Your ecommerce site is like a window into your business. You work hard to showcase your brand in the best light and streamline the experience for your audience.
There’s one aspect that your customers don’t see but that is crucial to your business. That’s your ecommerce web hosting service.
eCommerce hosting pertains to a web hosting platform that serves an electronic commerce website.
Compared to standard web hosting, eCommerce hosting accommodates a multitude of functions required to operate a commercial website.
These features include payment processing services, security initiatives, SSL, shopping cart software, and more. eCommerce hosting provides everything required to effectively and efficiently run an eCommerce business.
In the past decade, retailers have been closing their doors and opening online sites with eCommerce growth outpacing retail growth. Some refer to this as the retail apocalypse, a phenomenon that allows people to shop conveniently from their couches. Even Tesla is moving toward an online-only business model.
Because you can’t invite consumers in with a snazzy window display and a sign on your door, your website needs to do the work.
About 38 percent of consumers will stop using your site if it’s not visually appealing.
Making your online store look good is only half of the battle, though. People want to get in and out quickly and have a great experience too.
Almost 80 percent of shoppers who have to deal with a page load problem will never come back.
If your site is slow or down for maintenance, you could lose the majority of your leads. The average load time for a retail site, according to Google Research, is 6.3 seconds with the same study citing that 53% of mobile users will leave a site that takes longer than 3 seconds to load. And if your site isn’t secure, you shouldn’t even bother with ecommerce.
There are many ecommerce web hosts to choose from. The right one depends on your sales volume, traffic, site size, budget and experience with web development. When you rely on your website to deliver your income, you need to start by selecting the right host.
Why It’s Important to Choose the Right Host
Your website doesn’t exist only in an ethereal cloud. The files that make up its content need to be stored somewhere.
Website owners pay rent to these hosting companies, but the hosting companies’ capabilities vary greatly. If you don’t choose the best host, you could deal with the following issues.
1. Customers will leave a slow site.
We live in an age of instant gratification.
Gone are the days when you could make a bag of microwave popcorn while you waited for your site to load.
Today, 47 percent of consumers expect web pages to load in two seconds or less.
A slow site doesn’t just take away from the customer experience; Google uses site speed as a ranking factor. That’s because search engines take longer to produce results if they can’t crawl websites quickly.
Crawling is the term used to describe Google’s method of discovering the pages on your site so as to index them more efficiently.
In order to find pages, Google branches out from your homepage or sitemap and “crawls” the links. If your site takes a long time to load then your pages may not be included in Google’s index.
If your site is slow, it will be outranked by faster ones — and your potential customers will value their on-site experience over yours.
The best ecommerce hosting company will make sure that it can manage the volume that you expect. This includes traffic spikes and other factors that can interfere with performance, such as caching and Content Delivery Networks.
Caching makes web pages faster by storing page data as a normal HTML page, removing calls to the database and enabling future requests to be served more expediently.
A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a widespread group of servers that hold your website’s available resources, such as images and media files, and work in tandem to reduce your site’s load time. A CDN ensures faster load times by automatically routing visitors to the server closest to their geographic location.
2. Customers won’t be able to access vulnerable sites.
Although just about anyone can start an ecommerce site, a business needs to implement the proper security measures before their customers can buy from them.
You can’t just plop a button on your page and collect credit card information.
Every browser is different, and some offer more security features than others. Chrome’s mission is to keep consumers safe as they surf the web. This is what makes it the most popular browser.
If your site isn’t encrypted with HTTPS, your site will be identified as “Not secure” when your audience is using Chrome. Seeing this in the URL bar doesn’t help to boost consumer confidence in your brand.
Secure Socket Layer certificates, otherwise known as an SSL certificates, are small files stored on a server that encrypt the data transferred between your computer and a website’s server.
They also provide a digital signature to verify the website being used. They are ideal for securing data transfer, credit card transactions, and are even being used to secure the browsing of various social media websites.
If you don’t have an SSL certificate, Chrome will warn viewers before they have a chance to view the page that they’re trying to open. An SSL certificate may even speed up your website.
