eCommerce platforms come in a variety of flavors today, from the hundreds of SMB hosted (cloud) offerings which can start with no monthly fees to the handful of Enterprise-class systems that can easily cost millions of dollars to license every year.
When considering an eCommerce solution, your business litmus test comes down to a determination on whether the best fit would be an eCommerce platform that uses a product or a framework strategy. So is your eCommerce platform built on a product or a framework, and why should you care?
As we?ll see, an eCommerce framework is critical for companies who want control over performance, security, custom development and integrations - companies looking to create their own version of an eCommerce product.
Here's the quick and dirty technical glossary:
- eCommerce Product: An eCommerce application developed to fit a specific purpose, with configuration parameters and limited customization.
- eCommerce Framework: A toolset allowing eCommerce Product creation, custom fit to business needs.
- eCommerce Platform: An eCommere system that allows you to integrate multiple Products and services, the core of an eCommerce solution.
It's important to note a product or a framework can be used as a platform, though there are benefits and detriments to each approach. Most companies in the pure eCommerce space call themselves eCommerce platforms because they integrate so many things - the alphabet soup of ERP, CRM, PIM, CMS, ESP, etc.
Here's the high level analysis of five major considerations between a product and framework in an eCommerce setting:
Let's dive in now to the considerations: Bottom line, an eCommerce product is made to use out-of-box features with limited customizations, while an eCommerce framework is used to create the custom eCommerce product your business needs.
Consideration 1: Implementation
Simplest in form with a one-size-fits-all approach, an eCommerce product implementation can be as easy as unzipping a set of files to a server, selecting a pre-defined template for the customer-facing portion, uploading a logo for the site, selecting theme elements (site colors and fonts) and importing categories and products from a pre-determined spreadsheet format. What is gained in implementation efficiencies, however, is lost in performance, business process fit, and custom development capability.
With an eCommerce framework, the focus shifts from configuration needs to true requirements gathering. Remember, by definition a framework is a toolset, which enables the creation of an eCommerce platform to fit specific business needs. Important questions in planning an eCommerce framework implementation include:
- Infrastructure: What are your current and projected traffic, revenue, and conversion numbers, including Average Order Value (AOV), number of customers vs. guest users, seasonal spikes, etc.?
- Integration: What third party systems need to be integrated to the solution, how frequently should they update (nightly batch, realtime, etc.), what type of integration is needed (RESTful services, XML data feed, etc.), what existing APIs can be leveraged (if any), and what needs to be custom mapped?
- Customization: Are you going to use a pre-existing template for the front-end of the site, or design something new? How are you going to optimize the site for the customer - do they prefer to browse or search your site?
- Business Process: What Merchandising, Marketing, and Customer Service features are you planning on including (offers, promotions, ad spots, recommendations, co-browsing, returns, etc.) and how are you planning on managing the ongoing review and approval process of the ongoing business processes?
- Migration: If migrating from an existing system, what data needs to be transitioned, what format is it in, how clean is the data, what is the cutover strategy, and what is the strategy regarding URL redirects, search optimization and content migration?
Once the basis of infrastructure, integration, customization, business process, and migration needs are uncovered, then implementation approach (methodology) and team become the most critical components - we'll cover that in a separate post.
Consideration 2: Ongoing Operations
Once the infrastructure has been defined within the implementation phase, the question becomes how much control your business wants to have over the operating environment from a hardware, network, application, and workforce perspective.
eCommerce products are typically rolled out in Software as a Service (SaaS), or "Cloud," offerings. Such offerings many times sit on the same infrastructure for multiple clients, leveraging the same network, hardware, application(s), and workforce across all clients. The SaaS/Cloud provider therefore determines maintenance windows. Though eCommerce products can also be deployed with a dedicated hosting provider or on-site, the cost of ongoing support and operations of a pre-defined product in use by multiple clients is much lower using a third party.
