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Things did not improve for DogCatRadio.com when it went online with its last web hosting company. Poor service, high costs and a lack of organization did not make for the perfect relationship.
“We launched and then reported several problems,” recalls Martinez. “Six months later the web hosting company still hadn’t resolved the problems, which included serious matters like billing mistakes.”
The retailer then set out on a quest for a new host, seeking a company with a solid reputation for service and a good record of being “customer friendly,” Martinez says. It consulted various resources-online information sites, customer references and others-during its quest.
“We looked for a hosting service with very user-friendly features, as well as one that goes the extra mile. Not many do, but some will. Also, we needed a company that could offer us a clearer picture of operations through their web hosting reports,” he says.
DogCatRadio.com now uses hosting services from IPower. “Once live, understanding everything about hosting status is critical,” Martinez says. “Businesspeople don’t have time to focus on trying to understand web site statistics and such-they have their business to run. So finding a business-friendly hosting company that’s proactive with client service is essential.” l
A shopping list
The following are the primary services PortableSink.com was looking for when hunting for a new web hosting vendor, according to Joseph Mosis, president of Monsam Enterprises Inc., which operates the e-retail site.
- Manpower: “We know what we want, but we do not have the manpower nor the time to constantly go online and update the site.”
- Maintenance: “What will they do? How and how much will they charge? And for how many updates?”
- Communication: “We need an easy line of communication with our maintenance manager at the hosting company.”
- Other expertise: “We weren’t looking just for hosting. We needed a host that could help us with things like marketing on the Internet.”
P Shopping cart functionality: “Can the host company create one while offering us various types of functionality as part of the overall package?”
Questions, questions, questions: Hosts and analysts chime in
Many web hosting companies and industry experts agree with executives at MarketExpo.com, DogCatRadio.com, PortableSink.com and other retailers that communication is fundamental to a successful web retailer/web hosting company relationship. This is especially so, vendors say, before a contract is even signed.
Subscribing to a web hosting service first requires a retailer to identify and fully understand their current and future business requirements, says Jeffrey A. Max, CEO of Venda Inc., which provides an outsourced e-commerce platform. “Once defined, the retailer needs to identify available hosting providers and align themselves with one that meets these criteria. Understanding the provider’s support and service levels is crucial in the assessment phase.”
When it comes to understanding, however, retailers seeking web hosting services sometimes can be a bit off the mark, some hosts say.
“Retailers new to the Internet usually have a vague idea about setting up an e-commerce site, but they are at a disadvantage because they do not know what they do not know,” says Jeff Pettit, vice president of sales & marketing and corporate development at Host Depot Inc. The company offers e-commerce solutions geared to small and medium-sized businesses. “To many of them it’s like The Wizard of Oz, the man behind the curtain pulling strings and pushing buttons. That is just not the case. And because they don’t understand how e-commerce works, they don’t know what questions to ask.”
Like merchants who have felt the sting of poor web hosting services, web hosting vendors also have questions they recommend retailers ask before selecting a host. Pettit offers a cornucopia of queries retailers should pose to web hosting companies-and themselves: “What level of understanding do I as a retailer need to have to set up and operate this service? How much work is actually involved in getting the site set up and operating it on an ongoing basis? If I as a retailer cannot perform the site set-up and management, can the hosting provider build and manage the site for me?”
W. Gregory Dowling, JupiterResearch senior analyst who specializes in technology, states that retailers must ask detailed technical questions with which they can seek advice from colleagues or others if they themselves have limited technology understanding. “How is the hosting company equipped to handle seasonal and unexpected transaction and traffic spikes?” Dowling says. “Does the host have limitations regarding e-commerce platforms, and which platforms do they have the most experience with? How are outages and site functionality issues monitored, communicated, escalated and resolved?”
In addition to the finer points, other experts tell retailers not to forget the big picture questions.
“Do you have demonstrated experience with companies that look like me-my vertical, my size, my business model, my needs?” counsels Matt Poepsel, vice president of performance at Gomez Inc., an Internet performance management consulting firm. “How will we work together to deliver continuous customer improvement and business success over time? How will we know if it’s working? And how will we prove it?”
And a very important component to the retailer/host relationship falls squarely in the retailer’s lap. Once an e-commerce site is up and running, retailers must bear in mind that visitors will not just show up at their doorstep, Pettit adds. “Web hosting customers, the retailers, have to advertise, promote and perform other activities to generate traffic to their site. After all, that’s what selling online is all about, getting customers to the site. So a big question is: How can I increase traffic, and can a hosting provider help?”