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What is eCommerce?
Ecommerce, selling things online, is big business these days. The field is dominated by huge players like Amazon and Ebay. Every day, hundreds of new stores in every imaginable category open. It may seem like it’s all too complicated and too difficult, or that the competition is too fierce. But ecommerce is still a lucrative opportunity for new-comers. And it isn’t too difficult if you know what you’re doing.
Getting even the simplest site up and running can be a feat in itself, and this is all the more true if you are trying to run an ecommerce site. Here are some details you need to keep in mind when looking at hosting.
Shared Server and Ecommerce
On a shared server plan, you share computer resources, bandwidth, and (usually) an IP address with other customers on a single server. This is not an ideal situation for most ecommerce sites.
Online stores are highly dynamic. As compared to “regular” non-commercial blogs, they require a lot more scripting and more frequent database calls. They tend to have a lot more users (because customers are users) and they cannot usually cache as much content in static files.
All these things make ecommerce sites heavy users of a hosting plan’s resources. This is even more the case since ecommerce sites are only “valuable” if they are heavily trafficked. You might run a blog for just a handful of people to read, but you’re not setting up a store unless you think you can get a lot of people to shop at it.
A more specific technical issue has to do with shared IP addresses. If you are on a shared server plan, your IP address is shared with the others customers on the same account. This makes it impossible to use an SSL security certificate and run in HTTPS mode. This is usually the preferred way to do ecommerce, and is absolutely required if you are going to take any kind of credit card payments on your site.
You can get a dedicated IP address associated with your account even in a shared plan. This will be an additional expense on top of your hared hosting base fee. This will solve the IP problem, but not the larger issue of computing resources.
VPS Hosting and Ecommerce
If you are looking to build out a successful online store, it is going to need to be able to handle a lot of traffic, without any performance lag.
Along with the need for a dedicated IP address, the need for performance and speed indicates that the best option for a serious ecommerce site is a VPS hosting plan.
As mentioned above, your ecommerce site is almost certainly going to need a security certificate.
It is possible to purchase these independently and associate your domain with it. However, it is much easier to deal with the integration if you purchase the certificate through your hosting company. This may cost a few dollars extra (not much), but it is a better option overall.
If you are looking at buying hosting to run an online store, check to see if the hosting company sells security certificates as well.
Ecommerce software and shopping carts
The biggest decision you have to look at is what software system you should use to run your ecommerce site.
Plugins to CMS
If you are planning to have a larger content-based site in addition to your store, the best option is probably to use an ecommerce plugin to a popular CMS like WordPress or Drupal.
Dedicated Ecommerce Solutions
If you are planning for your online store to be a standalone site, not a section of a larger content-based website, you may want to forgo the complexities of a content management system and use a dedicated ecommerce software platform.
Simple Shopping Carts
If you are only planning to sell a small number of products, with relatively few options, you can set up your store using a simple shopping cart solution. There are a handful of these types of programs, and they are usually available as free, one click installs from your web hosting control panel.
These low-powered solutions are okay if you don’t need advanced features like reporting, advanced tax calculation, and product options. If you are selling a few things as a side-line to your main business, this is fine. (For example, a consultant who also sells his own books.) However, if selling products is your primary business, you really need a more full-featured solution. Even if you don’t need all the power right away, it is much easier to grow into technology than to grow out of it. You don’t want to be dealing with a technology change later on, right when you are trying to expand your business offerings.
Magento Or osCommerce?
When it comes to eCommerce platforms, there are two clear industry leaders in the self-hosted marketplace: Magento and osCommerce. Both of these shopping carts and inventory management systems are well supported and provide their users with an effective, professional system for managing their eCommerce stores.
For online stores managing hundreds of products or more, these two services can be great for providing a quality platform to build a site. But which of these two solutions is the best option for hosting your online store?
Read on below for a detailed review of the platforms and a suggestion on which to choose to host your store.
Which is easier to manage for your host: Magento or osCommerce?
As mentioned above, Magento is a highly effective open source ecommerce platform (there is also an enterprise edition, as well). Creating and managing an online store is fairly easy with Magento, although because it is a full-service store there is a lot to set up. While Magento is capable of running on a Linux server with Apache, MySQL, and PHP. That said, to properly operate a Magento store, online merchants should expect to contract a dedicated hosting or VPS hosting package. Because of the resources the shopping cart requires, shared hosting will lead to maxing out of server resources, crashing your site and all the other sites hosted on the server.
While a bit dated and less feature rich than Magento, osCommerce is still a well established CMS software and shopping cart. Similar to Magento, an osCommerce web server should support both PHP and MySQL - Linux and Apache aren’t required, but would likely be helpful for keeping your hosting costs down. While not as friendly for modern web browsing and not as easy to customize as Magento, osCommerce does offer a wide range of features that make online stores fairly easy to set up.
Which eCommerce solution is easier to setup for hosting? osCommerce
Which is easier to get support for: Magento or osCommerce?
Both eCommerce platforms have extensive open source communities with experience in almost every nook and cranny of setup and system administration. While both platforms are open source, Magento has the financial backing and support infrastructure of eBay Enterprise behind it. There is free support available throughout the developer community and the blogosphere, and premium support plans available from a network of solution providers recommended by Magento.
Almost directly in contrast to Magento, osCommerce is not owned by a major Internet commerce corporation and has a smaller team of core developers behind it. There are still a suggested list of support agencies and a steady community of developers who can provide free support in forums and the blogosphere, but the community is much smaller than Magento.
Which eCommerce solution is easier to get support for when things get tricky? Magento
More pros of both magento and osCommerce
As mentioned above, Magento has a bit of an advantage over osCommerce because it has major support from a subsidiary of one of the Internet’s major brands. Because of that, general features and performance are richer with Magento when compared to osCommerce.
However, it is also true that Magento is not greater than osCommerce in every feature and function. As you are making your decision between these two, please review all of the pros for each platform listed below. Deciding which of these matter the most to you can go a long way towards helping you make your decision.
- As mentioned above, Magento has a wider variety of features and can be extended by its larger development and solution provider community thanks to the integration of custom modules for coupons, product variation, SEO, reporting, and related products. If you have some custom application that you need built for Magento, chances are very good it either already exists or can be built by one of the solution providers listed on Magento’s website.
- Magento has always been designed to be easy to update, but it can be very difficult for inexperienced store owners. Instead, you will almost always need a web developer to take care of your updates. While osCommerce does not frequently have release updates, it is much easier to support when new versions are released to the public.
- Magento’s administration area provides a more organized structure. Not EVERYTHING is user-intuitive, but it is organized well enough that the categories, catalog, and operations areas are not difficult to navigate. When compared to osCommerce, which has been picked apart for having messy code and a lack of modern online retail functionality, Magento clearly has an upper edge in this area.
Which eCommerce Solution Is Best For Your Online Store? Unless you want to build a store that is less intuitive to manage, with fewer features and less frequent updates, you will want to select Magento over osCommerce.
There’s no question that osCommerce is easier to install for your hosting provider. However, after installation, there really is no comparison between the two platforms. Magento has revolutionized ecommerce with its flexibility and power and has all the best things of osCommerce, plus all of the modern functionality shoppers and online retailers have come to expect from an eCommerce site.