e-commerce Hosting Options and Setup Guide

16 Oct 2018 / Freeparking Team

The e-commerce industry has exploded over the past decade and there’s no stopping it. Online stores are overtaking brick and mortar outlets, as the possibility to make purchases on mobile phones is drawing more buyers to shop online.

Choosing to start an online retail store is a great idea. You should know that there’s a lot involved in setting one up and doing it the right way. If you’re new to the world of e-commerce business, you have a lot to learn. From setting up your website and choosing the right host, to undertaking other business promoting endeavours; the success of your online store largely relies on making the right choice.

One of the defining aspects of an e-commerce business is a website. Your website plays an important role in the foundation of your online store; it should be dynamic and reliable. Your hosting option will determine how reliable and efficient your website turns out. This post will guide you on how to choose the right e-commerce hosting option and set up the ideal website for your online business.

What is e-commerce Hosting?

E-commerce hosting services are businesses that offer online merchants the platforms to run their stores on the Internet. E-commerce hosting is basically the web hosting platform that serves online commercial websites. This hosting service comes with technical capabilities, such as database support, SSL certificate, payment processing services (like credit card payments), inventory management tools, online catalogues and electronic storefronts, customer order processing, shopping cart software, as well as other security initiatives and e-commerce software.

The Fundamental Building Blocks of an e-commerce Website

The beauty of the e-commerce business is that you can sell to just about anything and your reach is unlimited. There are things that should be done to run a successful online business. Some of the fundamental building blocks for your e-commerce website include:

Identifying your business:The first step you should take when you set out to begin your business is to understand and define your purview, so that you can optimise for your prospective buyers.

Shop Front Success:Your website should entice and engage customers as it is your shop front. Your site is essential in helping you drive and increase sales. Make efforts to set up an easy-to-navigate website that is visually impressive and reliable in functionality.

Stand out:For your business to excel online, you need to stand out as a brand and identify yourself with practices that offer a sense of exclusiveness to your buyers.

Finding an e-commerce Hosting Provider

Choosing a hosting provider for your e-commerce website is one of the crucial steps that you have to take when setting up an online store. There are many options available; choosing the right one will depend on some factors, from the kind of business you want to run, to the size of your consumers and your reach – whether you’re going to operate on a global, national, or regional level.

Shared vs. Dedicated e-commerce Web Hosting

The type of hosting package to be procured is one of the most important considerations for any e-commerce start-up. There are a range of options, including shared and dedicated web hosting. Both come with different pros and cons and the right package for you will depend on the needs of your website and your personal preferences.

Shared web hosting involves paying for your e-commerce website to be hosted on a server shared by other websites. This is one of the cheapest types of hosting available, especially for start-ups and e-commerce entrepreneurs who are working with shoe-string budgets. However, it comes with certain disadvantages in the sense that you may not be in full control of your website, which exposes you to certain security risks; if another site on the server draws too much traffic, the speed of your website will be affected; and you’ll be limited when it comes to customising and optimising your website the way you want.

Dedicated e-commerce web hosting, on the other hand, involves subscribing to a personal, private server with exclusive services. Like shared e-commerce hosting, you’ll have certain e-commerce systems and software running by default on your dedicated hosting package but you’ll enjoy far more flexibility, higher security, and better site speed and reliability than shared hosting. The major issue with dedicated hosting, however, is the expensive nature of the package.

The Best "e-Commerce" Website Builders Today

Building an e-commerce website is now easier than ever. There are numerous options that you can go for but you have to make considerations based on your needs. You can either choose to go for easier e-commerce website builders if you’re a non-professional and want to do things yourself or go for the more advanced ones if you can handle web development to a certain level. Some of the best e-commerce store builders out there today include:

-              Shopify

-             Wix

-             Weebly

-              Bigcommerce

-             Squarspace

-              Volusion

-              Highwire

-             3Dcart

Hosted e-commerce Software Examined

Hosted e-commerce solutions offer an all-in-one package which comprises hosting your website, technical support, shopping cart function, as well as other e-commerce enabling capabilities. In most cases, you’ll be required to pay a monthly fee to access these services but you can get discounts and reasonable prices from most hosted e-commerce companies if you pay for a number of months in advance. There are various e-commerce platforms that you can go for depending on personal preference and what they have to offer.

