SaaS vs. Self Hosted: Building an ecommerce Site

There are two basic approaches to building an online store: Software as a Service or Build It Yourself. SaaS is the ‘simpler’ option, where users sign up for an “all-in-one” service; Build It Yourself ecommerce sites use a designer and/or developer to work with an open-source platform. Here, we compare the two approaches and offer our perspective on the advantages and disadvantages of each. Software as a Service (SaaS, or Hosted Solution) Software as a Service provides software solutions via subscription and is centrally hosted. SaaS offers platform and name recognition and lets the user simply sign up and begin building an online store without installing or downloading any external software. The pricing is generally predictable and support can be found in online forums, ticketing or customer chat services. Examples
  • Demandware
  • Yahoo Store
  • Volusion
  • Miva Merchant
  • BigCommerce
  • Shopify
  • More-or-less predictable pricing
  • Get going quickly
  • Less long-term commitment
  • Generally cheaper in the short-run
  • Can accommodate big spikes in traffic (scalable)
  • Limited design possibilities
  • Long-term usually more expensive
  • Black box code (can’t change it)
  • If your requirements don’t fit, you’re out of luck
  • Little to no developer-level access, or have to work with developer certified in that platform
  • Support can be a challenge
  • You might not be able to get your data if you leave
  • Might be difficult to connect to your gateway/merchant account
Build It Yourself (Self-Hosted) There is a range of possibilities for self-hosted ecommerce sites; from complete do-it-yourself to utilizing substantial developer involvement. Build it yourself ecommerce sites are typically created with an open-source platform and are wide open for features. The startup costs are moderate but platform and developer choice are critical for success. Examples
  • WooCommerce
  • Magento
  • opencart
  • Prestashop
  • Drupal Commerce
  • osCommerce
  • Several excellent open-source frameworks
  • Very rich and well-evolved feature set
  • Code is free (free as in a puppy) or very inexpensive
  • Large mindshare among developers
  • Generally good documentation
  • Design flexibility
  • Extensible – Get exactly the features you want
  • Depending upon requirements, can be very cost-effective
  • You own it
  • Learning curve can be steep
  • More decisions to be made, requirements are key
  • It’s the Wild West – Bad information, bad code, bad developers, but there are some good guys too
  • Cost can be unpredictable or vary hugely
  • There is some degree of ongoing expense
This post is excerpted from Eric Landmann’s presentation to the Wisconsin LGTB Chamber of Commerce on February 25, 2015. You can view slides from the complete presentation below. Directed at site owners and admins, the presentation includes examples of modern ecommerce sites, how to define requirements, the approaches that platforms take, deciding on a direction, and cost expectations.