Want to get started in ecommerce? Wondering if you should use an ecommerce platform that you’ll need to pay for or opt for a “free” solution instead?
To create your ecommerce website and start selling your products on the internet, you may have been told to go through a service such as PrestaShop or WooCommerce because it’s “free” and “everyone uses it.”
Hmm… why not?
However, did you know that in 97% of cases, it’s not the right solution for ecommerce stores?
Worse yet, it could even harm your chances of success?
There are two major types of solutions for ecommerce stores. On the one hand, there are technical options called “open source,” and on the other, there are ready-to-use ecommerce platforms, known as “SaaS.”
Before getting started with your online store, it’s essential that you know the differences between these two kinds of ecommerce solutions.
This article reviews both types of shopping cart software so that you can see which one is best suited to you and your project.
First possibility: have a website created for you through an open-source solution
Some sellers opt for an open-source ecommerce solution such as WooCommerce, Magento, or Prestashop.
With these platforms, you can download the source code freely and at no charge.
Freelancers and agencies have quickly built a very advantageous economic model around this software. They simply bill their services (installation, customization, updates, hosting…) to retailers.
However, what’s advantageous for agencies (free software, total freedom to edit the source code, etc.) isn’t necessarily what’s best for you, the client!
The real price of an open-source ecommerce website
There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the seemingly good deal that open-source solutions offer. Here are some of the real costs that you can expect when using this type of software for your website.
Software installation and configuration
First of all, the agency is going to spend time installing the software onto their servers, setting it up and customizing it, which you’ll of course be billed for...
Count on $2,000 (USD) for the simplest websites and up to several hundred thousands of dollars for more complex projects.
Website hosting and updates
For this, you need to add monthly fees for a service to host your online store. This may be between $50 and $300 (USD) in the best cases—it’s very difficult to get a technically optimized service when it wasn’t built FOR the software. Plus, you’ll need to contact your service regularly to update it.
If your site requires a feature change, this can always wait. However, when it’s a question of security (with the code available to everyone, cracks can more easily be found by those with nefarious motives), you won’t have a choice!
It’ll likely be a minimum of $500 to $2,000 (USD) per year to switch to the most recent version of the software (even more so if you have lots of specific features).
Another expense: your modules (the addition of features for your marketing strategy).
If the open-source software is free to start with, publishers still need to make it profitable. This type of ecommerce solution usually only offers basic features, and if you want to add an element (e.g., your payment method or the possibility of sending emails), you’ll need to add a paid-for module.
In principle, your web agency will include these modules in the initial price of your site. However, you’ll likely quickly need new features that’ll necessitate the purchase of additional modules. Put aside $200 to $500 (USD) per year to be reasonable.
In summary, the creation of an ecommerce store through an open-source solution will cost you the following:
- $2,000–$200,000 (USD) for the website creation
- $600–$3,600 (USD) per year for the hosting
- $500–$2,000 (USD) per year to install updates
- $200–$500 (USD) per year to add additional modules
Sylvie’s experience with open source
Among my notable encounters with ecommerce entrepreneurs, I’ve met many retailers who’ve had the unfortunate idea of not going through professionals to save money on the creation of their site.
For example, there’s Sylvie, who I met last year. A friend of hers, who she trusted, “dabbled” in computers.
Her friend offered to create an ecommerce website for her with free open-source software to start selling her products online quickly.
At first, Sylvie was delighted. She didn’t have the perfect design or all of the features that she wanted, but the site was presentable overall.
Certainly sufficient to get started.
However, when it came to Sylvie receiving her first order, the customer was unable to pay. There was a problem with the payment system. Her friend was able to step in to repair it, but this wasn’t until 4 days later.
Phew, the store was functioning again. The customer was lost, but at least Sylvie’s problem was over.
Unfortunately, a few weeks later, she encountered a problem that was even worse. The site was no longer appearing online. Nothing at all.
She called her friend urgently. But no response.
