Ecommerce Essentials – Part 1: The Platform Parade

Running down the shapes and sizes best for your shop

Without a doubt, if you’re a budding entrepreneur who is looking to sell goods or services online, you’ve already googled “best ecommerce for XYZ” in hopes of saving yourself time and energy.

Next, one of two things happened:

  1. Counterproductivity – You ended up spending both the time and energy you were looking to save in the first place, going over the infinite number of resources out there to help you make a decision. Weighing customer reviews, reading the case studies on ecommerce platforms’ websites, reading blog articles touting how to grow your business 3400% in the first year with the XYZcommerce platform, etc.
  2. Frustration – You told yourself “screw it” after a couple of minutes of searching for easy answers, and moved on with the more pressing matters in your life, such as taking your Cocker Spaniel to the dog park.

The simple truth is that the universally best platform doesn’t exist, and the ideal platform for your ecommerce shop depends on several factors that you’ll need to determine with your team.

For now, though, for those of you weighing BigCommerce against Shopify; WooCommerce against Magento and so on, we’re here to save you the above mentioned time and energy. We’ll tackle those in our 2nd and 3rd parts of this platform parade series.

Before we get started, and to return to saving you time and energy, if you’re seeking insights and advice on ecommerce marketplaces, you can go back to your Cocker Spaniel at the dog park.

We’ll tackle the strategy for selling on ecommerce marketplaces like AliExpress, Amazon, Etsy, and eBay in a future article, as the difference between an online marketplace and having your own online storefront is as wide as owning a luxury yacht or buying tickets for a cruise ship.

The same goes for social selling. We’ll touch on that a wee bit here, but if you’re looking for hacks, tips & tricks for social media selling, that will be covered here in the near future.

With over 120 ecommerce options at present to choose from, there certainly is one that is perfect for you. Yet at 120+, we won’t have time to get into all of them.

That being said, the platforms fall into several different categories, and subsequent subcategories, which we will help you navigate to find the perfect offering for your unique needs.

What do you say? Let’s do this. In this article, we’re going to help you make a decision to move ahead with a platform that is either…

Hosted or Self-Hosted?

Here we’re going to get into one of the most essential of categories that all ecommerce platforms fall into – whether they’re hosted for you, or if you will host it yourself. What do these words actually mean in simple terms?

HOSTED: The platform handles almost everything for you, yet comes at a price. Essentially, the things you need to manage are the photos of your products, writing the content, promoting your store, etc.

Hosted platforms typically come with a subscription cost, which can vary from the low double digits to thousands of dollars a year. Some might even take a small percentage from every single transaction, in addition to the subscription fee.

Hosted platforms might have some variety of templates to choose from, but basically the look and feel of the shop is fixed for you, without a qualified development and design team at your disposal to do such.

SELF-HOSTED: This means that you might have to get your hands a bit dirty, or from time to time you’ll need to hire a developer to assist you with changes to the website layout, design, and adding or removing features.

However, you only need to pay for your domain and server space, and depending on the platform, sometimes a meager usage fee (think single to low double digits per month.) You get to keep 100% of your sales (minus credit card transaction fees, naturally) and don’t need to worry about monthly fees or, heaven forbid, if a hosted platform goes out of business. (R.I.P. Lemonstand, a younger and promising entry to the hosted ecommerce field that recently went under.)

If you don’t want to get your hands dirty, worry about updating plugins, improving page load times, et cetera, there are plenty of managed ecommerce hosting services available (here’s a WooCommerce example, but there are managed hosting services for every self-hosted ecommerce platform available,) which you can think of as a hybrid between the purely hosted and self-hosted platform categories. You keep the flexible configurability of a self-hosted platform, but don’t need to worry as much about the technical end.

So, how do you really choose between going with a hosted or self-hosted platform? It can’t just be about costs and savings, right?

Of course not. Before we get into the advantages, as we’re sure you’ll be asking yourself a slew of questions about your ecommerce intentions rather soon, here’s an analogy to visualize the main difference:

Think of a hosted platform as a furnished, brick McMansion in a gated subdivision with a homeowners association, and even retained repair contractors on call 24/7. Everything is already set up for you to move in and start this new chapter of your life. The mortgage and community dues are a pretty penny, and you can’t paint the exterior of your house pink with white polka dots, make too much noise at night, or turn your lawn into a forest, but it’s safe, secure, comfortable and impressive looking.

The self-hosted platform? It’s your own little house on a hill in the suburbs with an acre, that you inherited from Aunt Anne. You have the freedom to renovate and build upon it as you like, but you need to worry about managing all plumbing and electrical repairs yourself. Nobody is going to come by and criticize what you do to your house or land, but nobody is going to be there to help you unless you pay them to do it.

Hosted platforms have distinct advantages over self-hosted, and vice versa. In essence, though, it all comes down to your needs, vision, and the types of products you’re selling. If you ask us, a hosted platform is best if you fit into a few of these categories:

  • Consistent product offerings, year to year
  • Short on technical staff or skills
  • Short on time to design and redesign the website’s image/layout, or custom designs aren’t needed
  • Expecting high visitor traffic every month
  • Starting ecommerce for an already established brand
  • Don’t need custom integrations with 3rd party systems that are not supported by the hosted platform
  • Don’t plan for custom functionality to be needed for the site
  • Not selling a prohibited category by the hosted platform

In the same breath, self-hosted ecommerce platforms, in our esteem, are best if you are…

  • Have big plans for the future to expand your product offerings 
  • Have a tech-savvy person on your team
  • Would like as much control as possible, and have outgrown a hosted destination
  • Selling product categories that are prohibited by the hosted platforms 
  • Want your system to connect with another own hosted service

Now, move forward

There are plenty of variations on either end, but the above will help you make an informed decision on how to move ahead and start to review which of the hosted or self-hosted platforms are best for your purposes.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll be weighing the pros and cons of the hosted platforms out there, and especially the most frequently used hosted platforms.

Have you a shop that’s already up and running? How has your experience been with using a hosted or self-hosted platform? Let us know in the comments below, and feel free to reach out to us at any time if you have any ideas that you’d like to discuss.

About the author

Asbed Kassis

Asbed is the CEO at Alena Solutions. His areas of expertise include product management, analytics, quality assurance, and strategic planning.

Asbed holds a BS in Computer Science from the California State University of Northridge and an MBA from the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.

In his spare time you'll find Asbed playing with his kids, gardening, camping or playing soccer.

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