E-commerce website hosting
E-commerce systems can range from basic storefronts that simply manage email orders to complex systems integrated with multiple aspects of your business. To determine how you want to proceed, there are a few basic questions you need to answer about your e-commerce hosting and management. This will help you determine which providers to focus on during your search.
Who will host the e-commerce software?
One option is to host the software yourself, which means that you buy and install the software on your own servers. This includes purchasing an SSL certificate for security and setting up appropriate connections to the other parts of your website and company databases.
This option is best for companies that already host their own website and have sufficient technical staff to maintain it. In-house hosting allows you to maintain tight links to your existing ordering and inventory systems, and permits a greater level of customization, both in terms of the features and look of the store and the back-end interface. The main drawback is that it can require a lot of time to implement. Plus, ongoing maintenance can be a drain on your internal resources.
The other choice is to have the e-commerce software hosted by an external company. That considerably reduces your operational burden. It may, however, also result in less flexibility in appearance, features, and integration with your internal systems. This path is probably best for companies interested in testing the online shopping waters with as little investment as possible, or smaller companies looking to e-commerce as a supplement to their existing business.
Who will set up your store?
Regardless of where your site is hosted, you can do the initial configuration and set up yourself, or you can hire an e-commerce website vendor to do it for you. For businesses just starting out in e-commerce, and for the most complex projects, the best option is to use an e-commerce development firm.
For firms new to online commerce, working with an expert helps avoid some of the pitfalls and ensures that you get off on the right foot. And hiring a consulting firm is a better choice when extensive integration challenges are involved, since they provide considerable experience in combining multiple products into an efficient e-commerce system.
However if you have qualified technical personnel with some experience in e-commerce, you can save money by doing the development in-house. Many hosted solutions are fairly easy to set up, although connecting to merchant accounts and ensuring you have appropriate security in place can be a challenge.
Who will maintain the catalog and manage orders?
As with hosting and initially creating your site, you can maintain the catalog on your own or through an external company. In most cases, it's better to manage your catalog in-house. This doesn't require technical expertise - with the right interface, any computer-savvy employee can handle it. You should, however, look for an online interface that's easy to manage.
Doing it yourself is cheaper in the long run, and allows you to be more flexible. You don't want to have to call your provider every time you want to change the price on one of your products.
However, if you have your site hosted by an e-commerce provider, you can have them manage your orders and make updates. While this may increase your monthly fee, it removes the burden of updating your store from your employees.
Do you have a merchant account?
To start accepting credit cards online, you will need a credit card merchant account. A merchant account allows you to accept credit cards and have payments transferred to your bank account. For a full discussion about how to choose a credit card merchant account provider, check out our Credit Card Processing Buyer's Guide.
While some e-commerce providers will set you up with a merchant account, most will be able to work with an existing merchant account provider if you already have one. Just make sure you check with your e-commerce vendor.