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The hidden costs of self-hosted ecommerce platforms

By Julia Gifford - Reading time: 4 minutes

Hosted vs. self-hosted ecommerce platforms – that’s often an overlooked element of choosing the ecommerce platform that’s right for you.

We’re often asked about which platforms are best to use. Well, “best” is a term that’s definitely in the eye of the beholder, as each person has different needs in their platforms. Some people need them to be as easy to use as possible, others need them to be as versatile as possible. Most often people also refer to price as a factor in their decision. Though some platforms are technically free to use, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any hidden costs.

What is hosting?

Let’s cover the fundamentals before getting into the pros and cons of self-hosting. Hosting is the real estate upon which your website lives. You don’t own it, you sort of rent the space from a hosting provider.

Hosting provides the server where your files live, which can be accessed by anyone who visits your domain.

Anything you see on the internet is hosted somewhere. Following that same logic, if you want your own online store (or blog or anything!), it will have to be hosted somewhere. Hosting happens on a server. There are different ways you can get access to a server:

  • leased hosting: “rent” space from a hosting provider – this it the most common form
  • hosted:  create your online space (be it a store or a blog) on a platform that has built-in hosting.
  • own your own:  unnecessary if you’re just starting out, but can be cheaper in the long run if you end up buying your own server, hiring a systems administrator, build out your server farm, etc.

If your main goal is to launch an ecommerce store, one of the most impactful decisions at this stage will be if you opt for creating your store on a hosted or self-hosted platform.

Hosting is a major element that’s responsible for a site’s loading time. Obviously, the faster, the better. Statistics show that 50% of web users expect a website to load in 2 seconds or less. Any longer, and they’ll likely abandon the site. Similarly, hosting is also an element that’s partly responsible for when websites crash because of high traffic. The more bandwidth available to the site, the less likely a crash occurs.

What’s the difference between hosted and self-hosted platforms?

A hosted platform is when the platform you’re building on (Shopify, Woocommerce, WordPress, Blogger, etc.) hosts your store’s files on their own servers. They usually have deals with established hosting companies, and take care of offering the optimal bandwidth amount, security elements such as PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliance, backups, and more.

Hosted platforms that integrate with Printful:

  • Shopify
  • Storenvy
  • BigCommerce
  • Gumroad
  • Tictail
  • BigCartel

A self-hosted platform offers you the platform, but you have to decide where to host it. You then are responsible for researching the best offers, installing the ecommerce platform onto the server, the PCI compliance and several safety elements.

Platforms that don’t offer hosting that integrate with Printful:

  • WooCommerce

Here’s a full table overview of Printful’s integrations:

ecommerce-platforms-for-blog

As you can see, all of the platforms that require you to have your own server (therefore your own hosting), are all “free” to use. But that doesn’t mean that setting up your online store won’t incur costs. We’ll go over the different costs that occur when you choose to go with a self-hosted platform so that you’re not just choosing the platform because it’s free. Because remember, nothing is ever completely free.

Additional costs of self-hosted platforms: the hidden cost, pros, and cons

Technically challenging setup

The setup will be the challenge. You’ll have to have technical chops to be able to do yourself (for example, you’ll need to use an FTP client to upload files to your server), and if you don’t you’ll spend an absurd amount of time figuring it out. On the other hand, you can outsource this to someone who finds it simple to do. Either way, you’ll either be paying with your time, nerves, or money. The choice is yours.

Maintenance difficulties

Depending on the theme you’re using, you won’t be able to vary everything as simply in your theme setup.

For example, to change a font you’ll have to download the desired font file, upload it to your server via FTP, find your font folder and paste it in. I tried doing this once. All it lead to was frustration.

You become responsible for maintenance, research, and fixing bugs. As opposed to using a hosted platform, you won’t be able to have the ecommerce or hosting platform to fall back on if you need support. It will be up to you to do the research and find the solutions.

Safety becomes your responsibility

You’ll be responsible for everything related to the safety of your store. That includes PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliance, as well as SSL certification. SSL certification has become the norm for online payments (Shopify has enabled SSL certification for all of its stores) and consumers have come to expect it. It ensures the consumer’s data security, and also acts as an element of trust, which may, in turn, play a role in making the decision of whether or not to buy from your store.

Getting your own SSL certificate can be finicky and involves things like providing your own IP address, having your website generate CSR texts, and more. They’ll cost upwards of $45 per year, with many cost variations.

Benefits of self-hosting

To emphasize that self-hosting is not all bad, there are many benefits. It allows the freedom for stores to choose the type of hosting most suitable for them. For stores with programming resources, you’d also have increased flexibility with your store, which can be limited when you’re using a set sales platform.

Available hosting platforms

If you choose to go with a platform that requires hosting, you should know that the choices are vast. There are so many options to choose from, you have to do your research thoroughly. Once you choose a hosting platform, it’s very difficult to migrate to another one.

Here are some popular options:

  • Bluehost – enough for a simple store. Pricing starting at $3.97/month
  • Digital ocean – cloud-based storage built for developers. Pricing starting at $5/month
  • SiteGround – specializes in ecommerce hosting. Pricing starting at $3.95/month
  • Amazon – free tier hosting, cloud based, you pay for what you use
  • WP Engine – specializes in WordPress + WooCommerce hosting. From $29/month. Use code wpe20off and get 20% off your first month!

The choice is yours – choose wisely

The platform type you choose to go with is ultimately up to you, and there are plenty of reasons to opt for either one or the other. But take heed – as the CEO of Printful, Davis Siksnans, said: “Hosting is like a marriage. It’s difficult to change from one to another once you’ve already committed.” There you have it, words of hosting wisdom. Now be free, little ducklings, and go and find your place in the digitally hosted world!

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  1. shayne

    not experienced at coding whatsoever but i watched a 3 hour youtube video about the Flatsome theme for wordpress…i already had a domain with godaddy and they have an option to host wordpress with them …so i dived into that…ive been learning as i go but heres the kicker that i think is cool..i figured out how to intergrate multiple dropships in one store so the freedom of hosting your own and the customizable options are alot better…i must admit though its a large learning curve…so far the cost hasnt been so bad, i did buy a theme which was $58.00 and i purchased my domain a while ago for 9.00, i also am paying 8.99 per month for hosting but i like the way its setup….i think this is a great way to go if you have a little experience with editing drag and drop style website building and understand basic mechanics of how a site should look…my site is hidden at the moment because i am still working on it..but heres the url for anyone that reads this and wants to hit me up for any advice http://fightsu.com …i,m using the flatsome theme, in wordpress which i have hosted with godaddy, this video was what i watched and it shows you how to setup a fully working ecommerce site and then its up to you to get creative https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MwEl1Hlwew

  2. Om Prakash

    I have used opencart for many websites. It works like charm. It is available in cpanel which makes it easy to install. I don’t think it takes more than 5 minutes to set up your website and give it an e-commerce finish. You have all the options which is available in major shopping website. You can add products using the backend. No huss and fuss. You can add images, you can set price, you can set discount, you can set stock availability, etc. etc.

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