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What is Ecommerce Hosting?
Ecommerce Hosting is a specialized form of hosting for running online stores selling a large number of items. While you can select shopping carts and online store software and run an online store on any other form of hosting (shared, vps, or dedicated), an Ecommerce Hosting provider provides a turnkey setup with all the software you need to run your online store, all you have to do to get running is select a template (the look of your web site), enter basic information about your business and enter (or upload) the products you wish to sell. Everything is designed to work together. Good Ecommerce Hosting providers have lots of documentation on how their software works and have customer support people who know the product.
Ecommerce Hosting and Security
Using Ecommerce Hosting for your online store site also makes it easy to use an SSL certificate. If you expect customers to trust your web site enough to give their credit card information to order, you must provide Secure Socket Layer (SSL) connection and use that connection for the entire order transaction. With Ecommerce Hosting, all you have to do is buy and provide the SSL certificate and the provider's software will correctly use it to ensure your customers have a secure shopping experience.
Good Ecommerce Hosting providers also handle securely storing the information your customers provide with their orders. Their staff is responsible for maintaining the software and keeping it and their servers as hacker-proof as possible. It is impossible to be 100% hacker-proof, of course, but chances are that the staff of a good Ecommerce Hosting provider has a lot more experience at blocking hackers than you do. After all, your business is running a store and selling merchandise, not running a web server. Unless you have an experienced server administrator or two on your payroll, chances are you do not have the expertise needed in house.
The View from the Backend
While the part of an online store that the customer sees is very important to making the sale, the backend/administration area is just as important to you and your staff. This is where you will enter items into the software so your customers can purchase them, and where you will go to find out what your customers have ordered so you can fulfill their orders quickly and efficiently. To be honest, much of the difference in price between Ecommerce Hosting plans is in the power and features of the backend. The more you pay, the more features most Ecommerce Hosting providers give you. You will need to carefully evaluate possible providers and their plans to be sure to get all the features you need and will use. Just be careful not to be "feature-stuck" and purchase plans with nice-sounding features that you are unlikely to actually use.
For example, many higher priced Ecommerce Hosting plans will integrate with your inventory software and automatically update it so you aren't selling customers products you do not have in stock, and so that your inventory software is updated in near real time as orders come in. This is a fantastic feature, especially for a medium to large online store. However, if you do not have a computerized inventory system or the one you use will not work well (or at all) with the software used by your Ecommerce Hosting provider, this (often relatively expensive feature) would not do you a bit of good.
Here's an example of a feature you probably would want if you have more than a handful of products: an upsell feature. This allows you to offer customers other selected items as part of the checkout process. This is a proven method of increasing sales (if used properly) and is probably worth a bit of extra cost. Ecommerce Hosting providers know this and often do not offer it on their least expensive plans.
You really can't know how well the backend will work for you until you try it. It's a good idea to pay for a month of Ecommerce Hosting to start with and play with the provided Ecommerce software to see if it will work well for you before you commit to it. It's better to pay for a month at the higher priced month-by-month rates and try it, than to jump into to it and set up your entire store only discover that you do not like the way the backend works; or worse, that the backend does not provide a feature you have to have to easily fulfill orders or to run your business. Some Ecommerce Hosting providers offer free trials or offer money-back guarantees -- do not hesitate to take advantage of them. Just be sure to really test the provider's ecommerce solution during that time.Is Ecommerce Hosting for my Business?
If you just want to get your store online without the hassle of installing and managing all the various software needed to make an online store not just work, but work well enough together to provide a great customer experience, go with Ecommerce Hosting. However, if you have very special needs or just want to have a lot of control over how your online store looks and works, you might be better off rolling your own online store with one of the more general hosting options.
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