Should I Use a Self-Hosted Online Store or Hosted Ecommerce Platform?

It’s no secret that ecommerce has seen tremendous growth in Canada over the past couple of years. In turn, there has been an increased interest in opening an online store. Some Canadian entrepreneurs are exploring ecommerce as a stand-alone business, while others want to bring their offline store into the online world.

When these eager entrepreneurs begin to research launching an online store in Canada, they’re often confused by an overwhelming number of choices. In addition to the many ecommerce brands available, they have to decide if they want to host their store on their own website or go with a hosted ecommerce platform.

Self-Hosted vs. Hosted

Should I Use a Hosted Ecommerce Platform?

The easiest way to integrate offline and online business, B2C and B2B, drop shipping or any number of options is to choose an ecommerce platform that does it all, like Canada’s Shopify. While you can hire a developer to build a store from the ground up, using an ecommerce platform saves you a lot of time, headaches and money.

Using Shopify as an example:

  • You won’t have to set up payment processing, synced inventory, or any number of other necessary functions or processes. It can be easily managed in-house, allowing you to edit your product catalogue and make other minor changes without any technical knowledge.
  • As you grow and scale your business, there are countless tools, compatible apps, templates and package upgrades that you easily add to meet your requirements.
  • Enjoy perks like cheaper shipping rates with Shopify Shipping.
  • Easily sell on your website, online marketplaces or social media through marketplace integration, facilitating sales on eBay, Amazon, Facebook and more.
  • You’ll save an enormous amount of time and brainpower, so you can focus on building your ecommerce business.

“Look for a solution that will allow you to focus on the things that really matter, which is creating good products, good assets, and a good customer experience,” says Carson McComas, founder and CEO of Fuel Made, in an interview with Practical Ecommerce. “Do not spend much time in the weeds from a technical standpoint. That’s kind of a pitch for Shopify.”

Additionally, there are specific platforms and apps that work better for specific situations, such as dropshipping or digital products.

Should I Use a Self-Hosted Online Store?

If you don’t need robust, stand-alone ecommerce software, it’s relatively easy to register a domain name, set up hosting, and add standard ecommerce functionality (included in most website hosting packages).  We only use and recommend Green Geeks to host online stores. Hosting usually comes with templates and a somewhat automated setup process that most can navigate on their own. If not, the host should have resident experts in their particular platform that you can hire to set it up for you.

Alternately, you can go with your own hosting as above, and install WordPress with a couple of clicks (free). Use the WooCommerce plugin to set up everything for online sales, or go with one of the other ecommerce plugins for WordPress.

If you opt to proceed without an ecommerce platform, there are a few things you’re going to have to set up yourself through your website. Many of them could be included with the store software you install, but it’s important to be aware of everything you’ll need.

  • Website domain, hosting and design
  • Secure Socket Layer (SSL) Digital Certificate for HTTPS
  • Payment processing: Third party (such as PayPal), merchant account, on-demand, offline payments, and digital wallets.
  • Shopping cart (online store software)
  • Inventory catalogue, management and syncing
  • Order fulfillment & tracking
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
  • Customer service systems
  • Security & Fraud prevention
  • Additional functionality specific to your needs, such as a separate wholesale portal or affiliate program management.
  • Tech support
  • Analytics / data tracking
  • Marketing integration

In both scenarios, make sure you ask the company if you can choose to have your website hosted in Canadian data centres to ensure compliance with data sovereignty laws.

It All Comes Down to This

In the end, you really only have to answer one question: Do I want to take care of the ecommerce backend/programming or leave it in the capable hands of a great ecommerce platform?

If you don’t intend to sell a lot of products, it won’t be that difficult or expensive to host it yourself and learn what you need to know (or hire someone). You might also opt for a self-hosted online store if you want full control over things like design. Some online entrepreneurs already have enough knowledge and will choose to do it themselves. Whatever your reasons, there’s nothing wrong with simply adding shopping cart functionality to your website.

If you’d rather leave the majority of the technical stuff to the experts, a hosted ecommerce platform like Shopify will serve you well.

Tip: When you compare the cost of each option, make sure you include the total cost. Each type and brand includes some features while charging for others. Consider potential savings as well, such as shipping or marketing deals that are sometimes offered by ecommerce platforms.

We encourage you to ask questions in the comments below or discuss this and other online business topics in the Online Business Canada Facebook group.

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Digital Business & Marketing Manager at Online Business Canada | Website | + posts

Melody McKinnon's formal education is in business management, which she enhanced with more than 60 certifications revolving around business, marketing, health, general sciences and writing. In over 20 years of working online, she has owned or managed both educational and eCommerce websites.

Melody has worked with many businesses & brands in a multitude of capacities. She can often be found on CanadiansInternet.com, CanadianFamily.net and AllNaturalPetCare.com, as well as other quality digital publications. Her content has earned reference links from highly-respected websites, magazines and university textbooks.

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