With the explosive growth of the Internet, businesses have a new outlet for reaching potential customers. In the past, brick and mortar stores expanded their customer base through the use of catalogs and mail orders. Now, with millions of people owning home computers and having Internet connections, a whole new opportunity has opened for businesses to reach an incredible number of customers via websites. A website is the “front man”. It’s like the salesman in a store, meeting and greeting potential customers, and showing them the products you sell. Websites give the ability for an “online store” to be open 24-hours and day, 7-days a week, through good weather and bad. Yet, the cost to build and maintain a website is relatively inexpensive when compared to the costs of operating physical store fronts. The cost to create a website for an individual or noncommercial organization is very inexpensive.
Creating the actual website requires computer code written in a language called “HTML”. The most expensive way to have a website built is to hire the services of a “webmaster”, who will design a site for you, based on what you want it to look like and what you want it to do. A noncommercial website will not have the extensive needs that an online store requires, and so will cost much less to design and operate. Some people opt to learn how to write HTML code and create a website themselves. A third option is to use a commercial software program, such as Adobe Dreamweaver ($399), which assists the user in designing a website without having any technical experience. A free program for developing a site can be found at www.kampozer.net. There are also websites that have templates that allow you to create customized professional-looking sites with no technical skills. Yahoo.com offers different website development packages from $39.95 to $299.95, depending on various features. If your needs are basic, check out Microsoft (www.Microsoft.com), which offers a free website, with easy to use tools for development. Another popular site to purchase domain names, create websites, and provide monthly hosting is www.godaddy.com, with prices that range from about $27 a month to $140.
Websites that are online stores and sell products are more involved, and will be more expensive if you hire a webmaster. At the very least it will take more time to set up. Each product you sell will have to be photographed, placed in the right size and format, and uploaded to the server that will be hosting the site. Also, a product database will be needed to keep information on each product, such as its description, the wholesale and retail costs, and weight for determining shipping costs. If you have 100’s of products for sale, this will be quite an undertaking, and very expensive if you hire a webmaster. Obviously, these requirements will make commercial website development more expensive.
Shopping Cart Technology
Selling products will require your site to have “shopping cart” technology. This enables customers to place items in a “virtual shopping cart” for tallying up when through making their purchase selections. The additional cost of this technology is often bundled with other features that website design services offer, such as a database that automatically stores customer information and the products they’ve ordered.
Retailers will need to accept credit cards, so there will be a cost involved with the initial setting up and maintaining “merchant services” to process credit cards. Setup can be anywhere from $50 to $200. Expect to pay a monthly fee of around $30, plus a small percentage of the gross sales.
Keep in mind that the initial cost to develop a website, purchase a domain name (which is inexpensive, $4.95 at godaddy.com), and setup a merchant service account are not the only expenses. There will be ongoing expenses for Web hosting, merchant services, and any changes to the site (such as adding new products), if you require paying a webmaster to do it. So, shop around. A free site may be all you need. But if you require serious business features, make sure that the service or program you use will be able to handle all your needs.