E-commerce is one of the web’s greatest success stories. The technology has reached the point where anyone who can rent some space on a web host can open up a store and potentially reach a worldwide audience.
Besides easy-to-use CMS apps like WordPress and Joomla, there’s now a raft of excellent e-commerce packages that help non-technical users set up a nice-looking store, post some products, and process transactions — all without the overhead of setting up a physical store!
But the story gets even better! There’s a second wave of opportunity that was born in 2007 and hasn’t yet reached its peak. The new wave of smart mobile devices not only supports web browsing in a cheap and portable form factor but also e-commerce.
To give you an idea of the scope of this revolution, it is now estimated that there are about as many smart mobile devices in use as desktop PCs!! Think of that: The number of devices that your e-commerce store can reach has doubled over the last few years. We’re talking about many millions of new devices.
It sounds like its too good to be true.
What’s the Gotcha?
For a whole lot of e-commerce sites, the gotcha is that their store was designed for a laptop or a desktop computer — not a cell phone. If that’s the case for your store, the potential customer sees only a miniature version of a page that was designed for a normal sized computer screen. It’s practically unusable on a cell phone. The user would have to do that “pinch to zoom” gesture to see what’s actually there. Certainly its a big disincentive to buying something from a site that the you can hardly read.
What to do?
The mobile revolution sent web developers back to the drawing board. They suddenly needed to unlearn a lot of lessons. The main thing is that they quickly needed to come up with a strategy for making web sites look good regardless of screen size.
They came up with a new motto: mobile first!. Design for the mobile device first and accommodate other size screens.
An early approach was to develop and maintain separate versions of the same site: One site is designed for laptops/desktops and a second for cell phones. Sometimes they wrote code so that it would figure out which kind of device a browser was using and then send that version of the website to them. This website for cell phones was sometimes called the “m” version since its URL was “m.website.com” and the full-sized version was “www.website.com”.
But this can be a big maintenance headache since there are two parallel websites that need to be kept in sync.
The Best 5
- A Small Orange : A line of Business Shared hosting plans designed for e-commerce,
- Site5 : A top Shared and VPS hosting company with a worldwide network of 20 datacenters.
- Arvixe : A line of premium Shared hosting and VPS plans,
- VPS.net : The leading cloud VPS specialist with 18 datacenters around the world,
- Eleven2 : A Shared and VPS provider who offers high capacity Shared hosting plans,
Read more about them after the break!
Responsive Web Design
Relatively recently, the web developer community coalesced around a strategy that eliminates the parallel codebase nightmare. Its called responsive web designs.
“Responsive” means that there’s only one site — one URL — but it automatically adjusts to the size of the screen the customer has! There’s one codebase but there’s code that adapts to the browser at the time the user requests the site.
That’s what this post is about. To reach that vast new market, you need to be sure that your store looks good and is easy to use on mobile devices. Using a responsive design is the most elegant way to to it.
Since a responsive site needs to work on a wide variety of screen sizes, it is a bit more complex to set up than a site that is intended for only an average size desktop/laptop. You need to plan how it will work and test it on the most important devices.
Requirements for Hosting a Responsive E-commerce Site
Your ability to host a responsive e-commerce store is mainly related to using an app or a template in an existing app that is responsive. A few modern e-commerce apps are responsive out of the box. You only need to host it on a provider that meets its requirements.
Responsive E-commerce Apps
Loaded 7 is typical of the new breed of e-commerce apps that are responsive out of the box. On a desktop/laptop screen, the items on sale are arranged on a grid. There’s a sidebar that contains menu items.
For example, here a sample screen from Loaded 7’s demo store on a 10″ tablet.
On a cell phone, the items on sale are presented in one long column, but each one is perfectly readable. Each item gets the whole screen.
Someone can actually buy the item on her phone!
The menu that was in the left sidebar on the tablet appears below all the items.
If you are using a general-purpose e-commerce package, you need to use a responsive template. For example, Woocommerce, a great WordPress plug-in, supports responsive e-commerce templates. You need to select a responsive template and install it. You then need to customize it so that it responds to different sized screens in a way that you like — and test your store on the most important types of devices.
In general, more planning and testing is needed to support mobile devices.
With that in mind, the only thing we need is a good cloud VPS or Business Shared hosting provider. Here are 5 best hosts.