While some ecommerce website owners are afraid that adding an SSL certificate is expensive or complicated, a good web host will offer encryption as part of their package.
Plus, keeping your security up to date can be a full-time job. Your ecommerce host should be able to upgrade your software, add patches, and keep their own server software secure. The company should also be able to take care of the situation if your site is hacked.
3. You can’t afford downtime.
Site downtime can be devastating. If your customers can’t access your site, they can’t buy.
The amount of revenue lost during one hour of downtime depends on the time of day, your sales volume, traffic and the number of people impacted.
According to Gremlin, Amazon would lose $220,318.80 per minute of downtime. Costco.com would lose $11,082.00.
If this happens frequently enough, you’ll get a bad reputation. Downtime could sink your business.
Sometimes, web hosting services schedule planned maintenance, which could cause your site to go down. Unplanned downtime is more of a threat because it can take longer to remediate.
Ecommerce web host services will often guarantee a certain amount of uptime. Don’t just take their word for it, though. Look for customer reviews, and find out if anyone monitors your website so that you know immediately if a problem arises.
Considerations When Choosing a Host for Your Store
Although you might be lured into an especially affordable plan that meets some of your criteria, it’s important to do some research before you commit. You should also consider a web host that can grow with you.
You can change hosts at any time, but migrating your site can be a hassle for you and your customers. It’s a better idea to choose the best web host off the bat so that you can familiarize yourself with them as you scale up.
The small details are often the most important. Don’t choose an ecommerce host site based solely on cost. A few dollars can make a huge difference if the fine print doesn’t provide for what you need.
1. Keeping up with traffic.
How much traffic do you expect on your site? If you’re just starting out, it’s understandable that you might not need a host with high-traffic capabilities. But if you’re focused on your growth, your ecommerce site could scale rapidly.
Will your host be able to handle traffic demands now and in the future?
What could happen if you run a promotion or campaign that goes viral? Your hosting infrastructure needs to be flexible enough to handle traffic surges without crashing your site.
Cloud hosting is one of the best options for ecommerce sites because it can keep up with traffic. Because a network of machines handle your site’s hosting needs, you have almost unlimited growth capabilities.
It used to be that you needed a dedicated IP address to have a secure site. Now, IP addresses can be shared between domains. This is a common practice.
Not all ecommerce hosts that offer shared IP addresses are using shared hosting. A shared IP address can be private and secure.
In the past, you had to have a dedicated IP to have an SSL certificate, which is crucial for website security. Nowadays, server name identification, or SNI, lets hosting providers get around this.
Still, some browsers don’t support SNI. If you want your customers to have the most seamless experience, you might want a dedicated IP address.
Some hosts offer various hosting tiers. Some feature dedicated IP addresses, but others don’t.
Security should be one of your top concerns when choosing a hosting plan. However, a single factor won’t make one ecommerce host better than another.
Many hosting plans offer the following security features:
- SSL security certificate.
- DDos protection.
- Spam filters.
- Domain name privacy.
- Virus protection.
Hacking is big business. Some hackers want to destroy websites for fun. Others want to collect valuable information or profit from your website.
They may inject code into your website that puts viruses on your visitors’ computers or hijacks advertising space. They can steal passwords or encrypt all of your files and require a ransom payment to decrypt them.
Any kind of fraud involving your website could put your shop and reputation at risk.
A secure hosted ecommerce platform should offer a variety of safeguards, including the ones in the list above, to give you peace of mind.
3. PCI Compliance.
PCI compliance should be offered by any ecommerce web host.
When you’re dealing with an enormous amount of personal data, including credit card numbers, a breach could lead to catastrophe. If you think that this won’t happen to you, think again.
Many companies have experienced data breaches. In 2018:
- 100 million Quora user accounts were compromised.
- Facebook reported that 50 million user accounts may have been penetrated by hackers.
- Orbitz announced that 880,000 payment cards had been hacked over a period of two years.
