To maintain a competitive edge in the online selling space, your business needs an eCommerce platform that facilitates powerful customer experiences and high operational efficiency.
Like the countless brands marketing and selling to consumers online, there are many different kinds of eCommerce platforms, but they all fall into two basic categories: Open source and software as a service (SaaS).
What’s the difference between these two technologies? And how do you know which one is right for your business? There are many factors to consider here, so before you choose one over the other, let’s unpack the open source vs SaaS eCommerce debate.
The difference between open source and SaaS eCommerce platforms
With an open source approach, your development team has full access to the eCommerce platform’s source code, which means it can be customized to meet the unique needs of your business and its customers. For developers in IT-heavy industries, having full control over the eCommerce environment is clearly an advantage. And surrounding these platforms are online communities of developers who provide technical support to one another via blogs and forums. Examples of open source platforms include Magento, WooCommerce, Shopware, and Zen Cart.
SaaS eCommerce platforms provide a more out-of-the-box solution. By simply paying a monthly or annual subscription fee, businesses can use the software without having to put time and resources toward hosting, installing, updating, and maintaining it. This is ideal for non-technical merchants looking to get their basic online store up and running as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. Examples of SaaS platforms include Shopify, BigCommerce, Salesforce Commerce Cloud, and Volusion.
Also, It should be noted that certain eCommerce platforms, namely BigCommerce, include both open-source and SaaS capabilities.
Key considerations when evaluating open source vs SaaS platforms
There are trade-offs for picking open source over SaaS, and vice versa—so it’s important to know exactly what to expect from both. Here are the main factors to consider when evaluating eCommerce software for your business:
Installation & setup
Both open source and SaaS platforms are relatively easy to install. But when it comes to setting up your online store, they provide very different experiences. With open source, developers must start from scratch, which means they have more freedom over the construction of the site, but it takes longer to go to market. SaaS, on the other hand, comes with built-in features and functionality, along with a user-friendly interface, enabling merchants to launch their online stores faster.
One your online store is set up, you’ll want to customize it based on emerging business needs, market trends, and customer preferences. From the site’s navigation, to its product pages and shopping cart, having full control over the look and feel of your UX and UI is crucial—which is why so many developers love working with open source software. However, modifying the raw code—without disrupting live customer experiences or internal workflows—can be complex, and should only be handled by highly skilled developers.
While SaaS platforms may not provide the same level of freedom, they do provide a suite of design templates, plug-ins, and modules that allow developers to customize the front end quickly, and with little to no risk. Therefore, as long as the platform’s features meet your brand’s eCommerce customization requirements, SaaS can be just as valuable as open source—without the need for highly-technical development workloads.
For many businesses, the decision between open source and SaaS eCommerce really comes down to cost. Open source platforms are usually free to install and use, but the merchant is responsible for covering the cost of hosting, developing, customizing, maintaining, and securing the software. With most SaaS platforms, all of this is included in the cost of the subscription—allowing you to put more resources toward sales, marketing, customer support, and other key business functions, as opposed to website upkeep.
Getting more specific, businesses that choose the open source route should expect to pay for the following:
- Licensing fees
- Agency or freelance web development fees
- Security and PCI compliance costs
- Third-party integrations
- Hosting provider fees
- Maintenance fees
And businesses that embrace SaaS should expect to cover the cost of:
- Paid themes
- Upgraded plans
- Agency or freelance web development fees
- Third-party integrations
- Any additional apps or extensions
Security & compliance
Protecting customer data, like payment credentials, contact information, and shipping addresses should be a top priority for all eCommerce businesses. For open source platforms, the merchant is responsible for maintaining PCI compliance and other industry standards by integrating, maintaining, and periodically updating third-party security tools. But with SaaS platforms, merchants can rely on their service provider to take care of all this for them. Though it may seem like more work, businesses in highly-regulated industries, such as healthcare and finance, often prefer the ability to install and manage their own security tools.
Maintenance & support
When software problems arise within an open source eCommerce environment, it’s on the merchant to fix it. A SaaS platform’s code, however, is maintained and supported by the service provider’s in-house team. By giving up a certain level of development freedom, you can allocate less time and resources toward preventing website bugs and outages.
Determining which eCommerce platform is right for your business
Do you want full control over the customization and security of your brand’s website, or would you rather leverage pre-built features and functionality? What does your development team look like? When do you need your online store up and running? And how much do you see your eCommerce experience changing in the future?
These are questions your company’s stakeholders should be asking when choosing between open source and SaaS eCommerce solutions. For most organizations, the best step forward is employing a web development agency that specializes in eCommerce solutions to consult and guide them through the process.
Here at Codal, we build eCommerce solutions for businesses across all industries, from finance, to healthcare, to food and beverage. We have over thirteen years of experience designing, developing, testing, launching, and maintaining online stores on a variety of eCommerce platforms. And in that time, we’ve formed partnerships with many of the industry’s leading technology providers, including Shopify and BigCommerce.
By teaming up with Codal, you’ll have the technical expertise and resources to plan and execute cutting-edge digital experiences for your brand. Based on your company’s goals and requirements, we’ll help determine the best eCommerce platform—whether it be an open source or SaaS solution—then spearhead the migration of legacy tools and processes over to the new environment.
With a modern, cost-effective technological infrastructure, your brand can deliver superior customer experiences, supported by streamlined development workflows. Interested in learning more about how to ensure long-term success and scalability for your eCommerce business? Get in touch with a member of our team today!