Which eCommerce Platform is Right for Your Business: Open Source or Hosted?

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Today you’re lucky to have so many eCommerce options to pick from  — actually, there are over 490 options on the market. But this plentifulness has its cons you will need to spend a lot of time reading comparisons. Probably you will even go further and launch a trial version of the most attractive solutions. But before you narrow the list to 2-3 of your favorites, you will be about to curse all those marketers who make their products look so very attractive and…alike: fancy-schmancy, trusted, best-of-the-best. Yet, the website builders differ. What should you know about them?

Custom mods: idiot-proof or giving unlimited power?

Many people feel pretty good using the auto that preserves the look and feel the manufacturer defined.  Others keep customizing it till it looks like a typical “Pimp My Ride” craft. Quite a lot car owners remain somewhere in-between, say, install a rooftop cargo carrier, but use the rest as is.

The website builder is a “truck” for your business, and it’s likely that you’re already catching my drift: sooner or later you may want to customize it a bit, add some specific feature or tool.

Depending on the platform you choose, you may have unlimited freedom to create whatever you invent or be able to install only the pre-built extensions approved by the platform vendor. None of the options is good, just like none of them is bad each of the approaches has its fans and has been proved to work well.

  • The first one is perfect for tech savvy people, web-developers or those merchants who plan to hire a professional to build something unique. If this is what you’re looking for you’ll want to choose an open source eCommerce solutions, like X-Cart, Magento, PrestaShop, or OpenCart.
  • The second scenario works for pretty standard stores which do not need very special bells and whistles, where “special” is the key word. Such solutions normally have a huge marketplace where you can purchase one of existing extensions and install it in a couple of clicks. I call it idiot-proof, because there’s simply no chance to break (or even remove completely I witnessed such a situation with a self-hosted platform) the entire production store because of lamer actions on the server. You have no access to it. Shopify or Volusion are great examples of such online store builders.

SaaS vs Downloadable platform: comparing the structure of your expenses

When I see questions like “how to launch and run a successful online store for free”, they make me grin. Even though Google returns 3,730,000,000 results for “free online store” query, it’s an illusion. An eCommerce website is a business tool, that needs to be developed and supported (you want a stable, beautiful, up-to-date store, right?), and it’s odd to expect that it will cost you nothing.

  • The best thing about SaaS is that you just “rent” a store and do not care about any technical SSL-MySQL-PHP-and-other-scaring-words-staff. Normally, there’s no setup fee for the vendor-hosted software. You simply subscribe for a service and pay some static feenormally within $30/mo plus whatever transaction fees occur. For instance Shopify charges 2% on its cheapest plan, in addition to the transaction fees charged by the payment gateway.
  • Your expenses on the open-source platform will be structured differently: the recurring payments can still be required, but here you will have to pay for hosting. Most open source eCommerce CMS will “agree” to work on the cheapest shared hosting plan. But for the sake of security and speed you will have to fork up some cash for a VPS. It will also contribute into higher SEO ranking: with all else being equal, the faster websites are considered to be more user-friendly, hence they’re higher on the SERP. The maintain-it-yourself  VPS is way cheaper than a managed one. But if you’re not a server guru, you will have to pay about $25/mo for the fully-managed server. Besides, you will need an SSL certificate (the one by Comodo will cost about $90/yr). The good news is that most open source platforms like X-Cart, Magento or Woocommerce do not charge the annoying transaction fees, and obtaining a license will not exhaust your purse either   they are either free or freemium.

A visual way to compare the features supported

The set of features available in this or that website builder is pretty standard, especially if you’re comparing the most expensive plans which are packed to the gills: search engine optimised, containing a number of “must-have” and trendy features like abandoned cart reminders, banners, product recommendations,  with advanced search tools like product filters and so on.  

The question is if the cheaper plans will also do everything you need. The best way to avoid a jumbled mess in your head is to take a sheet of paper, think it through and make a list of your requirements.  If you’re old fashioned, you can then draw a table and title the columns as the platforms you’re comparing to mark the corresponding cells with plus or minus sign. Or if you prefer modern ways, we allow you to quickly build your own comparison chart of up to 4 eCommerce solutions that you’re interested in. Just head to our directory, and click the “add to compare” boxes on your solutions. We also have a pre-made, interactive features comparison chart comparing over 50 popular eCommerce solutions.

Sample questions to consider include:

  • What accounting software do you use? Does it integrate with the eCommerce platform you consider? Is the integration direct or via some intermediate who will also charge for the service?
  • What channels do you plan to use to boost your sales? Does the eCommerce solution integrate with Amazon/eBay? Does it integrate with MailChimp or any other email marketing service?
  • Does it integrate with the payment processor you have your merchant account with? What about the shipping carriers your customers like most?
  • What kind of special offers and campaigns do you plan to run? Buy one  — get one free, free shipping or 10% discount coupons for the customers of particular memberships? Are all these tools available out of the box or at least as a paid extension?

Tweaks and mods: do it yourself or hire a professional?

Actually, this question is applicable not only to online store creation/development,  but to any other sphere of life. Often, it does seem cheaper to do something by your own means, but is it cheaper indeed? There’s a very easy way to find it out. Answer 2 simple questions:

  • How much do I earn per hour in average?
  • How much time will I most likely spend on it? If you’re doing something for the first time, multiply the estimated time by two!

The number you get by multiplying the above gives you the idea how much the “free” do-it-yourself work really costs you. If professional help asks for an equal or less sum, hire them.

Comparing the hourly rates of Magento, X-Cart, Woocommerce, Prestashop, Opencart developers and freelancers from Upworks one can see that the rates are within the same ranges, normally within $35/hr regardless of the platform. The number of such offers is pretty high too, both inside and outside the Upworks. Moreover, some platform vendors like X-Cart offer a full stack of related services, so you can purchase everything from hosting to support and custom development in the “one-stop shop”. So if only you decide to build something really unique and special, finding a person with a magic wand will be easy-peasy, whatever solution you prefer.

Conversational Commerce, Facebook stores, Mobile-first and other Buzzwords of 2017

Here and there, Internet is riddled with marketing trends and predictions for 2017: Conversational Commerce, Facebook Stores, Mobile-First Google Ranking and on and on it goes. Only time will tell if these predictions will come true or become the thing of the past. To me, only one of them is a sure thing: Google controls 65% of searches ( Bing 33%), and if these folks announce Mobile-First ranking in their own blog, we should take it for granted and hurry to follow the guidelines  — or say goodbye to traffic from the organic search. The other trendy things do sound impressive and promising, but they are hardly the things one should be after, when the eCommerce business is only being launched. Make a robust foundation to begin with, not bells and whistles.

Last but not least (spoiler: it has nothing to do with website builders)

You know what, launching an eCommerce website is actually the last step, the top of the iceberg. First comes a thorough research: personas, product market fit evaluation, keyword analysis, commercial value calculation, content creation, product testing and only after that – the store launch.

Looking for eCommerce software? Check out Capterra's list of the best eCommerce software solutions.

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About the Author


Ksenia Emelyanova

X-Cart copywriter that came to eCommerce company in 2009 as a customer support assistant, went on to work as a Project manager in the Custom Development team to discover the needs of e-merchants and deliver the projects that meet their needs. This experience gave deep understanding of how things work from both a developer's side and a user's point of view, and it really helps in creating the articles with love and care. Apart from eCommerce, Ksenia is a loving wife and mother, yogi and aerial performer.


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