Perhaps the simplest -- though least secure -- type of transaction involves a consumer filling out a form online. The form is then translated into a fax, which is sent to the company.
For a small company putting a catalog on the Web, this is a quick and easy way to begin generating transactions. A site like the hypothetical ACME Sprockets might pay between $2,500 and $22,000 for such a setup, according to this month's Web Price Index survey.
Online commerce "used to be an 'If you built it, they wouldn't have come,' situation because the audience was fearful of it," said Anita Bloch, president of Red Dot Interactive, San Francisco. "I don't think the technology has changed much, but the perception has changed that [the Web] is no less secure than any other credit card transactions."
Medium-size sites wishing to include more secure transactions will face higher start-up costs, partially due to the need for "secure" servers such as those distributed by Netscape. These servers encrypt the data, keeping important information like credit card numbers safe.
Transactions like this could cost a company a median price of $21,250, according to our developers.
Many sites have incorporated "shopping carts" on their transaction-based sites. This technology allows users to browse through a site and add items to their "cart" as they go.
A site like Blockmonster with a huge catalog of varied products would find this ideal, but could expect to pay a median price of $62,500 to set it up.
Besides setup costs, many developers charge a small fee per transaction. This could take the form of either a monthly upkeep fee (which would be in addition to the upkeep fee for the site) or a fee based on the number of transactions the server processes.
Forty percent of American adults say they will make an online purchase in 1997, according to a recent study conducted for AT&T by Odyssey, San Francisco, an independent research firm.
However, online commerce might not be for everyone. Certain products will fare better on the Web at this point than others. "Impulse buying products with lower price points works better over the Internet," said Dave Skwarczek of Streams Online Media Development, Chicago.
Dominic Tassone, also of Streams, looks at consumer sites that are already successful such as CDNow, bookseller Amazon.com and Virtual Vineyards. "Their products fit the demographic of the Internet," he said.
Mr. Tassone cautions marketers to treat the Web as they would any other sales division. "Electronic commerce should be part of an overall marketing approach. A lot of online marketers aren't sophisticated enough to apply promotions to their site."
Mr. Tassone also says that for most marketers, "dry" sales information isn't compelling enough for the Web. He suggests making the site as a whole more entertaining.