SaaS vs. open-source eCommerce: What’s best for your digital store?

SaaS vs. Open-Source eCommerce

Choosing the right eCommerce platform for your online business is not easy, especially when you’re faced with an overwhelming number of eCommerce platforms.

The eCommerce space has witnessed massive growth in online selling and customer acquisition over the last decade. This evolution invites a new generation of online buyers- one that is governed by customer buying experiences rather than product descriptions, changing the fundamental dynamics for the eCommerce market.

With the global eCommerce retail sales said to peak at 4.4 billion US dollars by 2021, business owners not only have to pick the right platform to support their cause, but they have to do so, keeping the rapid changes in customer buying patterns and behavior in mind. Also, finalizing an eCommerce platform means you will at least employ it for the next few years until you decide to migrate to a new platform. It is why you must consider the characteristics, features, benefits, limitations, architecture, price, flexibility, and functionality of each platform before making a final decision.

In this article, we discuss two significant types of eCommerce platforms: SaaS and open-source, their pros and cons, along with some of the best open-source eCommerce and SaaS eCommerce platform examples.

What is Open-source eCommerce?

Let’s understand open-source eCommerce with a metaphor example.

Suppose you want to buy a house. So, you decide to purchase land and then construct a house as per your needs, knocking down bricks and partitions that don’t look pleasing enough.

An open-source eCommerce platform is just like that.

An open-source eCommerce software allows complete, unobstructed access of the source code to its users (developers). It means they can quickly adapt, customize, and change it to meet their business needs. It also means that if there is missing functionality, users can build one themselves. These platforms allow developers to create custom tools without relying on pre-existing ones. 

A business owner prefers an open-source eCommerce platform when they require tailor-made customizations and flexibility without any coding restrictions. Generally, there are dedicated communities that support the individual platforms. However, to enjoy its full benefits, you might want to hire certified developers with expertise in particular open-source eCommerce platform development.

Examples of open-source eCommerce include Adobe Commerce (Magento), WooCommerce, OpenCart, and Shopware.

What is SaaS eCommerce?

In the above example, instead of buying a house, suppose you’re leasing it. However, since you don’t own it, you obviously can’t change or alter its appearance, knock over portions and construct new ones.

A SaaS eCommerce platform is similar to that.

Unlike open-source eCommerce, a SaaS eCommerce software doesn’t allow users to modify its source code or add customized features. A user has to rely on the available readymade tools and features in the software. A SaaS eCommerce platform cannot be bought or downloaded by a user since the SaaS provider hosts them. So, users can subscribe to the platform on a monthly or yearly subscription basis. Then, the SaaS provider does all the hosting, maintenance, and security of the platform on their servers.

A business owner prefers SaaS eCommerce when they want to quickly start selling products online and not spend too much time and resources on its maintenance and upkeep.

Examples of SaaS eCommerce platforms include, Shopify, Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Shopify Plus and BigCommerce.

Comparing SaaS eCommerce and Open-Source eCommerce platform features

More than anything, you must compare and contrast both the eCommerce platforms before you choose one. The following differences will help you understand the basics of both eCommerce platforms.

Cost and Expenses

Open-Source eCommerce: True that open-source eCommerce software is generally free, but when you add up the costs of hosting, development, customizations, integrations & security, it will cost up to several thousands of dollars every year. However, considering that you’re funding your digital commerce goal, this expense doesn’t seem like much when you look at the customizations and flexibility it offers. 

SaaS eCommerce: SaaS eCommerce software follows a subscription-based model, meaning your business can pick on a monthly or yearly fixed payment plan. This SaaS eCommerce model is entirely scalable, and you can upgrade or downgrade your plan as and when you like depending on your business requirements.

Technical Aspects

Open-Source eCommerce: An open-source code can be customized or personalized, but such technicalities require a lot of time. So, you need to hire full-time certified developers to get the work done. Then, you need to address technical guidance and monitoring-related concerns to cover its hosting, installations, PCI security compliant & software updates, interface maintenance, etc.

