There are several approaches available, each with different advantages and disadvantages.
If you have a small business, you may want to consider a storefront or an online mall. For a fee, these services help you build a small Web site to sell your products. These “site in a box” Web site services include everything you need to sell online.
Features and support vary by program and can include options such as search engine placement, credit card processing, and advertising. These tend to be template services, however, with less flexibility than a custom site. Familiarize yourself with the current offerings in this area before making a final decision.
If you have a business that is too large for or has outgrown the smaller storefront services, you may want to consider the more costly – but also more flexible – custom site. For the added cost you can have a unique site, receive greater support, and handle more traffic. You have the options of hiring the same company to design and host your site or using separate design and hosting services.
Hiring the same company to design and host your site.
This option involves the fewest logistics, but may come with trade-offs in design quality or host reliability. Be aware that designing and hosting require different sets of skills and expertise. When choosing a service, evaluate their experience and ask for references in both areas. Go to sites the company has designed and navigate them. Note how the sites look, how easy they are to understand, and how quickly they load into your browser.
To evaluate the company’s hosting service, contact current customers and ask how pleased they are with the service. Find out how often the server is down and ask about help desk responsiveness. Also, consider how your site will be updated. Can you upload changes directly or do you have to wait for someone at the hosting company to get to it? If it is the latter, ask current customers about their experience with this process.
If you are still considering the design/hosting service after studying their design capabilities and talking to their current customers, you may also want to find out if there has been recent turnover in key personnel. An individual designer, coordinator, or account manager can make a large difference in support or design quality.
Using a separate design and hosting service.
By separating the design and hosting, you have more choices. Thus, you can have more control over both your budget and your site. Technical incompatibilities are a risk when taking this approach, however. Be sure your designer is familiar with your hosting service and it's technical capabilities. To help facilitate information flow and minimize technical problems:
Find a Web designer experienced in ecommerce applications. Together, decide on the hosting service and ecommerce systems you will use.
Making the Decision
Deciding upon the right combination will take some research. One way to gather a list of hosting options is to first find ecommerce sites that you like and/or have ecommerce abilities similar to your needs, then ask about the sites' hosting and ecommerce providers.
Asking for referrals from business acquaintances is another. Many times, people are more than happy to share their positive experiences. For example, I use five different hosts and am generally pleased with all of them. When asked about hosting, however,
Another way to develop hosting options is to look for online advertisements. The sponsored search engine ads and advertisements directly on Web sites are two places you can find these. While there's no guarantee all of the companies you find will be high quality, the willingness to pay for ads can be an indication of commitment.
Diligently decide upon ecommerce features and choose a host with those features in mind. By doing so, you are creating a smoother path to ecommerce success.