Winner – A Small Orange – From $20/month
Founded in 2003 in Atlanta, their mission statement is to provide the best quality service at an affordable cost. They have outstanding Shared hosting and Managed VPS plans, but their line of Business Hosting plans is of special interest to us. These are Shared hosting plans that are configured for e-commerce right out of the box.
ASO’s Softaculous installer has Loaded 7, so you can install a responsive e-commerce app with just one click of the mouse. You may find that it meets all your requirements. If not, they have the usual e-commerce apps and you can find a responsive template that works with the one you choose.
Business Shared Hosting Plans
They have three Business plans (everyone has three plans these days), Startup, Small Business, and Enterprise. Here they are:
|Plan||Storage||Bandwidth||SSL Cert.||PCI Comp.||Price|
1. Storage is on high speed mechanical disks with SSD caching.
2. Automatic daily backups are included.
Even the lowest priced plan comes with an SSL certificate and they warrant PCI compliance. This is what they have to say about the issue.
The Payment Card Industry (PCI)’s Data Security Standard is a required part of any online merchant’s plans to accept payments online. It defines a series of security precautions that any payment-accepting server must implement. This standard has grown increasingly stringent over time and A Small Orange has stepped up our security procedures to match. All our business-class servers are regularly scanned to ensure PCI compliance at the system level.
ASO also has a premium “Managed SEO Services” service as a high cost option to any of their plans. It promises to hand tune your site for maximum SEO. This is the type of service that is often provided by an external SEO consultant.
ASO offers a 90-day money-back guarantee; this is the highest in the industry. Also, their Business hosting is backed by their cloud infrastructure. They claim 99.9% uptime and we believe it for their cloud-based services like this. For a business, downtime equals lost revenue, so this is an important consideration.
Cloud VPS Plans
ASO’s prices don’t necessarily stand out — until you learn that this is fully-managed Cloud VPS hosting that uses 2.5GHz Xeon CPUs and SSD storage. If you shop around half as much as we have, you’ll see that these features can easily add an extra $50/mo to the base charge. This is especially true after you throw in the cPanel. It is included in ASO’s VPS plans. It’s in ASO’s character to advertise the price of the “deluxe” version of a service instead of advertising the bare-bones version and then upselling everything in the building.
1. The cPanel is included.
2. Each core is equal to a 2.5GHz Xeon or better.
3. 24/7 tech support & 90-day money-back guarantee.
4. Plans include SSD storage in RAID-50.
5. Backups are included.
They have a premium “Managed SEO Services” plan as a high cost option. It is only for business and promises to hand tune your site for maximum SEO.
2. Site5 – From $11.95/month
Site5 has been in business for more than 15 years and is one of the most successful hosting companies. Site5 is the home for over 200,000 domains and 250 servers. They have a worldwide network of 20 datacenters that run Shared, VPS, Dedicated, and Reseller servers.
Site5’s main datacenter is in Dallas, but you choose your datacenter as part of the signup process. This means that your server will be close to your customers, no matter where they are!
- Asia: New Delhi, Singapore
- Australia: Sydney
- Europe: Amsterdam, Bucharest
- UK: London
- Canada: Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver
- South America: Joao Pessoa, Sauo Paulo
- US: Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Phoenix, Miami, Atlanta, New York, Washington
For VPS, Site5 has datacenters in the following locations: Dallas, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC, Amsterdam, and Singapore.
What’s almost unique is that they do have a 30 day trial account! It’s available for Shared and Cloud Shared plans. If you want to check out Site5 ahead of time, we suggest that you take them up on their 30-day free Cloud Shared cloud account.
Site5 has a page for Loaded 7 Hosting. They describe their line of Shared hosting plans and extend the 30 day free trial so that you can build a Loaded 7 e-commerce store before making a commitment!
Site5 offers a 45 day money back guarantee (15 day money back guarantee for VPS). Their guarantee for VPS is different since they need to custom configure each VPS as part of the signup instead of just assigning you a Shared slice on a big server.
Site5 is among very a small group of hosting companies that offers a customer support Service Level Agreement. The SLA states that if a customer does not get a response to a support inquiry within 24 hours, his account will be credited as a token of apology. This is both commitment and confidence.
Shared Hosting Plans
Their shared hosting plans are priced at $4.95, $8.95, and $11.95 a month. The $4.95 plan permits only one site but the others are unlimited. The $11.95 plan uniquely comes with a dedicated IP address. All the plans are provided with an SSL certificate, but if you intend to use your Shared hosting site for e-commerce, the $11.95 plan is our recommendation.
