November 18, 2013 by Andrew Minalto - 1 Comments

Hosted VS Self Hosted Shopping Carts

This is another never ending debate you see online – whether to go with Hosted or Self-Hosted shopping carts. Some people see no point in the monthly payment while others swear by the advantages hosted shopping carts offer. So what’s the truth? Probably somewhere in the middle but I personally only use hosted carts for the reasons I’ll outline in this blog post.

Here are the most popular types of shopping carts:

Paid Shopping Carts:

  • Hosted
  • Self-Hosted

Free Shopping Carts:

  • Self Hosted

With free carts you don’t have any other option than to go with your own, self-hosted set up (as no one will host a free shopping cart for free). Paid shopping carts can be divided into two large groups – hosted and self-hosted. What does this mean?

Hosted Shopping carts – when I use this term, I’m referring to shopping carts that are hosted on the shopping cart company’s servers. Hosted shopping carts usually have a monthly fee that covers the software licence, hosting, support and updates.

Self-Hosted shopping carts – these are free and paid carts that you host on your own hosting account. For example, you download the free Open Cart software and install it on your Host Gator hosting account. This would be a self-hosted set-up as you’re hosting the cart on your own account.

What are the major advantages and disadvantages to each?

Cost

Hosting an online shop on your own hosting account is usually the much cheaper solution, especially if you’re just starting out and won’t be receiving high levels of traffic. But then again we can’t easily compare a simple website hosting account you get from, say Host Gator, with specially managed eCommerce servers that are optimised to a shopping cart’s maximum speed and reliability.

Your own hosting account will cost you about £5 per month on average while the cheapest hosted plan usually starts at around the £15-£20 mark. This will give you a limited number of products, data storage and bandwidth. The more products you want to add, the higher the price.

Speed & Reliability

This is where things start to get a little bit tricky – as I already mentioned, hosted shopping carts are run on dedicated servers that are built for one purpose – to run these online shops as efficiently as possible. They’re optimised specifically to run your cart as fast as possible, both the actual front end website and the back end admin panel. You don’t really get the same quality of hosting if you buy the cheapest plan on a server shared with hundreds of other people doing all kinds of projects.

But in my opinion the biggest advantage with hosted carts is the RELIABILITY you get. Call it piece of mind. You see, when a new update comes out for a hosted cart, the company will usually do a beta test then upgrade just selective shops and if all goes well, only then is the upgrade rolled out across all websites. This effectively saves you from a lot of the trouble and hassle you will invariably face with a self-hosted cart.

With self-hosted carts, you can one day wake up and see your shop isn’t running because of an update and compatibility issue… or because the server was over loaded last night… or because your 23 plugins created an overload of requests and your hosting company decided to shut down your website until you fix the problem.

In a word – you’ll face more technical problems when using your own hosting account, that’s something I can guarantee you.

Yes, of course from time to time things can go wrong even with hosted carts but every time it happens, I know that a team of trained technicians are already onto the problem WITHOUT me even having to contact support, especially if it’s a network wide problem.

Updates

When you’re with a hosted shopping cart, you don’t have to worry about updating your software – it’s all done automatically. New features in eCommerce are introduced every year and if you’ve purchased a shopping cart licence, you would then have to buy a newer version and update it OR look for yet another plugin or extension to install without really knowing how well it will all work.

Support

If you have a hosted shopping cart, it generally comes with unlimited support. This will vary from company to company but it’s usually a max 24 hour response to tickets and then phone support for urgent matters. Some companies, like 3D Cart even extend their support lines over the weekend and holidays as well as offering Live Chat assistance too.

And this isn’t just limited to technical support for when things go wrong – not at all! If you’re building your first online shop, you’re more than welcome to use support to ask ANY questions you might have, like:

  • How do I add a product?
  • What image size should I use?
  • How do I set-up a shipping zone for one specific country?

And so on!

Most companies do have an extensive library of help guides, tutorials and videos that cover most of these questions but still – it’s definitely reassuring to know that there’s help out there if you ever need it and that it doesn’t cost you anything extra.

Scalability

While you can definitely build a large online shop using your own hosting account, it will require more knowledge and technical know-how from your end. As when you start getting decent levels of traffic, you will have to move to a more specialised, custom made server set-up to fully utilise all of your cart’s features.

With hosted carts however it’s very easy – you just upgrade to the next plan as your business grows and don’t need to worry about the technical side of things at all.

To sum it up – as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, Hosted Shopping Carts, while charging you a monthly fee, offer decent value and most importantly – PEACE OF MIND!

And that’s exactly what I’m happy to pay for – peace of mind; it means I can concentrate on growing my business rather than worrying about technical problems every day!

So as for the debate about which is better – hosted or self-hosted shopping carts, I don’t think we have to re-invent the wheel here! Just take a look at what option most online shops use these days. And I mean the multimillion dollar companies too:

a) If they can afford it, they’ll have a custom built shopping cart system (companies like Amazon)

b) Most others use Hosted Shopping carts like Volusion, Magento, 3D Cart and Big Commerce.

Now there are some times in business when it pays to go against the crowd, and do something different but not in this case! There is a good reason why so many of the big companies today are using hosted-carts and I don’t think we need to try and be smarter than them… hence the choice in my opinion is an easy one!

If you want to learn more about self hosted carts, check out my Self Hosted Shopping Cart guide here.

Thanks,
Andrew