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Mar 20, 2018 4:32:23 PM

How to choose the right technology for a webshop

Sonja Jaakkola

Senior Consultant, Technology

how-to-choose-technology-for-webshopChoosing the technology for a new webshop can easily be overwhelming. New fancy JavaScript libraries keep popping up like mushrooms after rain and all ecommerce platforms have their trade-offs.

How to make the decision between different technologies?


First off, it’s important to acknowledge that technology decisions are not something you should start with when you decide to invest in digital commerce. Before thinking about the solution, think about who you are selling to and why would they buy from you. In the end, technology is just a tool. When you get too caught up in the solution thinking you should ask yourself this – when you shop online yourself, does the technology make or break your buying decision?

The most important thing is to get started

If you are just getting started with digital commerce, the first technology decision you should make is to pick a solution that gets your webshop live as soon as possible. Before investing heavily on building what you guess is the perfect solution with integrations to stock management, CRM, PIM etc., it often makes sense to first validate the business case.

Also, selling only starts after you are live. Taking the lean approach and starting with a minimum viable product (MVP) gets you involved with customers and their needs sooner, and helps you build the roadmap for future development. Invest more in development that is based on real customer insights rather than the initial development phase where decisions are based on guesses.

eCommerce platform or a custom solution?

When talking about webshops, going with an ecommerce platform is the faster and cheaper solution, since you get a lot of ecommerce features out-of-the-box for your shop instead of building all the webshop features like cart, checkout, order handling etc. from scratch. Choosing a well-known platform also helps to avoid a vendor lock-in situation, since popularity also guarantees a larger number of developers who know their way around that particular codebase.

It might be tempting to build a modern JavaScript-heavy custom solution, since
with a custom solution you can get exactly what you want, but the building phase consumes more time and money, and it makes you highly dependent on the developers.

There is also an option to build a hybrid solution, where most of the content is rendered by the ecommerce platform, but some are implemented with a JS application to gain a better and faster customer experience. Many platforms come with great APIs to play around with. Just remember to choose a popular framework that has a large support community, and also take into account SEO optimisation issues related to front-end content rendering.

Open source vs. closed source

In closed source software the source code is not visible to the public, and basically the software is only edited by a specific team that maintains the software. Open source software is the opposite – it means that the source code is open to the general public, and that people can share and develop it free of charge.

With a proprietary (closed) software it’s important to acknowledge that you’ll never be in full control. The capabilities of these solutions are always limited. However there are perks too, since closed source platforms often offer more organised support and they are more secure since the code cannot be accessed by anyone.

With an open source solution you are in full control, and the development options are not limited, but open source software is more often exposed to security issues, since the code and its vulnerabilities can be viewed by anyone.

Which ecommerce platform to choose?

There are no right or wrong answers when choosing an ecommerce platform. Each platform provides a different set of features, it’s more about picking the most suitable solution for your business and customer needs, and understanding the trade-offs between different options.

Usually the safest option is to go with a platform that has a large international following (and community) instead of a smaller local solution. The popularity of the platform guarantees that most of the customisation work is already done for you in the form of add-ons, the community offers a large support network, and you'll find better technical documentation.

Most common ecommerce platforms that we come across are Shopify, WooCommerce and Magento. Each of them are popular and are packed with great features, but they certainly have slightly different use cases.

Magento

Magento is more in the enterprise end of these three platforms. It comes with a wider set of features, but it’s also more complex than the other two. As Magento has just released version 2 which is completely separate from version 1, the platform is currently in a transition phase.

Pros and cons

+ Open source, fully customisable, full control of the store
+ Good with multiple international storefronts
+ Many add-ons available
- The enterprise level solution is not free
- Development expenses are high
- Since Magento 2 is new, it’s stated to have quite a few kinks still, and not all the Magento 1 add-ons are yet made for Magento 2
- Not so flexible with mixing content & products

I would recommend Magento for larger enterprise webshops that intent to sell globally.

WooCommerce

WooCommerce is an ecommerce extension to WordPress, which is constantly gaining popularity. WordPress and WooCommerce together are a powerful combination that scales up from a small and simple MVP to large enterprise solutions.

Pros and cons

+ Open source, fully customisable, full control of the store
+ Easy-to-use admin
+ Very flexible CMS which is great for combining marketing content with webshop functionalities
+ Many plugins available
+ The core is free (hosting is not included)
- Not the best solution for webshops with thousands of products due to data structure
- Requires WordPress

I would recommend WordPress and WooCommerce for web services that are a combination of versatile content & shop functionalities.

Shopify

Shopify is a closed source ecommerce platform, which is known for its easy setup process, many add-ons which you can use to extend the basic functionality, and a vibrant Shopify App development community. While shopify has an API for making certain modifications, not everything is possible with it.

Pros and cons

+ Easy & fast setup, setting up a store doesn’t require a developer
+ Easy-to-use admin
+ POS option available
+ Hosting included
+ Many add-ons available
+ Provides well-documented APIs for customisations
- Closed source, not fully customisable
- Adding ready-made features elevates expenses fast

I would recommend Shopify for a business case where you want to just test your business idea before making large investments. It is also a great option for smaller businesses with tighter budgets if the usual store functionalities are enough and complex customisations are not on the roadmap.

Let data drive the decisions

Making technology decisions is a balancing act between the different trade-offs. Go with a solution that answers best to your customers’ needs and has enough flexibility for you to develop in the future. Face the fact that your store will never be ready, as the feedback and data you get from your customers should constantly drive the development of your shop forward.

As long as your focus is on the customer needs and you base the future decisions on actual customer data & input, you should be moving towards the right direction regardless of the technical solution in the background.

I highly recommend mapping your customers' journeys before starting the webstore development regardless of which platform you choose to go with. In our own ecommerce projects we use our internationally acclaimed customer journey map template, which you can download below. 

 

Download free Customer Journey Map template


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