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Why not free eCommerce software?

Drawbacks of free eCommerce software

It is very easy to get tempted by the plethora of free and open source ecommerce software available on the internet. After all, they are absolutely free. You do not need to pay anything for the software. All you need to do is - buy a domain and a hosting service, download the free software from the internet, install it, configure it, and you are ready to go. While this sounds so simple and straight forward, in reality it is not so.

Free is expensive

As a business person, you surely understand that there is nothing called free. You often pay a bigger price to implement a free system. You pay its price in terms of considerable time you spend to set it up, time in modification and time in troubleshooting. Worst of all, when a bug is encountered while in use, you may have to even shut down your eCommerce website temporarily until you resolve the bug yourself - imagine the price you pay for lost business, lost customers and lost reputation.

You may tend to think that you can hire a developer to take care of these. The question is - how do you choose from amongst several thousand developers, all of whom make tall claims about their expertise? If you indeed come across such a developer you may end up paying about the same price, or perhaps higher, than what you pay if you go for a paid software.

As you read on, you will further understand how you pay a heavy price for free software.

Considerable time spent in research

There are several hundreds of free eCommerce and shopping cart software. Which one is suitable for you and will meet your requirement? You will need to spend considerable time in studying the various free products, going through their demo and even trying some out by actually installing them until you are able to zero down on one. You will have to steal from your productive business time to carry out this research.

Installation nightmares

The free software expects a reasonable level of software technical expertise from you to be able to install, configure and use them. Even a beginner level software developer often struggles to understand and successfully install free eCommerce software. And this is not your line of business anyway. Let us take a non-software example: If your business was to produce turned products, would you buy the lathe machines from a reputed lathe manufacturer or would you try to assemble one yourself? The choice is very clear.

Deploying an eCommerce application on an internet server is a complex task. It requires understanding of the programming language in which the system has been built so that you can tweak it to suit your purpose. It calls for understanding of internet security so that your eCommerce system runs securely. It requires understanding of web server and database so that you can install and configure it correctly. And the list goes on.

You may encounter errors during installation and will have no one to help you. Instead, you will have to spend considerable time reading through help manuals and forum posts to look for answers to your problems. And, please remember that most of the solutions or suggestions posted at forums are not necessarily from the experts and they may not always give you the clue in the right direction.

Even with general questions, if you take a look at many forums that act as support centers for open source software, you will discover that it is not unusual for questions to go unanswered. The open source community does not have a legal obligation to answer your questions. In some cases, you will need to figure it out for yourself or hire the services of a knowledgeable developer.

Support issues

If you are using commercial software, the vendor has an obligation to assist you in a timely manner. Especially when bugs are encountered, the vendor is obliged to respond fast and is capable of fixing bugs quickly. You may find an annoying bug in an open source application that you need assistance with, but you may not find any direct support to specifically tackle your issue unless you pay someone to fix it.

If you are expecting phone support or personalized email support - forget about using open source software. Open source support usually consists of forums only and the support forums may or may not give you the right answers and clues. With no technical support, you are on your own when something does not work correctly. You would end up with lot of trial-and-error kind of research in an attempt to fix an issue. You may be able to pay a third party for support, but that creates a cost and the free software is not free any more.

Security issues

Open source software is subjected to the risk of hacking due to open source codes easily accessible by hackers who can find the security loopholes. You install it on a shared hosting environment with whatever little knowledge you have. Whereas deployment of an eCommerce system requires considerable expertise to ensure that your website runs on a secure and efficient environment and your data and business is protected. Several web server level configurations are required to secure your software system. Further, day to day monitoring and timely improvements and enhancements are required to ensure that changes in technology and new requirements are quickly adopted. Such adoptions cannot be fast with free software since the open source community is not obliged and not under pressure to do so. They have volunteered to contribute but they have their own job to do and they can only look at their volunteering work in their free time.

Incoherently developed product by volunteering programmers

Commercial software are developed by companies with a clear vision of making them a success in the market. These companies deploy full time expert developers to work on the software development in a co-ordinated fashion. They are always on their toes to ensure that their product is on an improvement path and always remains competitive amongst other equivalent products. They respond to bug-fixing quickly so that they retain their good reputation. They are in the business for making profits and cannot be lethargic in the process.

Open source software, on the other hand, is developed by a pool of volunteering programmers who do it for free and work independently in their free time to build the product. In such an exercise, the lack of co-ordination and ego clashes amongst so-called experts can result in an incoherently developed product. Such products usually lack in essential business features and may even have weak integration across business functions.

Further, the individual contributing developers usually develop their modules independently, do a quick test and launch them, leaving it to the wisdom and woes of the users who would report issues and bugs. When issues and bugs are reported, it may take several months until a fix is released. Commercial software, on the other hand, go through comprehensive testing. They are also stress tested to gauge their capability and performance in handling larger volumes of inventory & orders and higher traffic, and are fine-tuned for the same.