Choosing an ecommerce platform is one of the first challenges you’ll face as you build an online store. That’s because there are hundreds of options out there. Some are expensive, while others are difficult to use. Finding the right platform for your business can be tricky.
So how do you build an online store without all the hassle or expense?
The answer is: with an open source platform.
Open source ecommerce platforms are free-to-use software that allow you to build an online store without spending a fortune. They’re flexible, customizable, and give you complete control over your online store.
In this guide, we’ll explain everything you need to know about open source ecommerce platforms, including what they are, their pros and cons, and the top choices on the market. We’ll also share closed-source alternatives to help you make an informed decision.
Open source ecommerce platforms are typically free to use, customizable, scalable, provide more ownership and control, have a lower cost, and boast strong developer community support.Popular open source ecommerce options include Magento Open Source, WooCommerce, OpenCart, PrestaShop, Shopware, Spree Commerce, and Drupal Commerce.Open source platforms are expected to continue growing in popularity due to their advantages.Managed hosting services can help businesses overcome the challenges of using open source platforms.Closed source commerce platforms can offer convenience and ease of use, but they also have limited customization and extra costs.Popular closed source ecommerce options include Shopify, Wix, BigCommerce, Square Online, and Squarespace.
What is open source ecommerce?
Open source ecommerce refers to software that’s free to download, modify, and use. It is often distributed under licenses such as the GNU General Public License or MIT License and gives you complete access to the software’s source code.
Pros of open source ecommerce platforms
Open source ecommerce platforms offer many advantages. Here’s how they help your online business achieve flexibility and save costs:
Customizability: Open source ecommerce platforms integrate with various third-party applications, payment gateways, and shipping providers. You can also customize them using add-ons and custom code.Security and transparency: Open source software is peer-reviewed to ensure safety. You can inspect the codebase to identify potential vulnerabilities and implement security measures to protect your customers.Scalability: Open source ecommerce software like Magento can handle high volumes of online traffic and support complex integrations. They enable your business to grow and evolve without limitations.Ownership and independence: Open source ecommerce solutions give you complete ownership and control over your store. Their licenses allow you to modify and scale your online store to keep up with customer needs.Low cost: Open source platforms are free to use. You only need to host them on a server to start using them. That lets you divert business capital to other aspects, such as marketing and buying inventory.Developer community support: Open source projects are backed by active communities of developers, designers, and users. Together, they collaborate, contribute, and provide support, creating a valuable network of expertise you can tap into at no cost.
Cons of open source ecommerce platforms
While open source ecommerce platforms offer many benefits, they also have drawbacks. Here are some disadvantages that you should consider:
Setup complexity: Open source ecommerce platforms are generally self-hosted. Some, such as Magento, require technical expertise to set up and use. You can either host them yourself on a server or choose a managed hosting provider to host, secure, and maintain your store.Security risks: The responsibility for maintaining and securing open source software often falls on the business using it. So they can be vulnerable to security breaches without proper security measures.Lack of support: Open source platforms rarely provide technical support. When things go wrong, you’ll need to rely on community forums and online documentation or hire developers to help you troubleshoot issues.
Open source ecommerce platforms to consider
Now that you understand open source ecommerce platforms and their pros and cons, let’s look at the top open source ecommerce platforms you can consider to build an online store.
Magento Open Source
Magento Open Source is one of the most powerful and feature-rich open source ecommerce platforms. Its modular architecture lets you customize your online store to align with your brand vision and business needs.
The best part about Magento is that it’s incredibly scalable. Whether you’re selling a few thousand products or millions, Magento’s catalog management system will easily manage your stock, track inventory levels, and handle complex product configurations.
The downside to Magento’s advanced functionality is that it requires technical expertise to set up and maintain. Although you don’t need to be a PHP developer to use Magento, you need some familiarity with the command line for tasks like installing and updating extensions.
Best open source ecommerce platform for: Online stores with large catalogs and complex customization needs.
Key Magento Open Source features:
Powerful search engine.Multi-source inventory management.Flexible catalog and cart price rules.Code-free page builder tool.Multilingual, multi-currency, and multi-store support.
Magento Open Source price: Magento’s community edition is free to download and use. Managed Magento hosting plans start from $62 per month, before discounts.
