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How to Choose Shopify Alternatives?

by GK November 07, 2019

It’s almost been 15 years since the launch of Shopify in 2006. Down the pike, the software solution has proven its significance to come out as the biggest success story in the history of ready-made eCommerce platforms. Shopify made SaaS-based eCommerce solutions accessible to the masses and easier for small merchants to leverage the power of eCommerce.

Today, Shopify powers over 800,000 online stores on the internet. Not to be astonished, but Shopify based online stores made over $1.5 billion of sales during the last Black Friday. No doubt, lone rangers, and small merchants trust the platform as it not only offers great conversion optimization opportunities but also is very serious about the security of its managed services. There are words in the market that Shopify has paid $850,000 to over 300 ethical hackers just to help them keep the platform secure by resolving every minute security issue. This is something that other websites like Shopify would hardly do.

However, Shopify is not the only leader in the market of SaaS-based eCommerce platforms. In fact, it faces stiff competition from not just SaaS-based rivals but also a significant number of free open-source and premium open-source Shopify alternatives are there in the race.

Shopify is not the leader in the market

It’s a bit overwhelming that a solution so popular is not the biggest eCommerce platform in the market in terms of market share and the number of active online stores. It’s WooCommerce, a free open-source WordPress plugin, who is dominant out of all kinds of eCommerce platforms. WooCommerce is one of the best Shopify alternatives when it comes to shifting from managed to self-hosted eCommerce platforms.

Nevertheless, let’s not make a preemptive conclusion right now, because Shopify and WooCommerce are not the only leaders in the market. Especially it’s something as serious as an eCommerce business, there are loads of expectations, variations, and competitions among the businesses, and not every popular eCommerce solution or Shopify competitors are capable of addressing them all.

In this article, we are going to enlist some noteworthy ways to compare and test eCommerce platforms, which you can easily apply while narrowing down your list of the best Shopify alternatives to choose from the market.

Aspects to study while choosing an alternative for Shopify

If Shopify is so popular and a huge population of eCommerce merchants trusts the platform so well, why would anyone even think about finding an alternative for Shopify?

The answer lies in the nine aspects that we are going to discuss in the article. For now, let’s just consider a fact that not all entrepreneurs have similar expectations with their ventures, nor do they possess a similar kind of affordability in the venture capital. We don’t say Shopify is the costliest eCommerce solution, but sometimes, the cost does not even remain a factor. Some entrepreneurs look out for other kinds of aspects like customizability, Scalability, Range of features, Control, Ease of management, and a lot more. Moreover, no two entrepreneurs can have a replica of the expectations if we based them on these mentioned- aspects. Therefore, Shopify is your best bet sometimes. Whereas you might need a cheaper alternative to Shopify sometimes, and at other times, you might need an even powerful solution irrespective of the cost.

Considering these factors and many others, the best way to either choosing an alternative to Shopify or staying with it would be by comparing the available choices on the following fronts:

1.      Type of the platform:

Type of the platform is probably the most decisive aspect that may even trivialize all other traits if you make a decision based on this element alone. While looking for an alternative for Shopify, you might want to consider switching to other models of software ownership and delivery.

  • Hosted
  • Pure open-source
  • Decoupled open-source
  • Premium open-source code

Hosted –Shopify is a hosted solution as it is delivered as SaaS under the managed category. All other Shopify alternatives under the SaaS category behave almost the same as Shopify. If you want to make a switch based on the type of platform alone, you should better think twice before opting for yet another SaaS solution, which would almost be the same, some of the aspects explained below in the article might differ.

Example: Shopify, Volusion, Squarespace, BigCommerce, Big Cartel, 3 Cart, and Wix, etc.

Pure open-source –Unlike SaaS, open-source Shopify competitors offer source-code access and come as free of cost. As a result, they are self-hosted and you have the liberty to choose your website hosting partner, which is not the case with SaaS like Shopify. Besides, self-hosting, source code access gives all other kinds of benefits such as better control, better scalability, and better customizability. However, be advised that you would be exclusively responsible for managing your website and its security. Unlike SaaS in Shopify, you cannot expect your vendors to manage your site and its deep back-end. However, you can purchase ready-made modules and extensions, which third-party vendors and in-house companies sell to extend the core functionalities.

Example: Magento Community, PrestaShop, OpenCart, and X-Cart, etc.

Decoupled open-source –Next are Decoupled open-source eCommerce platforms, also called as Headless eCommerce. In fact, these are not even eCommerce platform but merely plugins and add-ons that integrate with traditional Content Management Systems (CMS) to add eCommerce functionalities. We call them headless because, despite being dependent on native CMS for integration, the front end stays de-coupled from the back-end. Headless solutions use API calls to retrieve information. As a result, the front and back-end do not depend on each other through code but APIs. These solutions are mostly open-source and self-hosted.

Example: WooCommerce de-coupled with WordPress CMS, Drupal Commerce de-coupled with Drupal CMS, etc.

Premium open-source code –Last but not the least; Premium open-source is a special category that combines the benefits of SaaS and open-source category. Software companies offer them as ready-made like SaaS, but also provide the source-code access, giving you the ability to self-host on any web server of your choice. You get a well-polished solution, which you can customize by modifying the source code. The only catch is you need to pay an upfront cost to purchase the source code. Probably, this could be a good idea considering you get a ready-made solution with advanced features and yet, you don’t have to pay any monthly recurring fee as in Shopify or any SaaS-based Shopify competitors.

Example: ShopyGen offers a range of such scripts customized for different types of eCommerce business ideas. You can check in our product list to try them out on a live online demo. 

