Ten Ways to Accept Orders in Your Web Store
- Secure Online Orders: Online orders can be accepted quite easily, by setting up some simple HTML forms within your store. Customers use the forms to enter details of the items they wish to purchase, their shipping and billing addresses and credit card information. All transactions between the customer and your store are secured by using the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol, which prevents third parties from discovering the credit card information.
- Unsecured Online Orders: Some older browsers are not able to use SSL and can therefore only place on line orders through unsecured HTML forms. This method is not recommended. Even if you try to cover yourself with a disclaimer, the potential for litigation and bad publicity is too high should a customer claim (whether true or not) to have had their credit card details stolen when ordering from your site.
- Secure E-mail: On the surface, secure e-mail appears to be a good alternative to SSL-secured forms. But in reality, although encryption systems such as PGP and S/MIME are built in to most e-mail clients, their use is not yet widespread. Do remember to include your public key in your Web store if you intend to accept orders via secure e-mail.
- Unsecured E-mail: The use of unsecured e-mail is not recommended. The only safe way to use it is to have customers e-mail you all their order details excluding credit card information. Their e-mail should also include a telephone number, to allow you to call them back and get their credit card details. You will need to respond quickly to these e-mails or risk losing the order.
- Fax: Design your Web store so that after your customer has made their selections, they have an option to print out a completed order form for faxing. Depending on the size of your store, you should try and have a dedicated fax order line. This will minimise the chance of your customer getting a busy signal when they try to fax their order to you.
- Fax to E-mail Gateway: An improvement on using a traditional fax machine is to use a gateway service (JFAX, for example), that translates the customer’s fax into e-mail. This reduces the chance of the customer getting a busy signal and also allows you to pick up orders from a remote location.
- Telephone: Accepting orders over the ‘phone is relatively straightforward. However the global nature of the Internet does mean that you can expect to receive orders 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. If you can not justify manning a telephone permanently, you may have to rely on a simple answering machine or a voice mail service. Toll free numbers will encourage customers to order, but include a standard telephone number too, as international customers can not usually access toll free lines.
- Call Back Services: The integration of Web and telephony services is a rapidly developing field. AT&T’s interactiveAnswers service, for example, lets Web site visitors click on a “call me now” icon if they wish to speak to a live customer service agent. A “whisper tone” alerts the agent that someone visiting the company’s Web site needs more information. The AT&T network connects the two parties and allows the caller to ask a question or place an order.
- Snail Mail: Many businesses still need to place orders through formal, paper purchase orders so make sure you include a physical address for this.
- Subcontract: Finally, it is possible to subcontract all or part of your order acceptance process to a third party. There are a growing number of companies that will accept orders on your behalf (for a fee, of course) and then forward them to you for fulfilment.