WooCommerce is an open source plugin that adds ecommerce functionality to WordPress-based sites. It’s incredibly user-friendly, and you can install it on any WordPress site with a few clicks.
Once installed, WooCommerce transforms WordPress sites into online stores with inventory, customer, and payment management tools. It allows you to leverage WordPress’ code-free block editing to build a fully-customized online store.
WooCommerce is pretty basic by design. But thanks to the massive WordPress ecosystem, you can add new features or extend existing ones using a free or paid plugin.
For example, you can use a paid plugin like Kadence Shop Kit to add variation swatches, custom checkout fields, and conditional shopping cart banners to your store or turn it into a membership site with a free plugin like Restrict Content.
That’s the best part of using WooCommerce. It lets you build a fully customized online store without learning to code or hiring a developer.
Best open source ecommerce platform for: Online businesses looking for a flexible and user-friendly ecommerce solution.
Key WooCommerce features:
Detailed reporting and analytics.Customizable design and themes.Product management and inventory tracking.International support with multiple currencies and languages.Secure payment processing.
WooCommerce price: Free to download and use. Managed WooCommerce hosting plans start from $15.83 per month when paid annually.
OpenCart is a versatile ecommerce platform that packs tons of functionality like Magento but is lightweight and easy to use like WooCommerce. It’s the perfect solution for small and medium-sized direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands.
OpenCart is one of the only open source ecommerce platforms that offer a built-in affiliate marketing module. It lets you create custom affiliate programs to promote individual products and entire product categories without a third-party add-on or custom code.
Another unique feature of OpenCart is the integrated rewards program tool that helps you increase customer loyalty and encourage repeat purchases. It also supports discounts, coupons, and special offers that can help you drive conversions.
OpenCart doesn’t offer low-stock alerts and multi-source inventory support, which are essential for DTC brands with warehouses in multiple locations. But if you don’t need those features, OpenCart is an excellent choice that offers powerful marketing tools.
Best open source ecommerce platform for: Small to medium-sized DTC businesses that need a simple and easy-to-use platform with advanced marketing capabilities.
Key OpenCart features:
Module management tool.Affiliate marketing module.Integrated backup tool.1,000+ free and paid templates.Paid access to customer support.
OpenCart price: OpenCart is free to download and use. OpenCart Cloud plans start from $59 per month.
PrestaShop is an affordable open source ecommerce platform used by more than 290,000 websites on the internet. It’s lightweight, user-friendly, and an excellent alternative to WooCommerce, especially for those who’ve never used WordPress.
PrestaShop provides everything from product management tools, integrated payment gateways, and marketing tools with a user-friendly admin panel to simplify setting up and managing your store. It also offers several SEO-friendly features that help you drive traffic to your online shop.
Although PrestaShop’s default search engine and checkout experience are clunky, you can improve them with paid add-ons. If you have a flexible budget and need an open source ecommerce platform that simplifies GDPR compliance, PrestaShop will be perfect for you.
Best open source ecommerce platform for: Startups and small businesses seeking a feature-rich and scalable ecommerce solution with GDPR compliance tools.
Key PrestaShop features:
Out-of-stock message customization.Multi-currency and multi-language support.GDPR compliance.Discount codes and limited-time offers.Facebook and Instagram integrations.
PrestaShop price: PrestaShop is free to download and use. Managed PrestaShop hosting plans start from $6 per month.
Shopware is a scalable open source ecommerce platform that uses Symfony for the back end and modern technologies like Twig and Vue.js for the front end. It also supports GraphQL, Node.js, and Docker for building headless stores.
Shopware takes personalized recommendations to a whole new level. It lets you create live video events to help your customers find the right products without using any third-party tools. That’s one of the best ways to increase conversions while inspiring customer loyalty.
Shopware has a steeper learning curve than solutions like WooCommerce and OpenCart. But it offers advanced features like an ecommerce automation builder that you can use to automate tasks like custom order fulfillment processes and order-specific product documentation creation.
Best open source ecommerce platform for: EU-based medium and large businesses that need a platform for headless or composable commerce implementations.
