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Dedication to a great customer experience is the key to business success, but you also need the right strategy, tools and operational efficiency to make that happen. Every business is unique and has to come up with a unique combination of these to achieve success. For online businesses, selecting the right e-Commerce platform is perhaps the most important factor to consider that significantly influences the customer experience.
E-commerce solutions have come a long way from merely being a tool to take orders, and have transformed into a highly scalable, integrated and unified systems. These platforms are designed to improve efficiency, meet customer expectations, reduce operational costs and deliver personalized experiences.
This post focuses on the best open-source e-Commerce platforms. Let’s start with an overview of e-commerce, different types of platforms before moving on to some of the best open-source platforms.
What is an E-Commerce Platform?
An e-commerce platform is the foundation on which an online business is built. It allows integrating the required business and commerce functionalities into a single package. This package or platform can be delivered via the internet (cloud-based) or run as an on-premises solution.
The main advantage of e-commerce platforms is that they unify business apps and data, which results in more personalized and unique experiences for the customers. Having a single view of customers across various channels and a centralized inventory and order management system boosts productivity and enables businesses to target customers more precisely.
In the past, businesses had to rely on on-premises e-commerce software and extensive IT resources to set up and manage their online stores. The benefits of modern e-commerce platforms are the same as the benefits of SaaS, which we have already covered in detail in the linked post. Traditional e-commerce solutions were costly, could not scale easily, were a challenge to work with and difficult to customize and integrate with other systems.
Using an established e-commerce platform, whether open-source of proprietary, is considered to be the most viable option for most businesses. That’s because otherwise either they have to build everything from scratch (not possible for most businesses, especially SMBs) or use a plugin, which can quickly become an issue as the business grows (scalability issues).
Types of E-commerce Platforms
E-commerce platforms can be classified into three main categories as follows:
Open-Source E-Commerce Platforms
Open-source platforms can be installed in an on-premises or cloud-hosted environment, while platform updates and patches usually require manual deployment. The user can modify the source code to meet its own requirements. It is popular in organizations that have the IT resources needed to take complete control over the e-commerce environment. The user/business is responsible for most aspects of running the e-commerce system including:
- Updating and patching
- Security management
- PCI compliance
- Quality assurance
- Customization and building new tools such as promotion engines and marketing
SaaS E-Commerce Solutions
SaaS solutions are ready-to-use solutions that are becoming increasingly popular and have a much lower cost of ownership compared to Open Source solutions. SaaS e-commerce solutions allow business to get to the market faster and scale easily as they grow.
These solutions are hosted in a cloud-based environment and eliminate most of the complexity associated with running an online store. The ‘rented’ e-commerce platforms save businesses from having to deal with things such as security, updates, patching, PCI compliance and hosting.
However, the main reason many businesses still prefer open-source e-commerce solutions is that they want complete control and need the flexibility to customize every aspect of the platform (due to closed-off code of proprietary SaaS solutions).
Although APIs help deal with this concern to a certain extent, they still don’t offer the flexibility businesses get with having the complete source code. E-commerce platforms that are SaaS and also make available the source code are called Open SaaS.
Headless e-Commerce Platforms
Headless platforms are also cloud-based and essentially a type of CaaS (Commerce as a Service) in which the CMS (Content Management System) is decoupled from the shopping cart/other technologies. What this means for a business is that they can use a CMS such as WordPress and plug in another shopping cart or SaaS technology into it such as an ERP, ESP, PIM, OMS, POS and marketplaces like Amazon. The main advantages of headless e-commerce include lower total cost of ownership and faster go-to-market.
Headless platforms are like individual micro-services put together to create a final product. For example, a business can use WordPress as a CMS and BigCommerce for checkouts and also plug in other enterprise solutions. Using different components provides business with greater control and allows them to use different front-end and back-end components.
E-commerce platforms can be self or cloud hosted. Although both have their own advantages and disadvantages as discussed in detail here, cloud-hosting is becoming the default choice for most SMBs because of quicker deployment, low upfront costs and greater flexibility. Businesses that need complete control over their data and processes still prefer on-premises or self-hosting.
Benefits of Open-Source E-Commerce Platforms
The key benefits of using a modern e-commerce platform include:
- Unified platform that can seamlessly integrate with other systems, including POS, inventory, accounting, order management, merchandising, marketing, financials and most importantly customer services
- Provides sales reps with the complete picture and a 360-degree customer view
- Enables businesses to deliver personalized and consistent experiences across different channels
- More precise customer targeting and better customer services
- Smarter order management through centralization of inventory and supply chain
- Helps differentiate a brand as the technology leader that can provide unique online experiences
- Highly scalable and quick deployment
- Includes all the core functions integrated as a single solution
- Streamlined collaboration
- Real-time visibility of data
- Often backed by a large community of developers who are willing to provide support and help resolve issues
- Availability of the source code can save businesses from getting locked-in and improves transparency
- Experts from around the world analyze the code for security loopholes, resulting in a higher level of security
- using open-source software helps build a positive image in the development community
What is Open Source Software and Things to Consider?
Many think of Open Source software as something that is available for free and although that’s true to some extent, that’s not what the term means. Open-source software refers to the software for which the developer has made the source code available. Open-source software can be free as well as paid. Traditional/locally-installed Open-source software shares many characteristics with Open SaaS, but it also differs in some aspects, mainly because how it is delivered.
