E-commerce checkout & payment systems

The first step in making a purchase from an on-line store is to place an item into a virtual ‘shopping cart’. This essentially creates a record of the customer’s selection in the store’s database. From there, the shopper may return and select additional items, or complete the purchase. As in the real world, the shopping cart allows the customer to purchase multiple items in a single transaction.

Product information is taken from the product database and added to the record in the cart. In most systems, this means that the customer will be able to purchase the item at the same price as she viewed on the screen, even if it is updated while the transaction is underway.

Once product(s) are in the shopping cart, the user can change the quantity or delete an item.

Sales tax and shipping

Shipping charges may be based on the total value of the items in the cart or based the weight of the items in the cart, if available. Shipping calculators from companies such as UPS may be used with most e-commerce systems if the necessary data is available for their calculations.

Sales tax generally must be collected in localities where the merchant has a physical ‘nexus’ (location). Because many local jurisdictions (cities and the like) have their own sales tax rates, this can be a daunting task for merchants. There are third party solutions that can be integrated into an on-line store to handle the complexities of determining tax jurisdictions and rates.

On-line payments

When the user decides to ‘check out’ (complete the purchase) he/she supplies payment information (i.e., credit card, e-check, corporate P.O. number). Once submitted, the information is electronically sent to the merchant (you), or preferably, routed through an electronic payment network to your bank.

Maintaining customer accounts

In most cases, the cost of acquiring a new customer is far higher than making additional sales to an existing customer. By creating loyalty and encouraging repeat purchases, you can turn a onetime sale into an ongoing annuity.

As a first step, you may allow the customer to create a permanent account in your system, so subsequent purchases don’t require re-entering all of their information. Going a step further, you may want to include customer information in a marketing database, so that they may be informed of future sales and promotions.

Order processing by the merchant

Orders are usually processed through the same administrative console as the merchant uses to enter and update product information.

Communicating with in-house systems

As your volume of on-line sales grows, you may consider it advantageous to have your e-commerce website communicate with your in-house accounting and inventory systems.

There are several ways to handle this, depending on the size of your operation and your on-line sales volume. The simplest is through a periodic file transfer between your in-house system and on-line store, which may suffice for a low volume operation. For larger operations, near real-time data feeds may be required, which can add considerable cost and complexity.