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E-Commerce Platforms: How to choose between hosted and open source solutions

Choosing an e-Commerce platform is one of the first things you need to do when starting an online shop. There are heaps of providers out there - both local and international - and if you’re a technical genius, you can even build your own platform from scratch.

But how do you choose between all of these providers? And what features and traits do you have to take into consideration? Let’s take a closer look at that.

What is a hosted solution?

If you choose a hosted solution, hosting is included (hence the name). You buy a “complete” online shop, where you can easily add and edit certain features. You have no or only limited access to the backend coding, but you are able to spice up your shop with plug-ins.

What is an open source solution?

If you go with this option, you will get full access to all coding. This means that you’re able to make all kinds of changes to your shop. You can usually buy plug-ins for popular features and integrations, but you have to code them into your shop yourself.

Budget

Your budget is a crucial factor when deciding on an e-Commerce platform. The variations in pricing can be quite big, but the pricing schemes are also very different. For example, you typically pay a monthly fee for a hosted solution, whereas open source solutions are free.

Your initial thought is probably to go with an open source solution - but bear in mind that the overall price is much more complicated as such.

When choosing a hosted solution you, as mentioned before, pay a monthly fee. This amount includes a set-up for your shop, hosting, and typically also customer service. A lot of features, updates (including security updates), maintenance, SSL-certificate, domain, and other things are often also included.

If you go with an open source solution, you can start your online shop for free. However, this solution requires much more work - either from yourself, if you know how to code, or from a programmer (who can have quite high hourly wages). Domain, hosting, SSL-certificate, and other features need to be bought separately. There’s also no customer service included, so if you need any help you must pay a web agency.

You also need to take themes (designs), plug-ins, and apps into account. You need to pay extra for these regardless of the solution you choose, but the prices vary from platform to platform so you might want to check up on prices on the features you know you’re going to need.

The final price will, therefore, depend on which features you need and how technical you are. You need to consider which plug-ins you want (maybe think a few years ahead) and how much time you or a programmer needs to spend on setting up your shop - and fixing it, in case something goes wrong.

User-friendliness

There’s a huge difference between the user-friendliness of the various platforms. Hosted solutions are usually plug-n-play, which means that a few clicks enable you to change, add, and remove features in your online shop. Open source solutions, on the other hand, requires you to code all these changes. If you’re a coding newbie and you’re not willing to spend a lot of money on a programmer, a hosted solution is probably the best match for you. But if you’re a super coder and can do most of the work yourself, open source is ideal for you.

Customer service

This is somewhat related to what we mentioned above. If you’re new to e-Commerce and expect to have a lot of questions, you should look for a platform that offers great customer service. It’s usually the hosted solutions that do this. If you’re experienced, have a great network you can draw on, or expect to get by from the help you can find on forums, you can easily opt for an open source solution without customer service.

Integrations

Even before you start your online shop, you probably have some ideas on how the whole thing should work. Maybe you plan on running ads on Facebook, sending out newsletters via MailChimp, or use a particular accounting software. If that’s the case, you need to make sure that the e-Commerce platform you choose has integrations to these. This also goes for payment solutions - if you already decided on a certain payment method or payment gateway, make sure it can be integrated into your new online shop.

Scalability

It’s a good idea to think a few years ahead when choosing your platform - because while some platforms are ideal for smaller shops, others are perfect for large businesses. So if you’re expecting your shop to grow a lot within the coming years, you should go for a scalable solution. For example, keep an eye out for the maximum number of products and try to find a solution that lets you handle products in batches.

As your shop grows, you might also wish to add new features to your shop - maybe even some that you design yourself. This can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, (and expensive) to do in a hosted solution, whereas an open source platform gives you the freedom to change whatever you want.

pros and cons of a hosted e-Commerce platform
pros and cons of an open source e-Commerce platform

So, what to choose?

It’s impossible to give a final answer to this. The ideal solution for YOU depends on your situation, your technical abilities, and your budget. If you run a small online shop and you don’t expect to add a lot of products to your range, you should probably go for a hosted solution. If you’re an expert coder and/or dream of running a huge online shop, open source is probably the way to go.

Don’t forget to think ahead when selecting a platform. A small hosted solution might seem like the best idea right here, right now - but if you grow, expand, or maybe go international, you might end up with a platform that does not provide that features that you need.

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