Secrets of eCommerce Success

White Paper

The foundation of your eCommerce success is built upon hosting; 47% of visitors expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less, and 40% will abandon if it takes more than 3 seconds. Such an important revenue generating, brand enhancing asset needs the right level of care and attention. Download this paper to find out the 12 secrets of eCommerce

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Planning for success

An online trading platform is a complicated beast with multiple integration points and interfaces.

We think that calling it simply an eCommerce site is really doing it an injustice. Interfaces to stock control, warehouse management, and ERM, CRM and finance systems are needed before you can even serve a customer.

The site also needs to be integrated to third party systems to handle merchandising, reviews, search, baskets, ordering and account management plus the all-important payment gateway.

Throw in marketing initiatives, affiliates, sales, social media and changing consumer behaviour and your site is actually a sophisticated transactional system that has to cope with a myriad of demands being put on it.

How can you ensure that all of these highly integrated processes are working as they should and presenting a fantastic, consistent experience to your customer?

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The Eclipse approach to hosting is simple, but different. Using experience gained from 20 years of Enterprise application development and maintenance we look at the whole service management picture and create an environment that is not only fit for purpose but crucially aligned with our client’s goals and business requirements.

By breaking down the stages it is easier to evaluate the demands that will inevitably be asked of the system and project and support teams during the lifecycle of the site.

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We have invested heavily into designing, building and operating our own specialist hosting environment within multiple resilient UK based Tier 2 data centres. Only by doing this can we assure our clients of the complete end to end support of their online eCommerce system. It’s the only way to have full visibility, understanding and full control over the systems.

When looking for a hosting partner, here are the 12 most critical aspects to ensuring your eCommerce site is hosted successfully.

The secrets…

Secret 1 - Choose a supplier who knows eCommerce

Why ‘outsource’ to a managed server provider if all they’ll be managing is hardware infrastructure? Choose a hosting provider who knows what it takes to build and operate an eCommerce site. It’s crucial they design the hosting system with the customers own use case in mind – context is key.

One size does not fit all and you could end up paying through the nose for servers you don’t need and will never use.

Hosting with an eCommerce specialist means your SLA will reflect your business goals and objectives. Rather than an irrelevant 99.9% server uptime figure demand a service level agreement that understands page load times, cart, checkout and conversion rates and benchmarks against competitors. Ensure you are compensated for performance that doesn’t hit the mark, that way the design and build will reflect the expectations you want for your customers.

Secret 2 – Plan your hosting early

Don’t treat hosting and ongoing support and maintenance as an afterthought. This is crucial. Where are your development and testing environments going to reside?

Once the excitement of the build has died down you’re into launch and your customers are going to start judging you immediately. Slow page loads, site down? Social Media will be awash with negativity.

By planning a coherent hosting strategy early in the project you’ll be saving a lot of headaches further down the track.

Secret 3 - Spend money on the right things

Building a robust eCommerce site is an expensive outlay and budgets are super tight. So why throw money at hosting unnecessarily?

Extra bandwidth or RAM, or even servers are not always the answer. An application aware hosting and support partner will be able to recommend, design, build and host an infrastructure that works hand in glove with the application and cope with future demand.

With a holistic view of both infrastructure and application they can make tweaks and improvements in the areas that matter – great for high ROI’s.

Secret 4 - Spread the load

Expensive hosting providers force incorrect decisions. Don’t cram everything onto as few servers as possible to save on hosting costs. Talk to a hosting provider who doesn’t price on server and instead prices on capacity. Things will work out a lot more smoothly to a much lower price that way

At Eclipse we build dedicated Application, Web, Database and Image servers that ensure benefits of best practice can be realised whilst increasing resiliency and lowering overall cost.

Secret 5 – Monitor the right things

99.99% uptimes? What’s the point of a server that is always available if the application running on it is falling over every 30 minutes preventing your site from taking 0rders?

By monitoring inside the applications you can ensure that key elements of the system are working as they should and can predict and solve problems before they happen.

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Secret 6 – Take advantage of virtual technologies and cloud

Use technology sensibly. Virtualisation provides the best way of getting maximum utilisation and therefore financial return from the physical hardware. It also provides a highly scalable infrastructure that can cope with growth.

Remember the dev and test environments you need? They can be hosted easily too alongside your live environment.

If demand is high and your dev and test environments are not being used, virtualisation will let you take that spare capacity to keep your live site going.

Some hosters charge a premium for this, which is unnecessary. Choose a hosting provider who gives the best solution for your use case.

Secret 7 – Don’t be fooled by marketing

Just because everyone seems to host with the two big players, doesn’t make them the best option for you. Fanatical support or Elastic clouds won’t help when there’s a key integration interface that has suddenly stopped working in the middle of your sale weekend.

Having a hosting partner who knows the eCommerce application and its myriad interfaces inside out is a sensible way to ensure your site stays running when you need it most.

Secret 8 - Work closely with your partner

The success of the site relies on a true partnership so be prepared to share important information, under NDA if appropriate.

Advance knowledge of marketing calendars or sales periods are important to predict load and capacity requirements. Site analytics from Google or Jirafe should be used to form ongoing service levels and shape regular service reviews. The more each party knows the more stable the site will be and ready to take orders.

Secret 9 – Understand Change management

Or, change control and the Importance of Testing and Development environments. One of the key areas we consistently come across when helping clients with existing sites is a lack dedicated test and dev environments or a rigorous change control process. Without them, changes are often put straight to live with the testing actually being performed by your customers. Ouch!

Change control should be aligned with the business calendar so that releases are planned well in advance and can be fully tested prior to the critical needed date.

Don’t scrimp on an appropriate, but dedicated test and dev environment and insist you and your team understand and adhere to a strict change control process. Do whatever it takes to ensure service interruptions to your live site are not part of the development process.

Secret 10 - Embrace capacity planning

How many visitors do you get currently, what about next month, or next year? How many do you want to convert? What are your growth plans? Will your environment cope and scale? What happens if social media suddenly drives a tonne of traffic your way?

Regular capacity planning allows you to model future changes in visitor patterns aligned to your business goals and also those unexpected what if scenarios so you know what to expect even when the unexpected happens. Don’t leave things to chance.

Secret 11 - Demand a single point of contact solution

You’re experts in the business of selling clothes, CD’s, washers or widgets, not IT support. By choosing an expert one stop shop to be responsible for the delivery and support of the whole service you will avoid unnecessary time wasting chasing different suppliers.

The horror stories of phoning the hosting company only to be told it’s not their problem and to phone the developer, who then checks and says it’s definitely hosting and you need to call them are real.

Don’t waste time, ensure your chosen eCommerce partner can take full ownership of the situation and get things resolved without tying you up in knots dealing with multiple suppliers, leaving you to concentrate on your own business.

Secret 12 - Don’t panic!

Even with all of that best practice in place, things will inevitably go wrong at some point. It’s important not to panic when they do as a good hosting and support partner will have documented processes to recover from service interruptions and will share their obligations to do so in an SLA or even better an operational manual.

In Conclusion

By undertaking a thorough understanding of requirements and an informed view of each component that will contribute to and communicate with your eCommerce system you will be able to plan and implement a platform and hosting environment that will allow your business to thrive and succeed for many years to come.

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