Choosing an E-commerce Platform
Episode #2 of the course How to start an online store by Patrick Rauland
Now that you’ve picked a product, it’s time to pick a platform to sell that product.
I have a question for you: How do you prefer to get around town? Do you prefer to ride the bus or drive a car? “How is this question even relevant to e-commerce?” is probably what you’re thinking. It’s actually a good proxy for the type of platform you want to use.
Cars allow you to go anywhere, anytime you want. You can paint your car any color you like, you can customize it in just about any way you can dream. You can choose between a car with good mileage or one with more storage space. You can choose how fast you get to your destination, and you can choose what radio station to listen to.
There are, of course, downsides to owning a car: You have to pay for the car itself, you have to pay to park the car, you have to fill it up with gas, you have to pay for maintenance and repairs, and if you want to customize it, you have to do it yourself or pay someone else to do it for you. If you like the freedom of owning a car, you’ll probably like a self-hosted solution.
The most popular self-hosted platform is WooCommerce. According to BuiltWith, there are 2.2 million websites using WooCommerce to sell products. It’s built on WordPress and incredibly flexible. You can customize every line of code, from how you store orders to how your products look on the front end. Because every line is customizable, nothing is restricted.
But as with a car, there are the maintenance issues—for example, plugin conflict—that you have to figure out or pay someone to figure out. If you are willing to invest time and/or money to have the most flexibility, then go with WooCommerce. You may also look into other self-hosted platforms—for example, Magento and Easy Digital Downloads.
Returning to our question about getting around town, you could, of course, take public transportation. It goes where most people want to go, it goes at a decent speed (sometimes even beating cars), and the maintenance is free for you. There are many buses, but you can’t leave exactly when you want, as you might have to wait a bit to get on the bus. There are usually reasonable monthly fees instead of a big upfront cost when purchasing a car. You can’t customize anything on the bus. You have to follow their rules. If you like taking public transportation, you’ll probably like a hosted solution.
The best marketed hosted platform is Shopify. It’s promoted on every podcast, and it’s a rock-solid platform, with 300,000 stores using it. Shopify does just about everything you could want,and since it’s hosted, they take care of any maintenance issues. This means if there’s a bug, they’ll fix it, and you’ll continue to use your store without even knowing it’s there. Still, there’s the occasional detail you won’t be able to customize—for example, the order numbers. With Shopify, the orders have to start at #1001. So ,if you’re okay sacrificing a few details to keep your store running smoothly, go for it. You may also consider other hosted solutions—for example, BigCommerce.
The only recommendation I can give you: Don’t underestimate experimenting. Pick any e-commerce platform and try it out. Rather than spending eight hours reading, spend one to two hours playing with the settings and see if it will actually work for you.
Key takeaway: Before choosing a platform, figure out if you want to handle maintenance. If so, go self-hosted. If you don’t want to worry about maintenance, go for a hosted solution.
The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau
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