8 Minute Read

When considering building or migrating your eCommerce website, choosing the right type of platform and the right platform itself is critical. It may be tempting to go for the most popular eCommerce platforms or names you are familiar with. But that is not the smart way to go about your eCommerce platform selection. You need to keep your business objectives, your customer’s goals and shopping behaviors, and the features and benefits of each eCommerce platform always in mind. One of the first considerations is whether you are going to leverage a hosted or SaaS solution. Once that decision is made, the requirements for your site and growth plans will inform the decision to build on a particular platform.

Hosted vs. SaaS: Which is better?

Most eCommerce merchants today have moved away from a fully custom eCommerce website solution. The advancements made with microservices and out-of-the-box solutions provide more freedom in how a company shapes and plans its eCommerce website offerings. Two of the most common eCommerce platform types available today are software as a service (SaaS) and hosted options. Each solution has different features that meet the needs of eCommerce businesses in different ways.

Hosted eCommerce Solutions

Hosted eCommerce platforms are highly customizable solutions that offer everything needed to build an eCommerce website and digital storefront. They can be self-hosted or fully hosted in the cloud. Self-hosted is where your company is responsible for acquiring, configuring, hosting, downloading, then installing the software. Fully-hosted eCommerce platform solutions maintain your online store and all files and data in the cloud. While hosted platforms aid in creating robust and scalable eCommerce sites, more development expertise is generally required to create an enterprise-level, customized hosted eCommerce site. Adobe Commerce powered by Magento is one of the most recognizable hosted platforms available today. 

Whether hiring an eCommerce agency for full-service support or hiring developers and designers in-house, the first step is purchasing the software from the eCommerce platform provider. The software must then be downloaded, installed, and configured by your development team on a server of your choice. If hosted in the cloud, the platform provider hosts the software and maintains the servers. They will often provide the software for you and your development team will take it from there.

Choosing a hosted eCommerce solution gives businesses many advantages when building their eCommerce website, including: 

  • Full control over the platform’s source code to make any modifications necessary.
  • Unlimited customization and flexibility.
  • More control over the server configuration used for eCommerce services including scaling, performance, and security.
  • More control over eCommerce software upgrades, security patches, and deployments.
  • Cloud-hosted solutions often include multiple environments for development such as integration, staging, and production.
  • Generally more features to support B2B needs or more complex requirements.

SaaS eCommerce Solutions

With Software as a Service eCommerce platforms, both the software to run your site and the hosting are included in your monthly subscription fee and handled by the same company. SaaS platforms provide access to software via the internet. It is a pay-as-you-go service following a licensed subscription model that allows customers to use the software without downloading and installing it. SaaS eCommerce platforms are cloud-based software accessible from any web browser. SaaS provides an easy-to-use, efficient open source eCommerce platform solution for businesses that want a great platform without worrying about managing and configuring servers or the sometimes higher development costs of hosted options. Examples of SaaS eCommerce platforms are BigCommerce and Shopify. SaaS platforms have seen significant growth over the years. 

Choosing a SaaS option gives companies the following advantages:

  • An out-of-the-box open source eCommerce platform solution for eCommerce that is easier to set up and launch quickly without the need for an in-depth understanding of programming or the backend architecture.
  • SaaS providers host and maintain the software for you. Automated software and security updates do not require the time, cost, and expertise of a development team.
  • Your SaaS provider is responsible for the security, performance, and maintenance of the application on their servers.
  • Built-in PCI Compliance.
  • Overall lower cost and more predictable costs for ongoing platform maintenance. 
  • A decreased chance of system failure because the system stores information across a vast cloud network.

What Should You Consider in an eCommerce Platform?

Different eCommerce platforms exist because there is no optimal solution for every single eCommerce store merchant out there. What works for one company may not be the best for another. The variety in eCommerce platforms allows organizations to find the best fit for their needs. Before committing to a particular platform, you should evaluate your needs, long term goals, and do a full feature comparison including the pros and cons of any platform you are considering. 

