What makes a bad eCommerce store? Substandard products, certainly. Poorly thought-out categories and information architecture. Incompetent design. A lack of concern for the customer experience. There are many ways an eCommerce store can be bad. But a store that gets a perfect score on every one of these will fail to thrive if it isn’t fast and responsive.
Web performance is easy to define. The faster a store’s pages load in a shopper’s browser, the better its performance. It’s not so easy to say what goes into building a fast store. For a page to load quickly, a lot has to go right, from the server to the network to the code that runs in the browser. The server — the machine that hosts the site — is perhaps the most important of these.
There are several ways to host an eCommerce store: shared hosting, virtual private servers, dedicated servers, even clusters of dedicated servers. But cloud eCommerce hosting is engineered to provide fast page loads every time, even during the busiest shopping days of the year. Before we look at what cloud hosting is and how it makes online retail stores faster, let’s talk about why eCommerce retailers should care about performance in the first place.
Why Does eCommerce Performance Matter?
Customer experience is the first and most important reason retailers should care about performance. It is irritating to browse a store when pages take multiple seconds to load. What should be an enjoyable experience akin to leafing through a well-made book becomes a tedious and frustrating slog. A site with slow-loading pages asks people to cool their heels while search results are retrieved. It urges them to enjoy web pages that load an element at a time, jumping around as the shopper tries to scroll to useful content. It expects them to wait a moment even as they try to give the retailer money. In short, slow eCommerce stores are an insult to shoppers.
And shoppers who do not like to be insulted go elsewhere. Amazon once estimated that a delay of one second when loading a page cost it $1.6 billion per year. 40% of shoppers will abandon a page if it takes longer than three seconds to load. A quarter will stop shopping altogether if they are frustrated by a store’s performance. Almost 90% of consumers are less likely to return to a store after a bad experience.
All of which is bad for the bottom line. You might say page load times are inversely proportional to an eCommerce store’s profit. As load times go up, profits go down.
Store owners have control over the performance of their eCommerce application. It isn’t beholden to complex market dynamics, the competitive landscape, or the supply chain. Poor performance is the result of decisions that are controlled by the retailer. The most important of these decisions is hosting.
What Is Cloud eCommerce Hosting?
A server is a computer that provides a service over the internet, and the servers used to host eCommerce stores are powerful, built with more resources and more reliable components than consumer computers. Shared hosting and virtual private servers divide the resources of these powerful servers between many eCommerce stores. Dedicated server hosting gives all of the resources of a server to one store. With all of these types of hosting, the server is the indivisible unit. A store lives on a particular server and has a specific, usually unchangeable, allocation of resources.
Cloud eCommerce hosting is also built on servers, but they are not used in the same way. On a cloud platform, the software combines all of the resources of many servers into one big pool. Servers can be added to or removed from the pool without affecting the eCommerce stores it hosts. The software is sophisticated: it can move stores around from server to server, it can duplicate a store across multiple servers for redundancy, and it can adjust the resources a store is allocated.
How Does the Cloud Improve Performance for eCommerce Stores?
Cloud eCommerce hosting overcomes many of the problems that cause poor server-side performance. What causes slow hosting? One cause is poor engineering: the server, software, and networks aren’t properly optimized for the application they are running. Another common cause is inadequate resources. When a store hosted on shared or dedicated hosting receives more traffic than it has resources to handle, performance suffers.
A cloud platform engineered for eCommerce is not subject to these limitations.
Scalability. Scaling an eCommerce application means adjusting the resources it can use. If a store hosted on a dedicated server is busy enough to consume all the server’s resources, performance is degraded. The solution is to get a bigger server, and that takes time. On the cloud, the solution is to dynamically adjust the resources available to the server — give it a bigger slice of a massive pool. This takes seconds, and it can be done automatically when there is a risk of performance degradation.
Availability. The worst possible performance happens when a store is unavailable. Downtime due to hosting issues can cost eCommerce businesses millions of dollars per day. The cloud is more resilient to server hardware failures than other types of hosting. Cloud-hosted stores are usually replicated across the cloud pool, so when a server fails, the store runs from elsewhere in the cloud.
Built for eCommerce. Purpose-built eCommerce cloud hosting platforms are tailored for the applications they support. They include optimal configurations, resource allocations that meet the needs of busy stores, and additional components, such as caching tools, that are deployed alongside the eCommerce applications.
Cloud eCommerce hosting is uniquely flexible. It can accommodate small boutique stores as well as the largest enterprise stores. And it can scale smoothly between the two. Crucially, cloud users only pay for the resources they consume, so there is no need to pay for idle resources “just in case” they are needed. Does that mean there is no place for other types of hosting? In the future, it is likely that cloud hosting will dominate the eCommerce space, but, in 2019, dedicated hosting is a good option for retailers who prefer private hosting environments, and managed shared eCommerce hosting remains a viable choice for smaller online retailers.
About Graeme Caldwell – Graeme is a writer and content marketer at Nexcess, a global provider of hosting services, who has a knack for making tech-heavy topics interesting and engaging to all readers. His articles have been featured on top publications across the net, TechCrunch to TemplateMonster.