Cloud Shared Hosting Plans
Site5 has a premium-level Shared hosting plan that delivers the advantages of Cloud hosting without the price penalty of a fully-managed VPS. They call it Cloud Shared Hosting. Like a VPS, it has storage and bandwidth limits, but it comes with the advantages of cloud hosting. They cite a 99.99% uptime statistic, but true cloud really shouldn’t be going down at all.
The Cloud Shared Hosting plan is available only at the Dallas and Amsterdam datacenters.
A dedicated IP is included, as is their 45-day money-back guarantee.
The Cloud Shared hosting plans are designed with fully redundant backup components with automatic failover. It is designed for businesses that must be online 24/7 but don’t have enough traffic to justify the expense of a cloud VPS. Site5 guarantees 99.99% uptime for their line of Cloud Shared hosting plans.
Site5 offers both managed and unmanaged VPS hosting plans. Their unmanaged plans include root access, choice of Linux distro, and optional panel and installer.
Here is the price sheet for their unmanaged VPS hosting.
Cloud VPS Plans
Site5 also has a line of fully managed Cloud VPS plans. Their prices include the panel, installer, and remote backups — but without root access. You can SSH into your server but you don’t need the benefits of full management to use a responsive e-commerce app.
3. Arvixe – From $22/month
Arvixe is a mature hosting provider with a plethora of packages, options, and types of hosting services. They offer different grades of shared hosting as well as VPS, Reseller, and Dedicated hosting.
Arvixe has two categories of Shared hosting, with two plans to pick from in each. Personal Class plans are for smaller websites, while Business Class plans enjoy more server resources.
The Personal Class Linux plan starts at $4/mo while Personal Class Linux Pro is $7/mo. The former is restricted to six domains, while the latter supports an unlimited number of domains.
E-commerce is possible on a Personal Class site but not recommended. An SSL certificate and dedicated IP address are both options. The SSL certificate is $25/yr and the dedicated IP address is $2/mo. However, you can expect load times to be slower than optimal for an e-commerce site.
The Business Class Linux plan costs $22/mo and Business Class Pro is $35/mo. These plans do not overbook their servers. The cost differential between Personal and Business is proportional to the number of accounts per server. In Business Class, you are paying for computer resources. There’s no free lunch.
Business Class customers get a free SSL certificate and a dedicated IP address. Unfortunately, neither is PCI compliant. It is technically possible to encrypt connections on Business class, but a host with PCI monitoring is preferable. Fortunately, their managed VPS Class plans are PCI compliant.
VPS Class Plans
The VPS Class and VPS Class Pro are priced at $40/mo and $70/mo. These are the two plans at Arvixe that meet our criteria for conducting secure e-commerce.
|VPS Class Pro||8||3GB||100GB||Unlimited||$70/mo|
1. Both plans include an SSL certificate for life.
2. Both plans are PCI Compliant.
3. Both plans provide root access.
4. The dedicated IP address is $2/mo.
5. SSD storage is $10/mo.
6. 1GB RAM is $20/mo.
These two plans are fully managed VPS that come with cPanel/WHM and Softaculous installer and the Cloudflare CDN. It is designed to meet your e-commerce needs in every way.
4. VPS.NET – From $20/month
While some may prefer Rackspace or Amazon AWS, for us, we prefer VPS.NET when it comes to cloud VPS hosting. They offer a line of elastic cloud VPS plans at affordable prices and backed by a network of 18 datacenters around the world.
As the name suggests, VPS.net offers only VPS hosting and they specialize in Cloud VPS hosting. Cloud VPS servers can re-size on demand without reboot while remaining online.
The extra care in providing only high performance services can be felt throughout your time with them. Since you can spin up their VPS servers in only 55 seconds, you can easily set up a cluster of servers for a high availability configuration. This is perfect for a high traffic e-commerce site. They also have an automatic scaling service called Elastic Cloud Hosting which essentially allows you to scale your system resources up and down.
This ability is often advertised as “auto-scaling”, “auto-healing”, “elastic service”, and so forth. Capacity expands to meet heavy demands and cloud servers can take over if your main server goes down.
VPS.net claims 99.99% uptime, which ought to be realistic for a Cloud VPS host. The worldwide array of datacenters is important to any business who needs to conduct e-commerce around the clock.