For many companies, consulting with an eCommerce agency fluent in multiple platforms with real-life experience building eCommerce websites will yield better results than attempting to figure it out on your own without expert guidance. An eCommerce agency that is not getting paid to sell a particular platform or avoid discussions about platform disadvantages will guide you and be your best partner.

Finding an agency to help select the right eCommerce platform is an important decision. You will get better results and see financial success when you engage a talented eCommerce agency. Consider an agency’s track record of success, portfolio of eCommerce projects and references, industry knowledge, and communication/support practices. Focus on value not price. Look for a company you can see yourself working with every day as you build your online business.

Whether you choose to work with an agency or make your decision in-house, certain considerations will be critical in assuring a retailer adopts the best platform.  


Prioritize flexibility for your company—Everyone wants a flexible solution for their eCommerce needs, but flexibility can mean different things for different businesses. What provides flexibility for some retailers, may be an impediment to others. For example, hosted services provide great flexibility for companies to access and customize every aspect of their online store. On the other hand, SaaS systems offer more flexibility regarding access points and the ability to make adjustments to the user interface without a thorough understanding of the technical infrastructure and programming. Online retailers need to evaluate their requirements to determine the type of flexibility that is appropriate for their eCommerce business.

Decide between coupled and headless architecture—Both hosted and SaaS eCommerce solutions offer options for either coupled or headless architectures. Coupled web architecture means the frontend and backend of a website are not separated. Headless architecture separates the backend from the frontend user experience connecting the two through web services. With headless, the presentation is separated from the logic and functional layer. In this case, the content database and back-end of the site are wholly detached from the display of the online store. Consequently, a headless architecture allows merchants to develop or update customer experiences without impacting critical functional systems such as payment processing, product databases, and back-office integrations.

Keep technical SEO in mind—Different platforms focus more on SEO than others. If you want your business to be indexed and ranked by search engines, you need a focus on search engine optimization. SEO is SEO. But what changes with each platform are the steps you have to take to optimize your website. Understanding the SEO functionality and capabilities of each eCommerce platform you consider is vital to your website’s success. To sell products, you need your customers to find you. SEO is one of the best ways to make sure they do. SEO-friendly features vary from platform to platform. Site speed, canonical URLs, indexing, customizing metadata, and mobile optimization are key considerations when selecting a platform best for your search engine optimization goals. 

Determine how you want to build your user experience—Both hosted and SaaS eCommerce platforms offer possibilities for outstanding user experiences. The most crucial aspect to consider concerning frontend UX/UI development is the amount of work and expertise your business has in web design and development. If your company is able to hire an agency with eCommerce development expertise, hosted solutions provide virtually unlimited customization options. If your business is less technically inclined, SaaS solutions offer many excellent pre-designed, easy-to-apply themes to provide a professional user experience. Keep in mind, depending on the type of customization you need, theme edits often require the support of a frontend web developer regardless of platform choice.

Choose the right eCommerce solution for your budget—One of the most noteworthy differences between SaaS and hosted eCommerce platforms is cost; cost associated with development especially. Hosted options require higher upfront costs but merchants are less likely to encounter functionality roadblocks. On the other hand, SaaS solutions are often a good fit for companies with lower initial capital for development. And depending on the platform and plan you choose, monthly costs can be high, even with SaaS. Never forget about long-term goals and site improvements you will want to make over time. Once your site is built on a particular platform, it can be costly to migrate to another. 

Pick a platform that fits your need to grow and scale—When deciding between SaaS and hosted eCommerce platforms, your company’s future growth and plans for eCommerce integrations or improvements need to be considered. B2B merchants or businesses who foresee future exponential growth with the need to scale, customize, and expand, especially globally, should consider the benefits of feature-rich hosted solutions. 

Consider ongoing support and how you prefer to handle technical issues—The unique features of hosted and SaaS eCommerce platforms influence how your company handles technical issues or ongoing development-related tasks and ongoing sales and marketing operations. Businesses with hosted solutions can access the code and have endless flexibility to add new tools or make any change when problems arise. But, without a specialized team or eCommerce agency partner, it can be more challenging and time-consuming.

