eCommerce Platforms - PaaS, SaaS, and Open Source

Comparing the Pros and Cons of Different eCommerce Platforms

This is a blog post for merchants who are considering building a website for the first time, or are looking for a new eCommerce platform to migrate an existing store to.

Choosing your eCommerce platform is a huge commitment, one that you’re likely to be locked in to for the next few years, at least. The technical build of your eCommerce platform will determine what your strategy, growth, and development necessities will be. So when you’re choosing between different platforms, we recommend taking a look at the build.

In this post, we’ll be focusing on 3 categories that most platforms fall under: PaaS (Platform as a Service), SaaS (Software as a Service), and open source.

PaaS: Platform as a Service

Leading PaaS Platforms:

  • Magento Commerce Cloud

  • Oracle Commerce

  • Hybris

  • Sitecore

Since late 2016, PaaS eCommerce platforms have been growing in popularity. Representing the best features of both SaaS and open source platforms, PaaS allows merchants to have full control over their website, without having to worry about hosting or infrastructure.

What this means is flexibility, and a quick deploy. You can implement new changes to your website without having to update your entire website. You can also set up a dev and live staging environments for your website, which means that you can create and test new updates to your website without having any downtime, or making any new, untested changes that your users will see right away.

Downtime, security vulnerabilities, or slow loading times are managed by the hosting service provider - and taken care of quickly. If a security patch (an update) is released by the platform, they immediately push it through and implement it on your website. Your website will always be up to date with the latest security measures.

While hosting is a part of your website, you still have full control over the site’s look and feel. You have as much control of your website’s UX as you would over an open source website, but less development work is required to manage it. This extends to custom system integrations as well, allowing you to connect systems where and how you want instead of depending on the plug-and-play model you’re limited to with a SaaS. This is especially important for larger businesses that have specific ways they need their website to interact with their ERP or CRM.

SaaS: Software as a Service

Leading SaaS Platforms:

  • Shopify

  • Big Commerce

A SaaS platform is (usually) the ideal platform for smaller businesses with less overhead. A SaaS platform is built to handle basic necessities of a webstore–hosting, secure payment gateways, catalogue management, content management and creation–without requiring a development or IT team to build or support it.

SaaS platforms offer the easiest entry points for merchants, you can spin up a Shopify store in a single afternoon. They also allow for an easy (and limited) integration with external tools. But the main drawback of SaaS platforms is that you’re very limited when it comes to customization. Once you need to customize the UX functionality, administrative layout, or create a unique integration, you’ll find yourself hitting the SaaS ceiling.

It’s likely that a business that once started on a SaaS platform will eventually grow off of it, and transition to an open source or PaaS eCommerce platform.

Open Source: Complete Ownership

Leading Open Source Platforms

  • WooCommerce

  • OpenCart

  • Magento Community Edition

Open source platforms offer the complete control of PaaS platforms without the hosting service. They require complete ownership: initial development and design to create the website, ongoing development to maintain the website, a monitored server to securely host, and a team to run and manage the day to day. Open source platforms are often utilized best by larger, enterprise companies that have the resources to properly build and run them.

Building for the Present, Scaling for the Future

There isn’t one category of eCommerce platform that’s inherently best. It’s highly likely that as a new merchant, you’ll start out on a SaaS platform, someday migrating to a PaaS or open source once your business grows enough to support it. When choosing between the 3, we recommend that you pay attention to the now, but anticipate and plan for the future knowing that the platform you’re on this year may not be the platform your business is built on in 3 years.