:

  • Tax Calculator – A good shopping cart calculates taxes automatically based on the tax rates where your customer lives and what items were purchased. 
  • Shipping Methods – You’ll want to be able to offer different shipping methods (ex. ground, courier, etc.) and set pricing accordingly. 
  • Shipping Calculator – Automatically calculates shipping costs based on the items purchased, where they’re being sent, and the shipping method. For example, if 3 items are bought and sent to the same address a discount will be applied as all 3 will be mailed together.
  • Visual Layout – Your shopping cart should look similar or be tailored to compliment your website. A shopping cart that looks completely different can be confusing to customers.
  • Email Confirmation/Receipt – This allows you to set up an automatic email to be sent to your customers following their purchase. It will assure your customer that their purchase has gone through and will be sent shortly.  

Merchant Account

A merchant account is a special type of bank account that allows you to accept credit card payments , which can then be transferred to your business’s bank account. If you’re already selling your products in a store, you probably already have a merchant account.

What to consider:

  • Set-up fee – Some banks charge a non-refundable merchant account set-up fee of up to $250. 
  • Transaction and Monthly Fees – You’ll be required to pay a fee per transaction and/or monthly fee. To choose one that gives you the best deal, estimate how your fees per sale will work out. High transaction fees may be better than a set monthly fee if you’re selling a smaller number of items per month. 
  • Transaction Quota – Some merchant accounts require you to process a certain number of payments per month. Not meeting this number may cost you extra.

Payment Processing Options

Payment processing options allow you to receive payment over the Internet . There are 2 main options to choose from.

Payment Gateway

A payment gateway is the online version of a credit card machine that you would find at any regular store. It works with your merchant account to safely and securely process credit card transactions over the Internet. You’ll need a merchant account to use a payment gateway.

The customer’s credit card information is sent from your website’s shopping cart, through the payment gateway to your merchant account to be processed. Once processed, funds are transferred to your business account.

What to consider:

  • Shopping Cart Compatibility – Not all payment gateways work with all shopping carts. Make sure the one you choose will work with your website’s shopping cart.
  • Reliability – Check that your payment gateway is guaranteed to be operational 99.9% of the time. If their system goes down, your customers won’t be able to provide you with the information to pay for their items.
  • Scalability – If your business grows, your payment gateway should be able to handle an increase in transactions. 
  • Address Verification System (AVS) – AVS helps prevent credit card fraud by verifying the cardholder’s billing address with the credit card company. A payment gateway with AVS may reduce the fees charged by your merchant account bank.
  • Transaction and Monthly Fees – You’ll be required to pay a fee per transaction and/or monthly fee. To choose one that gives you the best deal, estimate how your fees per sale will work out. High transaction fees may be better than a set monthly fee if you’re selling a smaller number of items per month.

Pay Pal

PayPal is an email payment system . All you need is a credit/debit card or bank account and an email address.

What to consider:

  • Transaction Fees – PayPal has a set transaction fee of $0.30 + 1.9-2.9% of the item price.
  • Shopping Cart Compatibility – PayPal will integrate with most shopping carts. Make sure yours is one of them.
  • Buyer/Seller Protection – PayPal has several policies to protect against fraud. Measures like email confirmation and purchase protection make people more comfortable buying online.

If you decide to use a payment gateway, you may want to offer PayPal as well. PayPal’s added security and purchase protection, plus their affiliation with eBay, put some people more at ease with shopping online. For a brief cost comparison and explanation of Merchant Account & Payment Gateway and PayPal, take a look at What You Need To Get Your Business Online.

Coordinating all these elements by yourself can be overwhelming. Many website builders have tools like catalogs and shopping carts included and are easy to set up. Some are also partnered with merchant account and payment gateway providers to make setting up your online store easier.

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Rodney Scott
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