Web News

Beware of Vendor Lock-In

March 19, 2024
April 2, 2024
Episode Number:

Vendor lock-in in web development refers to a situation where a company becomes overly reliant on a single vendor's products or services, making it difficult and costly to switch to another provider. This can lead to several issues, such as reduced flexibility, high switching costs, and a lack of interoperability with other systems. This might mean that a business is using a specific technology stack or platform that does not easily allow for migration to other systems, potentially leading to increased costs and limited innovation. On the flip side, vendor lock-in can provide benefits to a business such as great pricing (ie sales and loyalty benefits), increased productivity as users master a limited toolset, and the avoidance of "reinventing the wheel" repeatedly with custom code. In this episode, Matt and Mike discussed vendor lock-in in both a negative and positive light. Breaking down what you should be looking out for when choosing vendors to build products with.


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Show Notes

What is vendor lock-in?

  • “Vendor lock-in refers to a situation where the cost of switching to a different vendor is so high that the customer is essentially stuck with the original vendor. Because of financial pressures, an insufficient workforce, or the need to avoid interruptions to business operations, the customer is "locked in" to what may be an inferior product or service.”
  • “If a frontend is vendor locked-in, it means that the technology or framework used to build it is owned and controlled by a single vendor, and it may be difficult or expensive to switch to another technology or framework without significant effort or cost. This can create several potential issues for businesses or developers”
  • “To avoid these issues, it is generally recommended to use open-source technologies and frameworks that are not tied to a specific vendor.”

Why do we fall for vendor lock-in?

  • Great onboarding promotions
  • The promise of a single piece of software that will solve all your problems
  • Consumerization of complicated topics (how many people that build sites on Squarespace for their small business have any idea what vendor lock-in is?)
  • Lack of proactivity, focus on reactivity - we need a site now!
  • The cost of building without a vendor is higher than working with a vendor (at least for now), it's hard to estimate how much it will cost to migrate from the vendor especially if you're starting from square one
    • Think about a small business today, if you're starting at 0 blog posts but five years down the line you have 1500 posts and an ecommerce merch store due to unpredicted success - how difficult is it going to be to leave a vendor now? 
    • Flip side - Could you have gotten to this point without the vendor in the first place

The Side Effects of Vendor Lock-In

The Good

  • Great pricing
  • Ergonomic and efficient tooling 
  • Pre-built onboarding tools and training materials (documentation)
  • Pure focus - no shopping around, you're locked in (ie Apple ecosystem, site builders)
  • Avoid jack-of-all-trades, you're mastering the platform you're using

The Bad

  • Lack of flexibility, can't switch easily, or add new functionality that the platform lacks
  • Susceptible to pricing changes
    • Sudden fee changes can leave you bankrupt
  • Reliance on someone else's business
    • How much of your business relies on their business? Do you only have one payment vendor? How long will it take to get another one online if your current one goes down
  • Feature obsolescence, if the platform falls behind, or doesn't wish to add features that you need 


  • WordPress plugins: If you're using a plugin that has no alternatives, or is difficult to migrate away from
    • ie Theme obsolescence
  • Consumer software: “A real-world example of vendor lock-in is the way Apple locked consumers into using iTunes in the early days of the service, because music purchased via iTunes could only be played within the iTunes application or on an iPod.” [CloudFlare]
  • Webflow, Squarespace, Wix: Websites as a service
  • Free tiers: If you build on a free tier and don't ever assume you'll need to pay anything, do you think the vendor will have a free tier forever?