- Customer information from Panera’s online ordering system was leaked.
Up to 90 percent of the logins to ecommerce websites may be fraudulent. Approximately 20 percent of people who learn about a breach stop shopping at a particular retailer altogether. About 30 percent stop purchasing from that company temporarily.
Retailers are required to abide by PCI DSS, standards that protect customer information. When you choose the right web host, they’ll ensure PCI compliance so that you don’t have to worry about it.
4. File sizes.
If you have an online store, you probably have an image-heavy website. With so many files stored on your site, from photos of your products to your customer database, you don’t want to experience slow load times.
Some of the biggest culprits that cause site delays are videos, high-resolution photos and PDFs. But your images are usually your most important asset.
Your hosting plan needs enough bandwidth to support all of your files. The best hosting platform will also guide you toward creating the best image sizes to optimize your site.
Your online shop might be easy to build and manage, but what happens when things go wrong? If your website gets hacked or doesn’t work properly after an update, a backup could save your hide.
Without an easy way to back up your site, you could lose customer, order and product data. If you paid an agency to put together your website, you could lose all of that work and money.
You should back up as much data as possible regularly. The backups should be stored on a separate server from your website and be easy to access if you need to restore your site. If you use a hosting solution that backs up its entire platform, you don’t have to do it individually.
6. Account Limitations.
You probably want to get the most bang for your buck from your web hosting platform. When you’re doing your research, you should make sure to read the fine print.
Find out what you get with each plan. Learn whether you can upgrade if you need more scalability options. Make sure you know exactly what each package includes.
Here are some account limitations that you might encounter:
- Free ecommerce software that requires you to pay separately for SSL certificates or hosting.
- Limited file storage.
- Only a few free website templates; you might have to pay extra for the most desirable ones.
- Additional charges if you don’t use the hosting service’s payment processors.
- Limits on sales volumes.
- No access to customer service representatives.
- Hefty overage fees if you exceed the bandwidth limits.
- Poor reporting options and analytics.
- Difficulty customizing your website without developer knowledge.
Ecommerce Hosting Options
There are a few different types of hosting options. Most retailers, especially small businesses, don’t host their own sites. That’s because web hosting solutions offer so many benefits and affordability.
1. Cloud (SaaS).
Software as a service, or SaaS, is one type of cloud-based hosting. Cloud computing is becoming the norm, and by some estimates 83% of enterprise workload could be in the cloud by 2020.
SaaS uses third-party, cloud-based software that’s accessible via the internet. Using a SaaS host frees you up to grow your business without worrying about dealing with IT issues.
Your host manages:
As long as you have an internet connection, you can use the software, which usually includes shopping carts, hosting infrastructure, software licenses and apps that allow you to integrate the system with financial and reporting software.
This is the most comprehensive hosting solution for an online shop.
You don’t have to download anything to your own computer. In exchange for your software access, you usually pay a fixed monthly fee.
Therefore, you don’t have to worry about hidden surprises. Your subscription covers everything from maintenance to security.
This is one of the most inclusive options. SaaS platforms require minimal input from you.
2. Self-Hosted (On Premise).
To host your website yourself, you need to have your own physical servers. While larger corporations may store these in a large room or data center, this option doesn’t make sense for most online retailers.
Self-hosting gives you complete control over what you do with your servers. However, if you don’t have IT knowledge, you won’t be able to take advantage of that flexibility.
You’re responsible for everything from hardware malfunctions to software glitches. What do you do when the power goes out?
By the time you purchase the equipment and hire a team to manage your servers, you’ll probably end up shelling out more money than you would if you used another hosting option.
3. Cloud (IaaS).
Infrastructure as a service, or IaaS, is another cloud-based computing option that typically operates via a pay-as-you-use structure. It’s more reliable and safer than purchasing your own hardware. You can scale up as you grow.
However, with IaaS, a merchant usually pays one company to license the software. Another party may host the website.
As an IaaS client, you have total control over the infrastructure. But to choose the right options, you have to understand what you need.
