The ecommerce platform is the foundation of any online store. A good platform improves the customer experience while adding efficiencies to your business operations. There are two main types of platforms for online sellers: open-source ecommerce platforms self-hosted through your own hosting setup and closed-source (hosted) platforms that are hosted by the platform provider.
While there are some advantages to using a closed-source solution, many businesses choose to use open-source platforms, as they open up unique opportunities. Whether you’re getting ready to build your store or if you’re considering migrating from your current platform, this article will provide you with a breakdown of the best open-source ecommerce platforms.
What are the benefits of using an open-source ecommerce platform?
Open-source platforms are ecommerce website-building tools that make the source code available for users to modify. By providing access to the source code, these platforms offer endless possibilities for customizing your store and unparalleled control over its functionality.
This is why these platforms are great for helping you create an online store that exactly matches your business needs. However, it also means that to make full use of the platform’s potential, you need coding skills and technical knowledge.
It’s difficult to get this same level of control with a hosted solution.
Because open-source platforms are self-hosted, you are able to choose a provider based on their hosting capabilities without having to consider the commerce functionality. Using a platform that isn’t bound to a specific host also gives you more flexibility as your store grows.
In the past, self-hosted ecommerce platforms were more viable to organizations with sizable IT departments. But now, with managed hosting options, smaller companies can offload the work of setting up optimal hosting for your provider while you focus on running your business.
Let’s look at some of the other benefits of using an open-source ecommerce platform.
The ability to customize every detail of your store makes open-source ecommerce platforms attractive for businesses of all sizes and across industries. As ecommerce gets more competitive, sellers need to create increasingly immersive sites to catch their audience’s attention and turn them into customers.
You don’t want to end up with a site that looks live everyone else’s, which is why it is important to have the ability to change the slightest of details.
With a hosted platform, you’ll have far fewer options for customizing your store. You typically have a templated theme that is meant to be used out of the box with fewer options for making changes. This is beneficial if you want to get your store up quickly, but if you ever want a customized design, you’ll have more trouble implementing it.
On the other hand, open-source platforms allow you to create whatever you want without any restrictions, so long as you have the technical aptitude.
For example, if you want to adjust the filters on your category pages to include custom variables, it’s no issue. Or if you want to change the design of your checkout flow. You can include or exclude the elements that will most impact conversions.
Another great benefit to using an open-source platform is the community of people that use the tool. Communities lead to continued innovation as people gather on forums to answer questions about the software and others create their own custom add-ons and modifications to enhance the solution.
The exchange of information between users fosters even more improvements and a better end experience for everyone.
When you create an ecommerce site, you want a platform that will grow with your business. Creating your store is not a quick task which means it takes considerable time to move from one platform to another when your store is up and running.
Open-source platforms are highly scalable, many allowing for unlimited products and a high number of orders per minute. As you grow your business to list hundreds of SKUs and you’re taking dozens of orders per day, the open source platform will be well suited to manage all of your data and daily usage.
Top open-source ecommerce platforms
Based on the PHP programming language, WooCommerce is the most widely-used open-source ecommerce platform — and for good reason. Over 30% of all ecommerce sites use WooCommerce due to its user-friendliness, extensive features, and ability to connect with other software.
The platform runs on the WordPress content management system, which is widely regarded as one of the best solutions for building websites. WordPress has a very large and active community which leads to developers making many useful plugins to further enhance the platform. The site builder also integrates seamlessly with many other third-party tools needed to manage your business.
Some of the platform's other key features include:
- Unlimited products
- Cart and checkout
- Order management
- Unlimited images and media
- Product ratings and reviews
- Support for digital products
- Built-in blogging
Another great thing about WooCommerce is the ability to get managed hosting. Services like our Managed WooCommerce Stores will take care of all of the details so that you don’t have to worry about handling the details of keeping the site running smoothly.
This gives you many of the benefits of a hosted solution but with the power and flexibility of open source.
Magento is an open-source ecommerce platform owned by Adobe. It is the third-most used ecommerce platform in the world, behind only WooCommerce and Shopify. There are two versions of the platform: the Community edition and the Enterprise edition.
