A common query doing the rounds on the internet is whether you should go with a custom developed e-commerce application or subscribe to a site that offers e-commerce as a service. As more and more people turn to the web for setting up new ventures or expanding their offline businesses, non technical entrepreneurs face the dilemma of choosing between the two approaches. Before we tread into the comparison, let’s understand how the two approaches work.
Custom E-Commerce Platform: For creating a custom e-commerce application, you need a domain name (website name or URL) and hosting space for saving the files and database. You then need to code the functionality and the interface as per your requirements and upload the files to the hosting. There are different open source platforms available nowadays like Woocommerce, Big Commerce, Virtuemart, Magento etc which offer modular codes called plugins or modules that can be integrated for backend as well as frontend functionality with minimal coding.
Shared E-Commerce Platform: Websites offering e-commerce software as a service (SaaS) let you create a store within their own platform which has all the required functionality in place with the option of enabling or disabling particular module. Some platforms give you the facility to customize the look and feel of your store but strictly within their fixed framework.
Choosing between the two approaches can be tricky so here are some points that you should consider before making the decision-
- Your business goals: If you are just starting a venture and want to test water before taking the plunge, or if your offline business is already taking too much of your time and you wish to just have an online presence, then choosing a subscription platform makes more sense. You can start with a shared store to get the hang of things and to understand the challenges faced so that once you build your own store, you know what exactly you need or do not need.
- Features: Subscription based applications follow a “One size fits all” approach. They create a most viable package with all features that an average store needs. But it is hard to foretell if you will actually need all the features or not or if some of the features might require customization. It is important to discuss with the service provider regarding the possibility of such tweaks and the cost.
- Flexibility: Setting up a SaaS based store is like renting a display counter in a multi brand store. You need not worry about the processes and technicalities like checkout, display, storage etc which are already in place but there are also factors like ambience, scalability (adding or lessening space), redesigning etc which you do not have any control over. Such an approach is good for short term but in the long run it is always advisable to go with your own store which gives you complete flexibility to make any changes you want.
- Cost: SaaS based platforms are definitely more cost effective as far as initial investment is concerned. There is minimum to no setup cost and you also save on the effort for setting up the application and making sure it works as required. Also, most platforms offer free of charge support to help you in case you require any assistance. Having said that, it is also important to consider that you are paying for the service and not the software. A time will come when you will have paid in subscription as much as you would have paid to get the same software developed and you won’t even have the source code of the application.
- User experience: In the end, it is the user or customer who has the final say in what works and what doesn’t. Before choosing a SaaS platform or going for a custom platform, make sure that you understand what your customer expects from the application. Today’s online shoppers are smart but they do not care for what is happening in the background. A good interface and easy navigation is what they want and it’s something you will have to deliver if you want to keep yourself in business. Make sure you plan accordingly.