Whether you sell cat toys, information products, or custom-printed tote bags you’ll have to make a big decision before you launch your e-commerce website:
Should you go with a hosted solution (like Shopify) or manage your own e-commerce platform with a software like WordPress?
While both options can offer powerful solutions for your specific needs, they both have different strengths and benefits.
What’s the best choice for your business?
Hosted vs Self Hosted E-Commerce Sites
What exactly is hosting?
Well, think about your e-commerce website like a house – hosting is the property that house sits on. It’s the server where all of the files that make up your e-commerce website live, and where they are accessed by anyone who visits your site. Everything that you see on the Internet is hosted somewhere.
The difference between hosted and self hosted has to do with who owns the software that runs your site.
With hosted e-commerce sites, the software and hosting are provided by the company. Generally, this gives you access to powerful tools to build your site, although you do not have access to the code your site is built on. Some examples of this are: Shopify, BigCommerce, PrestaShop, and Volusion.
With self hosted e-commerce sites, you pay a company to host software on their sites, but you then install and run the software. An example of this is installing and configuring WordPress as an e-commerce site on SiteGround (our partner), Magento, WooCommerce, or BlueHost. You have access to the code your site is built on, giving you greater control.
There are many pros and cons, but here’s the crux of the issue:
When choosing between hosted vs self hosted e-commerce sites, you’re basically choosing what level of control you want to have over your site, versus having someone else manage the details for you.
Should you choose hosted or self hosted?
Customizability is the biggest differentiator between hosted and self hosted e-commerce sites.
Self hosted: If you’re a technically minded person or are willing to pay for someone to build and manage your site, you can have much finer control with a self hosted e-commerce site.
All aspects of the storefront and the back end can be customized, giving you total control over the customer experience. It’s often much easier to optimize your site, too, using A/B testing to get bigger and better conversions on all aspects of the site.
Hosted: On the other hand, choosing to go with a hosted e-commerce option allows you to get your site started without a huge learning curve. Often, you can get a powerful website right out of the box with only a small amount of initial setup.
This can be a great option if you lack the technical expertise to set up your on-site – but keep in mind that the ability of your site to provide a unique customer experience will be constrained to the limits of the platform.
When comparing costs between the two options, it’s important to understand that each has its own pros and cons.
Self hosted: With a self hosted site, the majority of your expenses will be upfront, incurred in the set up and build time. Learning to set up your site yourself will save money, but often isn’t the wisest use of your time as a business owner.
Maintenance costs can also be higher with a self hosted site, as you will be responsible to keep on top of software updates and security patches yourself. Once you have your store configured, however, there are fewer recurring monthly costs.
Hosted: Most hosted sites operate on a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, where you pay a monthly fee to the provider. You’ll avoid the large initial costs involved in developing your site, and the majority of site maintenance will be outsourced to the host platform provider.
This can allow you to launch your site with a smaller amount of initial capital, but be sure to consider that those monthly costs do add up over time. Plus, you may find yourself locked in a contract with certain self hosted sites.
As an e-commerce business, your site’s reliability is hard currency. You need to ensure you’ve earned your customers’ trust by providing a safe and secure place to do business – and that means getting top-notch technical support for your site.
Self-hosted: With a self hosted site, the hosting provider will usually provide technical support when it comes to server issues – but when it comes to issues with the software itself, you’ll need to be ready to DIY your own solution or turn to your web developer or other expert.
Hosted: With a hosted solution, assistance with the software will be included in your monthly fee. This can give you peace of mind when it comes to all the technical maintenance aspects of your site – everything from unexpected server outages to mystery bugs in the checkout system.
Making your decision
In the end, choosing a self hosted e-commerce site gives you more control and customization, but it doesn’t have to be a bigger headache.
That’s because open-source software like WordPress is a powerful basis for e-commerce, and the number of customizations and integrations available make it relatively intuitive to set up. Plus, a good self hosting company, like our partner SiteGround, will also offer reliability and technical support to give you peace of mind.
And, of course, if you don’t want to do the work of building your WordPress e-commerce at yourself, you can always turn to experts like the folks at IvyCat!