Choosing the right eCommerce solution for your eCommerce business may seem complicated, but once you consider your company’s short and long-term needs, the choice becomes more manageable. Every aspect of hosted vs. SaaS platforms needs consideration when selecting the perfect platform for your business. A great way to learn the differences between different providers and platform types is to research and review the features as well as the pros and cons of each. Schedule demos with platform providers and consult with an experienced eCommerce agency for help. Making the right hosted vs SaaS platform decision is crucial to the success of your business.

Popular SaaS and Hosted eCommerce Platforms

As you look for the right eCommerce platform for your business, different providers will synchronize with your company more than others. Two of the top hosted eCommerce solutions are Adobe Commerce powered by Magento and Sitecore, while the major SaaS providers are BigCommerce and Shopify.

Adobe Commerce Powered by Magento allows merchants to build multi-channel commerce experiences for B2B and B2C customers on a single platform. From catalog management to payment processing and order fulfillment, Magento is a future-proof hosted eCommerce platform that is flexible, extensible, and scalable. Native integrations with Adobe products like Analytics, Target, Experience Manager, and Creative Cloud take content personalization to the next level. Adobe Commerce has a modular core and headless capabilities that allow you to incorporate new technologies and reach customers across touchpoints. Business intelligence dashboards give you everything you need to make smart business decisions and personalize engagements across channels.

Sitecore’s system streamlines user engagement and automated marketing with a simple eCommerce platform. The Sitecore Content Hub provides simple content solutions with integrated planning, collaboration, and management for businesses. Additionally, Sitecore delivers personalized user experiences and a connected buying experience to make your business stand out from the competition. The built-in analytics program for Sitecore is incredibly powerful and provides businesses with a lot of the key insights they need to know about their audience.

BigCommerce, for the most part, is geared towards larger online stores and brands looking to scale. This SaaS eCommerce platform is feature-rich and gives businesses and eCommerce store managers an easy user interface without having to worry about back-end maintenance and hosting. With 0% transaction fees, a dedicated page builder tool, the ability to handle a large number of SKUs, and 24/7 customer support based in the United States, BigCommerce provides a simple platform to establish scalable online sales. BigCommerce’s B2B edition is one way it stands out from other SaaS solutions. It has B2B-optimized themes that provide buyers with the consumer-like, intuitive experiences they desire. Merchants can sell B2B and B2C on one BigCommerce platform and integrate with their mission-critical back-office systems. BigCommerce recently released (early 2022) multi-storefront capabilities that allow merchants to tailor experiences to different audiences, regions, or customer segments from a single dashboard. 

Shopify is a complete eCommerce solution that can be used by anyone without being an expert developer. It is an easy-to-use eCommerce option for online merchants and it has lots of out-of-the-box eCommerce capabilities. Shopify can be used by bigger brands and larger retainers but it is often ideal for smaller boutiques. The SaaS cloud-based system allows companies to sell their products from anywhere—whether to a virtual customer or in person with dedicated Point of Sale hardware. Shopify also empowers its clients with marketing tools and the option to connect with a dedicated expert to help build an eCommerce store website. With Shopify, you’ll pay transaction fees using any payment gateway outside Shopify Pay (powered by Stripe.)


Whether your business is a startup, scaling up, or already a big brand selling multi-millions online, you must be strategic as you choose the best eCommerce platform for your business. Choosing the right eCommerce platform can be a daunting task and investigating every aspect of a platform is complicated without lots of time and expertise. However, with help and some effort, you can choose the right eCommerce platform for your business. 

If you want to keep up with the eCommerce revolution but lack time and core expertise to ensure you choose the right platform, you should consider partnering with an eCommerce agency. The right agency can help you achieve your eCommerce business goals by pairing you with the ideal platform for your company and handling all the technical details of the website from planning and design to configuration, development, and ongoing support.


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