VPS.net has an impressive network of datacenters all over the world. In combination with their cloud technology, it makes VPS.net a fantastic choice. Here is the complete list of their datacenters. You choose your server’s location when you sign up.
- Asia: Tokyo, Singapore, New Delhi
- Australia: Sydney
- UK: London, Manchester
- Europe: Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt
- South America: Sao Paulo
- Canada: Montreal
- US: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, San Jose, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Washington, D. C.
VPS.net has a huge selection of plans; the unmanaged cloud VPS is is a great balance between cost and capability.
Unmanaged Cloud VPS Plans
Here are their plans in the $100/mo and below range:
1. Full management is a $69/mo option.
2. The cPanel is a $10/mo option.
VPS.net describes these plans as “semi-managed”. That means:
We make sure we are here for you. We provide 24×7 support via live chat, email and phone. Should you have any problems with the software that comes with your server then we can help you out with the basic free of charge. More complex issue may require our paid for Fully Managed support.
It seems that “semi-managed” means that they are there to assist but you are the primary system administrator, not them. For many people, this is a good balance since a VPS customer is often an experienced webmaster and can handle all the routine tasks themselves. Unmanaged and semi-managed plans are cheaper than a fully-managed plan, so semi-managed or unmanaged is smart if you are ready for the responsibility.
The VPS.net plans are upgradable in units that they call “nodes”. You can add additional VPS nodes to scale up if you want. The additional system resources will be multiples of the basic node. You can scale up or down without any downtime.
VPS.net also has a strong line of managed VPS solutions, but an unmanaged cloud VPS is all you need to host a responsive e-commerce app. Check out their managed plans if you wish to indulge. Their prices for managed hosting are much higher than ASO and others.
5. Eleven2 – From $16/month
Founded in 2002 and headquartered in Los Angeles, Eleven2 has datacenters in Dallas, London, and Singapore. You choose your datacenter when you sign up. This way, you ensure that your websites are on a server closest to your target audience. By having a website physically close to people improves the page loading times.
Eleven2 is a full-featured hosting provider. They have good plans for Shared, VPS, Reseller, and Dedicated hosting. Their service is backed by a 60-day money-back guarantee, double the industry norm.
Eleven2 is one of the few providers that has an iPhone app for managing your site! If you have an iOS device, you can download it for free from Apple.
We don’t know whether this is supposed to be a secret but we had no problem logging into our account at ASO using Eleven2’s iPhone app. Besides cPanel, the app provides FTP access to our files from our cell phone!
Shared Hosting Plans
They don’t try to compete in the “unlimited everything” rat race; rather, they set generous limits on RAM and storage on all but their cheapest plan. The entry-level plan, which is only available by the year (it comes out to $4.95/mo), gives you 10GB storage. The next plan up is $10 (month-to-month) or $8/mo with an annual prepayment. It gives you 250GB storage! This means that for only $3/mo more (annual prepay) and you get 240GB more storage! That’s a strong message that they are trying hard to steer customers toward the more expensive plans.
Here is their price sheet for Shared hosting.
|Name||Storage||Bandwidth||SSL Cert.||Ded IP.||PC Comp.||Price|
1. These prices are for a 1-year prepayment.
2. For the S-100 and S-200 plans, the SSL certificate and dedicated IP address are extra cost options. Both are included in the S-300 and S-400 plans. All the plans include the Cloudflare CDN.
Eleven2’s VPS plans are fully managed. They the prices include the cPanel/WHM panel. They are which is optional at other providers. They do use SSD but the SSD is used as high-speed cache, with mechanical disk storage.
Even the lowest priced VPS plan has a very generous amount of storage. For a high traffic e-commerce site, though, you might want more RAM. You can get a 2GB RAM plan at a better price elsewhere. For example, our favorite price leader in Cloud VPS hosting is Digital Ocean, which sells their 2GB plan for $20, but that is unmanaged and it has no panel.
Just a few years ago, a cell phone was just a battery powered telephone. But in the last few years, a new breed of mobile computers with powerful web browsers has changed the web forever. If you want to do business online, you need a strategy for reaching the millions of potential customers who can reach your store on a mobile device. A responsive online store is the most elegant way to do it, but it is not as simple as an old-fashioned fixed-width site. We’ve given you five hosts that support responsive e-commerce but if you want to find other ones, then use the hosting services comparison tool to find them and evaluate them yourself.