The next day, Sylvie’s friend was still not picking up. That’s when she remembered that they had gone to Vietnam for a month. Sylvie lost everything. Her customers, her visibility in search engines, and most of all, her motivation.
The takeaway from this horrible experience is that the creation of your website should always depend on professionals. Always rely on people with experience and resources.
The constraints of an open-source ecommerce solution
Let’s be clear, I have nothing against open-source content management systems (CMSs) per se (I’ve always used a lot of open-source software and technologies ).
I just think that open-source ecommerce solutions are not the right option for 97% of retailers.
Beyond the price, open source has, in my opinion, other significant constraints that can jeopardize your business.
A simple technology
It’s just a form of technology. As an entrepreneur, you need services, not lines of code.
No support or client servicing
There’s no client support. Once your site has been created, most agencies won’t support you past that point.
It’s up to you to make do with the tools at your disposal!
Website hosting doesn’t adapt to your needs. It’s difficult to find the right balance.
If you opt for a basic option, at the slightest increase in activity (from a communication strategy, end of year sales…), the site risks collapsing.
If you opt for superior website hosting, you’ll pay a supplement that’s useless 90% of the time.
Modules to add
Given the economic model put in place by the publishers of open-source software, everything is based on the purchase of additional modules.
I find it detrimental to the consistency of the interface.
We end up with a lot of features isolated from each other with different ergonomics and possible compatibility problems. Every new module installed is, in the end, a new constraint to be managed in the long term!
You depend on a professional and therefore also on their schedule.
The creation of a website can take months, and subsequent edits can take weeks (the template, content, etc.). However, an entrepreneur needs reactivity and the ability to perform rapid tests.
The cases in which I could recommend the use of open-source solutions
I’ve presented you with many constraints so far, but open-source ecommerce platforms have one undeniable quality: access to source code and a fully configurable and customizable website.
From this source code, it’s possible to create whatever you want (with advanced technical skills, of course).
But you still have to need this level of specificity.
Only 1 to 3% of retailers have very specific needs in relation to their project, needs that require tailor-made development and only for them.
In this case, the use of an open-source ecommerce CMS is indeed recommended!
If you’re reading between the lines, then you’ll understand that I don’t recommend using open source in all other cases. This means that I don’t suggest it for 97% of online merchants!
Why I don’t recommend the use of open source in 97% of cases
Succeeding in ecommerce sales isn’t simple. The competition is fierce, and consumers are increasingly in demand, so it’s difficult to stand out from the crowd.
You absolutely must test the market quickly and easily and reserve at least 75% of your budget for your communications strategy. Test all possible channels. Study your return on investment until you discover the right areas for development.
You’ll need time as well…time for your SEO to become optimized. Time to create the best possible offer for your customers.
In short, you need to be flexible and pragmatic. You also must put your money in the right places.
Why pay an agency or a freelancer who’s going to spend time installing the same lines of code everyday?
Is this in your best interest?
Would this same agency or freelancer not be a lot more useful working on your communication strategy?
If you don’t have a very specific need (AKA a need that no ecommerce company has ever had before), there is objectively, no reason to use an open-source solution.
What you need is a service that’s ready to use. This is what we call “SaaS” (software as a service = a software that you can use as a service).
Second possibility: have a website created or create a website yourself with a SaaS ecommerce solution
All businesses and software have gradually moved to SaaS or the Cloud (hosted software). ALL of them.
From accounting software to customer relationship management (CRM) and messaging software. ALL.
You, me, or any entrepreneur—we all want to be able to take action quickly.
For this reason, SaaS is wonderful: you open an account in seconds, the interfaces are easy to use, the prices are clear, and you can get started right away.
No need to go through the boxes: specifications, estimates, project framing, waiting, monitoring, waiting again, re-framing, tests…
Nope. Everything is accessible right away. It couldn’t be more simple. You’ll feel completely liberated!
The real cost of a SaaS website
You’ve seen it for yourself: SaaS software allows you to save an enormous amount of time. In addition, you’ll see in the next section of this article that this aspect is really a determining factor in the success of online stores.
