Because of my job (which really has little to do with building e-commerce sites) friends and family in the offline retail space commonly asked me “how do I build an online shopping site”.
Actually, I have built a few of these sites over the past 10 years (www.velopro.com, www.vintagecotton.com) so I guess I have some background; at least I know some stuff about what not to do. Here are some helpful links / ideas about the topic I have come across over the past few years that may help someone out there on the interwebs.
Although I am providing several options – IMHO the most important thing about an online store is the relationship created with your customers / users. Focusing on this relationship is key to success – no matter what technology you are using. I would suggest using the 3rd party shopping sites and a fully hosted store, this will enable the business to move forward quickly. You can always build your own system later as needed. Most online shopping sites (most online businesses for that matter) never get to market; they fail before they ever sell anything online. It makes sense to build up the actual business first.
3rd Party shopping sites:
Even if you have your website, you will want to sell on these sites to acquire leads and customers which you can redirect to your own site / put on a newsletter for future sales. The cheapest way to acquire a customer is to get an existing customer to buy again.
Fully hosted online stores:
Building a commerce website, dealing with project managers, coders, renting webservers, working with security and credit card vendors to support credit card transactions is a whole lot of work. Why not let someone else do this for you behind the scenes and focus on your core business. These are great services that are subscription based.
Online Store Platforms:
If the hosted store does not offer you enough flexibility, you can get your own server and use an off the shelf platform to build up your store. You will still need to work with a coder, credit card vendors, etc. but this is much less work than building a system by yourself. There are coders that specialize in these systems and can build up a store for you in a week or so of work.
Online Store from Scratch:
Sometimes an off the shelf system will not do. If you have ideas / features that are not available with of pre-existing services / products you need to build it yourself. This is not going to be a trivial task, you will need to mock out all the functionality, lease webspace, hire a coder, and make sure the coder implements what you have asked for. Or you could take 3-5 years and learn to code in your spare time like I did (not recommended). Either way, there is a whole lot of work here, it costs a lot, and something is always going wrong. But in the end you have exactly what you dreamed up.
SitePoint has a good post on this topic at: http://www.sitepoint.com/blogs/2009/12/07/hosted-shopping-cart-solutions/