One of the most important things to understand when starting an online shop is knowing which route to take when it comes to the type of ecommerce platform you are going to use.
If you have done any kind of research, you will have probably come across the terms hosted or fully hosted and self hosted. But what do they mean and what is the difference between the two? Well in this post I am going to answer both of these questions.
What is a Hosted Ecommerce Platform?
A hosted ecommerce platform is a solution that provides you with all the necessary tools for building an online shop. You pay a monthly fee to the company and your package includes ecommerce grade web hosting and purpose built ecommerce software.
That is a pretty basic summary but I will cover things in more depth below.
What are the Positives of a Hosted Ecommerce Platform?
No Technical Stuff!
There are two main positives to using a hosted ecommerce platform.
The first is that you as the website owner, don’t need to take care of any of the technical aspects of running a website such as:
- Making sure your site loads quickly
- General website maintenance, making everything is updated and working properly etc
- Making sure your server and website are secure against hacking
- Fixing things when they go wrong!
They basically do everything that you would need a tech guy to do. This leaves you to focus on the business aspects of running a website such as generating traffic, adding and managing stock, dealing with orders and customer service.
The second main positive is that you have a support team at the end of the phone or email or live chat, depending on which communication method you prefer to use. This takes a lot of the stress out of running a website!
If there is something you don’t know how to do on the platform or something isn’t working properly, you can just contact the platform and they will work with you to help get the problem sorted out ASAP. Many of the platforms also have support teams to help you run and grow your online business as well, which is a definite bonus.
As these platforms have been designed for people with little to no web design or building experience, they are generally easy to use and the learning curve is much shallower than self-hosted platforms. As I mentioned above, you do get support but you also have help guides and comprehensive documentation to help with nearly every issue.
Ecommerce platforms are purpose built by the company and these means that they work really well, lots of R&D has gone into making sure they are the best they can be. One of the main benefits of this is that the themes work exactly as they should, meaning your site will always look its best.
What are the Negatives of a Hosted Ecommerce Platform?
There are unfortunately some negatives as well.
As you are using their platform, you are limited to by what they allow you to do on their platform. This mainly becomes noticeable when it comes to customising the design of your site, as you may not be able to do exactly what you want.
Once you are up and running, you may find that this can extend to functionality as there may be something that you want to add to your site but the platform doesn’t offer it or offer integration with it. This can be frustrating and potentially can limit your businesses ability to grow. If you do need specific functionality, it may be worth asking the platform if they could do something for you one off for a fee.
Now I don’t mean in terms of the contracts as they with most platforms they are rolling month to month contracts that you can cancel at any time.
What I mean is that you cannot move your site to another platform, the reason for this is that all the platform are specific to the provider. This can cause some problems if you are not happy with the service you are getting as you cannot just up and leave like you could with a self-hosted platform.
Some platforms do offer a kind of migration service to help make the transition from one to the other as painless as possible but you may still run into some issues that could affect sales and/or rankings.
What is a Self-Hosted Ecommerce Platform?
A self-hosted platform breaks your site down into two key components, your web hosting and your ecommerce software. This means that you need to find a good quality web host, ideally one that offers ecommerce quality hosting and choose which ecommerce software you want to use.
Getting the right combination of the two takes a little bit of work as you want to use ecommerce software that you like but you also want your hosting to be optimised for that software. But you need some web hosting to decide which software to use! To get around this, just buy some cheap shared hosting for a month, try out the various software, then go looking for the right web host.
What are the Positives of a Self-Hosted Ecommerce Platform?
It is Yours!
The big difference between the two is that you own the website and you are free to move your web site from one hosting company to the next. You can also do this with minimal upheaval as your website doesn’t change, just the web hosting that powers it does.
You Can Do What You Want
Within reason obviously! But you are not limited by the constraints of the platform, you have access to all of your sites code so you can make any changes you want to your site.
This can be really useful if you need a very bespoke or specialised set up.
What are the Negatives of a Self-Hosted Ecommerce Platform?
No Technical Support
This is the biggest negative when it comes to self-hosted platforms, you are responsible for nearly all of the technical aspects of your website as well as the business ones.
Now it is your web hosts job to make sure that your server is running properly and that it is secure on their end. But that is pretty much all they have to do, good web hosts will help you to set your website up so it performs well but this is your responsibility. As is everything on website such as security, compliance and maintenance.
If you cannot do this yourself, then you will need to employ the services of a professional to help you manage this and if you are just starting out, this can be a large financial outlay.
Which one is Cheaper?
This is the question that usually follows on and unfortunately, there is no clear answer.
That is because every business and website is different, they all have different requirements and that makes doing a cost comparison very difficult. But there are some things you can consider when it comes to costs.
With hosted ecommerce platforms, you pay a set monthly price for your package. So you know exactly what your outlay is going to be and the only time this will change is if the company changes their pricing or you upgrade/downgrade to another package.
You generally have lower upfront costs which consist of your first monthly package price and possibly a theme if you opt for a paid one.
On the other hand, costs for self-hosted platforms can range wildly, depending on what you want doing. If you do everything yourself and use a free theme, then you will only have your monthly or annual hosting fees to pay which means it is very cheap to do.
However if you choose to employ the services of a web developer to build your website and then pay them monthly to help manage it, you can end up with costs in the thousands.
As you can see, it all comes down to individual circumstance and requirements as to what the costs will be.
I hope this post has helped you understand the difference between to two types of ecommerce platform and some of the costs involved with both to help you decide which route you should take so that you can start your ecommerce journey.