But what about the financial aspect?
It’s another one of the significant advantages of SaaS software. These platforms are designed to run tens of thousands of online stores.
The cost of developers, resources and development, technical support, website hosting, licences…
Everything is divided by the number of clients, therefore creating a complete service for INCOMPARABLE prices!
The prices of a good SaaS ecommerce solution—let’s say at random…WiziShop!—will start from $37 (USD) a month with no commitment. However, the most important thing in all of this is that the price will include SERVICE.
This makes all the difference.
For roughly $37 (USD) a month, you’ll have:
- Your own online store with a back office
- More than 400 features and marketing tools (graphic charter, emailing, stock management, content management, etc.)
- Innovations and updates throughout the year
- Website hosting that adapts to your needs (no more worries if you have a spike in traffic!)
- Everything is robust and secure. While we’re on this subject, did I tell you that 92% of people with open-source websites never apply the security patches that are provided for them?
- A complete and free ecommerce training course
- A unique and fully customizable design system, with “drag & drop” technology
But most of all…
- You’ll have a team at your service to help you, advise you, and respond to all of your questions by phone, email, or video.
For $37 (USD), you don’t simply get an online store. Not just a simple tool.
You have a team to help and support you!
For the record, we call our advisors “Business Coaches.” We chose this name to show the real difference.
They won’t just simply reply to your technical questions and help you with the conception of your website. They can really support you for the long term to help you develop your business and improve your digital strategy.
Be free. Focus on SaaS.
People are always shocked when I say this. They say:
“It’s absurd, how can you be more free with a SaaS solution than an open source?”
Ok. First, let’s define the notion of freedom. Let’s take a look in the dictionary:
"In general, freedom is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants. Without restriction.”
If you want to open an online store, you need the following to be free:
- To get started quickly and simply
- To not pay without knowing if your project is going to succeed
- To be supported (but without having to rely on different people)
- In summary, you need your store to be efficient, affordable, and profitable. You need to save most of your budget for your marketing and communication strategy, not for the technical aspects of having a successful store on the internet.
This is exactly what a SaaS solution can provide for you.
You don’t need lines of code to have freedom. These same lines that thousands of people have downloaded before you won’t bring you any added value.
This is something that I insist upon, because people often reply saying:
“Yes, but with open-source solutions, at least I’m the owner of my online store.”
Ok great. So what? Your website isn’t just about its source code, is it?
What brings value to an ecommerce business is its domain name, its logo, its products, its customers, its orders, its SEO…in short, everything that also belongs to you 100% with a good SaaS solution!
The development of the SaaS model
Let’s compare it to another industry. Let’s look at music, for example.
Twenty years ago, everyone bought CDs, either for a particular track they liked or for the whole album. You might remember that it was rather expensive to own the entire collection of CDs for all of your favourite singers.
Then, 10 years ago, you could download MP3s (illegally, but shhhh...we won’t tell anyone).
It was tedious, and the sound was often poor quality. You couldn’t always find exactly what you were looking for.
Maybe you didn’t even know how to do this yourself and you had to ask your nephew to help you out…
Now, we have so many more options with the creation of Shopify and Deezer.
They no longer sell just a CD or a single but a complete SERVICE.
For only around $10 (USD) a month, you have access to all the music you could possibly dream of. You can create your own playlists in seconds and discover new artists recommended according to your tastes by the platform.
Can you imagine the difference?
SaaS and ecommerce
In the world of internet retail, it’s exactly the same thing.
At the beginning, you needed to create your website yourself and get different engineers involved. It cost a fortune to create an ecommerce store.
Then, open-source solutions reduced these costs, but they still require technical knowledge and do not allow you to go at it alone.
Like Spotify and Deezer, SaaS has made it possible to bring a complete and innovative service to the world of online sales.
This allows you to get started quickly and without technical knowledge!
It’s a real revolution.