2.      Model of Pricing:

Just what we were discussing in the previous point- recurring fee and monthly subscriptions could be a pain that might poach away a significant share of your revenue. Especially, when it’s Shopify, which not only imposes a monthly subscription fee but also charges transaction fees on every sale you make, you might want to consider a good Shopify Alternative for this reason alone.

  • Hosted: Works on recurring payment model. A monthly subscription of packages is applicable as per a curated set of features or custom package requirements. Besides this, platforms may charge a commission cut or transaction fees on every sale you make.
  • Pure open-source: The source code of the base script is free of cost. The major expenses occur in purchasing modules, extensions, themes, templates, premium APIs, and developing custom modules if ready-made solutions are not available in the market. 
  • Decoupled open-source: Both CMS and eCommerce plugins are available free of cost. Rest is almost similar to pure open-source solutions. This category has the best alternative to Shopify in overall categoriesthat is WooCommerce.
  • Premium open-source code: One-time upfront cost to purchase the source code of the base script. Other charges incurred in customizations and development of additional features if required.

3.      Ease of Entry and Exit:

Ease of entry and exit refers to not only the ease with which you can adopt a solution but should also offer a similar kind of ease to migrate without any hassle. That means, if you are looking to adopt Shopify, it must be easier to get on board. However, when you want to migrate to an alternative solution, Shopify must offer a similar kind of ease to migrate all data to the new platform.

Unfortunately, it’s hardly possible on most of the platforms. Take Shopify for instance. If you are to start from scratch, Shopify offers the fastest and easiest on-boarding experience, but make things complicated if you are migrating from some other platform or thinking about moving out from Shopify.

Ease of entry and exit also depends on the pricing model, source code access, and tech-stack of the solution. As you don’t have access to the source code, SaaS-based solutions are least friendly in terms of ease of entry and exit. Whereas, open-source solutions are easier to exit and migrate if you are migrating on another open-source code solution with a similar technology stack. For example, it’s easier to migrate from PrestaShop to Magento as both as open-source code and work on similar tech stack, which is LAMP.

Hence, if you looking for ease of exit in Shopify, you would not find it. You might have to ask a migration company to do it manually for you. Make sure, your new platform is easier to exit if required. 

4.      High-level customer support:

High-level customer support with priority is something you would always need from your software vendor. Be it SaaS or an open-source eCommerce platform, technical support is a non-negotiable requirement.

With SaaS, you can expect your vendor to offer every kind of technical support in a 24×7 environment as you are paying them monthly subscription fees. However, you might not get to say so about free of cost open-source solutions. There are millions of users of these solutions; they cannot entertain everyone personally. That’s where a strong community of merchants and third-party developers backs these solutions.

Take Magento community edition for instance. Magento is supported by a massive community of Magento certified developers and Magento extension companies. If you can’t reach out to the official Magento support, you can also expect the community members to offer you the services.

Premium open-source platforms like our Genstore script present a different case. Since you pay to purchase the source code, you are entitled to get priority customer support, deployment assistance, and troubleshooting from the company. Past the warranty period, you can extend the support services by paying some renewal costs. Alternatively, since you have the source code, you can always hire any third-party developer as per your preference. 

5.      Diversity in trending revenue channels:

The availability of competitive Revenue channels is something that might make or break an eCommerce business. In 2019, eCommerce is no more limited to just selling products and being paid for them. Today, eCommerce has extended itself in the advanced revenue model such as –

  • Selling physical products
  • Selling digital content
  • Renting physical products
  • Renting digital products

Apart from this, eCommerce websites are not just selling from their in-house inventories but also letting other sellers to join the platform and sell their products, effectively called a multi-vendor model of eCommerce. So having just simple online selling functionalities is not enough today, you must ensure that your Shopify alternative has native support for multi-vendor model, too. In simple words, your alternative must support the eCommerce models such as-

  • Inventory selling model
  • Multi-vendor marketplace model
  • Dropshipping model

To handle these models, it must also support the revenue channels such as:

  • Pay-per-sale
  • Commission Management
  • Membership Subscriptions
  • Affiliate Program Management

Other aspects of consideration

Apart from the aspects given above, make sure your Shopify alternative is better on the following fronts, too. These aspects are highly volatile and differ from platform to platform, that’s why we cannot understand them by simply classifying under SaaS and Open-source categories. You must test and analyze the solutions individually to get a better understanding.

6.      Range of Ready-made features

  • How many features are available by default?
  • How much extra work do you need to make your website competitive?

7.      Payment processing and charges:

  • How much to pay for using the platform?
  • Is there any other hidden cost?
  • Is there a transaction fee?

8.      Scalability of the technology stack:

  • How many SKUs can it support?
  • Does it support popular web servers?
  • Does it support popular CDN servers?
  • Does it support common payment solutions?
  • Is it easy to find developers for the technology stack?

9.      Scope of customizability and control:

  • Can you access the source code?
  • Can you customize the source code?
  • Is a comprehensive documentation available?
  • Do you get absolute ownership of your website?

Ask all these questions to yourself and decide the most suitable answers as per your requirements. The answers to these questions will help you narrow down the best Shopify alternative for your project.

Though we sell premium open-source eCommerce platforms, we hope this article was able to offer an unbiased overview. We don’t say premium open-source is always a good decision. It depends on your requirements, budget, and how you are going to manage your website.

Many a time, SaaS like Shopify offers the best solutions under limited conditions and workforce. After all, not everyone can afford to pay upfront costs for premium open-source solutions. Also, free open-source solutions, which seem like a cheaper alternative to Shopify, might come out as even costlier decision in the long run. Would you oversee the cost associated with purchasing Magento extensions, PrestaShop modules, or WooCommerce Add-ons?

We don’t want to give a verdict on the best alternative to Shopify. We can only give you as much data you need to make an informed decision. The final decision is yours; identify your needs and constraints, you will have a clear answer.

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