Outgrowing your ecommerce platform, a short guide

But this is just the beginning. That shiny e-commerce software that ticked checkboxes for so many ‘out of the box’ features is beginning to creak. Just at the time when your business needs to flex, you’re being held back by the rigidity of your e-commerce framework.

This will gradually become apparent as changes to the site take ever-increasing amounts of time and become increasingly expensive. Instead of your software bending to accommodate how your business works, it’s the other way round: the tail is wagging the dog.

What is the cause?

This arises as platforms clamour to offer the quickest installation, or the most ‘out of the box’ features. While this seems great at the beginning, this comes at the expense of future flexibility. Platforms that provide an “out-of-the-box” functioning store have already made decisions about how your online selling experience should work. These decisions are rarely right or easy to reverse.

Symptoms

Ultimately, the e-commerce software that promised so much is now bent beyond recognition. The simplifying assumptions that resulted in a fast set-up are now starting to cause pain. This can manifest itself in many ways, such as degrading site performance and ever-increasing development times for simple changes and new features.

What are the options?

Options for merchants in this position are threefold. More time and money can always be sunk into working with the existing platform, although this suffers from the law of diminishing returns. Moving to an alternative platform is the next option and there are two families of software to consider. There’s proprietary “enterprise” e-commerce platforms which sound impressive on paper but come with an exorbitant price tag and a mandatory army of consultants and integration specialists. In the right hands, such platforms can perform well but many such projects suffer from delays and design compromises.

The third option is open-source software. Learning from the lessons of Magento, a new generation of e-commerce software is emerging that provides high quality components built for customisation. Experienced open-source software developers know that change is the norm and build software around that principal.

Businesses succeed through flexibility

Much to the chagrin of software developers worldwide, the real world of ecommerce refuses to conform to simplifying assumptions and clean architectural boundaries. Businesses succeed through flexibility; bending and blurring divisions to accommodate the problems of the day. Merchants need to look for platforms that support their business rather than hold it back.

David Winterbottom is the technical director at Tangent Snowball.

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