Starting an online shop and selling direct using an e-commerce software or platform is one the smartest steps a business can take. But what’s the best eCommerce platform? Is there a cheap eCommerce provider that’s also the best. Cheap – and best. That’s like e-commerce utopia, right?
Building an online store involves many considerations. Probably the first question is how you’re going to promote it, otherwise it’s the equivalent of holding a party and forgetting to tell people the address. But we’ll tackle that issue in a later post. For now, the first important decision is how to power your e-Commerce site.
We have experience of developing online stores with a range of e-Commerce platforms, so the information provided here is based on our experience.
Hosted Vs Unhosted
There’s two main categories – hosted eCommerce and self-hosted. Hosted means that your software and servers will be managed by the eCommerce provider. A hosted or ‘managed’ e-Commerce solution is hosted on a server that you cannot access to. Examples of these are Shopify and Squarespace. Self-hosted means you, or more likely your website design agency, will set-up, maintain and manage the software on a hosting provider like Media Temple, TSO Host or Rackspace, or your own company servers.
Hosted eCommerce solutions There’s a Pros and Cons for both, but we tend to prefer hosted eCommerce solutions for these reasons:
They’ve tested so you don’t need to This is a major advantage. Knowing it’s somebody else’s job to ensure the eCommerce platform remains reliable and constantly available means you don’t have to worry. A platform like Shopify relies on its reputation.
Security You’ve heard about sites being hacked, right. Identifying the immediate security breach and responding quickly creates serious headaches for site owners. While it’s not possible to say hosted platforms will not get breached, again they are reliant on their reputations for stability and security.
Development of new features Hosted platforms respond to user demands, otherwise they risk mass defection to another system. In the background they are constantly developing, improving and adding new features to improve.
For the overall value, we prefer to build with Shopify. The basic package starts from $29/month with card payments at 2.4% + 20p.
Self-hosted eCommerce platforms
That’s not to say hosted are always better. Sometimes it’s more appropriate to host your own e-commerce solution when you need a lot of customisation or when your products have many options or variables.
Many product variations Hosted solutions cope well with single items with a few variations, but you can hit a wall when many product permutations are available. Hosted solutions focus well on popular functions and providing a simple, easy-to-use back-end Content Management System, but this can be to the detriment of flexibility. This can sometimes be overcome with custom-coding, not always. In those situations a self-hosted platform is more suitable.
Integration While hosted platforms offer many solutions for integration with back-end software, such as CRMs and fulfilment solutions, some larger operations require a high degree of integration with their current shopping cart software, a level that may not be possible when using a hosted solution.
Checkout The limited ability to change the checkout page can be a deal breaker for some businesses. If you’re trying to design a checkout page to an exact design, hosted solutions do not offer customisable checkout processes.