Conversely, eCommerce frameworks are typically deployed on-site or with a dedicated hosting provider, as SaaS and Cloud offerings usually do not reflect the economies of scale when using a framework to create a custom product offering. That being said, many System Integrators (SIs) or Managed Service Providers (MSPs) leverage eCommerce frameworks like Broadleaf to create custom eCommerce products for industry verticals, leveraging their solutions across multiple clients in a way that resembles a SaaS or Cloud offering by leveraging different hosting models as a service. Clients who leverage eCommerce frameworks to create their custom eCommerce product offering typically retain the staff and direct control to ensure their critical performance, security, and customization needs are met on an ongoing basis.
Consideration 3: Business Strategy
The business strategy for eCommerce platform selection comes down to a single question:
What is more important to your business long term, to adapt your technology to meet your business processes, or vice versa?
Companies deploying an out-of-the-box eCommerce product regularly adapt their business processes, from customer service to fulfillment, in conforming to the process stipulated by the technology.
eCommerce frameworks, however, in building out a custom product, are by nature set to be built around a company's business processes. With a framework, businesses not only decide what the platform will be able to do, they are built on technology that allows them to pivot to make it do something un-thought of by current standards. After all, whoever thought an online bookstore called Amazon would become a supply chain expert, selling everything they could over the web?
Consideration 4: Technical Strategy
As the design world focuses heavily on user experience (UX), the importance of the consumer's voice in the world of technology (both B2C and B2B) is at an all time high. In the world of eCommerce, responsive and adaptive web design, omni-channel, and multi-everything approaches are the marketing phrases du jour, but what do they mean technically?
Among eCommerce products, the front-end (e.g., customer-facing web page) is generally selected among a set of pre-defined templates, while the back-end (e.g., administrative console) is designed based on general business needs. While an eCommerce product may boast "extensible APIs" for integration, such integrations are almost always exclusively for the front-end catalog, cart, and checkout operations. The strategy here is consumer-oriented.
eCommerce frameworks typically have front-end templates and a back-end console as a starting point as well. The point is that they're starting points, whereas an eCommerce product is typically limited to front-end application integrations, more robust eCommerce frameworks allow for the opening of their back-end admin consoles as well. Back-end business functions of customer service, order management, analytics, marketing and merchandising are then able to be fully customized to meet business and departmental needs on an ongoing basis.
Furthermore, eCommerce frameworks have the strategy of service enablement, or as Ericsson has eloquently stated, a "horizontal, flexible platform that supports the needs of today and tomorrow." The service-oriented strategy of an eCommerce framework ultimately allows for future growth that may be the key to a business' success.
Consideration 5: Cost
As we've covered already, eCommerce product decisions are great for small to medium businesses in need of a tactical solution with no strategic expansion plans regarding additional channels or custom delivery needs. The license and operational cost is lower due to the acceptance of front- and back-end limitations.
As your business requires customizations, including custom integrations to third party and legacy systems, your eCommerce platform (whether product or framework-based) should be leveraged as much as possible. Following your platform's architectural standards enables platforms to withstand upgrades and perform under pressure. Otherwise, the custom development will be stuck in a moment in time, requiring reengineering if not new development in the future. Too many organizations make the mistake of taking on such technical debt.
The tech stack underpinning the eCommerce platform in use is also critical. The ability to hire experienced resources capable of developing code at an efficient rate is a top budgetary consideration in customizing an eCommerce platform, often times outweighing license costs. Development velocity, therefore, is for most organizations the greatest predictor of the cost they will pay for an eCommerce platform over time.
Yes, this blog generalizes differences between an eCommerce product and an eCommerce framework. The differences, however, have a huge impact on a business' options, both from an initial deployment as well as future capabilities.
The world of eCommerce continues to receive attention (with millions in funding going to SMB), eCommerce product companies continue to "sell up," while legacy enterprise eCommerce frameworks are increasingly competing to "sell down" - we at Broadleaf believe there's a big hole in the market that our solution plugs.
If you're ready to explore an eCommerce framework, we invite you to checkout the best enterprise-level custom eCommerce platform on the market today. Visit www.broadleafcommerce.com for our tech, clients, and people, all dedicated to providing "eCommerce without limits."