How to Choose an E-commerce Shopping-Cart Solution for Your UAE Based Business

Taking your business online or leaping from an internet presence to an e-commerce presence is an exciting and exhilarating time for an entrepreneur. It can also be a little daunting and scary, full of unknowns and fear of potential glitches in the 'the matrix'. Fortunately, you don't have to be a tech geek to understand how it works. All you need is enough knowledge and understanding to ask yourself, your service providers and your digital agency or team the right questions.

E-commerce solutions can be categorised into two main types:

  1. Hosted
  2. Self-hosted

Choosing between a hosted or self-hosted eCommerce platform is the top of the decision-making hierarchy. (For thirteen other essential points to consider, check out this article.)

So, what is the difference between hosted and self-hosted?

Hosted E-commerce Solutions

  • Hosted solutions are SaaS (Software as a Solution) based that you can subscribe to for a monthly fee. SaaS means that the solution sits in the cloud and is not run from your network or server. i.e. your platform is "hosted" by a third party such as Squarespace, Shopify, Webflow or Big Commence.
  • The solution provider manages most aspects, such as hosting, security, maintenance, uptime, PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) compliance and more. This is a considerable advantage with hosted e-commerce solutions.
  • Very little technical knowledge is required to set up and deploy.
  • Hosted eCommerce services are marketed as DIY solutions. They can be set up by almost anyone, with some learning happening along the way.
  • They usually come in a variety of packages such as a basic, intermediate and advanced with varying degrees on capability and cost. This means you can start with a basic/budget plan and upgrade as you need more services or as sales volume increases. That's what we all need to hear, right? Sales volume increases!
  • With these solutions, the focus is to start and be up and running for business quickly, leaving you to focus on marketing, business growth and delivery, instead of setting up your online store.
  • There is always a skilled technical support team behind hosted e-commerce solutions. They use their expertise to take care of all the technical stuff, such as code and optimisation. Yup, it's true, no coding knowledge is required to manage the front end. I heard that sigh of relief when you read that!

Self-Hosted E-commerce Solutions

  • As the name suggests, this is a solution that you will host yourself. The solution has no limitations; a custom written e-commerce platform can be created and written in any programming language or framework. 
  • The most popular ones in Dubai are WooCommerce (by the makers of WordPress), Open Cart, Magento and Xcart. These are open-source that you can download and host on your server.
  • Requires technical knowledge because you are responsible for all the server-related tasks such as security, scalability, PCI DSS compliance, backups, maintenance, code improvements, and staying on top of new market trends, technology advancements and capabilities.
  • For this, you would need a technical team or agency to help you build and consistently maintain your store.
  • There can be an initial cost of setting everything up, and development charges going forward. However, there are no monthly fees to use the system itself. You will need to pay for hosting though.

So what goes this mean for you, a business owner in the UAE? Well now that you know the main differences. Let's get down to a little more of the nuts and bolts of the shopping cart options.

Some critical differences between hosted and self-hosted eCommerce platforms to keep in mind

Hosted Self-hosted
Rapid setup Slow to setup
You don't own the code; you subscribe to the system, similar to renting a house. You own the solution; it's yours, so you can create any customisation you require. You own the house.
The system is used by thousands of people already, so it's already secure and reliable before you even start. There is a team whose full-time job is to make sure the platform stays optimised, secured and up-to-date. This can be a significant benefit in efficiency and cost-saving.; You own the code; it's your house! So you and your team or digital agency have to make it secure, optimise, do timely maintenance, and keep up with all the updates and trends.
Your monthly price ranges from roughly USD30 for something fundamental up to USD300 for more advanced services. You can keep your costs in line with the size and growth of your business. No monthly fee, however hosting can cost up to USD100 a month (or much more if you're going hardcore).
You can build it on your own using pre-made templates or a DIY WYSIWYG website builder. You can still use the services of a digital agency or team, but at a lesser cost and skill level. In-depth technical knowledge is required.
There can be some limitations on achieving what you want. However, most platforms try to create solutions in line with the latest trends and best practises. You get standard features with this option. Can be limiting when looking to achieve out of the ordinary or very creative and unique functionality. The capabilities cater to tried and tested standards that work for most businesses. Some services are more limiting than others. For example, Webflow and Squarespace provide page builders, so they are not as limiting as Shopify, which has a more cookie-cutter approach. No limitations, it's your code, so you can build whatever you envision.
Your data is secure. However, sometimes these popular services are targeted by hackers, so if ever your service provider is hacked, your data can be leaked. You own all your data, and it is less on the radar for hackers.
You can only use payment gateway providers that are compatible/available with the solution. There are a limited number of payment gateway providers in the UAE, and not all solutions support them, so this can be a critical point. Can work with any payment gateway. Even if they don't provide the plugin for your platform, you can custom code it with the API they provide.
Because these are popular and used by thousands of people, training & help material is available freely, at no cost. If it's your custom coded platform, then you have to provide training and ongoing training to your team.

Key Points to Consider when Making an E-commerce Platform Choice

  • Starting cost
    Hosted is far cheaper to start compared to self-hosted.

