In order to have a successful ecommerce site, online retailers have to choose the right platform. For many retailers, open source platforms are the way to go, offering undeniable freedom, flexibility and scalability. However, they're not the best choice for everyone, as they can be very technical, expensive and difficult to manage independently.Here, we break down the main factors that retailers should consider when determining whether or not their site requires the support of an open source platform.
Open source platforms are usually much more expensive than alternative options like template-based platforms.
On open source, retailers essentially start from scratch, which means that they need to invest more time, money and resources into the development of their site and pay for things like developers, updates, extensions, maintenance fees, etc. On top of that, this cost is largely unpredictable, with unexpected expenses like security patches, software updates and redesigns popping up all the time.
Overall, open source platforms typically cost an average of 4 times more than template-based platforms over time. The key, then, is for retailers to be aware of this difference and consider factors like the nature of their company, its potential for growth and the overall goal of their site to determine whether or not open source is worth the investment for them.
The Open Source User
The ideal open source user is a highly architectured, product-heavy site with an experienced development team and a fully developed business plan. This kind of ecommerce company has both the internal bandwidth and the need for open source, as they have a specific site vision and will likely require a level of customization and buildability that other platforms simply cannot provide.
Conversely, a small-scale retailer with a straight-forward product catalog and a team with little technical experience may be overwhelmed by the commitment and technicality that open source requires.
The main point, then, is that retailers have to consider all relevant factors when allocating their budget and determining if an open-source platform is a business-smart investment for them.
Ecommerce retailers must have access to expert, certified developers if they want to properly develop and maintain a website on an open source platform like Magento. The very nature of open source requires working in the source code of a site, meaning that retailers essentially have a clean slate when it comes to the back-end of their site. In other words, it's like drawing on a blank sheet of paper - versus a coloring book - there are no guidelines or pre-set parameters.
On one hand, this kind of freedom allows for an unparalleled amount of customization and scalability. For a development team with the resources and a clear vision, the sky's the limit. It also leaves a lot of room for error, though. For example, if multiple developers are used and those developers are not Magento certified, they can create conflicting codes, leading to incompatible connectors, unsupported extensions, and, in the big picture, a back-end that simply does not function seamlessly. If this happens, the website will be unresponsive and it will likely need to be redeveloped or redesigned, which means lost revenue, lost time and unnecessary expenses.
Retailers must consider the technological scope of their team before they go to open source. If they do not have the resources or technological ability to create an effective design and proper integrations, they may need the guidance of template-based platforms.
Companies with a defined, developed business strategy should use an open source platform. Once again, this has to do with flexibility and freedom. With template-based platforms like BigCommerce, retailers oftentimes have to alter their business practices to fit the template-based model.
If a company’s business model requires air shipping (say they ship perishable products) they would have to restructure this aspect of their business on a template-based platform. In such cases, the flexibility of open source is a huge plus.
That said, this restrictive business model is not always a negative. Many companies don’t have a firm structure or defined practices in place, and they can benefit from the guidance that these template-based platforms provide.
In general, then, it is important that retailers consider the restrictions and requirements of their business, choosing the solution that will best support them.
ERP and CRM Integrations
If ecommerce retailers have either of these integrations, they should go with an open source platform.
Enterprise Resource Planning System (ERP)
An ERP is a business process management software that is often used by ecommerce retailers to keep track of important business metrics and capture funds.
The first function that many of the newer ERPs have is to capture funds for ecommerce retailers. Legally, customers cannot be charged for a product that they have ordered online until the shipping process has begun and a tracking label has been created. New ERPs create these tracking labels, thereby allowing for the funds to be captured and for revenue to be recognized and accrued.
Secondly, ERPs integrate the back-end accounting functions of ecommerce sites, helping retailers keep track of things like inventory, sales and product costs across multiple channels. This function is particularly necessary for ecommerce companies that operate online and in one or more brick-and-mortar locations.
It is exactly these kinds of multi-faceted operations that will need help keeping track of all of their important figures and accounting information.
That said, any company that requires an ERP or already has a structured ERP in place will likely need an open source platform. ERPs simply don’t integrate well with the template-based software, and trying to force an integration will likely lead to poor site performance overall.
Customer Relationship Management Software (CRM)
A CRM, or Customer Relationship Management software, allows retailers to manage the different facets of their business, including marketing, automations, business information, and customer data, by centralizing all of this information in one portal.
By putting all integral functions and data in one place, CRMs can help ecommerce retailers organize their businesses and keep every member of their team on the same page.
Once again, companies that already have a CRM in place will likely benfit from an open source platform. Template-based systems usually have their own CRMs and do not integrate well with existing or external CRM software.
Product and Catalog Type
When considering an open source platform, ecommerce retailers must consider both the number of products that their website has and the number of variations on those products. A general rule of thumb is the more complex and numerous the catalog types, the more likely it is that a retailer will require an open source platform.
Why is this?
Template-based platforms tend to work best with simple, defined product types or products that don’t have options like bundles and attributes. Once things begin to get more complex, the performance of the product pages begins to suffer on template-based. This can turn into a big problem for site owners since it’ll cause issues, like slow page load speed, unresponsive product page design or low-quality product images, that will negatively impact traffic and conversion rates over time. Complex, product-focused retailers, then will require an open source site to support their needs and allow them to scale.
Open source requires that retailers build and scale their ecommerce site on their own. While this option can seem daunting, it can provide unmatched freedom, technicality and scalability when done correctly.
In the big picture, it is essential that site owners recognize that the platform is the foundation of their online presence and choose the system that will best support their company’s needs, allowing their site to run smoothly and efficiently over time.
Originally published Jun 7, 2016 1:30:00 PM, updated July 28 2017