If you are looking for the right type of software to operate your ecommerce business on, you will soon discover that the range of options is vast.
You may wonder whether to choose one of the many free software packages or pay a vendor for a particular product. The answer will depend to some extent upon the type of application that you need. Here are some considerations about open source self-hosted (free) vs hosted (paid) ecommerce software
Difference Between Self-Hosted & Hosted Ecommerce Software
Ecommerce software that is developed by a loosely organized community is called “open source”. It is also known as FOSS (Free and Open Source Software). The source code is available to all. It can be viewed by anyone who knows how to read code. The coding can be modified and downloaded by those who have the knowledge to do so. The key element of this software is that it is free. Free to run, free to see the code, free to copy and redistribute and free to modify and release modifications. It should be noted that “free” doesn’t mean “cheap” or low quality products.
Paid software is not necessarily the opposite of open source. Commercial packages are created and distributed by a vendor organization, which sells the right to use the package. The vendor provides training, support, installation and other duties, typically for a cost to the client.
There are some obvious benefits to using open source or self-hosted ecommerce software. It is free to try, buy and update. You won’t have to purchase the coding, but may have to spend resources in order to get it operational for the needs of your organization. The ability to customize and control the exact application of the basic package for your own needs is helpful. The community-based organization means that the solutions are usually appropriate for the group that is using the software. There is also a philosophy that certain things should be free to users rather than tightly controlled by a few with a profit motive.
The strengths of vendor-provided or hosted ecommerce software include the ability to own a “turn-key” product, with extensive professional support available. Vendor provided software tends to be better documented so that changes which must be made to personalize the application are less difficult. Vendor software usually comes with an expectation that the merchant will fix bugs or problems. Most of them have been worked out before release of the software.
The importance of assessing your own needs before making a decision cannot be ignored. Check out the strengths of each type of ecommerce software. Look at the features, costs and attributes of each type. Before purchasing software, you would be advised to look at what is available with the same features or similar features, in free software packages.
When researching open-source (free) vs hosted (paid) ecommerce software, it is important to take time to set out the needs and organizational structure of your group. A single proprietor may not have time to do any tweaking that will need to be done. It is also true that the initial cost of vendor software can be significantly higher.
Self-Hosted Ecommerce Software
These shopping cart platforms are standalone programs that are free to use, but they will need to be installed and hosted using your own web hosting provider’s server, e.g. using Bluehost, HostGator or GoDaddy.
- Magento.com (Community Edition) is by many considered the best. Magento is a powerful ecommerce solution and comes with loads of features. The downside is that learning how it works comes with a fairly steep learning curve.
WordPress Shopping Carts
- There is really only worth mentioning WooCommerce if you decide to go down the WordPress path. There are a few others around as well as plugins you can install but WooCommerce is by far the best WordPress ecommerce platform.
Hosted Ecommerce Software
These shopping carts are a fully hosted service, meaning you don’t need to worry about maintaining software or servers. However, that does come at a price, as all these options will require a monthly subscription. Below are the most popular providers in the hosted software space:
- The most popular choice here is Shopify.com. Their software platform powers more than 70,000 online stores including General Electric, Foo Fighters and Amnesty International.
Choosing the right platform to go with is the most important decision you will make for the future success of your online store. Long story short, there are three factors that you need to consider before making your choice. These are; budget – you can get peace of mind with a fully hosted solution, programming skills – if you know how to code you can do many of the customizations yourself and use a self-hosted or WordPress solution, and what are the must-have features for your store (SKU/inventory management, SEO, email marketing, security, support etc) that a hosted solution can provide.