As the busiest retail period of the year is now almost at a close and the January sales begin, you may be wondering whether your e-commerce hosting platform is up to scratch, and can support increased visitor numbers.
There are lots of compelling business reasons why you shouldn’t wait until you’re experiencing issues to check whether there’s a better hosting provider for your e-commerce site – and anyone charged with running an e-commerce business will testify that downtime is a huge concern.
If your website falters, your revenue will dip, it will cost you money to get back online, customers will disengage, and brand perception may be damaged.
None of these scenarios are positive. But what are the key hosting considerations for e-commerce businesses? What should you be looking for in a provider and what are the easiest ways to see how your current service provider stacks up against the other options out there?
In this blog post, we’ll provide a checklist of vital considerations for anyone reviewing hosting options for their transactional website.
Christmas and the major retail peaks, like Black Friday, are a great way of highlighting why it’s so important to ensure your online presence is shipshape.
Last year, people spent 12% more over the Christmas retail period than the year before. Not only that, many more customers are shopping online, and smartphone purchases were up 117.5% in December last year, compared to 2014.
But throughout the year, e-commerce has been growing. It’s estimated that online sales will rise by another 10.5% this year, similar to the year before, hitting the €174 billion mark.
This amounts to a lot of potential customers, people who are quite prepared to spend money online, and make a purchase with just a few clicks. There has never been a better reason or time to ensure your website can cope with this increasing volume of shoppers.
We know that downtime is a big no-no for any online business, especially in e-commerce. But how do you know which kind of e-commerce hosting platform and provider to choose to get the best service possible?
Firstly, look for a provider with experience in hosting businesses like yours. For example, here at Secura, we support lots of UK-based e-commerce companies, so we have a really good idea of your specific needs and pain points and our UK e-commerce hosting services are popular with a wide range of revenue critical, online businesses.
To help you get to grips with the process of considering a new hosting partner for your business, we’ve compiled a handy checklist to get you started:
Think of this as the flexibility of your solution, so when you have more people using your site, you can up the resources and make sure your platform can cope. When it’s quieter, you can downsize to save money.
This is a savvy business move, particularly for e-commerce businesses effected by seasonality. But this alone won’t be enough; you also need to be able to add this extra capacity quickly and without fuss, and remove it just as easily, so you won’t get charged when the rush is over.
There are different ways to pay for the ability to scale your cloud resources depending on the demands of your traffic.
Metered models, like Azure, Google and AWS allow you to pay for resources as you consume them and you can use budget calculators to get a feel for how much changes to your service will cost. However, many businesses have experienced issues accurately predicting their costs as things scale and pricing can get complicated and hard to control. This can lead to larger than expected bills if you are not quite on top of things.
Resource-based pricing offers a similar level of flexibility, but usage is not metered. You add or remove resources as required, but have more control over the overall levels you commit to your platform. This method is not as dynamic as metered billing, but with a responsive mechanism for adding or removing resources, it is still incredibly flexible.
Finally, if you have (or have opted for) private cloud hosting, you can scale in a modular way by adding additional servers, storage or networking ahead of time, so additional capacity is available to you when you need it.
This is a ‘lumpy’ way to scale your resources, lacking the dynamic, instant nature of scaling on a multi-tenant platform and requires planning and the purchase of additional hardware in advance. But if you prefer a completely dedicated platform and you have the budget to give yourself this additional headroom, it is a good way to ensure your platform will cope with seasonal spikes.
It’s a hot topic for most e-commerce businesses, and with good reason. When choosing a cloud provider, you should always check their security certifications and accreditations, as well as their general understanding of what is required from an infrastructure perspective to secure an e-commerce website.
Are they comfortable with PCI compliance processes and do they (and their data centre partners) have the relevant ISO certifications? From a data privacy and handling point of view, the key ISO accreditation you are looking for is 27001, which will let you know that your provider understands how to deal with data and that processes are in place to handle it securely.
For complete peace of mind, you are looking for hosting with high availability throughout the platform, network and data centre facilities. Covering off all these areas ensures there’s no single point of failure, which effectively means you’ll be online and available round the clock and no single failure will take your site down.
Recent studies by industry experts have revealed that downtime has cost UK businesses up to £12 billion a year. To avoid being one of the companies in this category, look for a solid Service Level Agreement (SLA). This ensures that the performance of your site is guaranteed.
For example, at Secura our SLA is at 99.99%, so always delivering and keeping you online. There are lots of 100% SLAs on the market but it is worth digging deeper to see what the availability of those providers has been like over the last 12 months.
A 100% SLA is not a guarantee of continual availability, just some form of compensation (usually service credits) when that 100% availability level is not reached. This may or may not be any comfort if your site is down in a peak trading period!
Just like high availability, choosing a cloud service that can deliver the right level of performance ensures everything runs smoothly.
In this case, a high-performance hosting platform will do its part to ensure the website will work fast (there are many other factors as well), so users won’t get frustrated with a poorly performing application.
Understanding some basics about the underlying technology of your hosting will give you the confidence you’re paying for a modern, up-to-date platform. A lack of transparency could be a potential alarm bell.
Some things to consider: Does your application have access to SSD storage for rapid read/write? Do platform upgrades require website downtime? Are platform resources contended? On some shared cloud hosting setups for example, you’ll be vying for resources with other companies, and this can slow things down for your customers.
Make sure you’re familiar with how your providers’ platform deals with multiple tenants and platform resources.
24/7 Technical Support
The nature of modern business is that e-commerce is around the clock (particularly online), so you need to be sure that you can meet the needs of your customers at any time of the day or night.
When you have an issue, you need to know you can call at any time of the day or any day of the week and speak to an expert who can solve your issue.
But more than that, look for a provider that will proactively respond to issues before they get out of hand, monitoring your site and infrastructure to ensure it remains healthy, as well as responding to any issue you may report.
Choosing the right cloud provider requires consideration and research. This can make it feel a little difficult knowing where to start. Keep in mind your own individual requirements and the fact that e-commerce sites have differing requirements to other websites and need some key elements to be in place to make sure everything is efficient, secure and responsive.
With that in mind, it’s always worth checking if a service provider has the right experience in e-commerce hosting, a platform designed to support transactional websites effectively, and customer case studies to back it up.
To get specialist hosting for e-commerce, or to get a better feel for what you should be looking for in a cloud provider, simply get in touch with our team today.
As Secura's CTO, Dan is responsible for the team that design, build and maintain our cutting edge cloud hosting infrastructure. He is also the dishwasher police - stack it or else.
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