What’s the best ecommerce solution for small businesses? Open source software or a hosted solution?

Finding the best ecommerce solution for building an online store isn’t always easy. You can choose between going the open source route or you can go for a fully hosted SaaS application. Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. In this post I’ll try to clarify the differences between both to help you decide which approach is best for your business.

Before you continue reading, you should know that we ourselves are a commercial and hosted solution. In this article I’m simply trying to demonstrate and clarify what the difference is between open source software and commercial hosted ecommerce solutions.

There is no clear winner here, it all depends on what you exact needs are. Let’s get started, shall we?

An open source solution isn’t free

Let’s get a misconception out of the way first. A big advantage is that you can download and implement open source ecommerce solutions free of charge. That means you don’t have to pay a license to download or use the software.

What that also means is that you are responsible for installing, maintaining, securing and configuring the software on your own servers. Unless you are a technical person yourself with lots of free time, setting up an open source solution will take up time.

For most people, time is a valuable thing and you will need to charge your client for the time you spend setting up an open source solution. That cost adds up.

If you are not a technical person yourself, you will need to hire a web designer or developer that can take care of this process for you. By the time you’ve got a working setup, open source isn’t as free anymore as you might thought is was.

Illustration by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hikingartist

But how can a hosted solution be more cost effective than free?

As you know by now, open source isn’t free unless you’re doing all the work of setting up an open source solution yourself and your time isn’t worth a penny. Even then, you still have to pay for hosting, SSL security and again spend time on maintaining the software whenever an upgrade comes out.

A simple comparison

Let’s take a look at the basic tasks that one has to tackle when using an open source solution.

  • installing and setting up the open source solution: 1-2 hours
  • buying and installing an SSL certificate for one year: 1 hour (costs between 30$ and 150$ yearly)
  • hosting your ecommerce store: 150$ yearly (cheap estimate)
  • renewing the SSL certificate every year (1 hour)
  • updating/patching the open source software every few months (4 hours)

Of course, rates depend on where you are but it’s fair for a web developer to charge you 50$ an hour over here.

8 * 50$ + 150$ + 30$ for the SSL equals 580$ upfront costs just to get your open source solution up and running.

This is just the cost for going the open source route and I’m not exactly exaggerating prices here. Of course, this is just an estimate to show you that there are costs associated with open source solutions, unlike what many clients tend to think.

For that same money you can have a store running on SolidShops for nearly two years, without going through the hassle of managing it all yourself. Here is what using a hosted and commercial package like SolidShops would cost you:

  • creating your store: 5 minutes, pricing starts at 29$ a month per store
  • installing SSL on your checkout page: not necessary, it’s already included
  • hosting your ecommerce store: included in all pricing plans
  • renewing the SSL certificate every year: we’ll take care of that as well
  • updating/patching the software when a bug arises: we’ll do that for you

Sometimes, open source is better

Open source is definitely a better choice for you if you want to be able to develop your own code on top of the open source solution you are using. For example, if you are unhappy with the way your checkout process is working, it will be a lot easier to change an open source solution if you are willing to put in the hours and money to do so.

When using a hosted solution, you cannot just change the software for the simple reason that you can’t change the source code of the hosted software. That’s what the team behind the hosted solution is doing. On the other hand, that means you don’t have to worry about bugs or improvements to the software. They will be made available by the hosted solution provider.

Is a hosted solution flexible enough for me?

Again, this depends. What I can say is that SolidShops focuses on making it really easy for a web designer to build out unique themes for a store. Building themes and layouts with SolidShops is a walk in the park compared to the complex systems many open source solution offer.

Many open source solutions tend to be too big and too complex for many small to medium sized businesses. On the other hand, if your business requires that complexity, going the open source route might be a good choice for you.

Anything that can be customized in a store-front can be customized with SolidShops, from the look and feel to the PDF invoices and order emails your clients receive so we’ve got your covered there.

Conclusion: the best ecommerce solution is…

I’m afraid there isn’t one simple answer here. The best thing you can do to pick the best ecommerce solution for your business is getting honest information. If you are in doubt, I’d love to give my own honest take on what solution might be best for your specific situation.

At SolidShops, we try to inform everybody that gets in touch with us about the pros and cons of picking a certain solution. In the end, the only one that can tell you what’s best for you is you. This article hopefully gets some misconceptions out of the way.

Before you go shopping, inform your self about the pros and cons and you’ll make the right choice without a doubt.

Illustration by http://www.flickr.com/photos/hikingartist

Shoot an email if you have any questions or post your comments below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.