Shopify

Shopify  lets you build and host your site easily. Though you may want to look elsewhere if you want to completely customise your check-out page, there are numerous reasons for staying on this platform, such as the abundance of add-on apps that you can download and install to extend your store’s functionality.

BigCommerce

BigCommerce  is another hosted platform that offers hosting and website building. While its customisation features are no where near the possibilities provided by Shopify, it still boasts a number of features that make the platform very appealing. The admin panel’s user interface is easy to navigate and user-friendly and you can implement Product Feed and Google Trusted Stores with their in-built functionalities.

Volusion

Volusion  is quite similar to Shopify but offers far less customisation. The entire website is generated with just one template file and you can’t do much with it. The good about Volusion is its responsive technical support and the fairly cheap price as it starts at $15 a month, which is about half the price of Shopify and Bigcommerce.

Self-hosted e-commerce Software Examined

If you choose to go with self-hosted e-commerce platforms, then what you’re buying is just the software. This means you’ll have to find a separate host for your website. This process can be tedious as you’ll have to choose an e-commerce platform, find an ideal hosting provider, and go through a set-up and installation process. However, you can enjoy this solution if you want to have the flexibility of switching hosting providers, add additional extensions, and have other forms of control over your store. There are self-hosted options that you can choose from.

Magento

This is an e-commerce platform that has been around for a long time, with no indication of quitting anytime soon. While it can be ideal for professional web developers that can tweak certain features to their advantage, it isn’t the best for non-technical and first-time e-commerce merchants. This is because  Magento  can be slow if you’re using it by default and its user interface isn’t very friendly.

WordPress with WooCommerce

This is a WordPress plugin; and you can’t use it without WordPress. This means that this platform limits you to WordPress. However, that doesn’t make it any less efficient. In fact, you stand to enjoy a lot of customisations with  WooCommerce  through the numerous plugins available for WordPress as well as millions of themes.

OpenCart

Although the website is somewhat outdated,  OpenCart  is a self-hosted platform that can do a lot of good for your online store. It integrates numerous payment gateways, supports multiple currencies out of the box and gives you the functionality of selling digital products.

E-Commerce Platform and Web Hosting Security

Security is a must-have for online store. Running an online store involves payments and exchange of sensitive financial data. You have to ensure your store is fully protected. Most e-commerce platforms come with security features like SSL, VPN, and 2-factor verification and there are regular updates rolled out to ensure further security. It’s important that you make sure your website is always up-to-date with the latest security modules of the platform you’re running.

Why You Should Set Up Your e-commerce Hosting and Avoid Free Services

While free hosting services are tempting especially for small businesses that want to save costs, you’ll be limited in so many areas if you choose to go with these platforms. Going for a self-hosted platform will give you the opportunity to fully customise your website. As branding comes with many perks, choosing your own hosting service and setting up your own e-commerce website will put your business ahead.

How to choose the best e-Commerce hosting plan for your online store

Selecting the ideal e-commerce hosting plan for your new store isn’t a choice that should be taken lightly. A great hosting solution will guarantee your customers are treated to a satisfying shopping experience and see to it that your online shop does not suffer a lag as a result of its own success – increased traffic and customers. A number of factors should be considered before you go with any hosting provider:

Support for your e-Commerce and CMS software

Before you go for any software option, ensure that they match your long and short-term needs as well as other requirements. Be sure to ask the right questions before selecting any:

-              Is there flexibility for support when your business expands?

-              Is the platform right for your immediate small-scale needs?

-              Can you play with a demo to check if the admin interface is appropriate for your business?

-              Are the user reviews favourable?

Control over your software (e.g., MySQL, PHP, WordPress)

It’s recommended that you choose an e-commerce hosting plan that doesn’t limit your options to customise your software updates, like MySQL databases (which a managed WordPress platform won’t let you do).

Database capabilities of an e-Commerce hosting plan

Databases are crucial to the e-commerce business. Database support is one thing you should never overlook when setting up your store. Make sure your database is compatible with the software programme you’re looking to use. Also, make sure you have an understanding of your database files and size before you make a host selection.

Support for high database requests

As your store grows, thousands of customers will search for items at once, which may cause lags on the product database if it doesn’t support high traffic. This means you need a hosting solution that can handle those requests. Always examine the technical specifications of each hosting plan to determine their capability.

Performance to handle high traffic

Customers will be frustrated if there’s a drop in performance in your online store. This can be a problem if there’s high traffic (thousands or millions of customers shopping at once) on your site. Avoiding shared servers will help you avoid this setback. Go for a hosting provider that offers dedicated servers with scalability as part of the package.

