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