Decisions about the correct system for your shop are further complicated by the differing approaches taken by the various software vendors. In the segment serving the SME market, two main solutions have come to the fore: “open-source” software, and cloud-based “software as a service” (SaaS). These differ from one another in a number of fundamental ways. It is therefore vital that, as an online retailer, you understand the advantages and disadvantages involved with each option.
For setting up a SaaS shop system, no programming skills are required. Most systems of this type include online wizards – in other words, step-by-step guides – to support the configuration process. These enable merchants to begin trading immediately. In contrast, open-source software first needs to be installed, for example by the shop operator themselves. If the merchant lacks the necessary technical expertise, an agency can be commissioned to carry out the installation, though this will involve additional expense.
SaaS solutions are generally available on a monthly fee basis. In such cases, merchants can usually opt to pay a low rate initially before switching to a higher monthly charge when enhanced capacity, performance levels or additional features are required. Open-source solutions, in contrast, tend to be free of charge and can therefore appear attractive at first sight. However, the costs of installation, maintenance and expansion can be difficult to calculate and can often turn out to be higher than with SaaS solutions.
In most cases, SaaS solutions incorporate design templates that online retailers can modify in line with their requirements. Design services can be used as an additional option if merchants feel they lack the necessary design skills. The benefit of open-source solutions, on the other hand, lies in their freely available source code, which can be modified as required by shop operators or their agencies. As a result, the online store can be customised with total flexibility to fit the retailer’s precise requirements.
When a new e-commerce operation is launched, it is often difficult to predict what level of growth will result in the future. SaaS users, however, can respond to changing order volumes by moving seamlessly to a higher-level package or even migrating to a customised enterprise solution if their requirements become more complex. Merchants using open-source software will need to plan out the resources needed for their future growth when starting up or else make their own arrangements for upgrading.
With a SaaS system, the data and software associated with an online shop are stored by the provider, in secure data centre environment. This keeps the level of risk to a minimum, as data security is handled by the hosting provider and the software is constantly monitored. These aspects can be somewhat problematic with open-source software, as any security vulnerability could be present in the source code and could potentially be exploited by cyber-criminals. If, however, open-source users stay alert and responsive to such risks, they can resolve such vulnerabilities independently.
Users of a software as a service solution benefit from regular and free-of-charge updates that are implemented automatically. These ensure that their shops remain compliant with the law, security standards and perform according to the latest version. With open-source systems, the responsibility remains with the shop operators, who therefore need to keep themselves informed of any vital changes and apply the updates to their system themselves.
Modern shop systems provide online retailers with a wide variety of options for integration with external services, such as those provided by payment or logistics partners. With cloud-based software as a service shops, these are either pre-installed or can be obtained separately from an app store. The automatic updating of such add-ons saves merchants a high degree of time and effort. The advantage of open-source solutions, in contrast, lies in the large community of developers who are constantly releasing new applications.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” shop system that will suit every single e-commerce project. Decisions in this area depend much more on a merchant’s particular requirements and especially on the size and scope of their online shop. For smaller merchants with a restricted budget and limited technical knowledge, SaaS solutions are generally the best all round option. These can provide you with a complete solution at low cost, allowing you to concentrate fully on your core business. At the same time, the danger of any security or performance risks are kept to a minimum.
Open-source solutions, in contrast, are primarily suited to larger-scale operators with access to the resources needed for installing and maintaining the shop software themselves or contracting an agency to do this. Such retailers often have very specific requirements for their online shop that can be best fulfilled by means of a customised, open-source solution.