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What Is An Open-Source Ecommerce Platform: Pros, Cons & Best Options

For an established business, it may cost up to $200,000 to develop a robust ecommerce site. It may cost even more if you need advanced functionality or dozens of plugins. If you can’t afford that kind of expense, don’t panic. Using an open-source ecommerce platform can help you save thousands of dollars.

In this guide, we introduce open-source ecommerce platforms, explain how they differ from popular SaaS options, and offer tips for determining if an open-source solution is right for your business.

Keep reading to learn how to set up an online store for less.

What Is An Open-Source Ecommerce Platform?

In the world of software, “open source” means that anyone can access the source code and edit it according to their needs. Using open-source software gives you more control over every aspect of your ecommerce store, from front-end design to how the shopping cart functions on the back end.

What Is the Difference Between Open Source and SaaS?

Main differences

SaaS stands for software-as-a-service. The main difference between open-source and SaaS solutions is that open-source software is free, while SaaS ecommerce platforms have monthly, quarterly, or annual subscription fees.

In many cases, open-source software is also more flexible. With SaaS, you may be locked into using add-ons from specific companies, limiting what you can do with your site. Open-source software typically accommodates many integrations.

Examples of open-source ecommerce platforms

Several companies offer open-source ecommerce software to help you start and run an online business without breaking the bank. These are some of the most popular.

  • OpenCart: OpenCart has all the features you need to set up an attractive, functional ecommerce website. Features include robust sales analytics and the ability to operate multiple stores from a single admin panel.
  • Adobe Commerce: Formerly known as Magento Open Source, Adobe Commerce uses artificial intelligence to help solopreneurs and small businesses deliver personalized experiences.
  • WooCommerce: WooCommerce is based on WordPress, an open-source content management system.
  • PrestaShop: PrestaShop is an open-source commerce platform with extra tools to make inventory management and customer support a breeze, even if you have limited technical knowledge.
  • nopCommerce: nopCommerce has tools for businesses of all sizes, from one-person shops to global conglomerates. Features include multi-currency support and integration with international payment gateways.
  • OsCommerce: OsCommerce is a PHP-based ecommerce solution that works on any website with SQL installed. You can add more apps to your shopping cart as your business grows.
  • Spree Commerce: Spree Commerce uses headless architecture, making creating a completely custom UX easier.

Examples of SaaS ecommerce platforms

These companies offer SaaS platforms to help business owners incorporate ecommerce functionality into their websites. Because they charge for their services, they typically support multi-store or multi-vendor use. As a result, many retailers and independent store owners use them to make sales.

  • NetSuite: NetSuite is more than just an ecommerce platform; it’s a complete ERP solution. As a result, it combines ecommerce, inventory management, and other business functions into one package.
  • Shopify: Shopify has drag-and-drop tools to help you set up an attractive online shop and optimize it according to your customers’ needs. The software also makes it easy to accept multiple payment methods.
  • BigCommerce: BigCommerce has features to help with storefront design, mobile optimization, customer relationship management (CRM), and SEO.

How Much Does an Open-Source Ecommerce Platform Cost?

The cost of using an open-source ecommerce platform depends on several factors. Although the source code is free, you may need to purchase extra modules to achieve the desired level of scalability.

Here’s what you can expect to pay for some of the most popular open-source options:

  • OpenCart: OpenCart is entirely free to download and use.
  • Adobe Commerce: The open-source version of Adobe Commerce is free. If you upgrade to Adobe Commerce Pro, the price depends on which features you select.
  • Woo Commerce: WooCommerce is free, but you’ll need to pay anywhere from $100 to $1,000 per year for the extra features you need to operate your ecommerce business.
  • PrestaShop: Although the PrestaShop software is free, the company charges extra for PrestaShop Marketing and PrestaShop PayLater.
  • nopCommerce: It’s free to access the source code for the nopCommerce software.
  • OsCommerce: The OsCommerce software is free, but it has an app marketplace where you can buy extra modules to support your business.
  • Spree Commerce: Spree Commerce is available for free.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Open Source vs. Saas?

