In 1999, Barry and Madge Rosenberg, owners of the Manhattan bakery Soutine, watched with glee as their gingerbread sales more than doubled. The reason: their new Web site, Soutine.com. The catch: sales could have been much, much better. That's because the Rosenbergs hadn't yet found a safe and affordable way to take credit-card orders online.
Help may be on the way for growing businesses like Soutine, which last year grossed close to $500,000. A friendlier E-commerce system is starting to emerge among the gaggle of Internet service providers and Web-hosting services competing for small-business customers. For a monthly fee, ranging from around $25 to several hundred dollars, a business can "rent" space on a secure server that includes the requisite shopping basket, encrypted order form, and real-time or off-line credit-card-authorization processing. Some national ISPs, such as Verio, will even do the grunt work of lining up a merchant account for you (for a price, of course).
Mark Walker, CEO of Maternityshoppe.com, in Longmont, Colo., has taken credit-card orders online from the moment he opened his virtual doors, on Mother's Day, 1998. He pays a monthly fee of $60 to Hiway Technologies, a Web-hosting company owned by Verio; for that he gets hosting, a shopping cart, industry-standard SSL encryption, and a sales-analysis tool. "There may be cheaper roads to go, but this was easy and affordable for us," says Walker. He adds, "Any decent Web host should offer encryption as part of your hosting fee."
Don Sussis, an E-commerce consultant based in New York City, concurs. "If you're a small business, it's smart to partner with a larger hosting site. Make sure you have enough time to run your business."
That would be the frosting on the cake for baker Barry Rosenberg, whose goal is to make sales online that "won't have to end in a phone conversation."