In case you haven't guessed yet from the dozens and dozens of posts on this site I'm a huge fan of WooCommerce. It's such a great tool for e-commerce. But just because it's a great tool for me doesn't mean that it's the right solution for everyone. There are a ton of other great solutions based on your needs and your abilities.
There are dozens of e-commerce solutions out there (although I'd only recommend a 1/2 dozen or so) but before we get into the specifics of each platform you need to understand the difference between a hosted & self hosted solution.
What Is a Hosted Solution?
Car or Bus?
Do you prefer using a car? Or do you prefer taking the bus? That answer will probably help you understand if you want a hosted or self hosted solution.
Cars allow you to go anywhere anytime you want. You can paint your car any color you like, you can customize it in just about any way you can dream. You can choose between a car with good mileage or a car with more storage space. You can choose how fast you get to your destination and you can choose what radio station to listen to. There are of course downsides to owning a car – you have to pay for the car itself, you have to pay to park the car, you have to fill it up with gas, you have to pay for maintenance and repairs, and if you want to customize it you have to do it yourself or pay someone else to do it for you. If you like the freedom of owning a car you'll probably like a self-hosted solution.
You could of course take public transportation. It goes to where most people want to go, it goes at a decent speed (sometimes even beating cars), & the maintenance free (for you). There are a lot of busses but you can't leave exactly when you want you might have to wait a bit to get on the bus. There are usually reasonable monthly fees instead of a big upfront cost when purchasing a car. You can't customize anything on the bus. You have to follow their rules – even if they're stupid. And if you ever move to a different city you'll have to learn a whole new bus system. If you like taking public transportation you'll probably like a hosted solution.
A hosted solution is a piece of software that runs on someone else's server. In most cases you don't have access to the code that runs your site. You use their website to make changes to your site. A good example is Facebook. You don't manage it & you don't run it. You create an account and then edit your profile via their site.
A self hosted solution is a piece of software that you run on your own machine (or a machine you rent from someone). You usually see the code and are told where to upload it. A good example would be a computer program like Excel. You can control exactly when you want to update it, but you are ultimately the one responsible for pressing the update button. If you have technical problems you have to figure them out, ask for help, or pay for someone else to troubleshoot it for you.
Advantages of a Hosted Solution
Ease of Use
By far one of the best reasons to use a hosted solution is that they're very easy to use. These solutions typically only have a web interface which means that there's not a line of code to write. It's about as complex as signing up for a Facebook account.
With a hosted solution you never have to worry about updates. With a site like Facebook they roll out changes daily or multiple times a day if they need to. That means that when there's a bug they'll be able to fix it for everyone immediately. You don't have to login and press and update button. It's just fixed.
Advantages of a Self Hosted Solution
On the flip side of easy to use is how much you can customize something. With a self-hosted solution if you don't like something you can change it. If you want your store to have two columns, one on each side, and your products in between you can do that. When you have the code you can do anything – or you can pay a developer to do anything.
Do you hate when Facebook changes their policies and all of a sudden your private images are now available to the world at large? That can happen with hosted solutions. They can change the rules whenever they want. Your hosted solution could close overnight and you'll be stuck. You don't own the code, you don't have access to your content or any of your sales stats. It's going to be a pretty miserable time to get back up and running.
If you host your own software it will always be there. If another platform becomes more popular you can stay on your existing platform for as long as you want – forever even. Owning code isn't something people think about until something bad happens. Make sure you take that into account if you're building a business around a hosted solution.
Both Are Great
Both paths have their pros and cons. Here's the TLDR:
- If you think Facebook is complex use a hosted solution.
- If you prefer ease of use over customization use a hosted solution.
- If you prefer to own your code and pressing the update button your self then use a self hosted solution
Pick what type of solution you want and then look into specific solutions. I'll be digging into my favorite solutions in a future post.
Photo Credit: BobMical