Let’s state the obvious: If you’re going to sell auto parts and accessories online, you need an ecommerce website. The question is, should you:
- Build your own ecommerce site off a platform like Magento or WooCommerce, OR
- Pay for a hosted ecommerce solution (like Web Shop Manager, BigCommerce, or Shopify)?
While there’s no cut and dry answer to this question, we generally suggest that ecommerce retailers invest in a hosted system. Here’s a detailed explanation of “why” based on our experience as an agency that’s worked on a LOT of ecommerce systems over the years.
What Are “Build Your Own” or “Hosted” Ecommerce Platforms?
First, let’s explain what “build your own” and “hosted” means in this context. A “build your own” ecommerce system is something that’s typically (but not always) built off of an open-source framework like Magento or WooCommerce. You pay a developer or web design company to create a site for you, they charge you a hefty design/development fee, and then when they’re all done you pay for hosting (and perhaps minor maintenance). Some examples of “build your own” systems (all of which we’ve worked on): OS Commerce, Zen Cart, OpenCart, Drupal, VirtueMart, ASPDotNetStorefront, PrestaShop, Spree, WP e-Commerce, WooCommerce, and of course Magento.
A “hosted” ecommerce system is something that you pay a monthly fee to use. You may or may not also have to pay a large up-front design fee. Examples include Shopify, BigCommerce, Volusion, and Web Shop Manager (a popular option in the automotive ecommerce niche).Each system has it’s pros and cons, which we detail below.
Self-Hosted Ecommerce System (aka Build Your Own) Pros and Cons
With a self-hosted system, the ecommerce software is 100% under your control. You pay for a web server to host the software, you pay for a developer/designer to configure the software, you maintain updates and security, etc. As you can imagine, this level of control has some positives:
- Self-hosted systems allow for extraordinary levels of customization. If you want to build an ecommerce site unlike any other site in existence, a self-hosted system is often the only way to go.
- Self-hosted systems generally offer more integration possibilities. Do you need a website that will integrate with your proprietary accounting or warehouse systems? Do you want to use a 3rd party fulfillment tool? There are lots add-ons that will help you connect your self-hosted system to other systems.
- You own a self-hosted website. While ownership is both a blessing and a curse, any modifications, feature enhancements, etc. that you make belong to you. That’s often not the case when you buy a hosted system (only as you’ll come to see, that’s not a bad thing, necessarily).
Of course, with control comes responsibility, and that’s where self-hosted/”build your own” ecommerce systems have their downsides:
- You own all the errors, problems, and security risks. When you develop your own ecommerce system (or pay someone else to do it), you own all the problems that come with it. You need to secure the site from hackers, and you need to address any site problems or errors as they come up.
- You need to maintain the site yourself. If your site is based on open-source software like Magento, you’ll need to do periodic updates. You’ll also need to pay attention to security news about your software, and at some point you’ll probably need to pay a developer to make a major upgrade to your site (major upgrades are required every 2-3 years).
- You need to deal with hosting issues, backups, etc. Last but not least, self-hosted sites need quality hosting and regular backups. You need to make sure you’re getting both.
Self-hosted systems are often pitched by web development companies as being “cheap” or free, but nothing could be further from the truth. We typically find that self-hosted systems require substantial investment (time or otherwise) on a regular basis, most of which goes to maintenance and troubleshooting.
If you need total control of your ecommerce system, and you don’t mind making the investments that self-hosting requires, a “build your own” ecommerce website can be a good option. Just understand that self-hosted systems are never free, rarely cheap, and sometimes a headache.
Hosted Ecommerce Systems – Pros and Cons
A hosted ecommerce system is one that’s powered by software you essentially lease from an ecommerce provider. In exchange for the use of their software, you pay a monthly fee that can range from $50 a month to $500 (or more). With a hosted ecommerce system, you have limited levels of control, but you also have reduced responsibilities.
The pros of hosted ecommerce systems include:
- When something breaks, the ecommerce provider fixes it. If your site goes down, or a feature doesn’t work, or there’s a security breach, your ecommerce provider has the responsibility of fixing it. While it’s never fun to have a website problem, it’s often a relief to know someone else is going to address the problem.
- You don’t have to worry about upgrades, hosting, maintenance tasks, etc. The ecommerce provider charges you a monthly fee, and part of that fee is making sure that your site is upgraded, backed-up, etc.
- You’re not in charge of security. This is a biggie, as the costs of a security breach can become scary very quickly. If you pay an ecommerce provider for their software, the responsibility (and much of the liability) for a security breach lies with them.
- Your up-front costs are usually lower. Many hosted ecommerce systems have lower up-front design and development costs than self-hosted systems, with some hosted systems providing templates that all but eliminate your design costs.
As for cons, there are a couple:
- You usually can’t customize. This isn’t a huge issue if you desire a standard ecommerce website, but if you’re looking for something special, hosted systems are usually off the table.
- You’re often committed to a hosted ecommerce provider for months or years. Most hosted systems want you to make a commitment, and/or they put you on a proprietary platform that’s difficult to transition away from. This means that – practically speaking – you’re often “stuck” with the hosted provider for months or years. If they don’t provide the level of service you want, this can be a problem.
Please note: We didn’t list the cost of paying a monthly fee as a con, mostly because we’ve found that self-hosted and hosted systems both have monthly costs. The only difference is that the monthly costs associated with hosted systems are steady and planned. Self-hosted system costs are variable…sometimes they’re minimal, sometimes they’re not.
Which Type of Ecommerce Platform Is Best? Hosted or Build Your Own?
As we said at the beginning, we generally recommend a hosted ecommerce platform. The main reason is that selling auto parts and accessories online is complicated enough without having to maintain a website. Still, many of our clients have self-hosted ecommerce systems that work just fine for them. It’s not as if maintaining your own Magento installation (for example) is extraordinarily difficult.Whatever you choose, understand that both systems have pros and cons. What’s more, don’t assume that self-hosted “build your own” systems are cheaper. They may (or may not) have lower up-front costs, but in the long run self-hosted systems require a lot of time, money and effort to maintain. The total lifetime cost of a self-hosted website is often quite comparable to hosted systems (despite what your friendly Magento developer may say).