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Planning your online shop

Before building your website, you must create the right processes and procedures to support it, and put in place the resources to deal with orders.

You need to work out how to:

* deliver your products or services to fulfil customer orders - see our guide on fulfilling customer orders
* collect payments
* maintain security and demonstrate this to the customer
* let customers contact you
* comply with regulations

See our guide on trading online - understanding e-commerce contracts.

You need to ensure that you can deliver goods or services in a reasonable time, ideally the next day. Your business should be ready to deal with calls, emails and queries about delivery - you may need extra staff. Test your website and processes thoroughly. Start with a soft launch - perhaps just to existing customers - before giving it stronger marketing support. Find delivery methods that keep charges low. See our guide on how to manage your customer care.

Customers may be wary of paying online. However, you can encourage them by providing a secure area on your website for placing orders and giving card details. This can prevent late payment problems and helps to safeguard your cashflow. See our guide on cashflow management: the basics.

You may wish to offer more than one payment method to customers, such as invoicing, particularly if you're selling to businesses, or paying by credit or debit card over the telephone. See our guide on accepting online payments.

With the use of encryption technology, virus-scanning software and a "firewall", e-commerce transactions can be as secure as offline ones. It's important to create confidence in your shop. A professional-looking website with an explanation of your security precautions will help.

Consider how to:

* handle card details safely
* ensure that key information on your website cannot be defaced or altered fraudulently
* preserve the confidentiality of customer data such as telephone numbers, addresses etc

See our guide on securing your e-commerce systems.

Customers will want to know that they can speak to a person if something goes wrong. Your website will need a contacts page including:

* your business name, address, phone and fax numbers
* an email address for enquiries or orders
* the names of your customer service staff