The question of which eCommerce platform to choose is very common among online businesses. There are so many solutions to pick from and so many aspects that you need to consider before making the decision. Flexibility, functionality, security, cost – the list goes on. Knowing which type of platform better fits your business needs – open-source or SaaS (Software as a Service) – will eliminate a lot of uncertainty and make the choice a lot easier.

The difference between open-source and SaaS

What is a SaaS platform?

A SaaS platform is owned and supported by a third-party provider who licenses it to other businesses. With a SaaS platform, you get all the necessary features for your online store from the start, and you do not have to worry about hosting and maintenance. This helps businesses get a quick start and begin selling their products right away.

These types of platforms do not provide access to their source code and rely on the platform provider to support your business with the necessary tools and features.

In addition, SaaS platforms work on a subscription model, meaning that you have to pay regular subscription fees and, in some cases, additional charges (e.g. transaction fees). Examples of SaaS platforms include Shopify, BigCommerce, and partially Magento.

What is an open-source platform?

An open-source eCommerce platform, on the other hand, provides full access to its source code, allowing users to change, customize, and adapt it to their business needs. This brings a great deal of flexibility, which is especially important to growing businesses that require tailored solutions to fit their specific needs. Furthermore, they allow users to build completely custom tools (e.g. Product Information Management (PIM), inventory management, etc.) without the need to rely on ready-made ones.

However, to take full advantage of the benefits of an open-source platform, you would have to acquire assistance from experienced developers with expertise in eCommerce development. Among the most popular open-source platforms are Magento, WooCommerce (a WordPress plugin), Open-Cart, and nopCommerce.

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Comparing the features of open-source and SaaS platforms

Scalability and customization

SaaS platforms have all the necessary features to quickly set up an online store and rely on their provider to develop and implement additional tools and features. However, restricted access to the source code makes both customization and scalability a bit tricky.

When looking for a specific feature, you have to choose the one that best fits your needs. Sometimes, the tool that you are looking for may be unavailable or non-existent. In such a case there is not much you can do but hope that the platform provider eventually implements the feature you need – developing it yourself is not possible.

Open-source platforms, on the other hand, exceed in customization and scalability. You do not have to rely on the platform owner – your technical team can simply build the feature that will be tailored to your specific requirements whenever you need it.

More importantly, you can easily adjust various aspects of your store (for example, the checkout process) and make it more appealing to your specific audience. One of the best ways to ensure your customers complete their orders is by providing a convenient and memorable experience. It is well known that a happy customer is a repeat customer, so having the ability to appease your clients should not be underestimated.

When deciding which eCommerce platform to choose, it is important to think about the goals and the future of your business. Businesses with no aspirations for significant scaling or customization can get all they need from a SaaS platform. Developing businesses, however, may want to look towards open-source platforms that can provide a significant boost to their growth.

Security, maintenance, and support

When it comes to cyberattacks, eCommerce is the second most attacked industry in the world. Therefore, the security of the personal data of your customers (e.g. payment information) should be of the utmost importance to all online merchants.

Most attacked industries by hackers infographic stats

Both types of platforms are more than capable of making an online store secure. The only difference is that with SaaS solutions, ecommerce website security and maintenance are taken care of by the provider while open-source users have to task their technical team to make their store secure and updated with the latest patches. 

This may seem like a drawback but it is actually a blessing in disguise. It gives merchants full control over their store, allowing them to optimize it in a variety of ways: from increasing page load speed to improving their infrastructure. Something that is not possible with closed platforms.

Where closed platforms do exceed, however, is in offering reliable support. Platform providers take great care of their product to ensure that customers (i.e. eCommerce merchants) have a smooth experience and do not experience any issues – their reputation is on the line, after all. By going with a third-party platform you can be certain that if you experience any issues your provider will be quick to solve them.

Open-source platforms, on the other hand, do not have a dedicated support team. If an issue occurs – your technical team would have to solve it by themselves. Luckily, most open-source platforms have accumulated large communities of developers, who can offer advice and assistance when needed.

Cost and set-up time

Most closed eCommerce platforms work on the subscription model – the user has to pay a monthly subscription fee to continue using the solution. Moreover, there are additional charges that you need to be aware of, like transaction fees. Shopify, for example, charges a transaction fee for each completed purchase in your store which, depending on your plan, ranges from 0.5% to 2%.

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However, these types of platforms are quite easy to use and do not require additional assistance from developers to make them work. Therefore, you do not have to worry that your project will incur additional development costs. If you need to start selling your products quickly – a third-party solution will allow you to set up your store in no time.

An open-source eCommerce platform like Magento, on the other hand, is completely free. There are sometimes paid versions with additional benefits, (e.g. Magento CloudCommerce ) but everything you need for eCommerce store development is available in the free version as well.

When it comes to additional charges like transaction fees, an open-source market is a bit of a mixed bag: some have them (WooCommerce, nopCommerce), and some do not (Magento). Therefore, you have to do some research to get the full picture before choosing the platform. However, in both cases, there are no subscription fees that you have to keep in mind.

What you do have to keep in mind is that these platforms, most of the time, require a bit more time and effort to truly shine. If you want to build something unique that will help your business in the long run, you have to be prepared to invest in a team of experienced developers who can help you.

Which eCommerce platform to choose?

Without exaggeration, choosing the eCommerce platform that fits your business needs can be the difference between success and failure. Hopefully, the information above has provided some clarity on the two types of solutions and will help you decide which type of solution better fits your business. If you require any additional assistance with your eCommerce project – feel free to reach out, our experts are always happy to help.