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November 18, 2021

Open Source and Retail: Benefits, Risks, and Use Cases

Open Source

Leading retailers around the world use open source to reduce costs, foster innovation, and reduce exposure to risk. But getting these benefits isn’t as simple as integrate and forget.

In this blog, we explore why retailers are using open source, how they’re using it to solve problems within their organizations, and the strategies successful companies use to prevent risk and better succeed with open source software.

Why Are Retailers Using Open Source?

Retailers might use open source for any variety of reasons, but some of the big benefits that draw open source adoption are in cost savings, innovation, and flexibility.

However, there are emerging and often overlooked benefits, like risk reduction and finding and retaining top talent, that make open source a foundational element of modern IT infrastructure.

Cost Savings

Open source projects still need to be maintained and managed, but the lack of licensing costs will lower the costs, sometimes considerably when compared to commercial alternatives. Open source software also tends to be easier to move to and from the cloud, which is an important consideration for today’s cloud and hybrid environments.

Risk Reduction

Retailers have a number of options to turn to for help supporting their open source software, including the open source community, online resources, and support vendors. Open source projects have also become the de facto standard in many areas of IT, particularly in infrastructure. That makes the projects well tested, reliable, and familiar to current and future employees of the organization.


Open source projects often spring from cutting-edge approaches to solving problems or tackling new challenges. Because they are familiar to many developers and easy to obtain, they can speed up development times and reduce time to market for new products and features.


Open source also reduces the risk of vendor lock-in that plagues commercial software. There’s no commercial vendor to bundle the product as part of a more costly product or to suddenly change the product roadmap because of an acquisition, for example.

Watch Retail Confidential: Avoiding Risk With OSS

In our latest collaboration with TechAdvice, Rod Cope, CTO at Perforce Software, gave his 10-minute take on how open source is used in retail, and the key strategies organizations use to achieve the full benefits of open source software

How Is Open Source Used in Retail?

The first area is the customer experience, specifically an omnichannel customer experience. Today’s customers want a similar experience with similar products and support regardless of the channel they’re using: web, mobile, or in-person. The experience should be frictionless, fast, and even fun for users. Many of the leading content management systems in use today are open source projects, including Drupal, WordPress, and Magento.

Open source projects like ReactJS and VueJS help create the modern user interfaces used in building the online shopping experience. In the physical store, open source projects like OSPOS and SambaPOS run point-of-sale (POS) terminals.

The second area retailers are using open source to differentiate is within the data layer. Many of the UX and support features retail customers crave are possible because businesses are collecting and analyzing data to make them a reality. Retailers can use analytics to improve their product selection, their marketing, fine tune their supply chain, and more.

Open source is being used throughout the data layer, including at the database level, with open source database management systems like PostgreSQL or MongoDB; at the middleware level, with technologies like Spark, ActiveMQ, or Kafka; and at the data insight layer, with open source technologies like TensorFlow, PyTorch, or Hadoop.

Why Retailers Using Open Source Need Support

While it is true that retailers using open source projects in their critical systems have a lot of options to turn to for support, not all of the options match the level of support expected from a commercial software vendor. The open source community is vast and knowledgeable, but it’s mostly volunteers who won’t match the sense of urgency a retailer needs when, for example, transactions cannot be processed.

Large retail brands and their sizable in-house IT teams have a great deal of expertise available to them, but not every retailer has those resources at their disposal. For retailers without in-house expertise, it’s important to have an established plan for sourcing support before a problem strikes.

The reason that problems tend to strike retail systems during the worst possible times, like Black Friday, is that the systems are rarely tested at such a scale. The Black Friday rush is simply difficult to duplicate in a testing environment. This makes having a plan for support even more critical to the business.

Retail Risk Prevention and Mitigation With Open Source

Developing a plan for how your organization is going to use and support open source software is essential. Understanding where and how open source projects are being used in your environment is critically important to this effort because you cannot mitigate risk you cannot see.

In a survey by Forrester Research, they found that organizations with optimized open source support strategies are 82 percent more likely to exceed their expectations for their integrated open source.

Unfortunately, most organizations do not have an optimized open source support strategy. That same survey by Forrester Research found that only 40% of surveyed organizations report an optimized strategy for supporting their open source software.

This makes developing an open source support strategy an imperative for organizations who want to realize its benefits. In order to do that, organizations must develop an optimized strategy that covers all phases of that open source software, including (but not limited to):

  • Planning – including package selection, package lifecycle strategy, and allocation of resources
  • Implementation – including knowledge and adherence to known best practices, and preparation of risk mitigation strategies
  • Optimization – including the continued optimization of implemented packages to improve performance and reduce risk of downtime
  • Support – including documented support strategies for all stages of the package lifecycle

Final Thoughts

Retailers who leverage open source for their IT infrastructure, if planned, executed, and supported correctly, can gain a competitive advantage on retailers that don’t. But, as we’ve detailed above, achieving those benefits requires organizations to be methodical in their planning, implementation, optimization, and support strategies.

For those interested in learning more about how open source is used in retail, be sure to check out this recorded 10-minute webinar from Perforce CTO Rod Cope (it was also the inspiration for this blog).

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