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Why the Buy vs. Build Debate Is Over

An emerging company enters an established market as a digitally native brand, gains a loyal consumer following, and becomes a breakout retail success story. But what happens when that darling brand outgrows its initial go-to-market commerce platform? What happens when it comes time to scale? When growth is on the horizon, many retailers and brands choose to build their own custom commerce solution over buying one off the shelf. After all, if a business needs a custom feature, then why not have their in-house dev team build it themselves?

For ecommerce brands, flexibility is key. It’s what allows teams to quickly add features, fulfill new business requirements, and move faster than the competition. But here’s what retailers don’t realize: the old custom vs. off-the-shelf binary is an outdated one. These days, an off-the-shelf solution can provide just as much flexibility as a custom solution, at a greater convenience, so long as that solution is inherently extensible. Here’s how an off-the-shelf solution like Reaction compares to a custom homegrown solution:

Shorter dev time = faster migrations

Building a custom platform from scratch comes with its own set of unknown variables. For one, the amount of time and money it takes for a homegrown solution to become production-ready is often dependent on hiring the right dev agency for the work. Hiring an unqualified dev agency to lead the migration can result in a lot of wasted time.

By contrast, an off-the-shelf solution has already been developed, tested, and vetted by other retailers to be production-ready. It also comes with support documentation to troubleshoot any issues that may arise from the migration. Implementing and customizing the platform may still require dev resources, but it generally takes less time to get things off the ground and running.

Shorter dev times means faster migrations, which frees up engineering resources better spent on improving product and UI.

Lower costs = keep more revenue

Many retailers go the custom route in order to avoid losing a cut of revenue to their commerce platform. Off-the-shelf solutions like Shopify generate revenue by applying transaction fees on customer orders, which can become incredibly costly for the retailer when order volume increases as they scale. Yet oftentimes, a homegrown solution ends up costing more over the life of a system due to the cost of maintenance: software updates, bug fixes, security patches, backups, etc. In the case of certain issues such as version compatibility, maintenance may even require new development.

Plus, there are hidden costs. What if the devs who built and maintained your proprietary software leave? Having to ramp up new devs wastes time and resources. Open source off-the-shelf solutions are usually supported by a robust ecosystem, and with it, a broader community of well-versed experts.

It’s understandable that a profitable company might balk at the revshare model offered by many off-the-shelf platforms. That’s why, during the discovery phase of their migration process, retailers should look for platforms that offer a wider variety of pricing models. Reaction, for example, offers several: Our full stack solution operates on a blended pricing structure of development services, utilization fees, and session fees, while our open source software is free for anyone to download, install, and use.

Open source = own your code

With the rise of open source, some off-the-shelf solutions can now offer the same level of ownership as homegrown ones. In the past, retailers were only able to maintain full control over their intellectual property through proprietary systems. Now, some open source commerce platforms give retailers the ability to own their own data and code—with no vendor lock-in. Reaction’s schema-less architecture, for instance, allows merchants to transfer their existing data over to any other platform, no matter the format!


Every retailer believes their unique business needs warrant a solution that goes beyond one-size-fits-all. This may be true, but going custom isn’t the only way to achieve all their table-stakes requirements—an off-the-shelf solution that’s built on an open source core can actually be even more robust, more extensible, and more accessible. If you’re a retailer looking to migrate platforms, be sure to do your due diligence and keep all options open. After all, every business is different.

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