Tag Archives: Ecommerce

eCommerce Web Site Building: Where Do I Start?

Building a web site isn’t something that is really cut and dry. There’s a huge variety of products and services that can either help you get your web site where you want it or simply confuse you. It’s also important that you make the right choices upfront so that you don’t end up having to restructure your whole web site because of some problem in your design layout. The level of time investment necessary for mastery in a lot of these software packages can range from little to a VERY significant amount. Because of this I feel it’s important to be lead in the “right” direction to make sure you don’t spend time in the wrong areas, or learning some software that might not be all that useful for you later on (*coughs* Frontpage *coughs*).

Where you should start greatly depends on what you plan on attempting to do, and how deep you’re going to dive in. For a moderately professional, clean looking web site without a lot of automation or intensive animated graphics you can probably get by with some basic knowledge of html, ability with a good WYSIWYG editor, and an image editing program. On the other hand, if you’re someone that’s looking to build something that will really wow your audience then you might consider spending some major time and developing some animation skills with a program like Macro media Flash. I personally always spring for what I believe will bring me the greatest amount of profit with a minimal amount of effort, and because of this I usually end up spending all of my time diving in deeper with ONLY my WYSIWYG HTML editor, and my image editor.

## What is a “WYSIWYG” editor? ##
A WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) HTML editor is what allows you to get by with minimal knowledge of HTML. Yes, that means you don’t have to know EVERYTHING about HTML to have a decent looking website. When you use a WYSIWYG editor it interprets what you’re doing (inserting an image for example) as being a certain series of HTML tags with attributes, and does it for you… Thus, what you see on your screen is what you get. Instead of seeing a bunch of HTML code in text format, you’ll mostly see what will actually show up in your browser once your web site is up WHILE you’re making it. I highly recommend using the latest version of dreamweaver — it is well-known as one of the best HTML editors by general consensus. Dreamweaver’s interface is very friendly, has a built in FTP client, and is specifically built to be flexible enough to suit both the coder and the everyday amatuer webmaster.

## Image editing? What do I need that for? ##
Okay, let’s be realistic here: If you’re going to make a professional *appearing* web site it’s important that you can make some basic, decent looking graphics. There’s a lot of graphics problems that can truly get the job done, but as far as power and flexibility goes I recommend Adobe Photoshop. Adobe Photoshop definitely takes some time getting used to, but in the end it’s VERY rewarding. I’ve ended up using my knowledge of Photoshop to make not only graphics for multiple web sites, but also touched up portraits, made business cards, flyers, and other online advertisments such as banners. In fact, I’ve used it for everything except animation… But it also comes with Adobe Image-ready which is very good with animation. This software is amazing, and if you’re going to learn ANY image editing software I recommend you start with Photoshop because of it’s wide range of overall… usefulness!

## Let’s get me some sales! ##
Kick off your new web site you’ve gotten up from your knowledge of web mastering and image editing with a few new sales… Sounds like a plan? Well a great way to do that quickly is with pay-per-click advertising. BUT WAIT! Doesn’t that cost money? Well… Yes. But with the tools brought to us by some of the biggest pay-per-click advertisers out there we should be able to make a good evaluation of how much profit we’re going to make without much investment upfront.

The big question behind pay-per-click advertising is whether or not it’s worth the cash when you can simply get traffic from regular search engine ranking (otherwise known as organic traffic). After all, there are plenty of companies out there that promise to help get you all the traffic you need through optimizing your web site for organic ranking. The answer to this question is quite simple: profit is profit. Through conversion tracking tools such as those offered by Yahoo! Search Marketing and Google Adwords anyone can calculate exactly what their profit is after cost of PPC advertising is taken out. In my opinion, Google Adwords has the most user-friendly interface among the PPC advertisers. Google Adword’s interface makes it very easy to see which keywords are pulling you in the most sales, and which ones aren’t even worth your advertising money.

Let us not forget, however, that in order to make those conversions we’re going to be needing a shopping cart! There’s a lot of diverse software packages out there you can use, but I’ve been using Mal’s E-Commerce Free shopping cart for a number of years with great success. The cart’s server is hosted on their machines so that means you not only get away with not having to pay for the software itself, but you get out of having to buy an SSL security ticket too! Nothing’s a better bargain than free, eh?

