In my last post, I mentioned some simple ways you could add interactivity into your own Web site. For many people, the principle element they want to add to their site is e-commerce. Whether you started your Web site to support your home-based business, or are just looking for a hobby, online sales can be a simple way to put your Web site to work for you. Over the next few weeks, I will show you how to set up a very simple e-commerce solution for your site. And the best part is, it won’t cost you a penny to start selling your products or services online.
Do a quick Web search for e-commerce, and you will find countless services available to set up an e-commerce solution for you for a price. Many of these will charge you a set-up fee and a monthly hosting fee to use their services/solutions. These fees are quite legitimate, although they vary widely and you need to be careful about choosing the right solution for you. But if you’re reading this blog, chances are you can’t afford to purchase someone else’s e-commerce solution. In addition, many of these purchased solutions require you to have some sort of SQL server available on your Web site to manage your shopping cart. If you’ve followed along with this blog and set up your own free personal or business Web site using Microsoft Office Live Basics, however, you will not have the option to use many of these high-priced solutions.
Fortunately for us, however, PayPal offers you everything you need to create a simple, yet effective e-commerce solution for your site. When you combine this with a product-management system using Zoho Creator, you end up with your own online catalog of products and services people can buy online using their PayPal account or any major credit card. When someone buys your product(s) online, PayPal takes care of all of the credit card handling and processing, and sends you an e-mail containing the details of the sale so that you can process the order. To sign up for a free PayPal account, you just have to provide PayPal with the details of your bank account so they can deposit money into your account. Before you set up your account, however, please be sure you read all of the terms and conditions carefully. PayPal is a very reputable company, but you have to understand that they will have access to your bank account to deposit and/or withdraw funds as needed.
Although it does not cost you anything for setup fees or monthly service fees, it is important to understand that PayPal will take a percentage of every transaction they process for you, plus a small fixed fee. Although the amounts do vary depending on the number and size of your monthly transactions, PayPal will typically charge you $0.30 per transaction plus 3 percent of the total transaction. This is important to keep in mind when you are deciding on the price for your product or service. Also, please keep in mind that, in order to remain in good standing with PayPal, you need to follow up on your orders to ensure that people receive the product they pay for, or PayPal can cancel your account…and in some cases, take money out of your account to refund money to the people who paid for the product.
It will probably take you several days to get your account set up properly, so be sure to leave yourself enough time to verify that everything is set up correctly before you start selling online.
Once you set up your PayPal account, you will probably find the appropriate links to generate the code for a set of Buy Now buttons that can be included on your Web site. When your visitors click on one of these buttons, they will be taken to your (slightly) personalized PayPal checkout page to complete the order. You can use any image you want to serve as your “Buy Now” button, but PayPal offers several pre-designed (and recognizable) buttons for you to use:
Although this is nice, if your visitors/customers typically purchase multiple items, this may be an inconvenience for them when shopping on your site. When I looked around the PayPal Web site, I couldn’t find any options for creating any sort of shopping cart functionality for my site without resorting to a paid service. Fortunately, I found a link to a page within PayPal that gives you instructions for changing your “Buy Now” buttons into an “Add to cart” button using the built-in PayPal shopping cart feature. Use of this shopping cart will require your visitors to accept cookies from your site, but this is not uncommon for e-commerce sites. You can find all of the instructions you need at https://www.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_pdn_xclick_to_cart.
One important thing to note about using the shopping cart feature instead of the buy now feature is that you will have to provide a button on your site that allows people to view the items currently in their cart (and thus proceed to checkout). Typically, this “view cart” button (which can be the image above or your own image) should be on every page within your Web catalog near the top of the page.
PayPal’s shopping cart functionality is an excellent feature for your site, and is certainly worth the price (free is always good). There are two minor inconveniences to be aware of, however. The first, and most important, is that it can be difficult for non-PayPal customers to figure out how to purchase the product with their credit cards. In the shopping cart, there is a large, prominent area for PayPal customers to enter their login information to purchase your product through their PayPal account. Unfortunately, it is more difficult to notice the small link near the bottom left-hand side of the checkout page that they can use to purchase your product with their credit card:
Don’t have a PayPal account?
Use your credit card or bank account (where available). Continue
The other minor inconvenience with the PayPal shopping cart is that you have only a few options for customizing the checkout pages. You can add your own custom logo to match your Web site, and you can customize the background color for the page, but you can’t make any other changes to the styles used.
Neither of these issues should pose a real problem for you, although you may want to give people a head’s up about the link to checkout with a credit card instead of a PayPal account. However, it is good to know about both of these issues.
That’s all for today. I hope this is enough to get you started with your own PayPal account to use on your Web site. Next week, I’ll show you how to use Zoho Creator to create an online catalog of products/services offered on your site, and set up this catalog to automatically create the appropriate PayPal “add to cart” or “buy now” buttons to each item in the catalog based on the price you specify in the database. This makes it easy to change prices without having to re-code all of your PayPal buttons. Using Zoho Creator (or some other sort of content management system) allows you to quickly and easily change the details, price, or availability of the product without having to re-write any of your Web pages.
If you want to see how any of this works in practice, you can take a look at my Web site, Lockworld Herald, to view an example. I have set this up as an example and testing area, so I only have one product currently available, but you can see how your visitors might navigate between your catalog and individual products, and how they can add items to their cart and/or complete the checkout process. Although this is set up as an example, it is a fully-functional e-commerce site, and all transactions are final!