In our previous article we had a look at 10 important considerations when planning to open an online shop or which is better known as an e-commerce business.

One of the factors was finding the e-commerce platform that suits your needs best. In this regard we considered 4 very basic questions which a prospective e-commerce business owner should ask of him/herself.

In today’s article we are going to have a closer look at the different e-commerce platforms and how they differ from one another. We hope that this article might be the first step in assisting you with your research and with deciding on the e-commerce platform that suits your needs and also very importantly the needs of your customers.

When we do some research on the various e-commerce platforms available to us it is immediately apparent that different methods are utilised to distinguish between the various platforms and that there is a plethora of e-commerce solutions. In order to keep this article to the point and aimed at the prospective e-merchant we will deal with it as if we have no prior knowledge of e-commerce.

We therefore suggest considering e-commerce platforms by their licensing models and to stick with this approach. In using this approach, we will have to distinguish between three different platforms. They are Open Source, Hosted and SAAS (Software as a Service). As we will see shortly, this manner of differentiating is necessary from the beginning as it will dictate how our shop will be set up, who will set it up, the support you can expect and the costs involved. Let us consider these three platforms.

Open Source E-Commerce Platform:

According to Wikipedia Open-source software (OSS) is computer software with its source code made available with a license in which the copyright holder provides the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. Open-source software may be developed in a collaborative public manner. Open-source software is the most prominent example of open-source development.

The open-source model, or collaborative competition development from multiple independent sources, generates an increasingly more diverse scope of design perspective than any one company is capable of developing and sustaining long term. A report by the Standish Group (from 2008) states that adoption of open-source software models has resulted in savings of about $60 billion per year to consumers.”

Open Source Software is consequently so much more than just free software. It is software that is continuously developed by expert developers on platforms such as Github.

Open source software e-commerce platforms are available to us for free. It however requires of us to purchase a domain and a hosting platform. As mentioned in some of our previous articles, purchasing a domain simply means selecting an available name for your online store and registering it with a company specialising in this service. The registration of a domain name must be done every 12 months.

A hosting platform refers to a hosting company that sells server space on one of their servers where your website is developed, placed and made accessible to the world.

As we can see, the only costs that we will have to consider will be the domain registration, server hosting and if required the costs of a designer and developer to get your online store up and running.

Examples of open source e-commerce platforms are WooCommerce (works with WordPress which is also free), Opencart, Prestashop, Magento, Virtuemart, Zencart, OsCommerce etc. There are more open-source paltforms available than I can point a stick at. It may therefore be a good idea to see how many more open source e-commerce platforms you can hunt down.

On-premise E-Commerce Platform:

On-premise e-commerce simply means purchasing an initial one-time license fee as a rule. The new online store owner will also have to invest in hardware and installation services. It therefore refers to a situation where your business “hosts” the website on a server physically located within the confines of your own building. The benefits of this option includes more control over your online retail platform, greater visibility of your own data, and a better understanding of data security. On the other hand, scaling can be a challenge in terms of hardware and expenses.

Examples of on-premise e-commerce platforms are Hybris, Intershop Communications, Sana Commerce., Oorjit. and IBM WebSphere.

As you can imagine this type of E-commerce requires an enormous initial investment and technical skills to perform self-maintenance.

Software as a Service:

Wikipedia describes it as Software as a service… is a software licensing and delivery model in which software is licensed on a subscription basis and is centrally hosted. It is sometimes referred to as “on-demand software”. SaaS is typically accessed by users using a thin client via a web browser.” A thin client is a lightweight computer that is purpose built for remoting into a server.

In practise SaaS can be seen as a cloud based delivery model in which applications are hosted and managed in a server provider’s datacentre, which the client pays for on a subscription basis and is accessed via a browser over an internet connection.   In layman’s terms, the store owner purchases server space on a Company’s server, uses the company’s software to set up his/her online store and to access it from his own computer to keep it updated. It therefore gives the store owner some control albeit limited over his/her online store.

In order to setup a SAAS e-commerce platform you will have to pay a monthly subscription fee and purchase a premium theme to showcase your merchandise. Some options are quite expensive. The best known SaaS examples are Shopify, Demandware, Magento Go, Volusion, Big Cartel etc. A quick Google search will assist you with more SaaS platforms.

E-Commerce Platforms compared?

Let us first start by stating that each platform has a couple of pros and cons and WebScripto is not inclined to go on record stating which platform is the best. The different needs of different companies and individuals will have to be considered on their own merits to come to an individual conclusion. We however have a favourite platform and a favourite specific product in that platform which we will share with you later.

Let us instead look at the advantages and disadvantages of the different platforms in the order we have described them above.

Platform Advantage Disadvantage
Open Source ·         Easily customizable

·         Free of charge system

·         High visual flexibility

·         Wide variety of add-ons or plugins.

·         Easy to learn

·         Easy to run your store yourself

·         Data Security

·         Auditability

·         Easy integration of payment gateway

·         Perfect for small to medium sized businesses.

·         Reliability

·         Scalability

·         Easy migration to other servers

·         A bit of technical knowledge required

·         Performance dependent on hosting costs

·         Integration with other systems can be a problem

On-Premise ·         Control over own records and databases

·         High Performance

·         Good for large companies

·         Extremely high initial financial investment required

·         A lot of time spent on keeping the server up and running

·         Costly maintenance of server by highly skilled people

·         Security risks

·         Updating of servers are costly and very time consuming which lead to increased downtime of your online store

·         Hardware and Infrastructure requirements

·         Data Security

SaaS ·         Relative low costs of entry

·         Less complex to work with.

·         Some companies offer good integrations.

·         Scalability

·         Less customisable

·         Less functionality

·         Can become costly over time.

·         Bound by time specific contracts

·         No choice over servers to be used

·         Cannot transfer to other servers easily

There are surely much more advantages and disadvantages to help populate the above table. As this article is however intended as a guide (not an exhaustive definitive comparison) in order to assist us all in deciding on the best platform for our respective businesses we will leave it as it is for now.

We should always first look at the type, the scale of the business and the budget available in considering the above and other advantages and disadvantages attached to each platform.

Since WebScripto is in the business of designing websites and e-commerce websites for small and medium sized businesses we will continue this discussion from that perspective. From this perspective it goes without saying that we will not consider On-Premise Platforms. It simply does not speak to our clients and market. You are however welcome to do more research if you believe that an on-premise is needed for your business.

From our perspective we have to choose between an open source and a SaaS platform.

From a designer’s perspective, a cost perspective and the ease of use for the prospective online-store owner, WebScripto prefers to work with Open Source Platforms. We have found that it is much more cost effective and places all the control in the store-owner’s hands. With a bit of initial assistance from a designer/developer to customise the store to our specific needs we will soon be on our way to running our own online store.

In our next article we are going to look at the different options when it comes to open source e-commerce platforms and consider the best possible option in this regard.

You are welcome to make a comment on this article and share your views. If you have a different opinion than the writer, we would love to hear it. As stated there are as many views as there are web developers on choosing an e-commerce online platform.

Till next time, take care.

This article was written by Eitel Bock at WebScripto.

Eitel Bock