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eCommerce Web Hosting: How to Find the Best Service for Selling Products Online
If you've decided that you're ready to take your business online, your next step will be finding an eCommerce host.
What is eCommerce web hosting?
Like a regular web host, an eCommerce web host makes your web site available on the World Wide Web. Unlike regular web hosting, however, eCommerce hosting often involves much more complex interactions between a web site's creator and its visitors. Visitors browse or search for products, make selections, calculate costs, shipping, and taxes, enter shipping information, and pay with a credit card or electronic check. They expect all of this to be done on a secure site so their transactions are protected from people trying to steal their personal information.
The web site's owner must be able to update or change products offered, receive orders and shipping information, contact customers if they have questions or problems, and make sure the customer's payment gets to their bank account.
Some regular web hosting services also offer or support the software needed for eCommerce hosting, but web hosts dedicated to eCommerce may have simpler processes for setting up your online business.
What should I look for in eCommerce web hosting?
When you are searching for an eCommerce host, you should look for a balance between cost and services. Free or very inexpensive eCommerce web hosts may or may not offer the services you need, while very expensive programs sometimes offer much more than the average business needs.
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Some key things to look for in any eCommerce web host include:
- High uptime. Though any web server will be down occasionally, the more time they are down, the less opportunity customers have to shop at your online store. Look for eCommerce hosts that guarantee 99% uptime.
- Good customer service. Being able to speak to a live person by phone at any time is ideal, though 24/7 live Internet chat may be fine for those who feel more comfortable troubleshooting computer and Internet problems.
- Support of SSL. SSL is the encryption technology that allows businesses to make secure transactions.
- Shopping carts. Some eCommerce services provide a shopping cart for you, but otherwise your eCommerce web host needs to support shopping carts so you can use your own.
- Payment gateway compatibility. A payment gateway allows you to take payments online. If your web host doesn't support a payment gateway, you would only be able to take payments over the phone or through email, which would discourage most customers.
- Track record. A brand new company may be fine, but it's hard to know how well it will perform or how long it will be around. Older web hosting services with good reviews are a safer bet.
Some eCommerce hosts offer complete packages, from helping you design your web site to completing the checkout and payment process, while others don't provide these services, but support the software you will need to provide them yourself. When you are choosing am eCommerce web host, you can decide how much of the package you are willing to put together yourself, and what you are willing to pay for it.
Marshall Brain, How E-commerce Works [online]
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