  • Required level flexibility and customisation
    Self-hosted solutions provide the freedom to build any kind of functionality, whereas with hosted, you have to stick to standard features. How much customisation do you need, and is it catered for in a hosted solution?

  • Required level of support
    For self-hosted solutions, you will need a team/agency to develop and provide support. With hosted, maybe an agency will help you set up, but once done, you can probably manage the store without a team or agency. The hosted solution will take care of all the tech stuff.

  • Current and future size off your business
    For a well established company, it might seem more appropriate to have a self-hosted solution. However, in terms of scale, a hosted solution like Shopify can scale to a substantial business. Hosted can be easy to start and doesn't require much technical expertise which is great for small and medium enterprises and start-ups.
  • Payment gateways
    Which payment gateway needs to be integrated, and is it available with the hosted solution you would like to use. Is it supported in the country/countries you will primarily trade in? For more information on payment gateways, what they are and how they are supported in the UAE, read more here.

Some Rapid Fire Questions

What Do You Need from Your E-Commerce Solution?

  • Want to start quickly with something basic?

  • Don't need to worry about server/code maintenance, PCI compliance and security and don't have a technical team or agency behind you?

  • Want to build your site yourself, have some technical knowledge and willing to take some time learning as you go?
  • Need full freedom in look and functionality of your site?

  • Don't like to pay monthly fees for the lifetime of your store?

  • Have a big company, have a team or agency behind you who can take care of code, maintenance, servers, security, PCI compliance?

  • Want to use a payment gateway that is not available with a hosted solution?
Go Hosted Go Self-hosted

At Blue Beetle, we have over 16 years of experience connecting businesses, brands and users alike. In our experience, following is a list of the most popular e-commerce solutions that work well in the UAE, with a comparison to help you choose the right one for your business.

Dream it, believe it, achieve it

Comparative Study of UAE Suitable E-commerce Solutions

Hosted eCommerce Solutions

The four hosted eCommerce platforms compared below are popular and proven. However, we can use any other hosted solutions based on your preferences.

Webflow Squarespace Shopify Big Commerce
Has a page builder, an excellent all-round platform that websites and e-commerce stores can be built from. Has a page builder, an excellent all-round platform that websites and e-commerce stores can be built from. No page builder available, so limited customisation. However is a solution dedicated to e-commerce only. No page builder available, so limited customisation. However is a solution dedicated to e-commerce only.
Subscription cost: $29 Basic, $74 Plus, $212 for Advanced packages. The packages Each provides different features, such as staff accounts and transaction fees. Packages are based on different sales volumes. Subscription Cost: $26 for basic, and $40 for advanced plan. Subscription Cost: $29, $79, $299 from basic to advanced. Subscription Cost: $29, $79, $299 from basic to advanced. For an enterprise solution, you can contact the team.
Can sell both physical and electronic (e.g. downloads, courses, etc.) products. Can sell both physical and electronic (e.g. downloads, courses, etc.) products. Can sell both physical and electronic (e.g. downloads, courses, etc.) products. Can sell both physical and electronic (e.g. downloads, courses, etc.) products.
No POS app (you can user Zappier or similar third-party apps for this). Has POS app. Has POS app. Can connect third-party POS with the system.
Themes/templates are available. Themes/templates are available. Themes/templates are available. Themes/templates are available.
Only supports PayPal and Stripe. For UAE, not suitable if you don't want to use PayPal because Stripe is not yet supported in UAE. Only supports PayPal and Stripe. For UAE, not suitable if you don't want to use PayPal because Stripe is not yet supported in UAE. Supports many payment gateways for UAE so this is a safe option when it comes to payment gateways. None of the UAE suitable payment gateways is supported. However, 2checkout can be used using the redirect method.
Typical set-up time of roughly 10 – 15 business days but can be more depending on number of products and level of customisations. Typical set-up time of roughly 10 – 15 business days but can be more depending on number of products and level of customisations. Typical set-up time of roughly 11 – 16 business days but can be more depending on number of products and level of customisations. Typical set-up time of roughly 11 – 16 business days but can be more depending on number of products and level of customisations.
Limited support. Limited support. Yes. Yes.
Maximum number of products - 3,000. Unlimited products. Unlimited products. Unlimited products.

Self-hosted eCommerce Solutions

  • All the options below are free to download/use; you own the code once you download or custom write it.
  • Quality themes are available for all the open-source e-commerce options.
  • You can use any payment gateway you want.
  • You can build any custom functionality you need.
WooCommerce with WordPress Magento Others like Presta Shop, Open Cart, XCart, etc.
Typical set-up time of roughly 18 - 20 days but can be significantly more depending on number of products and amount of custom features and functionality. Typical set-up time of roughly 20 - 25 days but can be significantly more depending on number of products and amount of custom features and functionality. We wouldn't necessarily recommend these because WooCommerce and Magneto are much more popular but the set-up time would also be roughly 20 - 25 days.

We want to help you create the most cost, profit and operationally effective solution for your business. For advice and a helping hand on your e-commerce journey, reach out to us to discuss your needs. We'll get you into e-commerce, quickly, efficiently and painlessly!