Fully Hosted vs Self Hosted Ecommerce Solutions, Which One is Right for Your Company?

If you are considering starting a business or choosing a new ecommerce platform, you should fundamentally understand how ecommerce platforms work. At the highest level all ecommerce solutions fall into two camps: self hosted solutions and fully hosted platforms. Each platform has pros and cons to consider and it’s important you understand the differences for your online business.

What Does it Mean When an Ecommerce Platform is Self Hosted?

A self hosted ecommerce solution is one where your company is responsible for the hosting. That means you would need to setup a server (in the cloud typically) and your store’s files and data would be maintained on that online server.

What Does it Mean When an Ecommerce Platform is Fully Hosted?

Fully hosted ecommerce solutions maintain your store’s files and data in the cloud. You would not need to setup your own server, the ecommerce platform is storing your data for you.

Examples of Both Types of Ecommerce Platforms

Fully hosted solutions are also commonly referred to as SaaS products (software as a service). Here are some common examples of fully hosted ecommerce solutions:

There are many self hosted platforms, but the two most popular are:

As you think through the correct platform for your store there are a number of features you must consider. For each of these features you will need to understand how they work on self hosted platforms compared to fully hosted platforms.

  • Design
  • Functionality
  • Server Maintenance and Backups
  • Credit Card Security and PCI Compliance
  • Site Uptime & Content Delivery Networks (CDN)

Getting Started with Design

On the major platforms listed above if you want to get started with your new store you will have a myriad of options for “themes” or ready made designs to get you rolling. If you want to customize the design of your store you can do that on a fully hosted solution just as easily as you can on a self hosted platform. If you want to do customization to the design of your store you are going to need to know front end programming: CSS, HTML and some JavaScript. Day to day maintenance of your products in your store can be accomplished with either a self or fully hosted platform no problem assuming everything was initially setup correctly.

Site Functionality

Self hosted solutions are a blank slate so you can customize them 100% to what you want.

Fully hosted solutions are hosted in the cloud and you don’t always get full access to everything you might be accustomed to if you are coming from a self hosted platform. However even with self hosted solutions there are often workarounds that will get you what you need. For example on Shopify there is a robust app store with over 1,500 public apps that will extend the functionality of your store. You can create a loyalty program, collect customer reviews, integrate email marketing and much more through a variety of free and paid apps. If you can’t find the perfect public app you need on Shopify you can always create your own custom app to give you the exact functionality your store needs.

Server Maintenance and Backups

If you go the self hosted route you will be responsible for managing your own server and backup process. You can choose to use a server hosted in the cloud, but you will need to perform regular server maintenance and upgrades to make sure your site stays up and is loading fast for your customers (to check your Google page speed score go here) . This work can be outsourced, but if you go the fully hosted route you won’t need to worry about server maintenance and backups.

There is no need to perform server maintenance for fully hosted solutions as your provider will take care of that for you. Many fully hosted solutions will also take backups, but even on a fully hosted solution you will want to consider setting up your backup process to make sure you cover the following: your theme, customers, products and order data.

Credit Card Security & PCI Compliance

If you choose a self hosted solution like Magento or WooCommerce you are going to have to make sure any credit card data you store is completely protected. Even if you choose a self hosted platform you will want to do everything you can to avoid storing credit card data, one common solution we see for this problem is to use something like Stripe Checkout. Stripe checkout allows your customers to store their data in Stripe’s servers and if you return to the store you can reenter your phone number to validate your information and quickly checkout. If you don’t use Stripe Checkout (or a similar service) it’s necessary to know the PCI Compliance rules to make sure your store is in compliance with storing financial data.

Fully hosted solutions will take care of your credit card security and PCI Compliance automatically so unless you do some unique and extensive customizations to your site you won’t want have to worry about this.

Site Uptime and Content Delivery Networks

Ensuring your site stays online is the #1 priority for self hosted sites. If your site goes offline you could lose out on a lot of sales and create a negative perception for your brand. Your server needs to be able to scale with traffic so that it doesn’t get overwhelmed with the volume of people making purchases all at once. The biggest peak days are often Black Friday and Cyber Monday and they are the last days you want your store to go offline. With a self hosted store you need to make sure your site stays online and you have contracted with a content delivery network (CDN) so your site loads quickly all around the world.

If you choose to build your store on a fully hosted solution your site goes down only if the entire SaaS platform goes down. There are ~500,000 stores on Shopify and if they all go offline Shopify is strongly incentivized to get them all back online quickly. Major SaaS ecommerce solutions often have built in CDN’s, Shopify uses Fastly to make sure your site is fast all over the glove.

Do you Already Have a Store?

If you are looking to migrate your business from one ecommerce platform to another it’s important you know what type of platform you are getting into. BTown Web has migrated stores from fully hosted to self hosted solutions, but the biggest trend we are seeing recently is companies moving from self hosted to fully hosted platforms.

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By Chad Fisher is the owner of BTown Web, a full service design and development agency. BTown Web helps small and medium sized businesses get their stores up and running. If you have questions about ecommerce options, reach out and they can help.

BTown Web is Guided's go to technology partner for all things digital and Shopify.