Why Self-Hosted Ecommerce Is Easier Than You Think
There are two reasons why the ecommerce industry is such an attractive destination for the average seller or entrepreneur: it’s incredibly rich, pushing brick-and-mortar retail ever more firmly into the history books, and it’s exceptionally easy to enter. The latter wouldn’t matter if people didn’t know about it, of course, and we can attribute that awareness to SaaS hosting providers offering one-stop solutions.
The message is a simple one: sign up with our service, and you’ll get a great store within hours with very little effort required. What’s more, the system will be kept updated for you, and you’ll always have excellent support. It’s easy to understand why people go for it, particularly when they don’t have any coding knowledge and fear the consequences of getting involved.
But that isn’t the only way to go, as you know: there’s also the option of self-hosted ecommerce, wherein you choose separate hosting to house a store you’ve assembled through an open-source CMS. To people who know very little about ecommerce, that sounds very intimidating, but it really shouldn’t: it’s actually a great option for experts and beginners alike.
If you’re not convinced that this is so — perhaps you suspect that I’m exaggerating because I have the necessary expertise — then allow me to explain. In this piece, we’re going to take a more detailed look at why opting for a self-hosted commerce store is significantly easier than you’ve been led to believe.
Let’s begin, shall we?
The internet is packed with easy guides
Let’s say you’ve done your research and picked out some viable CMS candidates, but there’s one problem: you don’t know how to use any of them. You don’t even know where to begin, and unlike with hosted options, you don’t get a nice gentle introduction leading you through. But it isn’t a good reason for concern, because a native guide isn’t necessary — all the information you need might be just one internet search away.
For instance, if you want a blueprint to ecommerce success, you can look up “ecommerce success blueprint” and find this post (Shopify is a credible source of information, so you can trust that the information is useful). And if you want something more specific, such as a piece covering the basics of WooCommerce retail, you can look up “woocommerce ecommerce guide” and find this comprehensive guide that goes all the way from domain-name ideation to payment gateway selection. You might need to look around, but the information you need will be there. You can also throw in modifiers like “easy” and “beginner” to your searches if the results you’re getting are too high-level for your liking.
Do these free resources stack up to those on offer from providers of hosted systems? Well, yes and no: at the lower end, perhaps, but things change when you hit the upper subscription tiers. You’re obviously not going to be able to find a guide that reaches the same level of quality as something put together for businesses paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars monthly.
That said, when you’re not paying anything at all for the guides you’re using, you’re hardly in a position to complain — and if they get the job done, then what else do you need? Most of the time you’re going to be dealing with fairly common issues that are just as easily solved through cheap guides as though their expensive counterparts. Once in a while you might encounter something that doesn’t show up in any free guide, but even that won’t mean you’ll need to pay for assistance: you might be able to get community support (more on that next).
You can easily find community support
I mentioned the proliferation of guides, but what happens if you run up against an issue you can’t find any information about? You might think you’d need to turn to some kind of paid service, and customer support is a massive strength and focus of hosted ecommerce, with 24/7 communication and rapid response times offering a level of comfort that’s hard to achieve when you’re taking the self-hosted route. So where do you turn?
Well, the beauty of the sheer breadth of the online world is that there’s a community for every niche, and every good CMS developer will offer some level of support for a dedicated forum. When you decide to use a given CMS — or even before you make the commitment — you can join its community and start having useful conversations with fellow sellers who’ve been using that system for a long time (and are willing to offer you great advice).
Can community support cover every issue? Realistically, no, it can’t — and even if it could, there’s an inevitable lack of reliability because the people you’re consulting aren’t getting paid for helping. Most of them will work full-time jobs and only help people with their issues during their spare time. It’s extremely generous, but not something you can rely on when you’re trying to keep a business running — in the event of a system failure, you can’t be left waiting several days for someone to get back to you with suggestions.
That said, that still doesn’t mean you need to to down the hosted ecommerce route, because you also have the option of investing in a dedicated support service from third-party experts. That way, you can research ideas, find reliable suppliers, get best-practice suggestions, and have all the assistance you need to shape the store of your dreams — all while continuing to use the CMS you chose and retaining complete control over what happens.
Plugins make most features straightforward
There may well be specific apps or services you’d like to use with your online store: perhaps an email automation tool, or a live chat system, or an inventory tracker. If so, you might look to enterprise-level hosted options with rich sets of native features (perhaps even something with all-purpose ecommerce automation), and that isn’t a bad choice — but it isn’t necessary.
This is due to the modular nature of modern open-source systems. Because they’re developed to support extension, they can be built upon with plugins of numerous varieties, many of which are free (or extremely cheap). Couple that with the existence of automation services that are almost universally compatible (e.g. IFTTT and Zapier) and you have a winning recipe.
If you do your research, then, you can ultimately piece together a custom store with all the features you’d get from a hosted solution at a lower cost — and with more flexibility. Provided you’re willing to put in the effort, the reward can be quite significant. And if your chosen CMS starts to feel outdated after a few years, you’ll be in a strong position: you won’t have to contend with the sunk-cost fallacy because you won’t have been paying for the CMS itself, and you’ll likely be able to find a plugin to handle the migration of your data.
That said, if you’re using WordPress as the foundation for your store (extended by an ecommerce plugin), it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll feel a compelling need to go elsewhere. It’s the most popular CMS in the world by some margin, and should remain a strong presence years into the future, making it about as safe a bet as you can find.
There isn’t that much to learn
Lastly, self-hosted ecommerce is easier than you think because it simply isn’t that tricky. You may have had a bad experience with an old and intuitive system, but the open-source world has come a long way, and open-source no longer means irredeemably complex. UI and UX standards have risen in line with the rest of the development world, and there are 100% free tools available that beginners can pick up reasonably quickly.
When you don’t know anything at all about the ecommerce world, it still sounds incredibly intimidating, but try to remember just how good the human brain is at adapting. What skills do you already possess? How many of those seemed exceptionally difficult to begin with, but are now second-nature to you? If you get started on your skill development right away, you can see results within days, and soon enough you’ll discover that you feel totally comfortable dealing with even the trickier elements of your ecommerce system.
Is there still a learning curve involved? Absolutely, but that’s true of every system, and you just might not notice with a hosted system because of the slick presentation coaching you through the various steps and steadily offering you hints and corrections. The biggest challenge you face with a self-hosted system is resolving to see it through: once you overcome that, you shouldn’t have any major issues moving towards your goals.
Overall, then, the self-hosted ecommerce on offer today is a far cry from the fragmented systems that necessitated the development of convenient hosted solutions. With the immense resources of the online world and the ever-improving UX of self-hosted platforms, you can create your ideal store without needing to spend excessively.