Regardless of where you heard it first, this is a universal truth: “There is no such thing as a free lunch”. This is especially true when it comes to the pros and cons of open source ecommerce software (OSS).
This is because one of the most attractive aspects of OSS is the power of its flexibility. However, along with that power comes the responsibility of building it out, maintaining it and enhancing it. For some, this is easily done, for many, it’s a task best left to others.
Open source software gives you access to the underlying code, so you can reconfigure it to do pretty much whatever you want. There is also a universe of extensions, plug-ins and a robust developer network. However, you’ll need to hire someone adept at making it dance to the music you’d like to hear. This means you’ll need to pay someone to keep the software updated, as well as track down bugs and eradicate them. Also, because you’ll be building basically from scratch, you’ll need to allow more lead-time for implementation. Still, OSS is a great choice for those who are code savvy, as you can use it as the foundation of a truly unique site.
Many OSS providers offer the code for free, so getting access to it is easy. However, you’ll usually run into licensing fees, be charged for support and have to hire staff to maintain it. So while the cost of entry might zero, the cost of maintenance, hosting, staff and support can be quite high. In contrast, most proprietary software’s costs come up front. As an example, consider the proprietary Shopify Plus vs. Magento Enterprise OSS. Shopify’s costs can be easily quoted, while Magento’s costs, well—they depend.
OSS also comes with no strings attached in terms of where your site is hosted. This means you can host your site on your own servers, giving you complete control over its functioning. On the other hand, if your server goes down, so does your store.
Open source ecommerce software has something of an unfair reputation for being prone to hacking, because anybody can look under the hood and devise all sorts of devious ways to wreak havoc. However, for most of the better OSS, security updates are released frequently and a sizable effort goes into keeping it safe. However, because your IT people must be tasked with implementing these updates, they’ll happen only when your team makes them. It’s important to stay up on the latest developments to protect your customer’s personal data. Further, upgrades can sometimes introduce problems with highly customized code; so again, you’ll need a dedicated code-savvy individual to implement these.
Another benefit of OSS is its ability to integrate with a wide variety of payment gateways. Meanwhile, most proprietary software will limit you to a set of specific choices. If you want to do business in other countries, you might sometimes find proprietary software will have trouble interfacing with the nation’s preferred gateway. However, the other side of this is those specific gateways tend to be the most secure. With OSS you have no guarantee your payment pages will be Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard compliant, unless they’re specifically written to be.
These are just a few of the pros and cons of open source ecommerce software. Said in a nutshell, OSS’s primary advantage is flexibility. However, along with that flexibility comes the need for a lot of handholding. If you’re up for it, you’ll be in great shape. If you’re not, you’ll be better off going with a proprietary solution.