An article for IT Donut
As reliance on web sales grows, many merchants are finding that their current ecommerce platform, or set of services may not be as scalable as they initially imagined. Many merchants originally began with very low cost solutions. While this is completely appropriate for the startup, the growing merchant needs the capability to scale, both with the software they have chosen and the related eco-system of services.
Choosing the right architecture (or service provider) for the long term is a difficult task. I speak to hundreds of merchants and web designers and the story is the same: it’s not easy. The biggest challenge is to base a decision on both the current requirements, plus the often ambitious plans for the future. The key is affordable scalability.
So, what are ecommerce services? The simple answer is, they are the supporting infrastructure you need to sell online:
● Integrations - Payments, accounting, stock control, etc
● Compliance – PCI DSS, Data Protection Act, Distance Selling Directive, etc
There are many ecommerce packages that can offer you everything from one source. My company, offers a hosted product (Actinic Express) as well as desktop applications, and there are many others. The advantage of taking a web-based option means the technology is not your problem; everything you need to sell online is provided. This is often the way many merchants get started. After all ecommerce can be fairly confusing, especially for traditional retailers moving into this space. However, as I said before, will it grow with you and cope with whatever you throw at it?
Hosting and support
Choosing the right hosting is one of the most important decisions an e-tailer can make. Any store, regardless of the features, will live or die by its hosting. To put this into context, your store is only as good as it’s capability to handle its peak traffic, e.g. before Christmas. Slow loading, or worse, an unresponsive site is a quick way to be ignored by potential and existing customers. The problem also affects your SEO. If your site is slow your search engine ranking will tumble because Google now penalises poor response speed in its algorithm. Likewise when you are just starting out, you must keep costs low. Unfortunately, the two objectives contradict each other. So my tips are:
Look for a host that knows about ecommerce; not just as a cheap after thought, but one that has a detailed knowledge of what it takes to keep your site running.
Packages are important. A good host will be able to upgrade or downgrade your infrastructure requirements quickly and easily.
Pick a host that is local to your core demographics. It might seem cheaper to rent that box in the USA, but if your customers are in the UK expect trouble.
When it all goes wrong you need to know things can be put right and quickly. All hosts, regardless of how good they are, suffer downtime. It’s what they do when there is an outage that's important. So check the service agreement for their guaranteed response time.
Support is critical. Nothing beats picking up the phone and talking to someone that knows what they are doing.
The ability to take payments online is another critical ecommerce service all e-tailers require. In the UK there are many PSPs (Payment Service Providers) ranging from the ubiquitous PayPal to our own Actinic Payments and long-standing companies like WorldPay. Most share a number of features so check for differentiators such as anti-fraud services and the level of integration with your ecommerce package.
Every online merchant regardless of size should accept PayPal; the barriers for getting started are low and potential customers like and trust the brand. However, when a merchant grows, cost considerations need to be evaluated. As a rule of thumb PayPal charges its merchants 3% per transaction. While this doesn't sound a lot when you are turning over a small amount, as your store grows this becomes a big issue.
Likewise with compliance, the UK has a fairly strict set of rules for handling card data known as Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). My theory has always been to keep things simple: make it someone else’s problem. By using a compliant PSP your ecommerce store never sees customer card data.
Ecommerce services are the lifeblood of a successful store. The absolute top performers all have the same things in common. They are responsive and most importantly safe. Choosing the correct services for your store may mean the difference between success or failure, so it’s well worth considering carefully.