Build an online storefront

There is now help to build a comprehensive, powerful online storefront - from laying the groundwork to closing a deal with your online customer - all in minutes, with no technical mumbo-jumbo.

Problem: Your company has thousands of items in its product line,but your Web site can't handle e-commerce yet.

Solution: Build a comprehensive, powerful online storefront in minutes with no technical mumbo-jumbo.

E-commerce is no longer the exclusive domain of people with lots of money and too much time on their hands. With a hosted storefront service like Kurant's StoreSense.com, you can manage a growing e-commerce site from any browser, anywhere.

Plan the grand opening.

First, identify the size and complexity of your needs. StoreSense doesn't charge for traffic or the value of business you transact, but it offers three tiers of service with increasing monthly fees based on the number of items in your catalog. StoreSense Site Edition is merely brochureware, and StoreSense Standard is passable but limited in its ability to manage inventory and customers.

If you want more, head straight for StoreSense Professional. Its enhanced flexibility makes it a legitimate full- service customer channel. A fee of $150 per month gets you a 50-item catalog; rates increase to $600 per month for a 2,000-item superstore. While you can quickly upgrade the size of your site without losing product or customer data, it's best to sign up for the size you'll be likely to need after a few months.

Before StoreSense will enable secure transactions for your store (a must!), you have to provide a Dun & Bradstreet D-U-N-S company registration number. If you don't have one on file (Dun & Bradstreet assigns numbers automatically to most registered businesses), you can get one at www.dnb.com/dunsno/dunsno.htm.

Lay the groundwork.

If you don't have a domain, this is a perfect time to get one from an Internet registrar. StoreSense can take any properly registered address and point it at your hosted store.

Now your store needs a floor plan. StoreSense provides a layout and design setup wizard that asks you to choose from templates for the overall layout, front page design, catalog view, and product design screens. The thumbnail samples in each step reflect your previous choices, making it easier to visualize the finished product as you progress.

You should provide basic data for your customers, including your offline contact information, your time zone (used for time-stamping invoices and customer visits), and a welcome message for the front page of the store. You'll also get to upload a store logo that will follow shoppers throughout the site.

Before leaving the wizard environment, note the default administrator user account ID and password, because you'll need these to log into the store management interface and fully populate the site. There are several Manager modules, including Store Manager and Order Manager. The administrator has access to all of them, but Store Manager modules can add accounts that give employees only the access they need to fulfill their duties.

Stock your store.

Now you need something to sell. The setup wizard lets you add products, or you can go into the Product Manager interface. By default, StoreSense uses Web form entry to add products to the database, but if you have a huge inventory you should use the database import tool in the Support Manager.

StoreSense can do the analytical heavy lifting of complete inventory management, including cost vs. revenue analysis and cost-of-inventory studies. All you have to do is open the Product Manager module to input the quantity, supplier, and wholesale cost data for each product, along with the basic name, price, and SKU information.

Close the deals.

A Web store should both process orders and bill customers. You'll need to establish two relationships: a merchant account with a bank to process credit cards, and an account with a payment gateway firm that sends the credit card information to the bank for authorization. StoreSense supports six payment gateways, including CyberCash and AuthorizeNet. Just give StoreSense your payment gateway account information, and you're ready to take orders.

The Shipping Manager interface collects all unprocessed orders, sorted by payment status (authorized or pending) and in-stock status. StoreSense can't run your warehouse, so your real-life shipping manager must use the Shipping Manager feature to print packing lists and clear orders from the queue. Whether you do this every day, every hour, or every 10 minutes is up to you.

Customers like confirmation. Point the Store Manager feature to your ISP's mail server so that everyone receives Web as well as e-mail confirmations of their orders. While you're at it, copy your shipping manager.

Keep an eye on things.

Take regular strolls through the aisles. The administration page gives a snapshot of the day's performance, including total pending orders, and the number of visitors, sales, and abandoned carts.

The Report Manager module quickly calls up analysis of not only the best- and worst-performing products, but also the most frequently visited items—perhaps you have something that's catching the eye of customers, but it's not selling because the price isn't quite right.

Although you can always go back into the Product Manager to change the price on an item, if business is slow overall, head to the Store Manager and start an instant 10 percent–off or free-shipping promotion.

Don't let a typo take down your site. Use the Baseline function in the Support Manager to save a safe copy of the Web page data before you make any changes to the templates, and make liberal use of the Export function to keep backups of your customer and inventory databases. StoreSense can protect against data loss on its equipment, but it can't prevent you from making a stupid mistake, and these precautions are a lot less grueling than dusting endcaps on the sales floor.

Case Study

Tapping the Market
BlackCosmetics.com has enjoyed 100 percent sales growth every month since February 2000, in part because the site can stock niche items other merchants neglect. "Distribution of cosmetics for African-American women and men is really poor in the United States," says Jules Mahabir (pictured), chief technology officer. "The community is forced to look at corner stores that may not have the same product next week." Mahabir credits StoreSense for the success of the company's storefront.

BlackCosmetics.com isn't flush with venture capital, so Mahabir focuses on maintaining profitability. He quickly lost patience with a smaller storefront system the company used earlier in its development. "In the summer it died twice," he explains, because of corrupted databases. "We grew too large, drawing up to 3,000 hits per day," losing potential sales during the downtime.

At $500 per month, Mahabir says StoreSense's speed and security pays for itself. Not only would a T1 line cost three times as much, but the company would have to pay for colocation at a safer site than its headquarters, due to South Florida's unpredictable weather and power distribution.

Mahabir says he appreciates StoreSense's documented, open-standard HTML templates, which let him fully customize the site. "As long as you know a little about HTML, you can change whatever you wish. You don't have a boxed-in, shopping cart look."

Launch Online Sales and Promotions

  1. To slash prices on everything in the store, activate the Storewide Sale promotion with the date of the sale and a discount factor. The quoted price on every item will reflect the sale.
  2. For more targeted results, run a coupon-style campaign. Give select customers a discount code (through e-mail or an offline marketing campaign). You can limit repeat redemptions or time-limit promotions.
  3. If a storewide sale is impractical, set up sales on specific items and even exempt certain deeply discounted items from other promotions.
  4. At checkout, the StoreSense invoice summarizes all sale pricing and promotional orders. Just sit back and watch the money roll in.
  5. When customers shop your site, they'll be impressed by your aggressive pricing policies—and reminded that the savings won't last forever.

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