When starting an online shop, the first decision one has to make is whether to self-host or use a hosted platform. Each approach comes with its pros and cons, but which is the best for you? While that is for you to determine, these pointers can prove helpful.
E-commerce software as a service (SaaS)
SaaS eStore is when you sign up on a provider’s site for a store. Using the provided basics, you can then customize the store to your needs. The hosting, software, and often the domain are provided by the eCommerce site. An example of eCommerce SaaS provider is BigCommerce.
Self-hosted eCommerce is when you download, configure and run eCommerce software for yourself. You can host the software on an on-premise server, virtual server online or cloud-based server. One of the market leaders in this category is Magento
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Key Differences between Saas and self-hosted eCommerce
Cost and pricing
Magento is free, like most other open source eCommerce software. However, free (open source) software can be an added cost. While Magento is free for downloading, you’ll have to pay a programmer for customization and configuration if you don’t have programming and scripting skills. Hosting is an additional cost that you will have to consider. It might be a good option for tech-savvy entrepreneurs.
On the other hand, BigCommerce pricing is tiered and fixed. The tiers offer different levels of flexibility in terms of administrator accounts, customization options and support. BigCommerce might, therefore, be a more viable option, especially for the technophobes.
Every software platform has quirks that users love to hate. The same applies to eCommerce software. SaaS platforms generally have limited customization options. Even so, these options will suffice for most users. In the case of BigCommerce, the users can customize the look and feel of the store including payment options.
Comparing the customization options of Magento to a SaaS platform like BigCommerce is akin to comparing a tailor-made suit to an off-the-rack suit. This level of customizability is, however, daunting to non-technical users. When you factor in the need to handle your own eStore security and configure payments and updates, it is obviously not for the technically challenged.
For online businesses, reliability is a factor of uptime (availability) and functionality. For example, if your eShop is available 24 hours a day, every day, but your payment gateway works only half the time, the eCommerce software you are using is not reliable. As such, hosted eCommerce solutions are typically more reliable than self-hosted solutions. But when correctly deployed and managed, self-hosted solutions are as reliable as SaaS. Unfortunately, the costs and technical expertise required are often beyond the reach of most entrepreneurs.
Ease of use
Software usability is contentious and subjective. For instance, in the case of eCommerce platforms, should usability be a reference to the back end or the shopping cart? Usability might be a factor for the tech-savvy. But for most users, a hosted eCommerce will be easier to use. This is particularly important when you factor in system updates, patches and upgrades.
If you can’t give five differences between PHP and MySQL off the top of your head or don’t know why the two should not be compared, you might be better off a hosted solution.