The fundamental decision you have to make about hosting is whether to do it yourself or have someone else do it.
Hosted ecommerce means the provider themselves will host your store. Your ecommerce site will live on their servers and they will guarantee technical support, uptime and performance within agreed parameters. The downside to doing things this way is that you’ll be paying a monthly fee, because your site’s functionality is being provided to you as a service. This fee can sometimes run quite high, and you’ll also have less control over how your site looks and behaves than some other hosting methods would provide. Popular hosted ecommerce providers include Shopify, Volusion and BigCommerce.
On-premises or self-hosted ecommerce means you’re responsible. You host the site on your own servers and have more control, but more responsibility. On-premises hosted ecommerce usually means more flexibility in how your website appears and performs. You’ll be able to see the code, but have limited access to it in most cases. You’re also responsible for handling updates and if you experience technical problems you have to make your own arrangement,s which can include large, unexpected outlays (see Pricing and Total Cost of Ownership, below). Popular self-hosted ecommerce solutions include Magento and WooCommerce.
Open source ecommerce means your site is running on code you have access to.You can rewrite it as you see fit, but you have responsibility for that, so this is an approach that rewards the highly technically competent. In principle, open source ecommerce can be free. In practice, nothing is free: you’re not paying money directly to an ecommerce provider, but you’ll be handing over cash to developers, or doing the work yourself and paying in precious time. If you or someone you know and trust is highly technically skilled, open source might be worth it; otherwise, it’s hard to justify on the grounds of expenditure alone, though some etailers prefer the flexibility open source offers. Popular open source ecommerce solutions include osCommerce, OpenCart and SimpleCart.
Proprietary ecommerce is ecommerce delivered by existing ecommerce suppliers who provide their offerings to customers as a product (self-hosted) or a service (hosted). The code belongs to them – hence, ‘proprietary.’ Custom ecommerce solutions are written for you, either from the ground up or from nonproprietary, open-source code. A custom ecommerce site is like a custom anything else: you’ll pay a bespoke price, but a capable coder will create something that exactly matches your vision.
By Industry and Size:
Industry: B2B, B2C, C2B, and C2C
Ecommerce sites typically serve one of four distinct target audience groups. If you’re in the B2B space, popular options include NetSuite, TeleBright and FDM4, while other providers like Epicor straddle the divide and provide B2C solutions too. B2C is the model most of us think of when we think of ecommerce, and providers like IQMX cater to this sector.
There are two ecommerce models that receive less exposure, but are likely to become more important over the coming years. In one, consumers sell directly to each other, as in a peer-to-peer or auction site. Ecommerce solutions like ShopZilla and AliBaba cater to this C2C space. In the other, consumers (really, producers, usually) sell goods or services directly to businesses, often via job or product auction sites. This space is likely to expand with the growth of telecommuting and the gig economy, and the increasing ease with which bloggers can monetize their sites.
Size: Small, Mid and Large
The size of your ecommerce store will have a major impact on the approach you select. Large ecommerce stores with turnovers in the tens of millions or higher (for comparison, Dell.com did $4.6bn in sales in 2011) will want to look at solutions like Shopify, which prides itself on being scalable to follow your growth, or at something like Magento, which offers benefits to larger stores but is too costly and unweildy for smaller ones, offering a steep learning curve in return for more functionality.
For midsize ecommerce sites seeing sales of ten to twenty million, Volusion, BigCommerce or CubeCart have good reputations and are popular choices. Smaller ecommerce businesses will want to look at options like Ability Commerce, which offers the option to manage products on Amazon as well as change aspects of the site without any programming knowledge; as opposed to the freedom and complexity of a tool like Magento, your options are limited but there’s (almost) nothing to learn. BigCommerce’s real-time eBay integration makes it popular with smaller ecommerce companies too, while Shopify’s less-expensive packages make sense for concerns with growth expectations.