Open-Source vs. Open-SaaS
Compared to traditional open-source software, Open SaaS is a little different. That’s mainly because most Open SaaS solutions are designed for specific use cases and for specific environments. As a result, the developer might not have considered other use cases. That’s one of the reasons why many SaaS providers only make the source code available for the software that isn’t their primary business.
Things to Consider When Going for Open-Source Software
Different Open Source solutions differ when it comes to the degree to which they allow businesses to leverage both the front/back end apps, core processes unification and visibility into operations. Although the source code is the basis on which a software is built, it’s not worth much if you cannot turn it into a working solution to your own problem and something that you cannot manage.
Another thing businesses need to consider is that not all open-source software providers offer support and users have to rely on communities and experience of others. Getting free access to source code is one thing, but transforming it into something manageable is another, which might require a lot of effort, time and technical resources.
Some software developers just make their software open-source so they can get it in the hands of as many people as possible. However, with usability being the main emphasis, most open-source projects allow users to deploy the software on a variety of OS and platforms.
The Top 5 Open-Source E-Commerce Platforms
Not all open-source e-commerce platforms are created equal and function in exactly the same way. Each platform has its own advantages and disadvantages and choosing between them involves understanding your own business needs and matching them against what each platform has to offer. E-commerce platforms can be broadly categorized as open-source and hosted solutions (covered in a separate post), but here we’ll focus on the open-source platforms.
Businesses can either self-host an open-source platform or delegate this responsibility to the developer of the platform, which usually also offer enterprise versions of the same open-source products. In addition to hosting services, enterprise versions also come with enhanced security, extended functionality, premium support and automatic updates and patching.
Magento: Highly scalable, customizable
Magento Open Source is a free platform that offers SMBs the features they need to build their online store. However, businesses looking for an all-in-one solution opt for Magento Commerce, which is a cloud solution with enhanced security and more integrated capabilities. This makes the platform more suitable for large retailers that have high sales volume.
The high-performance platform can handle up to 50,000 orders and 4 million page requests each hour, which makes Magento one of the most robust systems. A high security level, immediate security patches and regular updates keep the stores protected from a variety of attacks.
The platform is also highly scalable and fully customizable, but deep customization comes at a premium as Magento development costs from $60-120 per hour (development on other platforms is 2-3 times cheaper).
Open Cart: Simple, lightweight, easy to set up
Being a lightweight platform, OpenCart is not as resource hungry as Magento, but it also cannot handle the number of users Magento can. This is what makes OpenCart a more suitable solution for SMBs that plan on independent development of their web store.
It’s user friendly and works well for users who don’t have a lot of development experience, while the development costs are also fairly low, averaging about $10/hr. Intuitive admin panel and clear management features makes it possible for novices to get started with the platform and get most things done without much difficulty.
Woo Commerce: For Word Press users and small stores with limited IT experience
The platform is backed by a large community of developers and a widely used e-commerce platform around the globe. The target audience of WooCommerce is WordPress users who are already familiar with the CMS. All they need to get started is to install the plugin and customize it according to their own requirements.
Core features include order management, inventory, coupons and shipping, while a wide range of add-ons/extensions are also available for additional functionality such as marketing and SEO. Many businesses that have a slim product range and new to e-commerce usually start with trying out WooCommerce.
Presta Shop: A large library of templates, modules and themes, one-page checkouts
PHP, MySQL, Symfony
The platform is easy to set up if the user is already using a provider that supports 1-click installation. But non-technical users might need some technical assistance if they want to install it manually. Although the development costs are fairly low compared to Magento, what you save would probably be spent on additional modules, that can be quite expensive. It offers limited customization options and users have to buy themes to customize the design as per their liking.
With that being said, the platform is popular among businesses that sell digital products, especially in Europe. PrestaShop allows cross-selling and selling digital products such as music and e-books and supports one-page checkout and shipping discounts. Full backend support allows users to manage inventory, customers, shipping and more.
nop Commerce: .NET CORE Cross-platform solution for businesses of all sizes
ASP.NET, MS SQL, C#
The platform is based on Microsoft technologies (Windows and ASP.NET CORE) and supports over 1,500 integrations. It’s available for free and is backed by community support. Easy-to-use and clutter-free interface, a responsive design and security features make it a suitable option for both SMBs and enterprises. It has good out-of-the-box functionality and a sophisticated backend that allows users to configure their store in less time.
Choosing an e-commerce platform is as subjective as it is a technical matter, so finding the right solution depends on a variety of factors as discussed above. Magento is a solid solution for large businesses with high sales volume, while nopCommercenopCommerce also serves the same market using a different technology.
WooCommerce is a great option for WordPress users who want to quickly get started and set up a simple online store. OpenCart is lightweight and popular for its clean and intuitive interface and widely used by small and medium businesses. PrestaShop might not offer much in terms of customizability right out-of-the box, but it makes up for it through thousands of themes, modules and templates.
When choosing between different solutions, it’s important to consider the business size, sales volume and business specific needs to make the right decision. Questions like do you really need the advanced features and premium support, high performance or bright designs to improve engagement with customers help pick the right platform that grows with your business.