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Thousands daily decide to open their own online shop. Most opt for the traditional “shopping cart” type website, where products are displayed and the buyer can walk the aisles and choose items to add to their cart or basket and pay for at the checkout. Some choose to use regular web pages with Buy Now buttons that take the shopper to PayPal or a similar payment processor. And a few simply settle for a form that can be printed or called in with a payment sent by mail or also done over the phone.

Many first timers will go for a hosted solution or turnkey package many of which are free, thinking that free is good and having an easy click to build site is the answer for their in experience. And a good portion of those many soon find they were wasting their time and effort and here’s why..

They soon find that they are building a site that they will soon outgrow, or will have to start paying a high monthly fee to maintain. And by talking to others in forums they find they do not own anything, not even the data that they spent hours entering. By far, the biggest concern with such sites is the fact that they are locked systems and everything belongs to the hosting company. Often this includes the free domain name they got in the initial deal. It’s free because the company kept the title in their name. So, when they decide to move, and they will, they have nothing to take and must start again from scratch.
Having said that, we’ll move on to the most used method of selling online, your own shopping cart site. Without going into products or sources there are three major considerations when beginning an online cart.

First, you will need a domain name. The www.mycompany.com that your site will be known as around the world. You will want to make this so it reflects your site to the rest of the Internet. If you are selling a specific line of goods, it would be to your advantage to include the product in your domain name. It will help get prospective customers to your shop.

Domains are inexpensive, in round figures about $10 USD per year. The common .com and most others can be purchased a year at a time, while a .co.uk does require a two year purchase (at twice the cost.)

Then you need somewhere to “host” your shop. This is similar to leasing a plot of land on which to build a real store. Online, the store is yours, but you have to rent a space to put it so the rest of the Internet can find you. This is called hosting. There are all sorts of hosting companies. There are mega hosts who offer way more space than you’ll ever need. Seems like a good deal, but do you need 100 acres for one retail shop? OK, it’s relatively cheap, but even so, why waste 99 and 7/8 acres when you just need a bit of a corner? And there will be all sorts of other things listed by the hosting companies. Don’t pay them any mind. Again, overkill, even if you have 10 shops.
Don’t be swayed by the specifications offered by hosting companies, you will never need anywhere near what is offered.

What you will need is help getting started. That is something that the mega guys don’t offer. They rent you that 100 acres, and they’ll keep that going, no problem. But if you have a bit of a problem with your shop itself, they don’t even know your name. “Sorry, we do not support applications, we just support the server itself.” So, when hosting shopping look for some of the smaller companies who are willing to land a hand if needed, and value you as an individual, not just an account number. If you are a member of forums ask there what others are doing. Keep in mind with every group there will be some “mine’s bigger than yours” techie types who will brag about what they have. Discount that 10% and see what the others have to say.

Then there is the last major item, the shopping cart itself. On this, if you ask around a forum it will be like asking 100 people what is “the best car?” You will get at least 30 different answers. Some will be from the techies who put them all down and expect you to run out and buy a book and learn how to do your own from the ground up. Pay them no mind.

You will also get many mentions of three free shopping carts – CubeCart, OSCommerce and ZenCart. These are offered free by many hosting companies and can also be gotten free from their websites. OSCommerce was the first widely accepted “open source”, meaning anyone could use it and even modify it to suit their needs. ZenCart and several others are actually “spin-offs” of OSC.

We will go into these three free carts and the features of each in a forthcoming article. For now, you know the three basic components of having your own online shop.

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