open source vs hosted ecommerceThis post is part of a series of expert answers to frequently asked questions about ecommerce, helping you make the right choices for your business.

Your Question: I’m having difficulty making an eCommerce platform decision. Should I go with an Open Source platform on a server or one of the hosted solutions, such as Volusion? Can anybody please help me figure out what would be better? Thank you for any feedback.

Answer by New Edge Design’s Shai Atanelov:

This is an extremely important and common question, and one I hear every day. It seems that most small-to medium-businesses struggle with this decision at some point in their ecommerce journey.

In my opinion, only someone with extensive experience in managing ecommerce stores on both Open Source and hosted Software-as-a-Service platforms can really answer in an informed way, with a deep understanding of the pros and cons of each option.

I feel qualified since I have extensive experience developing and managing multiple ecommerce stores on a variety of platforms for New Edge Design’s clients, and for my own ecommerce ventures.

So let’s address this question!

Which is Better, Open Source or Hosted?

This is a very interesting theoretical question that techie types enjoy debating endlessly on forums. However, this question has no relevance to the average business investigating ecommerce solutions.

The right question you need to ask is: Which is better for my particular ecommerce situation, Open Source or Hosted?

That depends on three main factors:

  • Your budget
  • Your company’s programming talent (in-house or outsourced)
  • Your must-have requirements for store features

These three factors come into play in different ways when making your choice. So I created this handy table to help you compare the pros and cons of Open Source vs. Hosted solutions, in areas related to cost, capability and support.

Hosted Ecommerce Software vs. Open Source

Ecommerce Software

Hosted Solution (SaaS) Ecommerce SoftwareOpen Source (Self Hosted) Ecommerce Software
Setup CostLow setup costs (or moderate setup costs for a custom design)High or Very High setup costs (for code customization, template integration, testing, implementation)
SkillsCan be implemented and maintained by anyone with decent computer skillsThere is a high learning curve for most users.
Easily implemented and maintained by a specialized developer
HostingHosting included in cost, upgrades and downgrades are smoothHosting fees charged separately, and upgrading and downgrading server capacity is complicated
FeaturesLimited flexibility, but many useful features are included, without paying for extensions or custom codingGreat flexibility to customize features through extensions and custom coding – but these cost
SupportFull support from software developers included – just one number to callNo support from software developers – support must be contracted privately
UpgradesUpgrades, bug fixes and new features pushed out to all stores automatically, with no work for the store ownerAny customizations of code have to be manually integrated with future versions and bug fixes released by the software developers
3rd Party Software IntegrationOnly with pre-approved partners since no access to root files are providedRoot files are accessible and basically any 3rd part software can be integrated

When consulting with a client, we work to find which solution is the best ecommerce solution for them.

But in reality, a hosted SaaS solution is usually my first choice, unless for a particular reason I’m convinced that OS is the best solution for them.

Open Source is usually the best choice for businesses that meet these 3 conditions:

  • They have a PHP developer specializing in the OS cart of choice in-house (or an expert external team, such as our own)
  • They need total flexibility and ability to customize their site in highly specialized ways that are not possible with hosted solutions
  • They have a significant budget for set-up costs and ongoing development maintenance

If they don’t meet these 3 criteria, I usually recommend a hosted solution, especially Volusion and BigCommerce, since they have so many features built-in, an easy-to-use interface, and good support. Also they don’t charge transaction fees, like Shopify does.

Making the Right Decision

Choosing the right ecommerce platform is one of the most important decisions you will make for the future success of your online store. It is not a decision that anyone should
take lightly or make for you without knowing about your business situation.

If you are feeling unsure about which platform is right for you, then contact us for a consultation, or leave a comment below. Be sure to tell me a bit about your business so that I can give you helpful feedback.


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