Thursday, June 7, 2007

osCommerce for High Risk Merchants: The Good, The Bad, and The Possibilities

Just because osCommerce is the most popular merchant account software doesn't mean it's the best solution for your online business. Agree or disagree? Do you find osCommerce to be overrated? A lot of high risk merchants adopt osCommerce as their primary merchant account solution because of so many advantages. But, knowing osCommerce is open source (hence the name), there will always be loopholes before merchants can actually find it functional for their specific business' needs.


So what are the likely monkey wrenches that might pop out once you start using osCommerce? For those having second doubts, you may be justified. Consider:

1. There are way too few templates in the osCommerce solution. If you attempt to tinker with the stylesheets, it would take a lot of time and a developer's help to be able to accomplish the best template for your needs.

2. Merchants may be vaguely aware of "attributes". In order to take full advantage of the limited attributes system, merchants will need to get a good developer to modify it. Otherwise, osCommerce's shopping cart may not be the best solution to use.

3. Even osCommerce's administration area isn't keen on password protection. However, this is remediable by simple research on the site and discussion with your developer.

4. As osCommerce is heavily dependent on the contribution of programmers worldwide, even product catalog capacity needs to be modified. osCommerce's solution won't suffice for big scale catalogs unless it has been altered to adopt new products that the server can handle.

Based from these loopholes, we can tell that a lot of osCommerce's capabilities are dependent on the software developer who is responsible for the alterations and extensions in the system. osCommerce is so powerful but without the ability to customize it to your merchant account's needs, it loses its potential to provide a cheap (or free) and efficient credit card processing solution.


Now what makes osCommerce absolutely attractive for low risk and high risk merchants alike? Hands down, it beats other solutions simply because it's free! You can download the software, add-ons, and modifications grais. Also, osCommerce was being utilized by online merchants all over the world since March 2000, so it's pretty much universally trusted.

Although osCommerce's main weakness is the great necessity to modify the attributes, it is also its biggest strength. Its flexibility for customization as well as the capacity to support several languages and accept many international currencies make it the best open source merchant account software around. Security, user-friendliness, and a strong developers' community support also add up to its usability.

osCommerce's features can easily be checked out on their website. It lists down general functionality, set-up or installation, design, administration, customer, product, payment, shipping, and tax functionalities. Indeed, low risk and high risk merchants may only realize the full potential of osCommerce as shopping cart and card processing tool only when they pick out the features that would seamlessly work with their business –- then, enlist the help of developers for further customization and expansion.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

What Every High Risk Merchant Should Know About Intellectual Property Rights

Intellectual Property Rights: An Age-Old Trouble

Legal battles are not uncommon. Throughout the history of mankind, people have fought for their intellectual property rights and won and lost and paid for damages. In fact, its history dates back to the medieval ages when Gutenberg has invented the printing press. During this time, social information is distributed exclusively by the scribes. Gutenberg has opened a world of possibility when it comes to public distribution of text.

As mass reproduction of books could not be curtailed, the British government during that time (circa 1500s) sought solace with regulating it through license. Eventually the writing and printing of books became a liability for the authors whose names were bound on books as copyright. The true reason is to control the content of material being published, not to give credit to the author. The Licensing Act became obsolete and it was replaced by the Statute of Anne, which turned the tables for the authors. Authors were then given the exclusive right to publish under their own copyrights for up to 14 years and renew it. It has become the precursor of modern intellectual property ownership that we know today.

What You Can and Cannot Do

Now, in the world of online merchants, owning intellectual property rights is considered one of the most troublesome issues. Most local merchant account providers would not admit violators of intellectual copyright to own even a low risk merchant account. The reason is obvious enough. Selling digital items may cause infringement on merchants' intellectual property. Digital items fall into high risk merchant account category as the products are intangible and are likely targets of fraud. This is the reason why intellectual property right ownership is something online merchants should never take for granted.

The good news is that as long as your products and services are registered as copyright, trademark, or patent, you can legally sue anyone who infringes on your intellectual property rights. This can be done under certain provisions, of course. However, it may not be 100% successful. As infringement of digital property cannot be avoided, many so-called "violators" may still get away with it. Consider the following:

  1. You cannot sue if the other party used it for non-profit or educational purposes.

  2. You cannot sue if the copyrighted item you sell doesn't fall on the level of worthiness. Some items are more "copyrightable" than the others.

  3. You cannot sue if the other party merely used an excerpt to illuminate a matter (if it was text, e.g. e-book), or simply did not use the entire item for their commercial purpose.