## Getting those sales leads you’ve been building up to BUY! ##

Once you’ve scored a few sales it would probably be a good idea to start using some kind of lead management services. I highly recommend the use of auto responders for this purpose. Auto responders are, essentially, a newsletter sign-up that allows you to strategically determine what you want to send each lead after a certain allotted amount of time. For example, let’s say someone visits your web site and you offer them a free newsletter. If you were selling an ebook on some very complicated topic, you might consider sending them only information on the most basic concepts at first to get them interested. Slowly but surely, you can turn those visitors that might have left your web site and never have returned into some serious revenue!

Finding the Right Web Host

Finding the Right Web Host

Choosing the right Web Hosting service for your website can be a little bit confusing. There’s so many choices out there and many people aren’t exactly sure what they should be looking for.

Here’s a few things you should take into consideration when looking for a Web Host:

File Storage Space/ Disk Space

How much disk space do you need? That depends on how many files (pages) you plan to upload to your hosting space. If it’s a personal or ecommerce site (a site that sells products) with just a few pages and graphics, than 25 MB of disk space a month should be more than enough. If it’s a multi-page site such as an online shopping mall, then 2000 MB would be safe.

Storage space is specified in kilobytes KB, megabytes MB, or gigabytes GB, a megabyte is 1000 kilobytes and a gigabyte is 1000 megabytes.

Bandwidth / Traffic / Transfer

All words above are used interchangeably. It’s the amount of data that flows through your site, the amount of hits or how many people visit your site. If you’re expecting a few hundred hits a day then 10, 15 of 25 GB of Transfer should be enough. If you’re expecting hundreds of thousands of hits every month then you should get a hosting account with as much Bandwidth as possible.
Bandwidth is usually expressed in Gigabytes.

CGI

Common Gateway Interface, is a protocol script used to make your site dynamic. Flash banners, moving objects. With the right web design program or scripting knowledge and a host that offers CGI you can easily bring your site to life.

Front-page Extensions

Now-a-days more sites are offering Frontpage extensions. Microsoft Frontpage is a WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) web design program that lets you easily create web pages while the software does all the coding behind the scenes. The great thing about using Frontpage and having a host with Frontpage extensions is once you design your web pages all you have to do is click one button that says “publish site” and all your pages go from your computer to your hosting space with one click.

Shared Hosting / Dedicated Servers

Shared hosting, or sometimes called basic hosting means that the web space that you rent will be shared on the same web server with other clients of the company you’ve purchased web space from. This is the most common.

If you purchase a Dedicated server it means your website will have it’s own unique server. This is the preferred choice for sites with a huge amount of traffic and many graphics that would take to long to load on a shared server.

Finding a Web Host can be confusing if you’re not sure what to look for. If you’re planning on having an average website with a few hundred hits or fewer a day, than shared hosting is the way to go.

Ecommerce Hosting For Your Online Business

When you plan to start an online business, you will need to find a reliable web host that meets your requirements. Searching for a reliable and cheap web host is not an easy task. But if you know what you are looking for, it makes your task simpler.

You can trust a cheap web host only if it meets your business requirements. The process of verification comprises of some common issues and some other issues specific to your business.

A major concern is the quality of support provided by the host. You could e-mail a cheap web hosting company a few times to get an estimate of the response time they provide.

You should also try to analyze the quality of the answers provided by them. Are the answers really in-depth or do they just cover the basic things? Make enquiry  about the various methods of support. Most web hosting companies offer online support personnel, message boards and help desks.

A web hosting company that provides the correct balance of substance and promptness would be an ideal solution for you.

Some key points to consider before choosing your web host:

1. Storage Space

It is an important parameter to begin your search for a reliable web host. You require at least 100 MB space for even a simple site. Most good web hosts offer a minimum of 1 GB space to their customers.

2. Bandwidth

It is another important part of the verification process. Most good web hosts offer 25 to 50 GB Bandwidth.

3. Support System

As discussed in the beginning of the article, it is the most important point to check.

4. Secure Servers

A secure server is an essential requirement if you are selling products/services online. Try to look for web hosting companies providing SSL encryption since this will guarantee security for all money transactions conducted on your site.