Performance to support a high order volume

During peak shopping seasons, your e-commerce store may have to process thousands of orders at once. The hosting plan you choose should be able to handle such demand. Unlike shared e-commerce hosting plans, a dedicated server has the resources to easily handle this. Look for clarification between the dedicated and shared plans of the e-commerce hosting providers you’re evaluating.

Security of customer information

It is critical that your website has the sophistication to secure confidential buyer information because e-commerce is a consumer-driven business. Ensure that, by default, the hosting plan you’re going for offers SSL certification. Together with HTTPS, SSL protects the flow of information between your website and every customer’s browser. This is all the more important especially for pages where account details, credit and debit card numbers, as well as other personal information (address and property details) may be exchanged.

Level of administrative complexity

As an e-commerce business experiences growth, more hosting complexities may arise. The additional administration and management burden can consume money, time, and other business resources that may cause a drag on your productivity.  You should narrow your search for a hosting provider to those that offer intuitive control panels like  cPanel. This way, you won’t waste valuable resources trying to become a server manager or administrator.

Access to error and log files

In every business, things can go wrong sometimes. If you encounter problems with your e-commerce website at any point, you and your developer should be able to retrieve error and log files so that you can debug and track the problem. With modern control panels like cPanel, you can easily identify the issues with your hosting.

Technical Support

Before you choose an e-commerce platform, whether hosted or self-hosted, make sure you evaluate the reliability and responsiveness of their technical support. This way, you can be guided on what to do whenever you’re faced with any issue or difficulty.

Cost of Plans

The cost of your hosting plan should also be closely evaluated, as you’ll be working with a budget when you’re looking for options you want to go for. While plans that come with higher prices may seem better in the general sense, for your small business, some plans could just be extravagant. You should set your priorities straight and go for hosting plans that can accommodate your present budget with the possibility of scaling up in the future.

Email Options

Many online articles about web hosting do not explain the clear meaning and differences between web hosting and email hosting. This is because many hosting providers now offer email hosting and website hosting as one package. You should understand that your emails can be hosted on a separate server from your website even though you can enjoy this service (sometimes free) with your web host.

Site Management with Control Panels

Your web hosting account will come with an administration portion and this is known as the control panel. This is the interface where you can control different aspects of your website without the need for additional software. You can administer email settings and preferences, tighten your site’s security, manage additional applications on your site, and other functionalities like:

-              Image management

-              MySQL settings

-              Domain Management

-              MIME types

-              Cron Jobs

-              FrontPage extensions

-              News updates or automatic notifications from your web host

-              Internal links management

There are different control panels you can use. They include  Plesk,  Virtuozzo, and Server CP, with cPanel being the industry leader and one of the best control panels around.

Questions to answer before you choose an e-commerce hosting service

When it comes to e-commerce hosting, there are questions to be marked off the drawing board before you select a hosting option. Here are some of the questions that should be answered before you engage the services of any e-commerce hosting provider.

How much time do you want to spend on maintenance?

Maintenance is important as there’ll be the regular need to upgrade as well as fish out and fix some bugs that may be plaguing your site and causing lags. You have to know how often you want to carry out maintenance on your site. There are situations where some functions will have to be suspended for maintenance to take place; this could cause your customers to be frustrated. As a result, you should go for a hosting plan where maintenance is only carried out when necessary.

How budget-conscious are you?

You have to understand the kind of budget you’re working with in order to steer your choices in the right direction. Going for exorbitant options could see you gasping for financial air, even before your store goes live. Cut costs only where necessary as going for the cheaper options in most cases may backfire and cost you dearly.

How technologically skilled are you?

A number of hosting options are easy to use even if you don’t have the skills of a web developer. If you’re going to do it by yourself, then you should go for the options where little to no advanced knowledge is required. That being said, going for more personalised settings is impossible if you don’t have the technical know-how. If this is the case, it’ll be ideal to hire a developer to help set things up.

How much support do you want or need?

Technical support is at the heart of any form of hosting. Before you engage any hosting service, find out how responsive their customer care and support is so as to know if they can handle certain difficulties that come with web hosting.

A guide on how to setup your e-commerce store

Following the right steps, from to start to finish, is the difference between a failure and success in setting up an e-commerce business. The Internet is a virtual space and there’s a lot involved in setting up a store successfully. The following steps will guide you.

