My first e-commerce site was a self-hosted site that had Mal’s e-commerce, which was essentially like a stripped down Paypal commerce tool. It was bare bones but there was a freedom in that; I could make it whatever I wanted. However, I was the one responsible for updates and tech support.
Today, you can keep your site self-hosted, or you can head over to a fully hosted e-commerce site for not very much money, which is super awesome. But what is the best option for you? Check out my e-commerce resources guide to decide where you should put your money and why.
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What it is: You host your e-commerce site on your own domain.
Pros: Absolute freedom when it comes to design, products, hosting…the world is yours! To be entirely honest, this is my favorite option. MSC was self-hosted in early 2015 and it’s backend was WooCommerce, which is a WordPress plugin. There was really great freedom in Woocommerce, and I would definitely recommend it if you’re into coding.
What’s most important is that you rely on nothing to generate your sales. If Etsy went down and that was your only platform, you’d be S.O.L. When you’re self-hosted, you aren’t beholden to any other website.
Cons: Depending on how you want to accept payments, you’ll probably need to add an SSL certificate (which adds the “s” in https://) to make sure you’re adhering to PCI compliance. PCI compliance are the rules and regulations for accepting credit cards online. Luckily, you can usually get around this by having your payment options hosted at third parties like PayPal.
Also, you’ll be responsible for upkeep and IT support if the website does down
BlueHost is my bestie. Their servers are SO MUCH FASTER than others (ahem, GoDaddy) that I really noticed a difference when I moved over the BlueHost. I run all of my blogs through them and heart them muchly.
A Small Orange is really good for dipping your toes in the water. Their plans are fairly cheap and they’re a good way to get started without a lot of investment.
WooCommerce is a plugin designed for WordPress, so you need to have WordPress installed first. It’s beautiful in its simplicity, but it comes with only the barest of bones. Now, there are a TON of free plug-ins that help make WooCommerce more robust, but some of them you really need to pay for to make the site functional (shipping profiles, for example). I had to add a bunch of plugins that all-totaled would not have been very cost effective had I not used a subscription service like WooGPL to assist with the cost.
(NOTE: I know that isn’t the best way to go about getting plugins, but in the interest of being transparent with you guys I don’t want to lie and pretend I dropped $1200 on plugins, when really I only dropped $40).
PrestaShop I used for years. I felt fancy telling people that they had never heard of it because it was French, but really, I should’ve told them they never heard of it for a reason. Granted, I haven’t used this in many years, but my PrestaShop site was so full of bugs that it wouldn’t allow customers to checkout during Black Friday weekend. 🙁 Kind of an important weekend for e-commerce. No matter how many times I did fresh installs it never seemed to work…if you’ve used PrestaShop recently leave a comment and let me know how it’s improved!
ZenCart really takes me back. It’s a totally free shopping cart system that is probably built into your hosting Cpanel (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s okay). It wouldn’t be considered a lovely system nowadays, but it was a workhorse shopping cart that did what you needed when you needed.
Magento is a cart I tried and totally gave up on. Now, I’ve been coding websites since (WARNING: Nerd moment) I was 15 and geocities was the place to be, but Magento was so un-intuitive and hard to work with, I gave up after a week.
Ones I’ve never used so can’t vouch for: OpenCart, X-Cart, osCommerce, UberCart
ThemeForest has themes for all of those platforms (even ZenCart!) and also has really awesome plugins and add-ons for cheap. My former theme for MSC is from there and I love that it’s elegant, customizable, and most importantly, has amazing support.
99 Designs is when you want a totally customized design experience. I’ve used 99 Designs before for packaging (as I talked about in Episode 001), and the design contests are really easy to do. It does cost a little more than using a pre-made template, but having something 100% yours is pretty cool, too.
WordPress Theme Site also has free themes that are easy to customize, as long as you’ve got a little HTML knowledge
What it is: You pay a 3rd party to host and run your e-commerce site.
Pros: Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. No worrying about downtime, SSL, PCI compliance, these companies take care of all of that for you. You can even buy your own domain and have it point to your site on there.
Cons: Design options are limited to their themes only. Some things you may want to add may be additional costs or not available at all (like, if you want a wholesale option for your site in addition to retail). If they go down, (which, to be fair, is unlikely) they can take your entire site with them. It can also be cost-prohibitive if you’re on a tight budget.
Etsy I think is the first stop for trying out a new product or service idea. There are shops on there that are service-based, but Etsy is mainly a marketplace for products. They’ve become fairly saturated over the years, but I still keep up my Etsy site so that I can add another platform and reach more eyeballs. There are also concerns about their future since it seems to be in a constant state of change.
BigCartel is a platform that many take as a baby step off of Etsy. It’s fairly easy to use, isn’t too spendy, and you can get up and running pretty fast. It doesn’t allow for a lot of customization, though, and I think you’re stuck with only accepting PayPal. Also, the shipping solutions aren’t exactly elegant if you’re dealing with multiple product sizes and weights.
Wix is another step off of Etsy and I think a great platform for working out how to run a small product business. They’ve got lots of tools and apps that can help you get your products into your customers’ hands.
BigCommerce is the platform I used for about 2 years and had very few issues with. Their customer service was top notch and I rarely had any downtime. I left because I wanted more control on my themes, but I really had no complaints on how my site was treated there.
Squarespace is another platform that many use, but mostly for blogs and service-based websites, as they only have 1 payment gateway available, which I feel limits your ability to provide the most value to your customers. However, their websites are easy to setup so they can be a good source if you’re in a bind, but again, I think they’re better as a blog platform than an e-commerce site.
Shopify is, I think, the most famous and with good reason. Many of the bigger Etsy sellers skipped over BigCartel and went straight to Shopify. It’s a great platform that is incredibly stable. Their app integrations are really cool. It used to be really spendy (as compared to others) but I use the cheapest plan, which ends up being ~$31 (taxes), and I think they’re totally worth it if you want to go all in for your e-commerce site. I currently run MSC on Shopify and don’t think I’ll move it anywhere else.
PayPal is famous (or infamous) for a reason. It’s easy to set up and easy to accept payments with. Some have had issues with PayPal freezing funds, so it’s always best to use a backup in addition to PayPal.
Stripe is a credit card processing company that integrates with WooCommerce, Shopify, BigCommerce, and others.