E-commerce is the function of buying and selling products and services online. Business owners who seek to implement e-commerce in their business use Internet shopping carts to perform this function. Online shopping carts include applications such as PayPal, Google Checkout and E-junkie. Business owners can install a shopping cart on their own server or use a cloud-based shopping cart company. Hosting the shopping cart yourself can be cheaper and allow you more control of your payment processes.
Your next step should be to obtain an internet merchant account from your bank, allowing you to accept credit card payments online. If your bank turns you down, try others--and consider offering to move all to that bank to up your appeal. Or you can perform an online search for "credit card processing" to find a variety of companies offering accounts to budding online businesses.
You'll also need a payment gateway account, which is an online processor that hooks into both your customer's credit and your internet merchant account. The gateway verifies information, transfers requests and authorizes credit cards in real time. Leading providers to smaller merchants include Authorize.Net , CyberSource and VeriSign .
An even less expensive way to get started accepting online payments is to use PayPal , an account-based system that lets anyone with an e-mail address securely send and receive online payments using a credit card or bank account. PayPal is free, but the company charges 2.9 percent plus 30 cents for every transaction under $3,000. The company also has a product called PayPal Website Payments Pro, which offers basic shopping-cart functionality and costs $20 per month plus .
Of course, you still have to actually host your site. You can do it yourself on a computer that can be dedicated as a web server and that has a broadband internet connection, but such systems are costly and have limited capacities. Your other option: Use a web-hosting company. Many entrepreneurs swear by some of the bigger names in web hosting, such as Affinity Internet , Go Daddy Software , Hostway , Interland , iPower , Network Solutions , 1&1 Internet , Verio andYahoo! . But some entrepreneurs prefer small, local hosting providers since they offer a direct contact--especially important if your site has an outage. Whether you use a large or small provider, basic hosting services--as well as domain-name registration and e-mail accounts--cost about $10 per month.
There's also a free option: Microsoft plans to launch a beta version of Microsoft Live early this year, providing small businesses with their own domain name, a website with 30MB storage, and five e-mail accounts, each with 2GB storage. Visit www.microsoft.com/office/officelive to check for availability.