  4. You cannot sue if the copyrighted item posed a neutral effect on the market in general.

What do these all mean for the high risk merchant? Simple. You can still sell digital items, have them copyrighted, and sue if certain provisions have been violated in your intellectual property rights contract. But the key is to prevent rather than find a cure. It would be distressing to pay for lawyers if you soon find out that the website who copied your Biological Warfare e-book only took an excerpt and used it to teach junior high school students. Preventing the infringement in the end is more cost-effective than going through court sessions and paying exacting attorney fees.

Fixing Before It Breaks

Prevention will require you to go through several avenues, depending on the product or services you sell. High risk merchants should be aware that digital items have special ways to be protected. E-books have to be registered for a copyright. Instead of pushing for sales on downloadable material, it would always be better to ship them via CDs. It then becomes less likely for fraud to happen.

Brand names have to be registered for trademark rights. If you own an imaging company that sells stock photos, it would be wise to put watermark seals when you publish them on the web. When other websites use your photos by the bulk and post them without your permission, you can legally sue (as long as you have registered for the trademark rights).

Music and videos have to be registered for copyrights as well. Tangible products such as a new adult toy with unique features must be registered under a patent right. Adult products and pharmaceuticals always fall under the high risk category. Fanatic high risk merchants may even employ a commercial anti-copycatting and security software.

Monday, June 4, 2007

7 Best Tools for Providing First-Rate Customer Service

"People used what they called a telephone because they hated being close together and they were scared of being alone." Chuck Palahniuk could be right and wrong! In the world of e-commerce, the telephone could be the single most important tool next to your car keys. An online merchant will not exist and survive in the cutthroat world of online business without key customer service tools. First and foremost, the phone! It's true that people do not want to literally knock on the company's door to ask for technical support when they're having trouble. But they also do not want to be left hanging in the air not knowing who to contact when they need help. If you can provide this means of contact and more, your online business has crossed the line from zero profit to a treasure trove.


Needless to say, if you can provide toll-free phone numbers for your customers to contact, it would be easier for them to gain confidence on you. The same goes for fax numbers which customers can use to send documents when they need to, such as checks and billing proofs. This is extremely important for you and your customers as it helps establish a quick, reliable way to communicate with the simplest tools.


Some companies provide a way for customers to talk via voice-over internet protocol (VOIP). VOIP, for the uninitiated, connects people through the internet on a phone call basis without having to disconnect (if they are using dial-up). All they need to do is use a program similar to Skype. Most Instant Messenger programs allow VOIP calls but companies may buy an in-house program that is exclusive for their business transactions.


Although I would say live phone calls are more favorable than IM text messaging, live chat is also an excellent tool that helps customers easily reach you in real time. Most high risk merchant account owners such online casinos and adult websites offer live chat customer services to ensure that their clients get all the support they need.


The e-mail is another great channel for customer service. If you're a Mom 'n Pop, brick and click store and have a small clientèle, providing business e-mail address to your customers is the next best thing to a phone number. You may be out on the holidays and will be back in a few days but still want customer queries coming. The best way to deal with this is to use an Autoresponder program. The Autoresponder is programmed into your server so that every time a customer sends an e-mail, a message such as "We will get back to you shortly" will be sent to her. This way the customer knows that she is taken cared of even though technically at the moment you are out sunning and drinking papaya shake in the Bahamas!


Perhaps the best way to complete the set of customer tools is to employ a highly efficient, user-friendly virtual shopping cart. A shopping cart works for low risk and high risk merchant business owners alike. The purpose of the online shopping cart is obvious enough: it allows customers to browse through your online store using their registered accounts, pick the services or products that they intend to buy, add them to the cart, and check out after they fulfilled the information it requires such as billing address, shipping method preferred, credit card details, and sender/receiver details.


A company that has grown with a considerable customer base can take advantage of establishing a forum. Customers can use it to tackle problems, build rapport, or help each other in the community. This is the best way for online merchants (who may act as moderators) to know how else they can improve their products and customer service. They may also take advantage of creating product-oriented blogs. These blogs may be customized in order to be highly readable for the clients. Merchants can make use of newsletters, webcasts and podcasts to reach their customers when they release new promos and announcements.

In fact, there are a hundred and one ways to prove to your customers that they come first. Whether you are a low risk merchant affiliated to a local bank or a high risk merchant whose account is established offshore, there's no shortage to happy ways you can serve and keep your customers who are, in the end, the bread and butter of your business!