5. Private CGI-BIN

It is a good scheme to have a private CGI-BIN directory for the safety of your files. This is where you store your binary scripts and interactive programs including shopping carts and payment processing.

6. Web Log

This would help you a lot to keep track of various statistics for your business. These statistics aid you to develop new strategies to retain your present customers and attract new customers.

7. Operating System and Program Language Capabilities

All reputed web hosting companies allow front page on either a UNIX or Windows based system. Many web hosts provide both Windows and UNIX based hosting but the rates may differ.

8. Credibility

The web host should be reputed amongst its customer base.

9. Physical Location

Last, but not the least, the physical location of the servers is also an important consideration. Is the location prone to natural calamities or political insecurity?

A very practical and useful method to find a good web host is to discuss with people you know (vendors/business associates/friends) that have web sites. Enquire about their experiences with their current and past web hosting services.

Most of the cheap web hosting companies assure you of free technical support. However, a major concern with many of these companies is that you learn about their incapability when it is too late. The fact is that they simply fail to deliver their promises. Their cheap rates do not allow for the proper staffing needed to deliver the required customer support.

With a high quality and reputed web hosting company, you will pay a little more but the truth is, in business, you get what you pay for. So, if you are really serious about your business and also your time, consider web hosts starting at the top.

Is Your Website Credit Card Friendly?

In my last column I discussed the process of credit card enabling your brick-and-mortar business. I pointed out that research has shown that accepting credit cards can help increase revenue and enhance cash flow. I also pointed out that you may have to look beyond your local bank for help in getting things set up. This week we will look at setting up an online payment system for your business website. If you think hooking up a brick-and-mortar location with a credit card system stymies most bankers, try asking them how to do it on your website.

If you’ll recall, the question that spurred this topic came from a lady who went to her local bank for help in setting up a credit card acceptance system for her business and her banker wasn’t very knowledgeable on the subject. I pointed out that her banker’s ignorance of the subject probably wasn’t a reflection on his skills as a banker, but a reflection on the compartmentalization of the credit card aspect of banking.

The fact is, most banks can provide you with the merchant account needed to accept credit card payments, but beyond that have little to do with the process. Even larger banks may only have a single person on staff who is tasked as the “credit card expert” and if that person ever goes on vacation, you’re pretty much out of luck (voice of experience talking here, folks).

I have helped many clients set up online credit card processing systems and more than once I’ve had to sit down with the bank issuing the merchant account and educate them on how online payment systems work. Don’t believe me? This is a direct quote (here’s the Bible, here’s my hand) from the bank employee who was in charge of processing internet merchant account applications, “When someone pays online how do they swipe the credit card in their computer…”

Much like a brick and mortar credit card processing system, you will need the following to accept credit cards on your website:

(1) an electronic shopping cart system that allows the customer to select products and checkout when ready;

(2) a payment gateway service to get approval or declination of the credit card;

(3) a credit card processor who will process the transaction; and

(4) an internet merchant account issued by an acquiring bank in which processed funds are deposited.

We covered most of these elements last week. Here’s a quick refresher for those who missed the basics, then we’ll talk about a shopping cart system.

Payment Gateway Service: The payment gateway service comes into play when a customer submits their credit card information to the webpage form. Think of the gateway service as the middleman in the process. The website’s shopping cart checkout system electronically submits the credit card to the gateway service who then routes the information to the processor for approval. Depending on the reply from the processor, the gateway service will return an approval or declination for the purchase. This entire process takes just seconds to perform.

Credit Card Processor: The credit card processor is an electronic data center that processes the credit card transactions coming from the gateway company, ensures that the charge is valid, then settles the funds in your merchant account.

Internet Merchant Account: An Internet merchant account is a bank or financial institution account in which funds from online sales are deposited. Merchant accounts are usually issued by banks who are associated with the major credit card services like Visa and MasterCard. Be aware that many banks will not grant merchant accounts to Internet merchants as they are often categorized as “high risk ventures.” This policy varies widely and in the end, the granting of the merchant account will come down to economics from the bank’s point of view. If the bank sees even the smallest iota of risk, you will not be granted the account. Fortunately, the growth of online sales has given rise to an entire industry of merchant service bureaus that will grant you a merchant account and everything else you need to accept online payments. The fees are usually higher, but it’s better than not having an online payment system at all.

