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Ecommerce platform comparison: Infrastructure costs

Scarlett Reeves

When you're comparing the costs of ecommerce platforms, you need to consider the whole picture.

This means getting to grips with infrastructure costs. These costs cover essentials such as licence and transaction fees, support and maintenance, hosting, and the apps used on your platform.

Different platforms will offer different benefits when it comes to individual elements, but the total yearly cost is the figure you should keep an eye on. The cumulative costs of ecommerce platforms can catch retailers by surprise, as they watch their profits eaten away by a platform that they thought would cost them little.

Choosing an ecommerce platform is a business-critical decision, and you should make it based on full, not partial, knowledge. With this in mind, here we compare the infrastructure costs of some of the main platforms.

Hosted or cloud-based: what’s the difference?

Before we look at the infrastructure costs of individual platforms, it’s important to note one major difference in how these various platforms operate.

  • Some platforms are server-based, which means hosting will make up a proportion of what you’ll be paying. This hosting may be on-premise, otherwise known as self-hosted. The user hosts the platform on its own server. Alternatively, hosting can come from a hosting provider – a company that manages server and server-related services on your behalf. Another name for server-based platforms is distributed.
  • Cloud-based or SaaS (software as a service) ecommerce platforms offer an alternative to the server-based model. Here, the hosting is included in the package, and the retailer rents both the software and the hosting from the provider.

When it comes to infrastructure costs, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re making a saving if these don’t include hosting. Various distributed and SaaS models have their pros and cons, which is why the cumulative cost of using them is an important marker.

Magento

There are two versions of Magento:

  • Community Edition (CE), and
  • Magento Commerce.

Of the two, Magento CE is the most commonly used by independent retailers. It's a self-hosted, open-source platform, which makes it highly customisable. Magento CE is free to download, but users will need to pay for hosting as part of their infrastructure costs.

Technical support is pretty thin on the ground too, so users may need to pay for support and maintenance as further add-ons.

In contrast, Magento Commerce offers a choice of either a hosted or cloud-based platform. It is, however, aimed at mid-tier or enterprise-level retailers, and it charges users a monthly fee.

Licence fees come as extra, and these increase as a business scales up. So while Magento Commerce might on paper meet all your requirements, your costs will reflect this.

Infrastructure cost verdict:

Magento CE offers a free start, but your costs will soon mount up, as you build up your store's functionality. The paid-for Magento Commerce version has more inclusive features, but you’ll still need to pay a licence fee and factor in other expenses.

Shopify

As with Magento, you’ve also got a choice of two versions of Shopify:

  • Shopify Basic, and
  • Shopify Plus.

Where they differ from Magento is that both versions are cloud-based, and neither version provides access to source code.

From one perspective, this makes Shopify fairly easy to grasp from the start and attractive for retailers looking to start out.

The Basic version provides some support but Shopify Plus takes things further, offering improved customisation along with support and reporting capabilities.<

At a glance, the licence fees are competitive and hosting is inclusive, but we’re talking about a platform where plug-ins can help to make or break your business, and the cost of these soon mounts up.

Infrastructure cost verdict:

Convenience comes at a cost. Part of this is financial, reflected in Shopify Plus's high transaction fees, but there's also a hidden cost in terms of flexibility. The all-inclusive approach offers certain infrastructure savings but limits your freedom to customise.

WooCommerce

WooCommerce is a self-hosted, open-source platform. Like the Magento CE platform, you have to arrange your own hosting and domain to use it.

Because it’s WordPress-based, if you’re already familiar with this platform, you could have a head start. But you do need a reasonable amount of technical expertise and understanding of design to get the most out of it.

Consequently, your infrastructure costs may include ongoing technical support and maintenance. You’ll also need to budget for paid-for plugins to boost your store’s functionality, plus licencing and transaction fees.

Infrastructure cost verdict:

WooCommerce is an easy way in for new retailers. But in offering more room for a DIY approach, it also opens the user up to increasing infrastructure costs as they need to pay for more additions that don’t come as standard with the package.

BigCommerce

BigCommerce is a SaaS, cloud-based ecommerce platform. Like Shopify, this means it comes with various inclusive features and benefits, such as built-in sales, merchandising and search options.

Because it’s cloud-based, hosting is included in the price, which makes things simple for merchandisers looking to launch their enterprise.

Customisation is fairly easy, but additional functionality will mean an increase in infrastructure costs — an important factor if you want to scale up and refine what your store can provide to visitors.

Infrastructure cost verdict:

With BigCommerce, you can save on implementation costs and hosting. Be aware that upfront savings could be followed by increased costs further down the line if you want to take your store beyond the basics.

Aero

Aero is a distributed ecommerce platform, so you'll need a managed hosting service for it. This can either be on-premise or cloud-based, such as AWS, Digital Ocean or UKFast.

The key characteristic of the Aero platform is its lean core functionality. This enables the platform to operate efficiently without being heavily dependent on additional apps to boost its effectiveness.

It’s not a platform designed for novices, but it offers users with the right technical know-how and development experience, a high-performance online retail solution.

The platform’s core functionality impacts positively on infrastructure costs. It’s economical to run, at around half the maintenance costs of bigger platform names, while hosting costs are heavily reduced too. Aero’s lean core also keeps the annual cost of apps low, while fair transaction fees help retailers keep more of their earnings.

Infrastructure cost verdict:

Aero is the specialist’s ecommerce platform. It's not for beginners, but professional retailers with the right amount of knowledge and confidence can maximise the platform's potential while minimising their infrastructure costs.

Conclusion

  • Looking at your cumulative costs is essential when planning your ecommerce enterprise, but you should do this in the context of how you see your business developing over time.
  • Cloud-based platforms offer a means for easy entry, but they may not maintain this cost-effectiveness should you wish to develop your store.
  • Self-hosting can be more costly as an initial outlay but will give you more control over how you shape your online store.
  • For professional retailers with the necessary confidence and experience, lean functionality will be a key factor, especially if this translates into lower infrastructure costs.
For more insights and useful information about ecommerce platforms, please follow Aero on LinkedIn.

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