It’s nice to be able to walk into a store and buy exactly what you want, when you want. However, with some products that isn’t always the case. Specialty items like gourmet foods, regional delights, and organic health and beauty aids might not always be readily available at your local grocer. Those handmade crafts and dolls you admired on a recent trip to the country, too, more likely not be found at Wal-Mart. So what do you do? If you want more, you go to the Internet to find it.

More and more, businesses turn to the Internet as a means of increasing customer base and global brand awareness. Consumers, too, turn to major shopping portals and smaller, specialized stores for unique items and gifts. If you have something to sell, but don’t have it in your budget to distribute through major department stores, an online boutique and shopping cart provides an affordable solution.

If and when you do decide to set up an online business, you want to be certain you have all the proper elements needed to succeed. As you shop for a designer or web hosting, take care to note the following essentials for your store:

Custom Storefront Design – If you have an existing color scheme and branding for your retail business, make sure a designer can integrate your logos seamlessly into an attractive storefront template. Logos and graphics should also be updated to celebrate your store’s emergence as a virtual storefront, satisfying regular customers and drawing in new ones.

Your front page is also your big sell page, what attracts buyers to the product. Highlight what you sell with crisp photos and detailed description, making point of sale links easy to find.

Search and Structure – Your store should offers categories and subcategories for products, allowing you to set products to multiple categories and increase their visibility. Look for shopping cart software that will allow you to automatically create category pages with ease, and give customers search functions to find what they want without having to browse extensively. Side navigation menus offer the user easy access to your entire inventory, so be sure to offer them.

Individual Inventory Pages – Showcase each item in stock with its own web page. Offer an extended image gallery for displaying color and size options, and allow customers to submit reviews. Individual pages may also allow for sections to display similar items for products that come in a set, so you are continuously selling to your customers. Look for a shopping cart software that allows for “smart URL” functionality, too; unlike other online carts where the item URL is an endless string of jumbles and suffixes, each item in your store gets a unique URL for easy off-site linking. Great for affiliates!

Discounts, Gift Certificates, Coupons – Just one click of the mouse allows business owners to set closeout prices on any item in their stores. Find a program that lets you set special promotional codes for newsletter subscribers, offer buy one, get one free incentives, sell gift certificates and accept coupons online.

Customer Database – Keep track of customers. Use a software that records information on all customers, so you can create opt-in newsletters and direct mail promotions. Offer incentive coupons and sales for returning customers with ease.

Affiliate Programs – Turn customers into salespeople by offering an affiliate program through your online store! Affiliate marketing counts for a large number of Internet retail sales; website owners act as third-party e-tailers and receive commissions for every sale made through their own sites (Amazon.com Associates is an excellent example). With the right software, you can customize your own affiliate program and allow other webmasters to sell your products for you. You pay a small percentage per sale, and in return your brand visibility and link popularity explodes!

To be a good salesman, you must first be a good shopper. Find the proper software to meet your e-commerce needs – user-friendly and functional, and compatible over many browsers – to help your online business succeed.