Open-source ecommerce software is a type of software product that gives ecommerce companies, online shops and store owners the ability to view, modify and share its source code for their own purpose.
The term open source refers to the source code of a particular software application being available to its users and giving them the power not just to see the code, but change, modify and distribute it as well for their own purpose. Unlike cloud-based or software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions, an open-source ecommerce solution typically means that the website owner is responsible for everything, from the installation of the system in their own server to handling the hosting configuration process, IT management, security management, providing constant updates and the general management of the entire ecommerce website. Open-source software offers great customizability and flexibility, but implementing it requires sufficient technical knowledge.
One of the main draws for open-source ecommerce platforms is the fact that online merchants, retailers and small businesses have complete access to the software’s source code. This means a lot for people with the right technical expertise, because unlike SaaS systems where you’re limited to the features and capabilities provided by the vendor, with an open-source system, if there is a particular function that is perhaps lacking or completely missing, you and your team can use the available source code to modify the software so it will meet your specific requirements. Most open-source ecommerce software platforms also have quite large development communities built around them to provide free support.
Ecommerce software is a tool designed to help manage and maintain all online store processes. It gives online merchants, store owners and SMBs the ability to efficiently handle their inventory management processes, such as adding or removing items/products from their sales channels, accepting and processing payments, calculating taxes and fulfilling customer orders. This type of software offers all the tools and features necessary for running a high-performance online retail website, with the main purpose of simplifying ecommerce management.
Open-source ecommerce software is just a different type of ecommerce solution that focuses on providing users with better customizability and flexibility, compared to the SaaS alternative. Typical online shops often consist of a wide variety of rather intricate processes and components, which an ecommerce solution will optimize and streamline by providing a simple and easy to understand user-interface that even non-technical personnel can easily operate with minimal learning curve.
Moreover, ecommerce solutions have the ability to integrate with other exiting systems and services such as a content management system (CMS), customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP). The software also seamlessly integrates with email marketing tools, social media networks, fulfillment services, accounting software and payment gateways.
However, implementing an open-source ecommerce solution will not always be easy. It all depends on the software and the development community that is built around it, which provides most of the support that an online store owner might need, especially if they don’t have the technical expertise to customize the system to their requirements, using code.
There are two main types of open-source ecommerce software, free and paid. If you go with the free open-source option, you will be relying on the features and capabilities that are already available, unless you have the technical knowledge to play with the source code. If you opt for a paid open-source solution, you’re pretty guaranteed to have a dedicated support team provided by the vendor to help customize the software to your specific requirements.
While open-source ecommerce platforms, on their own, are quite capable of handling most of the crucial tasks and processes associated with running an online store, you may still have to ingrate with other apps to maximize your system capabilities, which is what most of the popular open-source ecommerce solutions in the market offers. Take for instance Magento Open Source, which was formerly known as Magento Community Edition. This is arguably one of the most popular and well-trusted open-source ecommerce platforms and shopping cart available in the market for solo and multi-store operations alike.
This particular ecommerce software works on a PHP-based framework that allows users to create scalable online shops and businesses with relative ease. It offers a variety of extensions for simple and seamless integration with third-party applications with the online store. However, creating en ecommerce business on this particular platform requires some level of technical knowledge in PHP programming.
Drupal Commerce is another example of PHP-based, open-source ecommerce software used by a lot of ecommerce websites. This particular software keeps an organized track of orders, invoices, receipts and payments, along with a broad range of integration options for payment methods, shipping and order fulfillment. Drupal Commerce is based on a Drupal content management system, offering users with a comprehensive administration system that includes checkout form and multi-currency features. It also allows seamless integration with accounting services and social media networks.
Spree Commerce is another example of an open-source ecommerce solution that allows seamless integration with third-party applications. However, it’s quite different from the previous examples in the sense that it doesn’t run on a PHP-based framework. Instead, Spree Commerce runs on Ruby on Rails, which is a server-side web app framework. This particular open-source solution is ideal for both small and large ecommerce businesses due to its high adaptability. However, Spree Commerce can be technically challenging for individuals without the right knowledge or expertise.
Another open-source ecommerce software that runs on the PHP framework is Zen Cart. Originally based on osCommerce’s code, Zen Cart is a free and open-source ecommerce platform equipped with up to 16 different categories and 1800 add-ons, along with a host of other features and tools. It is backed by a fairly large community of around 150k active members. A good open-source ecommerce solution can help manage inventory, individual products, orders and customers. It also simplifies the marketing process and automates shipping and tax calculations. In the end, one of its main purpose is to enhance the overall customer experience.
When it comes to open-source ecommerce software, the initial thought is that only experienced coders will seek them and benefit from an open-source platform, because they can use the available source code to develop ecommerce websites and online shops. But this isn’t always the case. Using an open-source ecommerce solution is not only beneficial for professional coders or large ecommerce businesses with an experienced tech department. There are many online store owners out there that may not have the technical knowledge, but can certainly benefit from the right open-source platform.
One of the biggest advantages of an open-source ecommerce system is the customizability. Sure, best-in-class SaaS ecommerce solutions may offer some customizations, but they will not be as deep or as comprehensive as an open-source platform. With open-source software, the source code is made available for a reason and that is to allow users to modify and enhance the application at the code level, giving them the ability to enable or disable certain features, integrate other third-party solutions, incorporate custom branding, etc.
Scalability is another significant benefit from utilizing the right open-source ecommerce software. Small businesses and startups all aim to grow and expand their operation. Since building an ecommerce website or an online store does happen overnight, it is best to prepare and setup your system from the beginning so it can easily scale with your operation the moment it starts to grow. There are plenty of open-source ecommerce platforms that support unlimited items/products and self-hosting, which means it can easily scale with your requirements, whether you have hundreds or thousands of stock keeping units (SKUs) and getting thousands or millions of monthly visits.
Perhaps one of the most obvious benefits of choosing an open-source ecommerce platform is the affordability. While there are paid open-source software solutions that are offered through software-as-a-service or SaaS, which requires you to either pay a monthly subscription or a one-time licensing fee, there are plenty of free open-source ecommerce platforms as well, where the source code is made available for free. For an individual with the right technical knowledge or an experienced coder, choosing free and open-source software is certainly a cost-effective option.
Developers make money from their free and open-source ecommerce software through ad placements, so you can expect advertising banners and pop-ups while using the software. In most cases, you will have the option to remove the ads in exchange for a small fee. So if you’re a small online store owner who just wants to build a simple ecommerce website or if you’re a tech-savvy person with extensive coding knowledge—especially in PHP or Ruby on Rails—you will definitely benefit from a good open-source ecommerce solution.
Open-source ecommerce software provides a customizable, flexible and scalable framework for building a robust online store. But in certain cases they can contribute in the total cost of ownership or TCO of managing and maintaining a growing online store, especially if beginning to expand your operation to multiple locations or if you’re widening your online reach and you don’t have the technical knowledge to modify your own ecommerce system.
However, the best open-source ecommerce platforms come equipped with the most expansive feature sets with great potential for growth and scalability, though specific functions and capabilities may vary between platforms. You just have to do some research to find the right open-source ecommerce software for your online business.