January 31, 2008, 12:00 AM

Wedding retailer and host

(Page 2 of 2)

“Our SKUs are not that large, so in this case it was a basic storage requirement we had based on how our site was operating under the previous web host, and on the growth planned in our strategic business plan,” he says. “So I compared our current set-up of products we had and the amount of orders we get through the web site with what is in the business plan’s growth expectations in the coming years and estimated our requirements.”

Technical support

Like storage space and bandwidth, technical support is one of the primary ingredients to any web hosting contract. Because a host is responsible for an e-retailer’s site, if something goes wrong, that host needs to be there to make fixes, and quickly.

Web hosting technical support generally comes in three variations: e-mail, telephone with limited hours, and 24/7 telephone.

“What happens when an e-retailer needs help? What is the availability for support?” analyst Lovett says. “Technical support needs are highly variable depending on internal resources and capabilities. E-retailers should make an honest internal assessment to determine the capabilities of their staff.”

America’s Gardening Resource wanted 24/7 support. “Our business is 24/7-we did not want to end up in a situation where at 3 in the morning the servers go down and we did not get support until 8,” Heinzer says. “This is a critical business requirement and we set expectations of how much downtime we are willing to take, which is based on what we perceived our expectations from our customers to be.”

Like America’s Gardening Resource, Costume SuperCenter LLC, which uses hosting services from USinternetworking Inc., found 24/7 support to be crucial.

“We need 24/7 telephone support because there is so much riding on a short period of time during our peak season; like if something were to happen early October at 2 a.m., which is 11 p.m. on the West Coast, and people are buying costumes at that time,” says director of marketing Jim Moore. “So we wanted a dedicated team of people 24/7. Since we launched with USi, we’ve found our support team members have always been there. To ensure this, we did reference checking beforehand with other e-retailers.”

Beyond the basics

In addition to the basics, e-retailers seeking web hosting services have other needs. For America’s Gardening Resource, integrating the technology of a web hosting company with its order management system was a major concern.

“For us to go with a web hosting solution, it had to adapt to our order management process,” Heinzer says. “The only way to prepare for this was to present prospective web hosts with this requirement to see if they had the necessary integration capabilities.”

Before they could ask the question, however, managers needed to know the issues. “We pulled some internal operations and I.T. experts together and defined how communication between the site systems and the order management system would have to work together,” he explains. The gardening e-retailer then posed the question along with some standard operational scenarios to hosts. “The answer from Demandware specifically addressed what we were looking for.”

Apart from the technology support, there are soft benefits to going to a particular host, retailers says. While web hosting is usually invisible to consumers, customers of smaller e-retailers running on the platform of a behemoth such as Yahoo Store see the Yahoo imprint. Gaining the credibility of a household name was something Online Stores wanted from its web host to help shoppers become buyers.

“If you have the backing of someone like Yahoo or Amazon, that gives a comfort factor to the person shopping your store because they know they can go to Yahoo and complain if something goes wrong,” Hickey says. “Also, people are more trusting of parting with their credit card and other information when they know someone is larger and making sure everything is run correctly. We still are a smaller merchant that not that many people have heard of, so it is quite important to have a web hosting partner that will assist with the credibility angle.”

bill@verticalwebmedia.com

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