When it comes to researching the best ecommerce solutions for your online store, it’s frustrating as heck, to say the least.
Do you feel like if you come across just one more article that lists out 20 different ecommerce builders, you’re going to completely LOSE it?
As nutty as that may sound, that was how exactly how we felt back in the days when we were looking for a good ecommerce solution.
The more we researched, the more options we uncovered.
Which one should we choose?
We had a severe case of analysis paralysis.
We kept “spinning our wheels”, reading up on all the features of every single available online store builder out there.
We felt stuck…. and we NEEDED direction.
“For goodness sakes, all we wanted to was something reliable, something that works, so we can kick start our business!”
If you are experiencing the same thing, we’re here to guide you through the process.
We obviously can’t build the ecommerce website for you, but we can help you shortcut your way to a couple of top ecommerce solutions that have a good chance of working out for you.
It’s not as hard as you think.
It’s just a matter of asking yourself a few questions to understand what you really need.
So, let’s get going!
SHOULD I CHOOSE A HOSTED OR A
SELF-HOSTED ECOMMERCE SOLUTION?
This is the first thing you should differentiate, and will help you narrow down your options in a significant way.
Basically, there are two ways to build an ecommerce website:
- Hosted ecommerce solution (more user-friendly)
- Self-hosted ecommerce solution (more advanced & flexible)
To determine which one is more suitable for you, ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I technical? Am I proficient with codes (or willing to commit to learning)?
- Am I comfortable with playing the role of the IT technician, such as managing the technical back end of my website (such as hosting, configuration, optimization, security updates, etc)?
- Will I hire a technical team / person to help me manage the website?
- Will my store require very uncommon features that 99% of other online stores don’t need? Such as, I want to custom build a certain tool and incorporate that into my store.
If you answered “No” to most questions – A hosted solution is more suitable for you. Stay away from self-hosted ecommerce solutions to save yourself pain, agony, and time.
If you answered “Yes” to most questions – A self-hosted solution is more suitable for you.
There really isn’t a right or wrong answer here.
The direction that you should be taking is determined by what you are prepared to commit to – (a) being hands on with the technical stuff vs (b) being less hands on (or at all).
It’s just a matter of finding the right category of ecommerce builder, so you can start narrowing things down.
Here is a sneak peak summary of our recommended ecommerce solutions:
|Type of eCommerce Solution||Our Recommendations|
|Hosted eCommerce Solutions||User-friendly and not technically challenging:
|Self-Hosted Open Source eCommerce Solutions||More advanced & flexible, but technically challenging:
Now that you know who they are, let’s keep moving so we can explain the differences between them and which one you should test out.
HOSTED ECOMMERCE SOLUTIONS (more user-friendly)
“Hosted ecommerce solutions enable you to build an online store that works right away – even if you’re not technical at all.”
If you don’t want to mess around with the technical side of running an ecommerce website, this is a very popular option.
A hosted ecommerce solution is a service where the service provider manages all the technical aspects of running a website for you – so you don’t have to.
- It’s a “turn-key” solution where you just sign up, and they give you a simple framework to start building your store immediately – no further technical setup required.
- You can literally just add a few product pages, connect your shopping cart with a few clicks, and you can publish a very basic, bare-bone version of your store, within a day.
- There’s no need for you to worry about how to host your website, or how to integrate a shopping cart. It all comes in a nice package, and it just works.
Using a hosted ecommerce solution allows you to hit the ground running really fast, without having to deal with technical aspects of running an online store.
You can always work on improving the design and functionality of your store one day at a time. At least you can have it published and working in a day.
Furthermore, they offer you full-time, dedicated support teams so you can contact them at any time, even at 3am on a Saturday morning if you need help.
The key point here is that you can publish a functional store that can actually start selling products by Day 1.
With self-hosted ecommerce solutions – you cannot start selling on Day 1 as it takes a lot of work to get things set up (more on this below).
However, if you want to heavily customize your store, or if you want to build custom tools that are very specific for your unique needs, then a hosted ecommerce builder may not be as flexible as self-hosted solutions (more about this later).
Are There Other Reasons Why People Use
Hosted Ecommerce Solutions?
If you look at a lot of online stores out there, even though they’re using hosted ecommerce solutions, doesn’t necessarily mean that those owners are afraid of the technical side of things at all.
You could actually be quite comfortable with codes or working with technical aspects of building and maintaining a website, and still, decide to use a hosted ecommerce builder.
