E-Commerce Hosted vs Self-Hosted Comparison

hosted ecommerce serversWhen starting up an online store, one of the biggest things to wrap your head around is choosing an e-commerce platform and deciding if it should be ‘hosted’ or ‘self hosted’.

Disclaimer: We deal with both type of platforms, are BigCommerce Experts, Shopify Experts and WordPress Experts and tried to make this post as impartial as we could. 

SELF-HOSTED VS HOSTED

A self-hosted e-commerce solution is hosted on servers that you get through a service provider such as BlueHost.  This means that you need to find, purchase, set up and manage the hardware and operating system that your e-commerce website runs on.

A hosted or ‘managed’ e-commerce solution is hosted on a server that you don’t have access to. When we use Shopify or BigCommerce for our projects, this means we don’t have direct access to the server.

WHERE HOSTED IS BETTER

Using a hosted platform like Shopify or BigCommerce gives you the following benefits:

TECHNICAL SUPPORT FOR YOUR STORE

While your server host will usually provide 24×7 support, the support from a hosted solution will include the e-commerce software as well. Many hosting providers won’t support applications, or you’ll need to pay extra for it.

COMPLETELY RELIABLE

Between platforms like BigCommerce and Shopify, they host over 150,000 stores and rely on their good reputation for future customers. You can be assured that the software is solid and thoroughly tested.

CONSTANT UPGRADES

Hosted platforms constantly add new features to improve their platform and this happens silently in the background.  You never have to update anything yourself, except your products.

PCI COMPLIANCE

On a self-hosted platform you may have to jump through hoops to comply with the PCI DSS standard but with a platform like Shopify or BigCommerce you don’t have to worry about PCI for your online store at all.  It’s all taken care of for you.

EXCELLENT VALUE

Both BigCommerce and Shopify offer a good deal for the money spent.

WHEN SELF-HOSTED IS A BETTER IDEA

Sometimes it’s better to host your own e-commerce solution. When?  Well, in short, it all comes down to control.

WHEN YOU NEED A LOT OF CUSTOMIZATION

Modern hosted e-commerce systems are complex and allow you to set up a store that uses best practices. However, in the interests of ease of use and simplicity, hosted platforms will only include popular features and may lack something you need. They will focus on their main function, in this case, the product catalog, the shopping cart and the checkout process. So you may find, for example, that the WYSIWYG content management system that comes with your shopping cart software doesn’t fulfill all your content requirements. You may even find that there are limits to what the templating language used by your e-commerce software allows.

SETTING UP COMPLEX WEB PROPERTIES

Should your website need to be multi-lingual or multi-national, you may need users to be directed to a different website depending on their country.  You’ll probably find this hard to achieve or darn near impossible with a hosted solution.

What you need is a more stand alone hosting that let’s you run separate sites on a folder or subdomain and can let them share the common resources such as your customer list or product database. With a hosted solution, you would probably need to set up several different shops to cater for each of the regions you’re targeting, thus incurring the extra cost to do those websites.

So if you want your “website” to consist of several different sites you may want to consider hosting it yourself.

TOP LEVEL DOMAIN CHECKOUT

Some hosted e-commerce carts won’t let you use your own domain for checkout, since this requires complex SSL set up.  It’s also a good point to note that some hosted systems require you to use their SSL certificate or purchase one through them.  When you host your website yourself, you get to choose which SSL certificate is best for you and choose a company and price that fits you.

BACK END SYSTEM INTEGRATION

Both the BigCommerce and Shopify app store has plenty of solutions for integration with back end software, such as tax apps, CRMs and fulfillment solutions. However, if you’re not a small retailer, you may find that you need a higher degree of integration with your shopping cart software.  This may be up to a level that is not  possible when using a hosted solution.

CONCLUDING NOTES

It may seem to be like there are more advantages with going hosted, but some retailers will find that their requirements exceed the restrictions of the providers. It all comes down to weighing up the business case of paying far more for self-hosted, based on the benefits above.

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Gina is a pretty nifty web designer who started out in this world as a software programmer. She works mostly with small and medium sized businesses who need a superhero to help turn trainwreck projects around. She enjoys reading, learning new web design tricks, Star Wars and playing tennis (badly).

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