Key Shopware features:
AI tool for writing product descriptions.Automation building tool.Rule-based shipping, payment, pricing, and promotions.Live video events for customers.B2B features like user role management and customer-specific pricing.
Shopware price: Free to download and use. Managed Shopware hosting plans start from $12 per month.
Spree Commerce is an open source headless ecommerce platform built using Ruby on Rails. It integrates with Next.js Commerce and Vue Storefront out of the box and lets you build ultrafast headless stores.
Like Magento, Spree Commerce uses Elasticsearch to provide a powerful search engine that can handle millions of SKUs. It goes a step further by allowing you to configure your search engine to suggest products based on phrases as customers type them in the search box.
Spree Commerce simplifies PCI compliance with support for 144 payment options, including buy now, pay later (BNPL) solutions like Afterpay and wallets like Apple Pay and Amazon Pay. It even lets you set up subscriptions without using third-party tools.
While Spree Commerce is perfect for building fast-loading online stores, it needs technical expertise to set up and use. It’s an excellent alternative to Magento and Shopware but isn’t suited for beginners or small businesses with basic needs.
Best open source ecommerce platform for: Medium and large businesses that need headless and PWA capabilities.
Key Spree Commerce features:
Product recommendation and personalization tools.Easy return merchandise authorization creation.Omnichannel and international selling.A/B testing.Social media integrations.
Spree Commerce price: Free to download and use. Managed Spree Commerce hosting plans start from approximately $6 per month.
Drupal Commerce is an open source framework that adds ecommerce functionality to Drupal-based websites, just like WooCommerce does with WordPress.
Drupal Commerce ships with a robust API that lets you create third-party integrations with social media platforms, payment gateways, CRMs, and fulfillment services. Plus, the API is fully extendable, allowing you to build custom solutions for your online business.
Thanks to Drupal’s powerful Search API, you can access faceted filtering and category browsing in Drupal Commerce’s search engine. You can also build a custom search interface for your online store using a third-party solution like Solr or Elasticsearch.
While Drupal Commerce is a lot like WooCommerce, it’s not as user-friendly. But if you already use Drupal as your content management system, you’ll feel at home with Drupal Commerce.
Best open source ecommerce platform for: Companies using Drupal that need seamless integration of ecommerce functionality.
Key Drupal Commerce features:
API-first design.Dynamic product pages.Integrations with 100+ payment gateways.U.S., Canadian, Swiss, and EU tax rules.Powerful search engine.
Drupal Commerce price: Free to download and use. Managed Drupal Commerce hosting plans start from approximately $12 per month.
Closed-source ecommerce alternatives
Unlike open source platforms, closed-source platforms offer convenience and ease of use. While they come with some limitations and extra costs, they can be great alternatives to open source platforms when you want an online store up and running quickly.
Here’s a quick rundown of the top closed-source alternatives to open source platforms.
Used by over 4.1 million live websites, Shopify is the world’s most popular ecommerce platform for one simple reason: whether you’re a professional web developer or a solopreneur without HTML and CSS skills, Shopify has something for you.
Shopify offers a massive selection of themes and apps to help you build an online store without code. And if you’re looking for more customizations, it lets you extend its design and functionality with custom apps and metafields.
The downside is Shopify is expensive. It charges you extra fees, in addition to your monthly subscription fees, to use third-party payment gateways. However, if cost isn’t a factor for you, Shopify is an excellent platform to build an online store.
Best closed-source ecommerce platform for: Dropshippers and solopreneurs looking to migrate away from third-party marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy.
Key Shopify features:
Drag-and-drop design editing.Multilingual storefronts.Mobile app for basic back end admin tasks.Point of sale (POS) system for offline stores.Customizable checkout.
Shopify price: Plans start from $39 per month, or $29 per month when paid annually, for stores with up to two staff accounts and basic reporting.
Wix is a website builder that helps you build attractive online stores without technical knowledge. It offers a user-friendly drag-and-drop interface and handles hosting, security, and software updates, so you can focus on running your online store.
Wix has a fairly basic feature set that doesn’t support grouped products and only allows you to create a maximum of 1,000 variations per product. These limits are intentional to keep things simple for Wix users.