Shopping Cart System. To accept online payments you must have what’s called a “shopping cart system” that allows your customer to choose and purchase products. Adding a shopping cart system to your website can be simple or complex, cheap or very expensive. It depends on the product you’re selling and the options you wish to offer your customers. As in everything, you get what you pay for.

A shopping cart system typically consists of three components: a product catalog, the shopping cart, and a checkout/payment system. The product catalog is your inventory component and displays the items you have for sale on the website. The checkout/payment system is the part of the program that allows your customers to “add this to my cart,” and the checkout/ payment system is the component that allows the customer to checkout and pay for their purchase.

There is a wide variety of shopping cart software on the market and the price is dependent on the features you want. Shopping cart systems range from simple HTML form insertions to full- blown catalog and inventory systems like those used by Amazon or Dell.

You can spend from zero to tens of thousands of dollars. Some of them you can set up on your site yourself while others should be set up by someone who knows what they’re doing.

You can get a free Paypal.com shopping cart system which is the most simplistic in nature, but the easiest to implement. Using Paypal also alleviates the need for a bank merchant account because everything is handled by Paypal, for a fee of course. You insert HTML forms into your website code and when an item is purchased.

There are also numerous online companies who will assist in the setup of your ecommerce / credit card system. These companies charge several hundred to several thousand dollars for their services, so it would be wise for you to have an idea of exactly what you need before calling them into play.

Customer submits credit card. The site sends the transaction to the gateway. The gateway sends the info to the processor. The processor contacts the issuing bank of the customers credit card. The issuing bank returns the result of the processor. The processor routs the result to the gate. The gateway passes the result to the website. The website displays the result.

One thing to remember when setting up an ecommerce system on your site is this: online it’s all about security and privacy. Though online credit card processing has been around for years there are still many people who are uncomfortable giving their credit card number online. These are the same folks that do not hesitate to give their credit card number over the phone to a complete stranger or hand their credit card to a waiter who disappears with it for ten minutes. Online credit card processing is much less susceptible to fraud and abuse than either telephone processing or giving it to a waiter.

Eighty-five percent of internet users surveys said that a lack of security made them uncomfortable sending credit card information over the Web.

It’s up to you to instill a sense of security and make the customer comfortable shoving their card into their computer.

Here’s to your success.

What Is Electronic-Data-Interchange?

Electronic-Data-Interchange, or EDI is a method of computer to computer exchange of various types of information. While many people know of the internet and the World Wide Web as communication methods, the electronic-data-interchange is much similar. It allows the transfer of data from one place to the next with very minimal need for people to get involved.

Today, the Electronic-Data-Interchange is regulated. It offers specific interchange methods that transpire overseas and nationally as standard bodies when it comes to moving information and business transactions from one place to the next. For example, this is the most common form of communication in the process of purchasing goods and services. Communication for the location to the financial institution to deliver a message of the amount of funds required, in this case, is what data will be transferred.

In most cases, the information that is transmitted in an electronic data interchange is done so that companies can communicate. They can provide information to allow business transactions or the passage of very important information. For example, in the healthcare industry they can be used to help communicate through the network about a patient allowing for a faster method of receiving information. This technology is still being developed in many areas, though.

In fact, more and more so, people are turning to Electronic-Data-Interchange as their means of communication especially with more people turning to the Internet. The Electronic-Data-Interchange allows for networks of all sorts to communicate and this is helping ecommerce as a great way for companies to buy, sell or trade information and services. In fact, ANSI has just approved a set of Electronic-Data-Interchange standards. They are known as the X12 standards. Nonetheless, you will see more and more people using them because more and more people are getting online to do just these things.

Online Backup: The Simple Value

There are many reasons to use online backup. The simple fact is that your computer could get invaded or destroyed in minutes and it can happen completely and suddenly as well. The fact is that more and more people are falling victim to this type of occurrence every day. What happens is that it leaves you without all that you know and need and leaves you without any way of fixing it. Online backup is the perfect solution though because it allows you the ability to save whatever it is that you need to without thought or worry about anything happening to it.

