There are plenty of hosting providers on the market today offering e-commerce hosting services. However, there are many different ways you can host a successful online store. Any dedicated or cloud server with a high enough spec can be used to run popular e-commerce platforms such as Magento and WooCommerce, and you could also start from scratch and build your website within a more flexible IaaS environment.
Regardless of whether or not you decide to sign up with a self-proclaimed e-commerce hosting expert, some things should be non-negotiable when choosing a hosting provider for an e-commerce website. Here are five examples.
1. Security for customer data
It’s impossible to run an online store without handling large amounts of customer data. And it’s imperative that this data is kept secure. If your website’s security is compromised, some of the repercussions could include fines under GDPR, loss of customers and lasting reputation damage - all of which could be enough to sink a business in the ultra-competitive world of e-commerce. This is especially true in the current climate where data and privacy concerns are big news and increasingly in the consciousness of your customers.
As such, it pays to complement your own security measures by working with a PCI DSS-conscious, security-savvy provider that can help you with compliance and won't expose you to unnecessary risk by failing to keep on top of security patching, for example, or by using low-quality data centre and cloud infrastructure partners.
Another consideration is whether your provider will supply your website’s SSL certificate and keep this up to date, or whether this falls on you.
2. Suitable data centre locations
In a cloud-centric world, it can be tempting to take the view that your provider’s data centre is out of sight and out of mind, risking cloud complacency. However, we wouldn’t recommend that an e-commerce business turns a blind eye to the location of a data centre, as it can have a significant impact on the speed of your websites. And according to Google, more than half of mobile shoppers will abandon a website if a page takes more than three seconds to load.
The takeaway? If you want to sell to customers in the UK, choose a UK data centre - and, if your provider can’t confirm where your website will be hosted, look elsewhere.
For some companies, data centre location could also be a critical compliance factor as it may be considered a compliance risk to let personal data leave UK shores - particularly with Brexit potentially looming on the horizon.
3. Disaster recovery capabilities
In addition to a primary data centre that meets your requirements around latency and data residency, check that your provider can offer some level of protection against prolonged unplanned downtime and data loss. Examples could include offering remote storage as standard for backups, offering automated backups of your entire environment, or more sophisticated disaster recovery (DR) solutions such as DRaaS.
4. Quality support
Nothing can make or break the relationship between an e-commerce business and its hosting provider quite like quality of support. There is, after all, a direct link between the performance and availability of an online store and its ability to make money, and it’s more than a little frustrating to work with providers that don’t understand this and aren’t able to offer fast, outcome-focused support when there’s unplanned downtime or a speed issue to fix.
To get a feel for the quality of support on offer from a particular provider, we recommend you look for references from other customers, find out whether their support is inclusive and check which channels you can use to access support (whether they offer phone support, for example).
It’s also worth talking to their support staff about your requirements upfront, as a decent provider should be able to offer some advice on the best setup for your website and the best way to move from your current provider as smoothly as possible. Indeed, the extent to which you're granted pre-sales access to support teams and how they perform is a very worthwhile and revealing exercise. It's a great way of testing the water before you make a decision on your hosting provider - so pick up the phone and see how you get on.
5. Industry track record
Finally, choosing a supplier with a proven track record in the e-commerce world is a good way to ensure your hosting provider understands the common challenges and must-haves for online retailers and e-commerce agencies, and has experience of delivering against them successfully. Again, any provider can offer a commodity server product that has a high enough spec to run Magento or another popular e-commerce platform, but far fewer can offer glowing references from customers who trust them with multiple websites.