Wix is an excellent choice if you want to move away from third-party marketplaces. It integrates with multiple sales channels like Amazon, eBay, and Facebook and is the perfect platform to help you build an online brand.
Best closed-source ecommerce platform for: Events companies, luxury stores with small inventories, and online sellers looking to migrate away from third-party marketplaces.
Key Wix features:
Multichannel selling.Cross-border selling with localization capabilities.80+ payment solutions.Delivery and curbside pickup option.Mobile POS system.
Wix price: Ecommerce plans start from $27 per month when paid annually.
BigCommerce is a cloud-based ecommerce platform known for its scalability and flexibility. It adopts an Open SaaS approach to offer you the flexibility of an open source platform with the ease of use and convenience of a SaaS platform.
BigCommerce provides many features like product management, inventory tracking, payment gateway integrations, and marketing tools. But it restricts product filtering and Google reviews integration to its most expensive plan.
BigCommerce also adjusts your subscription plan based on your online store’s annual sales turnover. So if you’re subscribed to their cheapest plan but have a turnover of $500,000 a year, they’ll force you to upgrade to their $399 per month plan.
However, BigCommerce is an excellent SaaS platform for multi-vendor B2B businesses. It doesn’t charge transaction fees for using third-party payment gateways and scales effortlessly with your business.
Best closed-source ecommerce platform for: B2B businesses selling across multiple channels.
Key BigCommerce features:
Drag-and-drop store builder.Unlimited product options and variants.Advanced inventory management.Customer groups and segmentation.Real-time shipping quotes.
BigCommerce price: Plans start from $29 per month when paid annually and scale based on your annual online sales.
Square Online is a fully hosted ecommerce platform offered by Square, a popular payment processing and business solutions company. It’s great for people who want to start selling online but don’t have any technical experience.
Square Online is extremely easy to use. It integrates your online store with your brick-and-mortar shop, social media store, and mobile to help you sell your products across all channels seamlessly.
One of the biggest advantages of Square Online is that it lets you automate product drops, discounts, and flash sales. You can also add banners and popup alerts to create hype around a product launch.
While Square Online offers many useful features, it may not be the best option if you want advanced customization. Its basic design capabilities are ideal for beginners who want to build an ecommerce store without custom functionality.
Best closed-source ecommerce platform for: Restaurants and small retailers with limited inventories that need a simple online store.
Key Square Online features:
Code-free website builder with SEO tools.In-store and curbside pickup.Unlimited products, even on the free plan.Lead-capture forms.Automatic tax calculator.
Square Online price: Free with Square branding and limited features. Paid plans start from $29 per month when billed annually.
Squarespace is an ecommerce site builder that lets you build professionally designed stores without code. It provides a range of templates created by world-class designers that you can customize using a simple drag-and-drop tool.
Squarespace prioritizes simplicity by allowing you to sell products and fulfill orders with a flexible checkout page, multiple payment methods, and shipping options. It also lets you sell subscriptions, digital products, and physical products with its POS app for iOS devices.
If you’re looking for advanced functionality or more design customizations, Squarespace isn’t the platform for you. But if you need a simple platform that lets you sell online quickly and easily, Squarespace can be a decent choice.
Best closed-source ecommerce platform for: Etsy store owners and ecommerce businesses selling digital products.
Key Squarespace features:
Flexible merchandising.Custom product labels.Multiple delivery options.Minimalistic checkout with Stripe, Paypal, Apple Pay, and Afterpay support.Useful email marketing tools.
Squarespace price: Ecommerce plans start from $27 when paid annually.
Summary: the future of open source ecommerce
Closed-source platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce offer convenience and ease of use but are expensive and restrictive.
In contrast, open source ecommerce platforms offer several advantages.
They empower you to create unique shopping experiences while retaining control over your online store and business data.
Open source platforms foster collaboration and innovation that help you stay relevant in the ever-evolving world of online commerce.
If you’re looking to host an online store without the hassles of server setup and maintenance, consider managed hosting with Nexcess.
We provide managed hosting services that allow you to build an online store with open source solutions like Magento and WooCommerce.
Want to use a different platform? No worries. With our managed cloud hosting service, you can build an online store powered by Shopware, Spree Commerce, or any other platform of your choice.
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