Headless, Saas, or Cloud? A marketer’s guide to ecommerce website platforms

Headless, Saas, or Cloud? A marketer’s guide to ecommerce website platforms

The ecommerce landscape is quickly evolving. While businesses can try to keep up with the industry, it can be hard to keep up-to-date on the different types of ecommerce platforms.

What is an ecommerce platform? An ecommerce platform is the software that enables a business to manage their online business. The platform forms the foundation of your website. It enables you to manage different aspects including the front-end customer experience (e.g. homepage, product pages) and some back-end functionality (e.g. order management).

Having the right ecommerce platform can make a significant difference in how your website looks and the customer experience. Without a strong foundation, you can end up with a suboptimal customer experience. It’s also important to consider your tech setup, budget, and technical expertise when choosing the right platform.

This excerpt from our guide, “Ecommerce Unleashed: Maximising Your Website’s Impact for Marketing Success”, explains the different types of ecommerce platforms to help you choose the one that’s suitable for your business.

Different types of ecommerce platforms

Saas (Software as a Service)

SaaS is a software licensing and delivery model where you license the software on a subscription basis and the software is hosted centrally. This type of platform is increasingly popular in ecommerce because it removes the need to purchase and manage web hosting separately. For example, both Shopify and Salesforce offer cloud-based SaaS ecommerce solutions.


In contrast to Saas, On-Premise software requires you to host the software. In other words, you need to purchase separate hosting equipment to host your website. Adobe Commerce (previously known as Magento) is an example of an on-premise ecommerce platform, although they also recently started offering a SaaS cloud-based option.


Cloud solutions and SaaS are often referred to interchangeably but incorrectly. Cloud commerce still requires you to handle upgrades and maintenance (similar to On-Premise platforms) but the server is hosted remotely by a 3rd party.

Open Source

Open Source refers to source code that you can modify and redistribute so your ecommerce platform is highly customisable. For example, Magento started as an open source platform but has shifted away from this option, especially since its acquisition by Adobe.


Headless commerce is increasingly popular in ecommerce and refers to separating the back-end architecture from the (customer facing) front-end functionality. Most ecommerce platforms now offer headless commerce capabilities, with Big Commerce for example, focusing their capabilities in this type of platform. However, headless can be a more complex solution for those early in their ecommerce journey and you should have a team of development or IT professionals if you want to use this option.

Next steps

When you’ve decided on the type of platform you want to use, it’s time to choose the platform supplier (e.g., Shopify, Big Commerce). There are many suppliers in the market. So we recommend that you take the time to research and even go through a RFP (request for proposal) process.

We’ve helped our clients choose the right platform for their business using our 6-step process. In the guide that we developed in partnership with ISBA, “Ecommerce Unleashed: Maximising Your Website’s Impact for Marketing Success”, we include the 6-step process that you can follow to audit, assess, and implement the right platform for your website.

You can request the guide here or contact us to learn more.

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