Online backup should be thought of as a file cabinet for all of your important information. By using online databases to store this information, you are safeguarding it from anything that may happen to your computer’s hard drive or memory. You can store just about any type of information that you need to and it is completely and utterly safe. Most information that is saved in this manner is safeguarded from other people as well. You can make sure of this by not providing your personal information nor your username and password to retrieve it.

Why do you need online backup? Well, there are many reasons. And, there are many things that you can store in there. For example, you may find that there are business clients as well as a number of corporations that store their information on their computers. In these cases, a crash can be awful. In the case of the personal ecommerce entrepreneur, important contact information for clients as well the product lists and availabilities are all necessary and yet they too can fall victim to a crash if they are stored on the computer. Online backup systems can help avoid all of this information loss as well as much more.

Network Monitoring for Serious eCommerce

In the real world, businesses come in every size, from self-employed entrepreneurs like me to mega malls like Wal-Mart.

On the Internet, companies come in every size, too, from a stand-alone ebook sales page with webmaster and owner all in one, to 300 pound gorilla like Amazon, with over a million pages requiring the entire population of a small country to serve as webmaster.

If your site is a single page, it is its own network. But if your site is any bigger, and you have plans to grow, it is a network or is fast becoming one. You need network monitoring.

Most ecommerce webmasters are at least somewhat familiar with website monitoring. Many use a website monitoring service or software to keep track of “uptime” and “downtime”.

At your local shopping mall, serious business requires more than just knowing when the front doors are open and when they are closed. Serious ecommerce needs to know more than just when the site is accessible. That is what network monitoring is all about.

Chances are, your e-business owns one of the following, or uses one of the following remotely:

DNS servers: These are used to translate your site name, like www.mycompany.com, to the numbers called “IP addresses” that computers understand. If DNS servers are not working properly, end-users will not be able to find your site and will get an error. Usually only an external or remote monitoring service will detect such a problem.

An FTP server: File Transfer Protocol servers are used to help you
exchange files with remote users. If you use FTP, a monitoring
service can make sure it is always up and running.

POP3 and SMTP servers: These are used for exchanging emails. If you are using email, chances are you are using SMTP and POP3. If your SMTP server is down, everyone who sends you email will receive an error, stating that your mail
server is down and cannot accept incoming email. To say that the impression this leaves your customers is bad would be an understatement. If your POP3 server is down, you will be unable to retrieve email from your mailbox. Once again, only external monitoring will prevent such a problem.

Firewalls: Many businesses use firewalls to protect their internal network from un-authorized traffic, such as spyware, viruses and sabotage by competitors. Furthermore, a firewall is your first line of defense. If your firewall goes down, your whole network may actually become inaccessible from outside. In other words, if you host your own web site and mail servers, those will become
inaccessible to the outside world if your firewall goes down. Once again, remote network monitoring is required to detect that a problem exists and quickly get it repaired.

Internet connections: Users come to your network from multiple backbones, depending on the company they use to connect to the Internet and their location. It is important to ensure that your connection performs well for each user. A remote monitoring service can ping your networks from multiple locations around the world, thus testing most major routes to your web server or network. Before hiring a network monitoring service, check to see that they have both your customer geography and the Internet backbone layout covered.

Very few websites of any size and functionality are anything less than a complete network, and many networks rely on servers in different parts of the world.

A good network monitoring service can ensure, as a base, that all servers are properly functioning, that data can be sent to and received from each server, and that each function sharing the server responds as required. An advanced network monitoring service can even remotely monitor the temperature of your servers.

What you need to monitor depends on how extensive your network is. A network monitoring expert can help you determine what needs monitoring. If you own the servers, or are remotely hosted on dedicated servers, you most likely need everything monitored. If your site is hosted on shared servers, you might need fewer functions monitored.

Use Your Hobby To Launch A Successful Website

When you study the really successful websites, you will quickly notice that many are based on seemingly strange subjects, many of which may not easily pass for a serious business.

This clearly underlines the fact that when it comes to online enterprises and ecommerce, the possibilities are endless and you can actually succeed at virtually anything. There seems to be just one condition. You need to be passionate about whatever it is your website is about.