You manage the runtime, applications operating systems, middleware and data. The provider takes care of the servers, virtualization and networking.
Although this may be the most flexible cloud computing model, it isn’t the easiest to understand. Because everything is billed based on usage, you might experience sticker shock if you’re not sure what capabilities you need up front.
An IaaS provider may also experience performance issues when workloads are high.
4. Cloud (PaaS).
The other type of cloud-based computing is platform as a service, or PaaS. This also delivers software and hardware tools over the internet, but users log into a specific platform to build applications. It’s not an out-of-the-box service, though.
PaaS is most commonly used by developers. You don’t have to write a unique application from scratch or deal with extensive coding. The developer retains complete control over the applications, while the provider manages storage, servers and networking.
Hosts vs. All-in-one Providers
Unless you have a passion for web development, you probably want to concentrate on getting customers, managing inventory, shipping products and making sales. Having the flexibility to fiddle with the back end of your website in order to manage your items and improve its design is important.
However, worrying about things like security, downtime and other behind-the-scenes features is best left to the professionals. If you are one, that’s great; a host without any bells and whistles may work for you.
If you’re not very familiar with web development, then you might want to select an out-of-the-box solution that walks you through every step of building and maintaining your online shop.
1. Hosting only.
If you choose a company that just offers hosting, you have a server in which to “house” your website. However, you’re responsible for implementing applications and building the infrastructure. You’ll have to integrate your shopping cart, plugins and apps to manage user logins and other assets.
This option is the cheapest, but it requires quite a bit of knowledge to get your website up and running.
Some hosting providers also offer domain registration, website builders, email hosting and basic technical support. They often store your website on shared servers, which is cost-effective.
However, shared servers may have trouble handling spikes in traffic. They also can be affected by the traffic on other sites that share the server with you.
If you need more control or better performance, you can often pay for a dedicated server, but your price could skyrocket.
This is definitely not the best option for beginners.
2. All-in-one providers.
All-in-one providers, such as BigCommerce, are ideal for anyone who wants to create a seamless online store without the hassle of learning development skills or hiring web professionals. These services offer end-to-end ecommerce solutions that are turnkey and easy to use.
Think of all-in-one providers as one-stop shops for setting up and running an ecommerce site. The host provides all the tools that you need so that you don’t have to pull together pieces from various places.
Some of the benefits of all-in-one providers include:
- Ease of use.
- Built-in features.
- Templates for building a website.
- SEO optimization.
- Multi-channel selling.
- Inventory systems.
- SSL certificates and security compliance.
- Abandoned cart recovery.
One of the biggest benefits of using an all-in-one hosting service is that it will help you grow your website. If you choose a host with minimal built-in features, it may be able to scale with you, but it won’t help your business expand.
3 Criteria for Choosing an Ecommerce Host
Choosing the wrong ecommerce host can cost you money, time and headaches.
Whatever works for you now may not be ideal in the future.
Because migrating your website can be frustrating, it’s important to find a host that strikes a balance between your budget, website development needs, support requirements and growth potential.
1. How big is your budget?
You could pay $10 or $10,000 to build and host your ecommerce site. Even though ecommerce hosts offer competitive packages, you have to understand what you’re getting to decide whether they’re actually cost-efficient.
Paying more doesn’t always give you the best experience.
However, choosing the cheapest option will usually leave you looking for add-on capabilities from somewhere else. Piecing together fees from various providers is usually the most expensive way to go.
Before you choose an ecommerce host, decide on your budget for:
- Web design.
- Programming and functionality.
- Monthly hosting.
- Custom app creation.
If you choose a standalone web host, you’ll have to research the costs of these services from other providers. But if you look at all-in-one hosts, you’ll often find that you can select a premium package that includes all of these features and stays within your budget.
2. How much development experience do you have?
Regardless of the size of your budget, you can choose to purchase your hosting, ecommerce platform and extensions separately if you have a lot of web development experience. Depending on your needs, this can be a cheaper option.
