If you've ever tried to get a merchant credit card account (so that you can accept MasterCard, VISA, etc.), you know how impossible this can be. You have to be an established business to get one, but how can you be an established business if you don't accept plastic?
As with many things, the Internet is radically changing the ease with which one can don a shopkeeper's cap and open up a storefront (albeit a virtual one).
If you already have a Web site and want to sell your wares there (and you're willing to do all of the order processing yourself), all you need is credit card fulfillment. There are dozens of sites that will do this for a fee, but the cheapest (read: free!) way is with one of the new money-sending services such as PayPal and BillPoint. These virtual banks allow people to "email" you money! Actually, what your customer does is log onto the secure money-sending site and transfer funds from their credit card account to your account on the money-sending service. You are then alerted via email that the money has been deposited in your account and it's safe to send your customer the booty. These services are easy, seem very secure, and the transfers are almost instantaneous.
These e-payment services have been a boon to online auctioning and for people who want to run businesses through these auctions. Got a passion for collecting antiques? Do you carve and paint decoy ducks in your garage? Looking to unload that massive disco record collection that's molding in the basement? With PayPal and an eBay account, you're in business. Believe it or not, hundreds are now making a living, or at least a second incoming, by opening up such virtual e-shops.
If you're looking for a more turnkey e-commerce solution, with site hosting, a merchant account, order processing, etc., there are a number of sites that will be happy to accommodate you. Sites like Just Web It! offer a number of different services, from complete site hosting, shopping cart, order taking, etc. to adding credit card fulfillment and shopping cart technology to your existing site. Services range from $30 to $80 a month and set-up is a breeze. Just Web It! even offers a starter package with free site hosting and free shopping cart tech (you have to pay for the credit card fulfillment).
One of our favorite instant e-commerce sites is Café Press . In literally a few minutes, you can set up a small e-shop on your Web site to sell custom T-shirts, mugs and mouse pads. You simply upload artwork that you've created, fill out a form, and a store is generated. You set your own price for the merchandise and collect the profits. Café Press does all the rest. It doesn't matter if you print one shirt or a thousand, and there are no inventory costs. These are true customized products on demand.