SaaS vs Open Source: An Introductory Comparison

Code on laptop screen

While the holiday season is dominating most merchant’s minds, some savvy store owners are already turning their focus to next year and improvements they can make to their businesses.

In many cases this means moving to a new ecommerce platform. When making that decision, one of the biggest things to consider is whether to go SaaS or open source.

This post will walk you through the major differences between each platform type so you can make an informed decision that will achieve your business goals.

Starting with some general definitions

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS):

Your store is hosted on another company’s servers, and they manage the technical side of keeping your store up and running. Examples include: Zoey, Shopify and BigCommerce

Open Source:

You’re responsible for installing the platform on a server and managing the technical details around hosting, securing and running your store. Examples include: Magento, WooCommerce and OpenCart

Now that we’re on the same page, let’s dig into the pros and cons of each platform type.

Pros of SaaS Ecommerce Platforms  

Less Technical Work

This is the biggest benefit of working with a SaaS platform, all of the technical details are handled for you. You don’t need to manage your hosting, maintain store security or install complex software updates.

Faster Set Up

There’s nothing to download or install, you just create an account and build your online store through a web interface. In most cases, you can go live with your new store in just a few weeks.  

Easier to Use Overall

In general, SaaS platforms are built to take as much of the complexity out of ecommerce as possible. This makes them much easier to use for new or non-technical merchants.


Pros of Open Source Ecommerce Platforms

Complete Control

The biggest reason to use open source is because you need to create a custom shopping experience. Since you’ll have full access to the underlying code, you can control almost every aspect of the store to do things that aren’t possible on a SaaS platform.


Cons of SaaS Ecommerce Platforms

Less Control

With SaaS, you don’t have full access to the underlying code, so you don’t have a blank canvas to create anything you want. You need to work within the confines of the tools that the platform gives you.

Hidden Costs

Many times a platform will appear inexpensive, but really offer only basic functionality. To get the features needed to run a real business, you need to install 10 or 15 apps that all come with a small monthly fee. This inflates the price to the point where the platform becomes unaffordable for the merchant.


Cons of Open Source Platforms

Hard to Use

In general, open source platforms are made for developers. The interfaces tend to be unintuitive and filled with overly technical jargon. This makes them too difficult to use for the typical merchant. They really require having a developer on staff or a development agency on retainer.

Lots of Maintenance

Depending on the complexity of your store, staying on top of everything that needs to be maintained, including hosting, security and software updates, can easily be a full-time job. This is why many merchants keep an agency on retainer to take care of this on their behalf.


Depending on the platform, it isn’t uncommon to see a small build start at $15K and grow from there. That’s just to go live. Once you add up app fees, hosting costs and a monthly maintenance retainer, you’re then looking at several thousand dollars a month to keeping things running smoothly.


Now that you have a solid understanding of the pros and cons of both types of platform, which should you pick?

Going SaaS

If you don’t need a highly customized store and would rather focus your time on running and scaling your business instead of managing technology, you’ll be happier with a SaaS platform. It will save you time and money, while allowing you to focus on achieving your business objectives.

Going Open Source

If you have the budget to hire a developer and need a highly customized shopping experience, then open source is going to be a better bet for you.

An Alternative Solution

Zoey is a new breed of ecommerce platform that combines the power and flexibility of open source with the ease of use of a SaaS platform to give merchants the best of both worlds. To learn more about Zoey, please visit their website where you can start a 14-day free trial.