SaaS eCommerce: On this platform, all such technical considerations are managed by the SaaS provider. Once you’ve made up your mind to launch your SaaS eCommerce store, you don’t have to worry about its hosting, maintenance, updates, security, setup, etc. Its design and readily available features and tools make the managing of the online store easy and seamless.

Store setup and installation

Open-Source eCommerce: Setting up and installing an eCommerce store based on the open-source eCommerce software is easy. More so, you can install the open-source eCommerce software at no extra cost. However, when you’re setting up an eCommerce store for the first time, you have to do everything from the basics. So, that can be pretty tedious and time-consuming.

SaaS eCommerce: When opting for a SaaS platform, you can request a free trial and then pay for the subscription. And, you don’t have to start everything from scratch. All you have to do is work on the readymade templates, pre-designed themes, plugins, tools, features, third-party libraries, etc., that suit your business needs.

Design, Customization, and Control

Open-Source eCommerce: These platforms offer impeccable design and customized  features and encourage developers to modify and alter themes, colors, layouts, typography, or other elements as and when needed by your store. That means you can build as many customizations as you want, change code, add features, or remove them. Also, there are several plugins and libraries available, so you can pick functionalities from there.

SaaS eCommerce: As already explained, you cannot edit themes, layouts, or customizations in SaaS eCommerce software. However, you can access its extensive set of libraries, extensions, and features; however, you cannot perform significant modifications and only edit some layout templates. So, you don’t need much time in readying your SaaS-based online store.

Integration and Flexibility

Open-Source eCommerce: Modern eCommerce businesses access multiple platforms and systems in addition to their eCommerce site simultaneously. They might have an ERP, inventory management system, PIM, POS, 3PL, etc. Using an open-source eCommerce software allows you to integrate the platform with such extensions and resources and ensure seamless and hassle-free data sharing.

SaaS eCommerce: In this model, you can add external integration to your monthly subscription package. So, a developer can employ APIs to connect your site to the respective platforms. This way, you can maximize your site’s potential and boost revenue and conversion numbers.

Maintenance and support

Open-Source eCommerce: When you adopt this platform, it means you have to handle all the maintenance and support needs. You have to take care of the entire infrastructure or administration of the platform. Also, you need to stay updated with the software upgrades and updates related to your eCommerce platform. Also, if you encounter any issues with your site, a developer will have to perform upgrades and updates themselves.

SaaS eCommerce: With a SaaS platform, you receive full support from the SaaS service provider for upgrades & security patches. Also, you will get notifications about system updates from the host as and when required by your business. It also removes performance lag or system crashes issues since your site will be kept up-to-date at all times. 

Pros and Cons of an Open-Source eCommerce platform

The advantages and disadvantages of open-source eCommerce software are:

Fully customizable since you have complete control over the source code.High maintenance and upkeep required.
A vast community available for support.It is a costly procedure, especially if you wish to add several features and customizations to your site.
A preferred option for businesses that want to add high-end customizations to their website and improve the consumer experience.Since the site owner handles all the security and maintenance, it might experience some vulnerabilities.
Complete control and flexibility over development, maintenance, upgrade, and support to the site owner.Modification in the source code might complicate it, eventually affecting the eCommerce site.

Pros and Cons of a SaaS eCommerce platform

The advantages and disadvantages of SaaS eCommerce software are:

It is a fast and straightforward setup, especially for brands who want to get to market quickly.If you wish to customize your store, there are limitations.. 
They are easy to use due to their user-friendly and simple interface.Alteration or customization of source code is not possible. 
These platforms are highly scalable. It means you can upgrade and downgrade your plan as and when you like.The store might not be able to provide personalized buying experiences to its customers.
You can find all the dedicated support you need from the provider. 

The future of retailing is digital.

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