May 2010

Website and Email Access Problems

As a web design company, generally we design a website, upload the files, and the customer takes over.  We also, as a precaution, keep copies of all files in 2 places for security and backup purposes. That includes all of the files we generate for our clients and their websites.

As a regular website designer, we also find, quite regularly, that our job description doesn’t stop there. Occassionally we get a call from someone about not being able to access their website or their email coming through the website. Most of the time, it is an easy fix, such as uploading their files again because a file was missing or corrupted, (or was worked on by the customer), or the web host simply had a short downtime on their email server.

Recently, we received such a call about a business website we had just completed. Being concerned we had not uploaded all files, etc., we went through the full file verification process. Once we pinned down the problem, we were initially surprised to find that it wasn’t the website, the web host, or anything of that nature. It was the customer’s computer.

It seems they had not gotten email for about a week. To get them to log onto their web host cpanel, we talked them through the steps on the phone. They got a virus message and was disconnected. Through some gentle and tactful queries, we found they had downloaded an antivirus program and had installed it. The problem was they never ran it nor did they have it active. They are doing it now.

So, while their website was intact, and their email was sitting in the web host email server, they could not access their website not their email from that particular computer due to lack of regular computer maintenance.

So, it is worthy to remember that although you might have a personal computer with all the bells and whistles and all of the antivirus protection available, business computers require the same, if not more, care.  The time has to be taken to run the programs that will protect all of your business records. It will be a lot less time than having to reconstruct your business and customer records.

One last note. Because an antivirus program is downloaded and installed, does not mean it is always running and protecting your computer. Sometimes programs simply do not start up when you turn your computer on for whatever reason. You need to check it periodically and keep it updated. By updating it regularly, you also know it is actually running.

Website Shopping Cart – Online Sales

In the current economy, many are turning to the Internet to sell products and services. Most however are not completely familiar with all of the working parts that are in between the website shopping cart and the final purchase transaction. Here is the typical process:

  • A visitor comes to the website and sees something they want to buy.
  • They click on the button to purchase the item.
  • The item is then added to the shopping cart. The customer can then continue shopping or proceed to “checkout”.
  • The customer goes to “checkout”, sees what is in the cart, decides whether or not to buy everything there in the quantity shown, and then proceeds to the purchasing process.
  • The customer is then transferred to a page that has a web address that starts with “https“, indicating that page is using a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). (Always make sure the “s” is there or it is not secure, however, if the seller is using PayPal, it goes to the PayPal website for processing, so no worries.)
  • The information from the page is sent to a “payment gateway service”, which is not an actual part of the shopping cart or website.
  • The payment gateway service sends the credit card and purchase information through secure means to all necessary financial networks.
  • When everything is reviewed by the appropriate systems, the customer’s credit card account is debited and then the merchant account is credited.
  • Generally the shopping cart program will then generate an email to the customer showing all of the purchase and shipping details.
  • Lastly, the merchant account funds can then be transferred to the seller’s business account.

That is the simplified process. So, to sell online, you need a number of things to accomplish this process:

  • A website. Although quite obvious, you still need to have a web host, domain name, and a place to store your “files”, even if you want just a shopping cart, such as osCommerce and nothing else.
  • A shopping cart program. A good shopping cart will handle most, but usually not all, of the required actions, i.e., customer email notifications, order storage, credit card processing, shipping status, etc. (Be sure to research the available functions carefully for any shopping cart you want to use.)
  • A Merchant Account. A merchant account allows you to process credit card payments online.  They vary in cost, speed, and function.
  • A Payment Gateway Account. The payment gateway service acts like the “go-between” – between the merchant account and customer credit card account. Look at it as an online processor that verifies the information, transfers requests and authorizes credit cards in real time.
  • A Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) Certificate. This is usually available through your web host and secures all of the transactions when the shopping cart is used. Simplified again – it secures the information passing through so it can not be stolen and used.
  • A Business bank account. If you are going to sell things online, you usually want a business bank account where the money can be transferred to, once the transaction is completed.

That is the basic set up. There are companies that can handle the entire process for you, either connected as part of your website, or completely separate from your website. Some charge a set up fee and a monthly fee. It would be a good idea to determine how you want to set up your system to sell online.

One thing needs to be pointed out. Payment Gateway accounts are sometimes limited as to what shopping carts they will properly interact with so you want to check that out before you spend any money getting your shopping cart and website set up.

Of course, if you do your homework, there are always a way to save money on the entire or part of the process. If you have any questions about this, feel free to email us.