Jeff Bezos had a passion for books and that is one of the reasons why he borrowed money from his parents and launched Amazon.com. The rest is history and today Amazon earns Bezos and his associates millions of dollars.

This is precisely the reason why the first place you should look for an idea for your online enterprise and website, is your hobby. What are you passionate about? Or what do you really care about?

Establishing a successful online venture is hard work and it helps a lot if the subject matter that you are dealing with is close to your heart. It helps transform your chores from work to having fun. The facts are that people usually become wildly successful doing things that they enjoy doing. The more fun you have at your business, the higher the chances of success.

Having selected the hobby you want to turn into a business, It will help tremendously if you carefully analyze the potential online demand for the various businesses related to your hobby. This is easily done by studying popular keywords statistics and is a very important thing to do before launching any online business or website.

For example your hobby could be golf. By studying keywords, you may find that Golf stretch exercises are a very popular subject. This would be a pointer that the right business to start would be something to do with golf exercises. You can, for example, sell golf exercise equipment at your website.

This is the way to cash in on your hobby or passion and birth a hugely successful website or online enterprise.

Web Hosting Strategy for Managing Multiple Websites

If you are making a comfortable living from the Internet and the Web or have a plan to achieve that goal, it’s likely that you are running more than ten websites. The websites are your virtual offices. You want to your sites to be up and running 365 days, 7 days a week and 24 hours a day. Managing multiple websites is a daunting task if running one website is a hobby.


Proposed Hosting Strategy for Managing Multiple Websites

The hosting strategy we propose is to host your multiple major websites with 3-4 different hosting companies, and open a reseller account with another hosting company for 1) small and new websites, 2) web development and 3) backup. Hosting with too many hosting companies will significantly increase the time and the difficulty of managing sites, and using a single hosting company isn’t a smart choice either.

Justification of the Hosting Strategy

Cost – Cost of the Web hosting isn’t an issue for running a single web site whether it costs $5 or $25 a month. The difference is only a few hundred dollars or less a year. It’s always nice and smart to get the most out of every single dollar in doing business. At least, a few hundred dollars difference wouldn’t make or break a business. If you run 10 or even 50 websites, the cost of Web hosting alone will define the success or failure of your online adventure. To cut the hosting cost, the option is to use a reseller hosting account to host as many small or new sites as you want for about $15 a month. You host one or 2 major websites with one hosting company. Shared hosting account costs under $10 a month, and dedicated server will cost $50 or more a month.

Uptime – If your bread-and-butter maker website is down for a few hours, you’ll lose hundreds of dollars and more. Even though most hosting companies promise 99.9% uptime, it’s not common to see a website down for a few hours. A site could be down for a half day or even more if a hosting company is doing a major update. The hosting company may do the update in a weekend or a major holiday, but that’s when many family-oriented and travel sites generate their revenues. If you could afford the loss of revenues, many websites owners can’t bear the psychological loss and pressure. Hosting your sites with a few hosting companies will reduce the risk of downtime.

Application Development – For simple web application, webmasters will do development on the same production hosting site. If your ecommerce applications are complex, doing development on the production site may bring down the live site especially if you’re in the process of changing configuration files or install customized applications. The option is setup a website on your reseller account for development and testing, and move the applications to production account on another server after the completion.

Backup – If you’re not happy with a hosting company, a hosting company is out of business, or the servers will be down for a day or two, you can easily temporarily or permanently switch from one hosting company to other since you’re familiar with the site managing tools already. If you have a backup or secondary copy running on another server, all you need for the switch is the transfer of the domain, which will take no more than a minute.


Shop Before You Buy

There’re too many hosting plans to choose from a large number of hosting companies – ASP Web Hosting, Budget Hosting, Dedicated Servers, eCommerce Hosting, FrontPage Web Hosting, Hosting With Templates ( http://www.theserving.com ) , Managed Web Hosting, PHP Web Hosting, Reseller Hosting, Shared Hosting, Unix / Linux Hosting, Virtual Private Servers, Windows Hosting or Co-location Hosting. Compare the cost, hosting features, tracking records of hosting companies before making your commitment. Good luck with your online adventures.