Decide on your product

Dreaming of starting an online store means you have a product to sell. Every e-commerce business has to begin with a product that is to be sold. Whether you’re selling a handmade product or have partnered with different independent wholesalers or manufacturers, you have to be offering something. It’s important that you make research on your product to find out if there’s a market out there for you.

Set your pricing

Your prices have to be competitive. In order to set the ideal prices for your products on an e-commerce platform, you have to understand certain things:

-              The cost of materials used to manufacture your products

-              What you’re spending on hosting and e-commerce software

-              Shipping costs

-              Taxes

-              Workforce

-              Percentage taken by PayPal or credit cards

-              Additional advertising or marketing costs

Through this, you can figure out the fair price for both your customer and you. You can also research on your competition and make a comparison.

Research shipping costs and options

If customers are purchasing physical products from your store what will be your delivery policy? Will you allow your customers to pay the entire shipping costs or will you bear some of the burden? The common practice with e-commerce stores is to hand down the full shipping costs to customers; this can have an adverse effect. According  to a study, 44% of responding consumers said they abandoned online shopping due to high shipping costs. To handle this, you can:

-              Offer free shipping and hike your product price a little

-              Offer free shipping for high-priced orders

Choose your domain name

This is another procedure for setting up an e-commerce store. Your domain is part of your identity and it’s how your customers will find you online. Most web hosting services provide domain registration offerings and you can purchase a domain name from a registrar as well.

Obtain a secure (SSL) certificate

You need an SSL certificate to secure the information that is transferred between a customer’s browser and your website. Your web host can provide SSL protection or you can obtain a certificate from one of the well-known vendors.

Choose Your Web Hosting Service

Your web host provider plays an important role in how your online business is run, so it’s important that you make the right decision. You can follow the guideline explained above to ensure you go for the right hosting provider.

Choose Your e-Commerce Platform

There are numerous e-commerce platforms as explained above and you can choose the ideal one for your business by doing your research and following the steps we’ve highlighted.

Build Your New e-Commerce Site

A lot of hosting platforms will give you the option to build your site. This will come in handy as you’ll skip the need to start from scratch. You can choose to develop on your own if you wish. You’ll also have to undertake other endeavours, such as developing web copy and engaging in SEO activities to promote your site.

Select and install an e-Commerce plugin (If you don’t want to build from scratch)

There are many e-commerce plugins that come with the basic functionalities needed to run an online shop. If you’re using WordPress, for example, you can easily choose from numerous available plugins for the platform.

Customize Your e-Commerce Store

To fully customise your e-commerce store, you’ll need to go for a self-hosted platform. While Shopify and WooCommerce provide tweaks to a certain level, they aren’t fully customisable. This means you’ll require the help of a developer if you aren’t skilled in web development.

Set up the product pages

Your product pages require focus and attention. Make sure you follow modern design principles to ensure your customers feel comfortable with these pages.

Secure an internet merchant account (IMA)

Internet merchant accounts  let you take money from customers online and are transferrable to a high street bank account upon verification from a bank. Traditional banks can help you set up this account but you’ll have to satisfy certain conditions first.

Choose a payment service provider (PSP)

Once you’ve secured an IMA, you’ll need a PSP for accepting payment through a number of electronic means. You can choose PSPs that will give the option to either use their default payment pages or allow you use a self-hosted checkout page. Self-hosted checkout pages can give room for seamless customisations but can open your site to certain security risks.

Why You Should Consider WordPress for Your e-Commerce Store

WordPress  is already established as the biggest platform in the world for websites and blogs. If you want to start up an e-commerce website, it’s the way to go, as there are millions of themes available for customisations, and with WooCommerce, you can easily set up an online store.

Tips for Improving Your e-Commerce Store’s Design

An e-commerce site has to be visually appealing. Here are some tips that will help you stay ahead of design trends and keep your business afloat:

Excellent Photography is key

Starting with your home page, you should make photos the centrepiece of your online store. For product pages, ensure you employ innovative photography to enhance the display of the items you have on sale.

Clear themes and fonts

The appearance of your website shouldn’t be bogus and confusing. Using themes with clear, friendly colours as well as legible texts will ensure easy navigation and customer satisfaction.

Minimalist menus

When it comes to the best designs in modern e-commerce stores, less is more. Use less cluttered menus that can let the customer view other parts of the shop.