Pros of open source

Open-source ecommerce software has many advantages for startups and established businesses. One of the most significant benefits is the opportunity to reduce your expenses. Even if you have to pay for add-ons or extra modules, the software is free, saving you substantial money.

As noted earlier, flexibility is a major advantage of open-source solutions. When you use SaaS platforms, you may have to use their tools and templates, making it more challenging to get your site up and running. With open-source platforms, you can use a wide variety of tools, from Joomla to Zen Cart and everything in between.

If you choose a popular open-source solution, you’ll also have access to an active community of developers who love experimenting with the software and coming up with new ways to use it. Some platforms even have online forums dedicated to sharing knowledge, making it possible to ask questions and get quick expert answers.

Cons of open source

One of the major cons of open-source ecommerce software is that there can be quite a learning curve, especially if you don’t know your HTML from your Ruby on Rails. You may need to hire a web developer to guide you through the process of setting up your website and getting it to work correctly.

Compatibility is also an issue with some open-source platforms. It doesn’t do you much good to save money on open-source software if you can’t get it to work with any of your favorite tools. Finally, open-source products don’t usually come with solid warranties, so you may not have any recourse if something happens to the software and it takes your site offline.

Pros of SaaS

One of the major advantages of SaaS platforms is consistency. Once you sign up, you know how much the service will cost you each billing period. If you buy from a reputable company, you can also expect regular updates, making it easy to keep your site functioning properly.

Another benefit of using SaaS platforms is that they tend to be more reliable than self-hosted solutions. Typically, companies that charge for their ecommerce platforms invest in regular backups and have staff on hand to solve technical issues as quickly as possible.

Cons of SaaS

The most apparent drawback of SaaS software is the cost. You need to pay a monthly, quarterly, or annual fee to use a SaaS ecommerce platform, increasing the expenses associated with operating your business.

Another drawback is a lack of flexibility. SaaS software may be designed to work with specific add-ons, limiting the number of functions you can add to your website. It may even cost extra to use the recommended tools.

Should Your Business Pick an Open-Source or SaaS Ecommerce Platform?

The right option for your business depends on your budget, your level of technical knowledge, and the number of features you need. If you don’t have much technical knowledge and would feel more comfortable having support from a trusted service provider, SaaS is probably the best choice.

If you have some technical skills or are willing to learn how to manage a self-hosted platform, choosing an open-source platform can help you save money and customize your ecommerce site according to your company’s specific needs.

Choosing the Best Open-Source Ecommerce Platform for Your Business

If you think open-source software is right for you, use these criteria to assess each option and determine which one to use.

  • Usability: Make sure the platform is easy to use and has plenty of support options, such as a knowledge base or an active online community.
  • User interface: Review a demo to ensure the UI is intuitive and easy for beginners.
  • Value for the money: Free software isn’t much of a bargain if it doesn’t have any of the features you need. Make sure the $0 price tag doesn’t make the platform impossible to use.
  • Integrations: Make sure it’s easy to integrate the open-source platform with other tools.

Based on these criteria, some of the best open-source ecommerce platforms include Kartopia, Acro Media, Solidus, and Quintagroup.

Transform Your Ecommerce Business with the Right Platform

Ecommerce isn’t rocket science, but it has a learning curve. For in-depth resources to help you accomplish your business goals, sign up for The Ecomm Manager newsletter. You’ll discover how to make your ecommerce business more sustainable without sacrificing profitability.

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By Francois Marchand

I’m Francois Marchand, content strategist and editor. I've worked in marketing, journalism, and communications for 20 years. I've been in charge of creating and managing content at Postmedia, Vancouver Film School, and Unbounce. I love helping business leaders, content creators, and marketers of all stripes grow their skillsets and knowledge base to stay ahead of the competition.

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