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What to Look for in Ecommerce Web Hosting

Aug 17, 2007
Ecommerce hosting includes all hosting services related to the exchange of goods, services, and investments online. While we usually think of ecommerce hosting as online shops where you can buy books, CDs, and computer accessories, there are many other kinds of ecommerce hosting. Ecommerce hosting plans include powerful site design software that allows you to create an online presence for your company. You can sell one product or ten thousand.

The Shopping Cart -- You have probably seen or used a virtual shopping cart provided by an ecommerce website. This is a program that allows you to browse and select one or more products or services from a website before proceeding to a checkout point for purchasing. This program uses cookies to remember each customer and the items in his/her shopping cart. All ecommerce hosting plans offer one or more shopping cart programs, though they vary in complexity and ease of use.

Payment Gateways & Merchant Accounts -- Ecommerce hosting also includes a payment gateway so that customers can purchase your goods or services from the convenience of their homes. Together with a merchant account, your customers can purchase goods or services from your site with a variety of payment options including: Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, cheque, or sometimes by telephone. A merchant account acts as an online banking account where sales revenue is stored for later transfer or withdrawal.

These services can often be purchased independently of the ecommerce plan, which allows you to choose the best services for your needs. Before choosing a particular company, ensure that the shopping cart, payment gateway, and merchant account are all compatible. If they are bundled together then this will probably not be an issue. It is also important to compare merchant account/ payment gateway providers, as they have different transaction costs, application requirements and operating procedures.

Secure Sockets Layer -- If you will be accepting payments online you must have some form of SSL. SSL (secure sockets layer) encrypts data such as credit card numbers and addresses so that it is not visible as it passes through other computers. Without SSL all your personal information would be visible to everyone with access to the internet. If your ecommerce plan includes shared SSL, than you can use the host's shared SSL certificate (ex. https://secure.yourhostsdomain.com/~username).

Or you can opt for a private SSL certificate. With a private SSL certificate you must pay a fee and you must have a dedicated IP address (check your hosting plan details). Your private account does not include your web hosts name in the IP address (ex. https://secure.yourdomain.com). This is more expensive than a shared SSL certificate because you must pay a yearly fee to renew your private certificate.

Plan Carefully -- Ecommerce sites require many more considerations than regular business web sites. You should develop a detailed growth plan that enables you to choose hosting services that will grow with your site and allow your business to incorporate additional features as you see fit. It is important to choose a host that offers reliable technical support. You will likely require support in setting up your payment gateway and SSL certificate. However, you will probably also need assistance to setup your shopping cart.

You will need to incorporate a database to store all of your products and customer information. This can be a daunting task made more difficult when using complicated application software. Before purchasing a hosting plan, you should first talk to a sales representative who can answer any questions. You should also ask to see/use a demo for any important software you will need (such as a shopping cart).

If you don't have an in-house web developer or are uncomfortable with the complexity of ecommerce hosting, it may be easier to choose a plan with a ready-made website that you can simply plug in your pictures and product descriptions. Again, try using the demo first. Keep in mind, ecommerce hosting requires more disk space and data transfer than regular hosting so ensure that you will have an adequate amount for the future growth of your website.

You need a hosting provider that can really offer 99.9% uptime. The last thing you want is paying customers that can't access your website. Don't settle for the hosting provider's glowing testimonials. Search long and hard for reliable impartial reviews.

Conclusions-- Ecommerce hosting provides a means of selling products and services online. When choosing a hosting plan, ensure that the shopping cart is easy to use and that your payment gateway/merchant account are compatible with your shopping cart software. Find out if your plan includes a shared SSL certificate.

If not, you will have to purchase a private certificate at added expense. Importantly, make sure your plan includes enough disk space and bandwidth for your growing site and the uptime and technical support to see you through any unexpected obstacles. Reliability of the hosting provider is key, so take the time to carefully research the host(s) of your choice.
About the Author
The author is the developer and operator of numerous sites on the web. To read more articles on ecommerce and web hosting, visit This Directory of Computer and Internet Articles or Browse hosting providers in this easy-to-use hosting directory.
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