Use more videos

While pictures are appealing, videos can tell the story of a product and brand even more. Videos are also valuable tools that can help increase conversion.

Tips for Making Your e-commerce Site Customer Friendly

Here are some tips:

-              Create an appealing design that will make customers come back for more

-              Avoid using bogus colours and texts – keep it simple

-              Employ the service of a professional UX expert if possible

-              Make efforts to ensure your site is functioning at top speed

-              Optimise for mobile devices

FAQs
E-commerce, which hosting package do I need?

The ideal hosting package for you will depend on your preference, budget, type of store, and a number of other factors.

What Do I Need to Launch an Online Store?

To launch an online store, you need to put certain things in place, such as a domain name, an e-commerce platform, a web hosting service (if you’re going for a self-hosted plan), SSL certification, IMA, PSP, as well as other business requirements.

What is e-commerce software?

E-commerce software programmes are applications that enable you run a functional store on the Internet.

How Does e-commerce Hosting Work?

E-commerce hosting provides a server where your online store will be housed. These servers support e-commerce software and applications to make your site functional.

What are Some of the Best Open-Source e-Commerce Platforms?

Some of the best open source e-commerce platforms you can go for include:

-              WooCommerce

-              Magento

-              Opencart

-              PrestaShop

-              OScommerce

What Are Some Good Web Hosts for e-Commerce?

They include:

Wix

SiteGround

InMotion

Bluehost

How easy is it to create an online store website?

The ease of creating an online store comes with the kind of platform you choose to go with. If you’re going for a hosted plan like Shopify or BigCommerce, then it’s quite easier than going for self-hosted platforms where you’ll need web development expertise.

When should a business start creating an online store?

The time is ripe to start creating online stores as everyone is looking for easier ways to shop and, presently, nothing beats the ease of ordering over the internet and receiving that order at one’s doorstep.

How much does it cost to build your own online store?

The cost of building any online store will vary according to the options you go for.

Is building an online store complex?

Setting up an online store can be complex if you choose to build from scratch and customise your site to the last detail.

What are the common mistakes made after launching an online store?

Some of the common mistakes include not pursuing any SEO strategy, forgetting to update your about page, lack of social media links, not optimising product pages, not updating or designing a logo.

Can I create an online store for free?

Most reliable e-commerce platforms come at a fee. Going for free options could limit your site in many ways so it’s recommended that you’re financially prepared before you set out to build a viable online store.

How long does it take to build an e-Commerce website?

An e-commerce site can be set-up in a short time if you have enough hands working on it and if your site doesn’t require too many customisations.

What do I have to consider when choosing the URL of my e-Commerce website?

The factors you should consider include:

-              Go for a country top level domain if you’re operating within a country or a more general TLD like [dot] com or [dot] net if you want to operate globally.

-              Choose a domain name that works with your business and brand name.

-              Go for something that can be easily remembered.

Which e-Commerce website package is right for my online shop?

You have to weigh your options thoroughly and make sure the package you choose is compatible with your store’s requirement as well as your budget.

What technical knowledge do I need prior to setting up my online shop?

Buying hosting and registering domain names do not require technical knowledge. When it comes to further customisations, that’s where things can get complicated. It’s easy to install and use WordPress with a few online guidelines but when it comes to editing MySQL scripts and developing proprietary web applications, you'll need technical knowledge of web development.

How do I optimize my online shop for smartphones and tablets?

To optimise for mobile pages without compromising on desktop experience, you can develop a mobile version for separate pages with simplistic designs that are activated when a user visits with a mobile device.

How safe is the shop in regards to payment transactions, data protection and crashing?

The store won’t protect itself. You’ll have to put in place certain security measures, like acquiring an SSL certification.

Opening an online shop is subject to certain legal regulations. What do I need to know?

Every country is subject to different laws and it’s important that you set up your online store in accordance to the law guiding the country and region you’re operating in. You’ll be subject to certain trademark, privacy, and other business structuring laws. We recommend that you get legal advice from a lawyer to know how to navigate the legal system of where you operate.

How can I increase the visibility of my new online shop?

To increase the visibility of your store, you need to actively engage in online marketing and SEO campaigns.

What do I need to keep in mind when building my e-Commerce website?

Always have it in mind that your store should always focus on your customers and ensure that everything customer-focused. Your priority list should include security, ease of navigation, and other measures that will make shopping a great experience for your customers.

 

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