It’s all about how you prefer to allocate your own time.
Some folks prefer to invest more time into other important business tasks, such as product development, getting feedback from customers, sales & marketing, etc.
Those important tasks take a lot of time and you know it’s true!
So to free up your time, you can either:
- Use a hosted ecommerce builder; or
- Hire a person / team to take those tasks off your hands
When you’re running and growing a business, time is one of your most limited resources.
Using a hosted ecommerce solution, you basically have a full-time team supporting you from Day 1.
All the store features are built to work together with each other flawlessly. If a tool malfunctions, their technical teams will fix it. If you have questions, you can reach their support teams (24/7).
So being able to leverage off a hosted ecommerce builder’s support team is one of the best selling points.
Summary of Why Others Choose Hosted eCommerce Builders
So to recap, here are some main reasons why others choose a hosted ecommerce solution:
- You can publish a basic version of your store on Day 1 – not Day 30.
- You don’t want to worry about hosting, security or any technical aspects of running your online store. It’s a major anxiety reliever.
- You want a turn-key solution – where the shopping cart tools come pre-installed and are ready for you to use immediately.
- You don’t need to have any coding knowledge to build a very good online store.
- You will be able to access support 24/7. So you don’t have to hire your own technical staff.
Overall, it’s just much easier to use a hosted solution – especially if are you not an ecommerce seasoned pro!
Instead of naming a long list of service providers for you to consider, we’ll share with you the best 2 hosted ecommerce solutions in the market today.
1) Shopify (400,000+ Active Online Stores)
Shopify is probably the best ecommerce solution available to you today.
It’s a turn-key solution where you can sign up with just your email address for a 14-day trial (no credit card information required), and publish your first store within a few hours.
You can connect your payment processor (such as PayPal, or 70 other choices) with just a few clicks and someone can start buying products from you.
All the tools are fully integrated so you don’t have to manually connect / integrate tools to your store.
Shopify works great for small businesses who are just starting out, all the way up to stores that are selling millions of dollars in products.
What this means is that they have a very strong infrastructure and platform, to scale with your business as your grow.
Here are some other key highlights about Shopify:
- Over 100 professional, mobile-friendly theme designs so your store looks professional right off the bat. You really don’t need to hire anyone to help you design your store (but you can if you want to)
- Over 1,400 apps for you to bolt on to your store to extend the functionality of your business
- 24/7 any time support (very important especially if you have questions at 4am)
- Qualified / Pre-Approved Experts available for hiring if you want to customize your design and functions to take your business to the next level
(Click on image above to see short video overview of what Shopify is all about and how it can help you build an ecommerce store)
Shopify is a one-stop-shop ecommerce solution where they simplify the challenges of building an online store to something that even amateurs can excel at – making life easier for you without having to worry about coding.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that they are too simple and cannot handle larger stores, as their users include smaller businesses that are generating thousands of dollars in sales, to million dollar businesses.
1) Our Shopify Review – see our detailed pros & cons discussion of Shopify here
2) Free eCommerce Guides – see these helpful Shopify guides on different techniques on how you can grow your business
3) Success Stores / Case Studies – see how others have built successful ecommerce businesses using Shopify
4) Shopify Plus (Enterprise Level Users) – If you’re in the big leagues and your business generates 6 to 7 figures in sales per year, this is how Shopify Plus can help you grow even more.
2) BigCommerce (95,000+ Active Online Stores)
BigCommerce is another popular and reputable ecommerce solution that allows you to build your online store without being held up by technology.
They share a lot of similar advantages that Shopify gives you, but there are some differences (more below).
BigcCommerce also works great for smaller businesses, and all the way up to mega-sized stores.
- Comprehensive set of “out of the box” e-commerce tools to help you build your store
- You can add more advanced tools through their App store (just like Shopify)
- Leverages on different social channels to help you reach more potential customers
- 24/7 technical support
(Click on image above to see short video overview of what BigCommerce is all about and how it can help you build an ecommerce store)
BigCommerce is also one of the best ecommerce solutions available today. Their biggest competition in the hosted solution space is Shopify, and each of them has their own pros and cons.
Overall, while BigCommerce has a bit more tools for you in its basic package, Shopify has better storefront designs, more Apps for you to extend the functionality of your store, and has a much larger group of pre-approved / qualified experts for hire (optional) than BigCommerce.
In terms of support, both Shopify and BigCommerce are easily accessible through the phone, live chat, and email.
