If you want to sell online three main components are required to accept payments - a merchant account, a shopping cart solution and a secure payment gateway. These components can be implemented separately by different providers or they can be implemented in combination by web developers, hosting companies, merchant account providers, Internet service providers or E-commerce companies.
In other cases, one provider can implement the entire solution. A turnkey provider can supply you with all your system and service needs from hosting a website, and developing a storefront and catalog system, to providing a merchant account, building a payment gateway, and executing payment processing. The end result is often referred to as an ‘out of the box’ solution.
A turnkey solution offers several advantages and disadvantages.
Rapid Development: There is a single point of contact when working with one company, as compared to a number of contacts when working with multiple vendors.
Affordability: Increased competition in the market has forced providers to offer competitive prices.
Easy Administration: Working with one company means there is only one bill to deal with; most turnkey providers offer you easy access to site content so modifications can be made.
Guaranteed Price: A contract is signed with the provider, tying parties into the quoted price.
High Level Technology Capabilities Not Required: The provider builds the entire site, so there is no need for you to have high-level technical skills.
Content Limitations: Most turnkey solutions provide page templates, but do not allow for any variation from these templates.
Content Rights: Since most turnkey providers develop their own script and use their own software they may require ownership of the tools made with the script and software.
Service Commitment: Some providers may stipulate in the contract how long they are entitled to service your site.
Portability: The provider will most likely develop the site using their own software, which can make it difficult for other providers to take over if you choose to move the site.
Implementing a turnkey solution is not necessarily the best choice for all merchants. To determine whether a turnkey solution is a viable option for your business, there are a number of important considerations to make.
What are my design requirements?
If you require a unique design for your business, it may be a challenge to find a turnkey provider that can meet your specific design specifications as they often supply templates for content without deviating too much from them.
What are my business objectives?
It is important to understand where your business is heading in the future. In particular, do you need complete E-commerce building capability? If you do not need all E-commerce components immediately, it may be better to build the site as your business grows or choose a turnkey provider who can grow with your business.
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Before deciding to work with a turnkey provider it is necessary to evaluate the technical expertise available within your company. For instance, if you have programmers and designers, it may be better to take advantage of these in-house resources rather than outsource the work to a turnkey provider.
How quickly do I need the E-commerce site developed?
If you need rapid deployment, a turnkey provider can get your site up and running relatively quickly, usually in a few weeks or less.
What is my budget and resource commitment?
If you are a small business with a limited budget and few resources a turnkey provider may be the best option.
Once you decide to use a turnkey provider to build your E-commerce site, it is recommended that you develop a list of requirements to track your needs and assist you select the best provider. The solution you choose will depend on your business objectives, your site requirements, the services you need, the cost of the potential solution, and the provider itself.
Review Your Business Objectives
When choosing your turnkey provider it is important to review your business objectives. If you have aggressive targets, then you should ensure the provider offers you room to grow. In particular, it is important to know your budgetary and deadline constraints to ensure that the provider can meet the project deadlines on budget. You should also identify the key priorities of your businesses, such as staying within schedule or budget, building your existing brand identity, or training your staff.
Determine Your Web Site Requirements
Do I want full E-commerce capability?
When determining your site requirements one of the first considerations you should make is whether you will have a site with full E-commerce capability. In other words, will you be accepting online payments? This decision will depend on your business type. For instance, if you own a pizza business, you would not accept online payments, as it would be faster and cheaper to accept orders through phone or fax.
What kind of shopping cart solution do I want?
If you decide to sell online you need to consider what you want in a shopping cart solution, which will enable customers to order through your site and provide you with a way to collect and record purchasing decisions by your customers. For instance, do you require a solution that will simply total costs and provide shipping and tax calculations? Or, do you require a more complex shopping cart; for instance, one that can provide consumers with more options for selection i.e. size and color, confirmation of the order, etc.?
What payment options will I offer?
Another consideration is the payment options you offer your customers. If you decide to accept credit cards for online purchases and implement real-time transacting, you will need an Internet merchant account. Many turnkey solutions require that you use a specific merchant account provider while others let you choose your own. Before making a decision ensure you understand how the merchant fees work.
What security features do I want?
If you accept credit card details and other sensitive consumer information through your site, you will need to consider the security features of the payment gateway. For instance, do you need high-level security for your business? If so, you may consider implementing secure electronic transactions (SET). If SET is a consideration, it is important to evaluate and balance your needs with the cost to implement such as solution as it is very expensive. If you decide to use digital certificates, you should determine whether your provider will register your site with the appropriate certification authority or whether you need to do it yourself.
What are my storage and bandwidth requirements?
Your turnkey provider will most likely offer hosting services as part of its solution. It is necessary to make sure the provider can offer you enough storage and bandwidth for your site and to determine how it charges for additional storage and bandwidth when your business grows.
What are my inventory and delivery management requirements?
If you already use an inventory management system, it is important to examine whether the turnkey provider offers a solution that will provide a good fit with the systems you have in place. For instance, if you track inventory or send reminders to customers through a customer database, ensure you can download information directly to your existing database. As well, if you have a broad range of products to sell, it would be tedious to enter information manually into a catalog, so you will need to find a solution that enables you to upload product descriptions into the catalog.