Ecommerce Hosting Considerations

Website hosting can be a complex undertaking. Determining how much space you need, how much transfer, finding a reliable host, and getting everything online is no simple task. Add ecommerce to the mix and things become even more complex. This article will deal with some of those additional complications to finding a host for an online store. All of the same considerations to finding general hosting can be applied to ecommerce hosting, there are simply a few additional ones that need some attention.

Basics- Disk Space and Transfer
The core states of any kind of hosting, ecommerce or not, remain space and transfer, or traffic. Generally measured in monthly increments, your space and transfer will place a crucial role in determining just what size plan you need. Ecommerce sites will, generally speaking, require more space and transfer than an equivalent sized site without ecommerce. This is due to the presence of the shopping cart upon which the online storefront is based. Shopping cart programs are installed to the account on which they operate, requiring space, and their scripts for running the store will require additional transfer to handle customers as they browse, add items to their cart, and check out. Will there be a tremendous amount of extra transfer required by the cart? That depends on how many use the cart and on the cart itself. This is why its best to start small and having a clear upgrade path to handle future popularity.

Prospective online merchants will generally have a good idea how many products they’ll be selling initially. This will vary wildly from merchant to merchant, and many merchants don’t put their entire stocks online. It is wise to start with a considered selection of products first, especially if you wish to initially keep your hosting plan small and upgrade as the store prospers. Those with a great deal of products need to be aware they will probably be facing a bigger monthly fee for a larger hosting plan. Once the decision is made regarding the products, attention can be turned to finding a suitable shopping cart program to contain them.

Shopping Cart
The choice of shopping cart can be a personal one. Those entirely new to ecommerce will probably not have any experience with any kind of shopping cart software. There are a number of popular choices, and most hosting companies will provide one, if not a variety, from which you can choose. It is important to find a shopping cart that suits the individual user, as attempting to change your shopping down the road can be a long process that will, most likely, bring your store down during a transitional period. Don’t immediately jump at the first cart a host offers. Ask if they have demos and try them out. Be sure it’s a program you can learn and use, as it is the primary way you’ll be doing your online business. Even if you have a large business and have a design firm setting up the cart, a rudimentary knowledge of the cart’s processes is highly recommended.

Learn as much about your prospective shopping cart software as possible. Make sure it supports SSL, a common site security protocol that will help keep your customer’s credit card numbers safe when ordering online. It will need to support your merchant account and payment gateway. In many cases a host might bundle these services, so compatibility isn’t an issue. If you secured your merchant services separately from hosting, be sure they are compatible. Find out if the cart has a recommended maximum product limit and, of course, try not to exceed it. The store may slow down and perform poorly if there are too many products in it.

Finally, make sure it will do everything you want it to do. Some merchants sell services and download-able items that don’t conform exactly to the order-product-ship-product flow. If your cart doesn’t support these features by default, there may be 3rd party add-ons that will provide this functionality. Miva Merchant is one such shopping cart with a very active 3rd party developer community providing a wide range of add-ons, or “modules” to extend the feature set of the original program. The merchant will have to buy these add-ons and have them installed on their own initiative, though, and the hosting company will not be able to support them.

Reliability and Support
Perhaps of greatest importance is reliability in your chosen host. Think in terms of a “brick and mortar” storefront. If someone locks the front door during business hours, then no customers can come in and nothing is sold. Similarly, if an online store is down at any hour, no customers can come in and nothing is sold. You want the most reliable hosting for such a mission-critical site. Never just take the word of a hosting company’s site in regards to their uptime. Do research and look for customer reviews of your prospective host. Online merchants should always be willing to pay more for a reliable hosting company with good uptime and support. A good rule of thumb is to stay away from free or “bargain basement” hosts, since support and uptime are usually the first things to suffer with this kind of hosting.

Conclusions
Finding the right ecommerce hosting company requires a few additional considerations. Decide on your products, your shopping cart, and then shop for your hosting company. You will need more space and transfer than an equivalent site, but start small with your product selection and you can still save money on your hosting. Find a shopping cart that’s easy for you to use and understand, as switching at a later date can result in downtime and a lot of work transferring your products. Finally, make sure your host has solid uptime, as an online store that’s down isn’t generating any sales.