When is Open Source E-Commerce the Right Solution for Your Clients?

Open source software is scalable and customizable. We talked to Acro Media’s Director of Business Development Becky Parisotto to learn about the technology’s pros and cons.

Acro Media's Director of Business Development Becky Parisotto

Helping your e-commerce clients stay ahead can feel daunting. Not only do their websites have to suit their strategic needs, but you want to feel confident that they can easily implement their ideas, too. And when an out-of-the-box software solution doesn’t feel like the right fit, it can leave you feeling frustrated.

Enter open source, a software solution that’s known for being adaptable, scalable, and truly customizable to fit the needs of your client’s business—whatever they may be. Some businesses use it because they want unique experiences for their shoppers, others harness it because they have massive amounts of data they need to serve up to site visitors.

Acro Media is a British Columbia-based development agency that specializes in building open source e-commerce platforms for their clients. We talked with Director of Business Development Becky Parisotto to learn more about the pros and cons of open source.

“The thing about open source is you can match the software to your business model,” she says. “You don't have to match your business model to the software.”

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Q: How do you explain the benefits of open source e-commerce software to clients to help them decide if it’s the right investment for their business?

Open source is free, meaning that you don't have to pay licensing fees. But you need to know what to do with it. Open source is typically made for developers, not for the end user. It's not a really polished product to buy off the shelf. So it's important to keep in mind that the investment and the time in an open source project is up front. And after it's launched, you own that code and your investment is maintenance.

A software as a service (SaaS) product is the exact opposite. It's cheap and quick to get up and live, but then you're sharing your revenue and you're paying $50,000 and up in licensing fees a year. That's probably the biggest differentiator when explaining open source. Open source is also highly customizable, which everybody doesn't need. You need to make sure you're actually a good fit for open source software. When you're trying to force your business model into a SaaS platform, that's maybe when you should look at open source.

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Q: When else should clients consider open source?

  1. If you’re completing the same task on multiple systems, it’s time to look at open source. Our most common customer comes to us and says, "We're revenue positive. Now I'm running 10 different systems behind the scenes. My life is getting bottlenecked in the fulfillment side or the accounting side. Now I need to take a step back and figure out how to build an ecosystem that's actually going to serve our business."
  2. If you're designing a t-shirt that comes in black, white, and red, you don’t need a big open source custom build. You should be looking at all-in-one platforms like BigCommerce or Shopify. But if you are managing massive datasets, and you have tens of thousands of variations of products you should be looking at open source.
  3. If you're looking at any sort of headless architecture where you need to integrate systems, push off to a warehouse, if you need to send all of your orders to an integrated ERP that your business is married to, those are really good fits for open source.
  4. If you're a marketer, and you're feeling like your system of content in selling is really disjunctured from your e-commerce platform, open source might be the right avenue.
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Q: How do you use Mailchimp within your clients’ open source e-commerce sites?

We use Mailchimp for our clients to complete the e-comm experience in a few ways. Mailchimp is quite obviously the gold standard in marketing platforms for our clients to drive sales traffic, and we use the Mailchimp Drupal module to connect the campaigns to our customers’ products, site, and analytics.

Mailchimp is easy to use out of the box, but also has a deep set of capabilities that can be customized to many different e-commerce use cases. The flexibility of the platform allows us to create custom solutions for our clients using open source and connect them to the marketing services they need in Mailchimp.

As Mailchimp invests further into their product development, our clients get to fold in these new features and improve their customer experience through Mailchimp's digital roadmap. Win win.