The Price of an Open Source E Commerce Platform

On the quest to launch a business-to-business (B2B) ecommerce site, one question always arises: Should we use an open source platform?

The quick answer is: Maybe. The not-so-quick answer is: Not without serious consideration of the overall impact on your business and the total cost of ownership over the life of the software.

Open source software of any kind is undeniably seductive. It requires zero cash outlay to secure the necessary code, which is attractive in any market, but especially when you are stretching your business budget as far as you can. Open source software also allows you to modify the software code itself, making it possible to customize the software to meet your business needs.

By now, you’re probably thinking that open source ecommerce software sounds pretty good and you’re questioning my previous warning about considering it as an option. While open source ecommerce software doesn’t cost anything outright, the reality is that there are some hidden costs you need to consider before you decide to take the plunge. Too often an organization will

First and foremost, open source software requires that you have a knowledgeable developer on staff to make necessary tweaks and changes or that you outsource those activities to a third party developer. While having a developer on staff may seem to be the natural solution, doing so increases your overhead and also requires that you find the right person for the job–someone who is knowledgeable about the product, self-motivated to keep moving on what can be a long and tedious project, and resourceful for those times when he or she gets stuck. Having one person on staff that wrangles an open source program can be effective with the right person, but choosing the wrong person for the job can seriously handicap your site’s development. Outsourcing your day-to-day development needs can be expensive and is often cost-prohibitive.

A second consideration to keep in mind is that using open source software does not guarantee you will get the support your organization requires. All product support is “pay-to-play” from the open source provider or requires you to employ a third party developer to handle support requests. Both of these options can quickly become expensive.

The third thing that you must ask yourself as an organization before signing on for open source software is whether you want to be in the ecommerce business. By launching a site using open source ecommerce software you are inadvertently signing on–at least in part–to spending your organization’s precious resources to understanding ecommerce trends and implementing them.

Your organization needs electricity to function, but it’s unlikely that you would try to generate your own electricity. To do so would be cost prohibitive and inefficient. The same can be said of ecommerce. You require ecommerce to power your business but ecommerce isn’t your area of expertise. Much like you outsource your power needs to the electric company, it often makes good business sense–and saves you money in the long run–if you outsource your ecommerce function to a knowledgeable and reliable ecommerce partner.

Using open source ecommerce software often appears to be cheaper than purchasing a full ecommerce platform from a trusted partner, but often costs a great deal more over time when you factor in the total cost of ownership. While an open source solution may be effective for some B2B organizations, most will benefit from a solid relationship with an ecommerce partner that can provide a solid platform as well as guidance and partnership to help grow the ecommerce initiative over time.

To learn more about how to leverage the power of your B2B ecommerce initiative, download the white paper, B2B Ecommerce Success – Seven Questions to Consider When Beginning an Ecommerce Initiative.