However, you’ll probably break even when it comes to your time. Moreover, building and maintaining your website can distract you from your primary business, which is selling your products or services.
If you do have web development experience, the decision may come down to a matter of control.
Do you want to customize your website with a lot of non-standard enhancements? Do you have a non-standard business model? Can you afford the time and capital that you need to completely customize your site?
If you answered “yes” to these questions, then you might want to look for a platform with the most capabilities regardless of cost. You could also select a standalone hosting plan and build your online store from scratch.
3. How much support will you need?
This question is related to your IT knowledge. If you have no idea what you’re doing, you probably want to choose the ecommerce host with a user-friendly interface and resources to help you build your site.
You may also need a high level of support to maintain your site and troubleshoot issues.
Look for services that have great reviews for their customer support. Some have 24/7 chat features, while others require you to open a ticket and wait for an answer if you experience issues after hours.
Your hosting provider is ultimately a business partner. Select a trustworthy company with which you can develop a long-term relationship.
Your Hosting Options For Your Ecommerce Platform
Ecommerce platforms come with varying hosting options. Understanding the key differences from platform to platform is essential to your online business strategy.
BigCommerce leads the pack with the best uptime at 99.99%. Thanks to the Google Cloud platform infrastructure, you can expect features like fast load times, uncompromising security, DDOS protection, ISO/IEC 27001:2013 certified, HTTPS, and Level 1 PCI Compliant hosting. To make it sweeter, you’ll have access to these industry leading features:
- Unlimited bandwidth.
- Fast content delivery network.
- Buy new domain names.
- Use an existing domain name.
- Shared SSL certificate included.
- Buy or transfer dedicated SSL certificates.
Meet managed cloud hosting. With Magento, you will need to find a hosting solution that can integrate with the platform. Here are some of Magento’s most popular hosting solutions:
Similar to Magento, WooCommerce partners with companies to manage hosting. To make the selection process a little bit easier, they’ve identified recommended hosting solutions based on company size.
For small business stores:
For mid-market stores:
For enterprise level stores:
Like BigCommerce, Shopify offers a hosted ecommerce website solution. If you choose this solution, you can expect features like unlimited email forwarding, a free domain (if you keep .myshopify.com in your URL), instant updates, Level 1 PCI compliance, unlimited bandwidth, and uptime of 99.98%.
Salesforce Commerce Cloud (Demandware).
Another SaaS platform, Salesforce Commerce Cloud, previously known as Demandware, provides a hosted ecommerce website solution. When choosing this option, you can expect a scalable database and memory allocation, network bandwidth, load-balancing, certified privacy, and PCI-DSS, SOC2, ISO 27001, CSA STAR, and TRUSTe compliance.
This SaaS platform is popular in creative and small business communities. Offering a hosted ecommerce website solution, you can expect features like free, unlimited hosting, award-winning design templates, a free domain (valid during your first year), easy DNS management, and auto-renewed 2048-bit SSL certificates.
Wix also offers in-house hosting. Their complimentary plan provides 500MB of cloud storage and 500MB bandwidth, whereas their premium plan provides up to 20GB of cloud storage and unlimited bandwidth. Wix takes pride in their hosting features such as advanced security monitoring, 99.9% uptime, and automatic installation.
This self-hosted ecommerce website building company offers its services for free. Their hosting promises to provide optimal speed and performance and tools to deliver a fluid user experience. A bonus? All online store plans come with a free domain.
Executive Summary: What’s the Bottom Line?
If you’re launching or upgrading your ecommerce store, you have to find a suitable ecommerce host. There are many hosting options available for different budgets and consumer needs.
Before you choose the one that’s best for you, it’s important to consider your level of knowledge, capital and time constraints.
If you’re a web developer, have unlimited funds or have incredibly unique needs, you might be able to use a standalone host and tailor the rest of your website services to your specific requirements.
The best option for an out-of-the-box hosting package that can get you up and running in hours is an all-in-one hosting solution, though.
Let us know about your experience with different web hosts. Which types have been the most lucrative for your online shop?