Q & A - first ecommerce website

Got some questions from a PSL member via email the other day. They are pretty common questions for anyone starting their first ecommerce website, so I thought I’d share the questions and my responses. Any recommendations on a cheap payment processing solution to use with Zen Cart since considering order volume may be quite low and sparse to start.

I’ve learned that “cheap” and “payment processing solution” never go together, and you should run the other way if they do. If you go with Zen Cart, I’d recommend Authorize.net. They run about $30 / month in standard fees, plus a $100 setup fee, but their per-transaction fees are lower than Paypal. Zen Cart is already equipped to handle Auth.net, you simply need to plug in the right values to the payment module configuration. If you gawk at the $100 setup, you could consider Paypal’s Website Payments Pro package, which provides transparent checkouts (i.e. no redirect to Paypal’s site) for $30 / month with higher per-transaction costs. You also sidestep all the “merchant account” nonsense, just provide PayPal with an existing bank account to deposit your payments. That alone can make it worth the extra money in some cases. Putting my money where my mouth is, I’m using Authorize.net for my own startup, Fwd:Vault. Plus, because it’s a subscription service, I have to purchase additional modules to handle the recurring billing. The standard monthly costs are still going to total less than $100, and puts me in a better position for growth (at some point the Paypal per transaction fees counter-balance the monthly savings). Have you used/what do you think of [insert any hosting company here]?

Whatever hosting route you go, my litmus test is ensure the package allows you to use a dedicated SSL certificate. That means that you’ll have a dedicated IP address, which is important because sharing an IP address with others puts you at risk for being blacklisted. It only takes one moron using an unpatched forum package. Plus shared SSL certs can be a pain in the butt to configure. I’ve found Virtual Private Server (VPS) packages to be an excellent middle ground: more secluded than shared hosts, less expensive than a dedicated box. They act like dedicated servers, and thus require server admin skills, so don’t go this route if you don’t have a technical background. If you don’t have the technical chops, or can’t afford to hire them, the newer cloud solutions, like Media Temple grid service and Mosso Rackspace Cloud are pretty sweet.