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Website hosting can be a complex undertaking. Determining
how much space you need, how much transfer, finding
a reliable host, and getting everything online is no
simple task. Add ecommerce to the mix and things become
even more complex. This article will deal with some
of those additional complications to finding a host
for an online store. All of the same considerations
to finding general hosting can be applied to ecommerce
hosting, there are simply a few additional ones that
need some attention.
Basics- Disk Space and Transfer
The core states of any kind of hosting, ecommerce or
not, remain space and transfer, or traffic. Generally
measured in monthly increments, your space and transfer
will place a crucial role in determining just what size
plan you need. Ecommerce sites will, generally speaking,
require more space and transfer than an equivilant sized
site without ecommerce. This is due to the presence
of the shopping cart upon which the online storefront
is based. Shopping cart programs are installed to the
account on which they operate, requiring space, and
their scripts for running the store will require additional
transfer to handle customers as they browse, add items
to their cart, and check out. Will there be a tremendous
amount of extra transfer required by the cart? That
depends on how many use the cart and on the cart itself.
This is why its best to start small and having a clear
upgrade path to handle future popularity.
Prospective online merchants will generally have a
good idea how many products they'll be selling initially.
This will vary wildly from merchant to merchant, and
many merchants don't put their entire stocks online.
It is wise to start with a considered selection of products
first, especially if you wish to initially keep your
hosting plan small and upgrade as the store prospers.
Those with a great deal of products need to be aware
they will probably be facing a bigger monthly fee for
a larger hosting plan. Once the decision is made regarding
the products, attention can be turned to finding a suitable
shopping cart program to contain them.
The choice of shopping cart can be a personal one. Those
entirely new to ecommerce will probably not have any
experience with any kind of shopping cart software.
There are a number of popular choices, and most hosting
companies will provide one, if not a variety, from which
you can choose. It is important to find a shopping cart
that suits the individual user, as attempting to change
your shopping down the road can be a long process that
will, most likely, bring your store down during a transitional
period. Don't immediately jump at the first cart a host
offers. Ask if they have demos and try them out. Be
sure it's a program you can learn and use, as it is
the primary way you'll be doing your online business.
Even if you have a large business and have a design
firm setting up the cart, a rudimentary knowledge of
the cart's processes is highly recommended.
Learn as much about your prospective shopping cart
software as possible. Make sure it supports SSL, a common
site security protocol that will help keep your customer's
credit card numbers safe when ordering online. It will
need to support your merchant account and payment gateway.
In many cases a host might bundle these services, so
compatibility isn't an issue. If you secured your merchant
services separately from hosting, be sure they are compatible.
Find out if the cart has a recommended maximum product
limit and, of course, try not to exceed it. The store
may slow down and perform poorly if there are too many
products in it.
Finally, make sure it will do everything you want it
to do. Some merchants sell services and downloadable
items that don't conform exactly to the order-product-ship-product
flow. If your cart doesn't support these features by
default, there may be 3rd party add-ons that will provide
this functionality. Miva Merchant is one such shopping
cart with a very active 3rd party developer community
providing a wide range of add-ons, or "modules"
to extend the feature set of the original program. The
merchant will have to buy these add-ons and have them
installed on their own initiative, though, and the hosting
company will not be able to support them.
Reliability and Support
Perhaps of greatest importance is reliability in your
chosen host. Think in terms of a "brick and mortar"
storefront. If someone locks the front door during business
hours, then no customers can come in and nothing is
sold. Similarly, if an online store is down at any hour,
no customers can come in and nothing is sold. You want
the most reliable hosting for such a mission-critical
site. Never just take the word of a hosting company's
site in regards to their uptime. Do research and look
for customer reviews of your prospective host. Online
merchants should always be willing to pay more for a
reliable hosting company with good uptime and support.
A good rule of thumb is to stay away from free or "bargain
basement" hosts, since support and uptime are usually
the first things to suffer with this kind of hosting.
Finding the right ecommerce hosting company requires
a few additional considerations. Decide on your products,
your shopping cart, and then shop for your hosting company.
You will need more space and transfer than an equivalent
site, but start small with your product selection and
you can still save money on your hosting. Find a shopping
cart that's easy for you to use and understand, as switching
at a later date can result in downtime and a lot of
work transferring your products. Finally, make sure
your host has solid uptime, as an online store that's
down isn't generating any sales.
About the author:
Mr. Lester has served for 4 years as the webmaster for
and previously worked in the IT industry an additional
5 years, acquiring knowledge of hosting, design, and
search engine optimization. Apollo Hosting provides
website hosting, ecommerce hosting, vps hosting, and
web design services to a wide range of customers.