In terms of shipping, while some turnkey providers offer links to shipping service sites so that customers can check their order status, most turnkey providers do not handle warehousing or shipping.
What are my design and content requirements?
Most turnkey providers offer templates from which to choose a design for your E-commerce site. You will need to examine the various styles they offer and see if any fit your business. As well, it is important to consider your content requirements when choosing a provider. If you have a wide array of products and services that require the addition of a lot of information, you need templates that can hold this information. Another consideration is how much control you want over your content. If you would like access to your site during and after development, many providers will give you access to your site through a user name and password
Determine Additional Services You Need
Do I need marketing services?
Some turnkey providers offer marketing support such as search engine placement, Meta tagging, and newsletters. Ensure you research the levels of marketing support offered by the provider in addition to the associated costs.
Do I need training for my staff?
Depending on the complexity of your solution, you may want to consider providing training to your employees. Some turnkey providers will offer this service. Be sure to check out the cost.
Do I need reporting and administration tools?
Implementing reporting and administration tools is a beneficial addition for your site, particularly when your business grows and you want to gain an understanding of your customers’ buying behavior. Most turnkey providers offer you a method to monitor your site traffic and track customer usage patterns. Make sure you understand how the reporting program works. Most providers also offer administrative tools that enable you to effectively manage your site such as updating your product and service information, and adding sales prices.
Evaluate How Much the Solution Will Cost You
No two turnkey providers are exactly alike, so it is important to assess what is included in the solution and understand the associated costs. It is recommended that you get several estimates so you can compare rates and determine what distinguishes one solution provider from another. The estimates should include price ranges to provide flexibility in costing. For instance, you may get new ideas as the project proceeds and the provider may develop new ideas as it gets to know your business better. Cost flexibility will not only provide some control, but also provide room for change.
Turnkey solutions can cost up to a few thousand dollars per month. The cost depends on what is included in your solution and will vary with each provider. Be sure to ask about the cost of specific features you would like to add to your site.
Some costs to consider are:
Domain Name: Not all turnkey providers will purchase a domain name for you when you are building your site from scratch.
Hardware: Depending on the complexity of your site, you may need to purchase hardware that can better support it, i.e. multimedia computer. However, most turnkey providers only require that you have a computer that can connect to the Internet.
Software: You could be required to purchase software that is compatible with the provider’s solution. It may also be necessary to upgrade the storage capacity of your computer or use a newer browser to view your pages while you are building your site.
Content: The content that you add to your site is your responsibility. The content can include graphics, which you may need to purchase, or graphic designs that could require hiring a designer.
Do Your Homework
To avoid unexpected service problems, costs, and limitations during your E-commerce site development, it is important to do your homework.
Call past customers.
To determine what a provider is like to work with it is helpful to interview a number of its past customers. The customers should give you an indication of whether the solution was finished on time and within budget, and that the service provided was acceptable.
Look at past customer sites.
Reviewing past customer sites will not only give you an indication of the types of templates the provider offers, but also provide you with an opportunity to test the functionality of the site using the provider’s technology, including navigation and page loading time.
Review the provider’s web site.
The provider’s web site should provide you with information about its products and services, and pricing. Many times, there are also testimonials on the site, which provide an indication of customer satisfaction. As well, some sites also provide samples of their technology.
Call the provider’s service department.
To test the customer service of the provider, it is useful to call its service department and evaluate how thoroughly your questions are answered, how quickly service is provided and how courteous the service representative is during the call. It is particularly beneficial to evaluate how the provider deals with problems at unusual hours.
Read up on turnkey solutions.
There are many resources available that provide information about turnkey solutions and evaluate turnkey providers. Information on costs and specials is also available.
Outline Technical Requirements: There should be agreement on the technology that will drive your site and provide you with the functions you want including applications and programming languages.
Outline Web Site Requirements: Web requirement such as E-commerce components, design and content should be provided to the entire team.
Set Timelines: The timelines for the project including milestone dates should be outlined and provided to all players involved in the development of the site.
Identify Roles and Responsibilities of the Players: To help you anticipate your needs before you begin the project, it is helpful to identify the various tasks of the project and define who will undertake those tasks. In particular, an individual from your business, as well as an individual from the provider need to act as primary contacts. These individuals should have decision-making authority.
Develop a Site Maintenance Plan: A maintenance plan should be developed and budgeted for the site. The plan should outline when the site will be updated, who will do it and how often it will be done. Your provider should provide maintenance procedures to assist you.
Sign a Contract: During the contract development process it is useful to write down the project as you understand it including costs, terms, services to be provided, etc. When you sign the contract carefully read the terms and conditions of use to make sure you have not missed anything. If you have problems understanding any part of the contract, contact a representative from the provider to clarify your understanding and record any comments that individual makes about the agreement.
Approval Process: A plan should be developed that outlines how contract changes will be implemented and who is responsible for keeping the project documents updated.