The Community Edition is one of the most popular open-source tools and it powers over 200,000 sites. The Enterprise edition is much more robust but it comes at a cost. To use it, you need to pay an annual licensing fee that can be rather expensive.
Magento is designed for large ecommerce sellers, so you’ll find the platform to have many high-quality features and options for advanced customizations.
Like WordPress and WooCommerce, Magento has an active community and there are plenty of extensions and integrations for third-party apps.
Be aware, that the platform is somewhat less user-friendly than other platforms so you’ll need a degree of experience in PHP programming to unlock its full potential.
Prestashop is another PHP-based open-source ecommerce platform. It has both hosted and self-hosted versions. The platform has dozens of features including one-page checkout, digital products, support for 75 languages, and over 5,000 modules are available.
Prestashop has a large worldwide community consisting of 1,000,000+ members. There are also over 1,000 contributors that actively work to test and improve the platform.
Released in 2008, nopCommerce is an open-source ecommerce platform based on ASP.NET. It is meant to serve as a complete out-of-the-box solution for businesses looking for enterprise-level functionality.
The platform is highly customizable, allowing you to modify themes or individual elements to suit your business needs. It comes packed with a variety of features including multi-vendor functionality, catalog management, payments and taxes, and customer service.
nopCommerce supports a wide range of payment providers and other third-party integrations.
OpenCart is an open-source ecommerce platform based on PHP. It boasts a large number of features including discounts and promotions, unlimited products, user management, and multi-currency and multi-lingual support.
There are over 1,300 modules and themes for a wide array of functions including payments marketing, reporting, and shipping.
Factors to consider when selecting an open-source platform
The total cost of ownership
While most open-source ecommerce platforms are free to download and install, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a cost for using them. Instead of paying for the platform, you’ll need to invest in a domain, hosting, and oftentimes additional extensions to help bring particular functionality to the site.
As such, when considering different open-source platforms, you need to evaluate the true cost of ownership.
Some open-source platforms aren’t free, as you need to pay a licensing fee to use the solution. The best example is the enterprise-level Commerce edition of Magento.
The platform requires an annual license fee that starts at $22,000 for stores with less than $1 million of revenue. This fee increases as your store’s revenue grows.
With your ecommerce site transmitting and storing payment details and other sensitive customer information, security is a key component of an ecommerce platform.
You need to ensure that your data is safe and that the website is secure. If you store, process, or transmit cardholder data, you’ll also need to comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS ) requirements.
Many of these standards fall outside the realm of your platform and are instead related to your hosting setup and business policies. This makes it important to choose a reliable hosting provider that offers top-notch security.
Because they put more in your hands, open-source ecommerce platforms often take longer to set up. There are numerous backend settings to configure, and if you want to customize your designs, it will take time to do so.
So, when considering a platform, it’s helpful to calculate your estimated build time. That way, you’ll have an understanding of how long it will take to have the store you desire.
In addition to building out your store, you’ll also need to prepare hosting, security, and everything else needed for the site to run smoothly. You can reduce the amount of time this requires by using a managed hosting solution.
If you start building your online store from scratch, this process is incredibly complicated and you possibly need help from web agencies or developers, especially with heavily laden platforms like Magento.
Ongoing maintenance requirements
When you use an open-source platform, you have to handle the website maintenance yourself. This can help you lower costs, but it also means there’s not necessarily dedicated support on hand when you need help.
If any problems come up, you’ll need to rely on your internal resources and those available through the online community.
You must also stay on top of any software updates and create backups of your website. These and other ongoing processes take time to do and should be considered when looking for a platform.
With Managed WooCommerce Stores, your store is automatically backed up once every day. Updates to servers, PHP, and other parts of the underlying infrastructure are also handled for you.
In this way, it is similar to a proprietary hosted platform as you can focus on the day-to-day operations confident the technical details are being handled in the background.
Closing thoughts on open-source ecommerce platforms
Picking the right ecommerce platform will benefit both you and your customers. By using an open-source solution, you have the means to customize and manage your site however you’d like.
The learning curve may be steeper than using a hosted solution, but with a bit of time and resources, you can unlock an open-source platform like WooCommerce to create a world-class ecommerce store.