Web stores get popular - Tips to set up your business online

E-commerce is growing rapidly in India  as web stores become popular among Indians. Learn how to set up your own shop online.

E-commerce is growing rapidly in India. In November 2011, 27.2 million Indians above the age of 15 years accessed e-commerce websites, an 18 per cent increase from the same period a year ago.

The largest number, 7.6 million, visited websites offering discount deals and coupons, a 629 per cent increase from the year-ago period. The rapid growth of coupon websites indicates Indian consumers are becoming more open to shopping online. Do you want to ride the trend to expand your business? If yes, the process is simple and inexpensive.

In earlier issues we talked about how you can create a website and promote it - Develop Your Online Estate (December 2011) and Building a World Wide Web Business (January 2012). Taking our online adventure forward, we talk about how you can create an online store without shelling out huge money.

Creating an online store will help you reach out to more customers, who will be able to check out your products and services on online catalogues. The first step is to get a domain name (Web address) registered and buy Web-hosting space.

Try to get a .com extension for your domain name or go for country-specific extensions such as .in if your target consumers are in India. A domain name will cost Rs 100-600 per year. You will own it as long as you keep paying the fee. As the name will be an important part of your brand, get it registered for multiple years and renew it well before it expires.

You can get unlimited Web-hosting space from reputed providers for less than Rs 500 per month. As most free e-commerce Web platforms require PHP (a Web programming language) and MySQL (database application), it's better to buy hosting space on a Linux-based Web server. If you are not sure if the hosting provider's servers are compatible with the Web application that you want to run, just write it a mail or call its helpline number. If you buy domain and hosting from different providers, you will have to map the web-hosting space with your domain name by changing the name server details of the domain with those provided by your hosting provider.

Now that we have the basic infrastructure, let's look at how we can create an e-commerce website in two scenarios-few products or services and a large number of products and services.

When you have limited number of products or services to sell, a basic website can be modified easily to display products and accept orders and payments.

Start by creating a basic website using HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) templates or content management systems (CMSes, which are online platforms for creating and managing websites) such as WordPress. Once the site is ready, create webpages about your products and services by providing details that a prospective client or customer will like to know before placing an order.

Get Free Websites :

If you run a small business which is registered, you can get a free website with an .in domain name as part of the India Get Online campaign by search giant Google.

When you apply for a free domain and site, Google bears the cost of registering the .in domain for one year (around Rs 100 for the first year if you buy from Indian domain registrars). HostGator, a US-based hosting provider which recently entered India, acts as the domain registrar and provides free hosting.

The domain is registered in your name and can be transferred to any registrar after a waiting period of 60 days. You can also move your website to any other server.
Also add a business enquiry form so that the buyer can contact you for any query. To gain the confidence of prospective customers, give details of your company and/or yourself, location of your office, email address, phone number and profiles on social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Your website is now ready. Your clients can go to the website and send you their queries and requirements through the contact form. But it still lacks the ability to accept orders and process payments.

Based on the product and your target customers, you can implement any of the several online payment gateway services such as PayPal, Google Checkout, MoneyBookers, 2Checkout, and CCAvenue.

Unless you want an independent payment gateway, adding a payment button from online gateways just requires you to copy a certain code to the desired page. For instance, you can add a PayPal button for payment by logging on to its websites and generating a payment button of desired value. You have to just copy the code given by the gateway and paste it on your product webpage. When a customer clicks on the payment button, he will be taken to a secure payment gateway where he can pay through credit card or other payment options available. Once you are notified about the payment, you can start processing the order.

If you have a digital product such as an e-book, you can have the customer redirected to a download page on successful payment. If you provide consultancy or services such as photography, you can direct the customer to an online form and ask him for information required to successfully provide the service.

Starting a full-scale online store is also easy with several open source or free e-commerce CMSes such as Magento (Community Edition), Presta Shop, Cube Cart, OS Commerce and Zen Cart. Most reputed Web-hosting providers give the option of quickly installing popular e-commerce platforms through the hosting management dashboard.

Though some e-commerce platforms have paid plans with support, you can find tutorials on official websites, in books as well as on Web development blogs. Creating an online store with a Web platform should not be difficult if you can get hold of a guidebook. Some, such as the Magento official guidebook (currently $29.95), are paid, while others such as Presta Shop don't cost anything.

E-commerce platforms come integrated with multiple payment gateways such as Google Checkout and PayPal. So, you can start accepting payments with a few clicks. An e-commerce CMS will enable you to replicate most features of your favourite online stores. You will be able to list multiple versions of your products, offer coupons or promotion codes and accept payment through various ways, including credit cards and cheques.

While creating your online store with an e-commerce CMS, you may need a security certificate (Secure Sockets Layer, a protocol for encrypting information over the Internet) to make transactions secure. This will make your customers more comfortable while transacting online. An SSL certificate can be purchased for Rs 500-5,000 per year from providers such as GoDaddy, NameCheap, HostGator and

Once the website is ready, it is time to get customers. Apart from search engine optimisation so that your website ranks high in search results, you can use online advertisements to attract customers.

However, online advertising can quickly take a huge toll on your pocket if you do not manage your campaigns properly.

Being creative can make your website popular without spending much. If your target consumers are in a particular geography, reach them through newspaper advertisements (maybe cheap classified advertisements) and local cable television networks. Posters, fliers and pamphlets can also be used.

If used wisely, social media websites such as Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter can be a great help. You can add sharing buttons on your websites so that your visitors can tell their friends about your website and products. You can build your brand by offering special discounts to customers who share your website's name or products on their social networking profiles. Similarly, you can offer an option to your prospective buyers to create their wishlists and share them with their friends and family through social networking websites.

If you can spot a market for a service or a product and promote your website creatively, you can be a successful online entrepreneur. An effective social marketing strategy can turn your website viral and reach a large number of people without spending much.

E-commerce is growing in India, thanks to an increasing number of people with access to credit cards and net banking. However, the number of people doing e-commerce is very small compared to the country's total population. In order to change this, several payment systems are being developed to enable mobile transactions.

What is SSL Certificate?

A Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate verifies the identity and authenticity of a website and its owner(s). With a valid SSL certificate, a website can be hosted through a secure server (on https protocol) and display a security padlock in browsers to indicate that it can be trusted.

You can view the SSL certificate by clicking on the security padlock. It also enables data encryption to deter hackers.

The certificate is issued by trusted authorities such as VeriSign and Thwate. Every certificate is valid for a specific website. The server passes on encrypted data to the Web browser, which is re-constructed by the browser.
What if you could make payments through a mobile phone without having a credit card, even when your phone is not a smart phone and does not support any mobile payment service? Mobile phone-based payment gateways such as Zong and Boku allow merchants to expand their reach by allowing mobile users to make payments. The payment process involves the telecom service provider of the buyer.

When the buyer visits a merchant website and clicks on the buy button powered by the phone-based payment gateway, the telecom service provider sends him a text message for payment confirmation. The buyer has to confirm the order by replying to the text message sent by his mobile service provider.

On confirmation, the amount is included in the buyer's monthly bill or deducted immediately if the phone connection is pre-paid. The money is transferred to the vendor through the payment gateway. A payment system that allows all mobile phone users to buy your products and services can exponentially increase the reach of your business.

Traffic to e-commerce websites in India