When considering a re-platform to an existing e-store, whether it’s to improve performance, boost sales or even to optimize the customer experience, many areas demand attention. These include the front-end platform where customers engage, the order management system, merchandising, marketing, site aesthetics and billing.
While hosting may not grab the spotlight, changes in hosting will influence each and every one of the functions that customers engage with, and the right or wrong decision in hosting can have a dramatic impact.
Signs of a poor hosting solution can include the order management system loading very slowly, resulting in frustrated customers. Slow performance can also negatively impact marketing efforts and, ultimately, be damaging to your brand. Thus, when re-platforming, it’s really worthwhile paying close attention to selecting the right hosting provider in the early stages of strategic planning. Given the number of hosting providers on the market, this is easier said than done.
Here are six key questions to consider when in the process of looking for the best hosting partner for your ecommerce business.
1. Will my infrastructure scale easily?
Seamless, smooth scaling of your hosting infrastructure is essential to most ecommerce environments. This can be especially relevant during holidays and other popular shopping events, such as Cyber Monday, when website traffic increases dramatically. Provisioning for peaks is important but it is just as important to consider what your requirements will be during the other 11 months of the year.
For instance, what if your product gets an unexpected celebrity endorsement? What if your new marketing campaign strikes gold, bringing thousands of new consumers to your site? Conversely, what if you want to consolidate and reduce traffic for a period? A constantly geared up “just in case” contract may give you peace of mind, but can be very expensive.
Retailers who don’t think ahead to these “what if” scenarios may see their website grind to a crawl under the pressure of high traffic volumes, or crash altogether. That’s what happened to Best Buy on Cyber Monday 2014, when its site went dark at the peak of online shopping. Best Buy later said that its website crashed under a concentrated spike in mobile traffic, potentially losing the company thousands, if not millions, of dollars.
When meeting with a new hosting provider, ask how they build infrastructure that can cope with both expected and unexpected demands, without getting overloaded. Also ask about continuous monitoring and capacity testing capabilities, which can help flag similar concentrated spikes in traffic, so that they can be proactively addressed before impacting website speeds.
2. Will my site always be on?
While high traffic is a top cause of website outages, it’s good to remember other potential root causes. Webpages can go down for just a couple of minutes when a hosting provider restarts a server or adds CPU, for example. Even a few seconds could mean lost transactions, and anything longer could lose customer confidence. In fact, according to Aberdeen Group, a one second delay in page load time could result in as much as a 7 percent loss of conversions.
Ask your hosting provider how they’ll support every transaction, around the clock. Choose a hosting partner that can ensure robust service level agreements (SLAs) for uptime and availability and can offer a zero downtime guarantee with full backup and recovery should the worst happen.
3. Is your network fast?
Of course, another cause of a slow website is network connectivity and performance. Your hosting provider can’t control the local service levels of customers, but they can control the connectivity and network quality of your own infrastructure.
Ideally, your hosting provider should own their own network in order to be able to deliver optimal network service. When your provider shares a network with other providers, or taps into public connectivity, your site will in turn be vulnerable to the impact of traffic from those other providers and customers. If you share a network with a popular content streaming site, for instance, you could see dramatic performance losses when users are watching the new season of the latest Netflix show.
Ask your hosting provider whether they own their network, and if not, how their connectivity fluctuates as a result of other users. If they do own their own network, look for a hosting partner that uses super-fast fiber optic cable, which can meet the uncompromising demands of today’s ecommerce businesses.
4. Will deploying my new platform be painless and easy?
Hosting shouldn’t be an afterthought for ecommerce businesses, and it also shouldn’t be a painful, time-consuming process. Find a hosting provider that has the industry know-how and experience to smoothly and autonomously plan for, build, deploy and manage your optimized ecommerce hosting infrastructure.
Be sure to ask any potential new hosting partners about their teams’ experience with major ecommerce platforms like Magento, hybris and IBM WebSphere, as each have different infrastructure and software requirements. Also, inquire about their partnerships with integration experts, which can help ensure that support systems and applications don’t cause performance issues down the road. You may also want to ask about partnerships with systems integrators, which can help ensure your new platform works well with other IT systems and/or applications.
5. Can you offer better SLAs than I would get with a self-hosted solution?
Patching, troubleshooting, monitoring and backing up ecommerce infrastructure can quickly become overwhelming and resource intensive. And, it’s much more difficult to consistently meet internal SLAs like network uptime and server availability without spending upfront on significant IT resources.
Seek out a hosting provider that can deliver on the SLAs you need to power your business. Don’t compromise here – you should be able to trust your hosting provider to manage your servers while you’re busy growing your business.
6. Will my site be secure?
Security is a constant challenge in the ecommerce industry. In fact, a staggering 43 percent of U.S. companies faced a data breach in 2013 or 2014. At the same time, the average cost of cybercrime for U.S. retailers more than doubled from 2013 to 2014, reaching $8.6 million per company. It’s clear that security is a major issue – if not the #1 issue – for e-retailers today.
There are many security related questions to ask your hosting provider. For one, inquire about PCI DSS standard compliance, and any other local laws that you may need to abide by. Also, ask about any previous customer breaches – what was the cause, and how did the hosting provider handle it? Look for a hosting partner that does everything possible to keep its customers’ data private, secure and safe.
Russell Simmonds is Head of Ecommerce at Peer 1 Hosting.