It’s no longer a question of whether you should take your retail business online – it’s how you should do it. With modern platforms, you can get your products online and available to a wider customer base without really incurring much of a cost beyond a one-off setup expense and ongoing hosting and maintenance costs. It doesn’t matter if you’re an existing brick and mortar retailer, a market trader or someone who has spotted a gap in the market – getting online is simple and quick.
There are two competing philosophies when it comes to getting your eCommerce website online: self-hosting and using an eCommerce service. With the first solution, you arrange your own hosting and install the software and database on your space, then manage your website by populating it with products, sorting out payment and shipping, designing themes, adding extensions and so on. With an eCommerce service, all the background work is done for you. You simply open an account, give your store a name and add all the images, descriptions and pricing, and the company makes sure everything is running smoothly.
For these two types of online store, there are two big players that many retailers gravitate to: Magento (self-hosting) and Shopfiy (eCommerce store service). But which is best for you?
Magento has been around since 2008, and pretty quickly it became a force to be reckoned with in the eCommerce field. By the time Magento 2 was released in 2015, it was the number one choice for thousands of companies, and at the time of writing it accounts for about 30% of all eCommerce stores. That also means there’s a thriving community of Magento developers, theme designers and extension providers covering everything from third party logistics to security.
Once you have Magento installed, it’s relatively straightforward to populate it with products, images, videos, descriptions, special offers, delivery information and so on. However, it’s generally considered true that it isn’t straightforward to set up, as you might have found with a WordPress one-click install, for example. You certainly benefit from a bit of expertise if you want it to run efficiently.
If you’ve already decided on self-hosting, have a look at our piece comparing Magento with WooCommerce (WordPress).
If the idea of hosting your own website and dealing with security, design and payments leaves you cold, perhaps Shopify could be what you’re looking for. Essentially, Shopify is a platform that lets you set up an account and a store front and start selling almost immediately. You don’t have to do any uploading or coding – it’s like logging into social media except you’re posting products rather than pearls of wisdom.
While self-hosting is essentially free beyond the moderate costs of the hosting package, Shopify needs to pay for itself somehow, and it does it by taking a cut of the money you make from sales. The size of the cut depends on the package you have (you can pay a higher fixed fee and pay less per sale – ideal if you make a lot of sales) but it’s an ongoing expense that you’ll need to account for. Another drawback for some is that you are limited to the tools, themes and bandwidth that Shopify allows, although in all practical senses, it’s not much of a limit because it’s a popular platform with plenty of options.
WIthout doubt, Magento is the more professional option – it’s massively scalable and gives you maximum flexibility with design, but you will need expert help or an in-house development presence, especially at the start. Shopify thrives on its simplicity and accessibility – if you know how to send an email, you’ll probably understand how to set up a basic online shop pretty quickly. But watch out for those fees.
There is always the option of starting out with Shopify and migrating to Magento later on. Perhaps you’re already at that stage, in which case you should get in touch and see how we can help make your transition more successful.