1) Our BigCommerce Review – see our detailed pros & cons discussion about BigCommerce here
2) Shopify vs BigCommerce – see the major differences between Shopify and BigCommerce, and how they affect you
SELF-HOSTED OPEN SOURCE ECOMMERCE SOLUTIONS
(More Advanced & Flexible)
“Self-hosted ecommerce solutions are flexible and can be highly customized – But you will need to be quite technical (or hire a capable developer).”
Let’s get this out of the way.
Self-hosted ecommerce solutions can be extremely powerful and flexible, but with that comes the requirement for you to be very tech-savvy, or have the budget to hire someone very capable of dealing with these solutions.
Put it this way. Everybody wants a top of the line Ferrari or Lamborghini (insert your own ultimate dream sports car here). But only drivers with specific training can drive these cars effectively and maximize its potential.
While you can loosely piece together an ecommerce store with a self-hosted ecommerce builder, that does not mean it can help you grow your business.
But, if you have a deep interest in technology, you’re willing to invest quite a bit of time to learn the technical ins and outs of an online store, or if you have a deep pocket to hire a strong developer, then you sky really is the limit with self-hosted ecommerce solutions.
Some examples of these ecommerce solutions include:
Self-hosted online store builders are basically standalone programs that require you to install them into your own host (such as Bluehost).
So you’ll have to setup, manage and configure your own host to power your ecommerce website.
Once you’ve picked a hosting service (there are A LOT of different hosting services), you’ll need to install the online store builders into your hosting account.
Some hosts, such as Bluehost, have a simple 1-click installation setup for some of these ecommerce solutions.
But after you get it installed, you will need to start tinkering and configuring your store.
When we first started out and experimented with this a few years ago for our first times, it felt like it would take us hours to learn how to get the simplest things done. It was pretty frustrating as we weren’t too technical back then and didn’t understand how certain tools are supposed to work together.
But once you go through the setup process a few times, it becomes much easier.
That’s also one of the reasons we do suggest that you consider hiring a strong developer (who have extensive experiences with self-hosted ecommerce builders) to get things set up for you.
If you hire the right person, it will be really worth the investment (see our guide on how to hire a good developer – the right way).
As a general guideline, a very capable developer could charge around $100 to $200 per hour. It will be slightly cheaper if you find a good developer in less developed countries / regions such as India, Eastern Europe, Asia, etc.
Hiring a good and trustworthy developer might be a bit challenging compared to Shopify or BigCommerce. As mentioned above, Shopify and BigCommerce each have a list of pre-approved / qualified specialists. So if you do decide to hire help, the list of candidates have already been pre-screened.
The Cost of Building a Website – see our discussion on how much a website could potentially cost you.
Why You Should Not Hire A Designer – if you’re just starting out, think carefully about hiring designers or developers right off the bat. We explain why in this article.
Pros & Cons of Using Self-Hosted Ecommerce Solutions
We’ve highlighted this in various parts above already. But just as a recap:
- The main benefit of using a self-hosted ecommerce builder is that you can customize the setup and functionality of your store to your heart’s content. It can be as flexible as you want it to be. So if you have some unique functions you want to custom build into your store, this is the right place to be.
- The drawback is that it requires you to be technical to install, setup and configure it to work properly. If you’re not effective with codes and technology, you will have to hire someone capable of doing that for you.
In summary, if you don’t have a particular interest in technology, or just don’t have the time to manage it, then self-hosted solutions might not be the best option for you.
But if you are capable with codes and don’t mind tech at all, you can build a very unique and specialized online store.
SUMMARY / CONCLUSION – ECOMMERCE SOLUTIONS
Finding the best ecommerce solution for you can be frustrating and overwhelming at times.
But if you ask yourself the right questions, you can quickly narrow down your choices down to a very manageable number.
Simplistically, if you prefer not to play the role of an IT manager, and that you want to hit the ground running as quickly as possible (such as publishing a simplified, functional ecommerce store in less than a day), then a hosted ecommerce solution such as Shopify or BigCommerce will work well for you.
Keep in mind that you can continue to improve your store as you move along. The key with hosted builders is that they enable you to launch a working store quickly and easily, achieve some early success & victories, and keep on improving incrementally.
If you have some technical chops, or if you have the budget to hire a strong developer / coder, you can build a truly unique store, and customize it to your heart’s content.
At the end of the day, there are no right or wrong answers here. The key is to select a builder that is a good match with your plans and goals.
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