Proven eCommerce Platform vs. Ground-Up Solution

It still surprises me that in our current technology environment we see companies looking at developing 100% custom, ground-up eCommerce platforms for use within their own business.  This isn’t the most common case we come across, but we have seen 3 like this in the last 8 months, which is still 3 too many based on their requirements.

With the vast number of eCommerce Platforms (there are at least 300+) on the market, at various price points and feature sets, there really is no need to be starting your eCommerce business from 0% complete.  All of these platforms have unique value propositions depending on your business requirements.  If you’re looking for a list of these platforms, Practical eCommerce has been doing a Cart of the Week series for quite some time and covers many of these platforms.

If you find yourself evaluating eCommerce Platforms, and one of the options you or your management team is evaluating is a proposed 100% custom build, then I strongly suggest you ask yourself the following questions:

Cost vs. Features – What am I really getting that already established, proven platforms do not give me?

This one is pretty big.  I haven’t come across a requirements document / RFP yet that is listing features we haven’t seen before or sounds like it simply can’t be added to an existing platform.  Every niche has its quirks, but they are very rarely a good reason to build a 100% custom solution. 

The other thought that should come to mind here is about the # of features you’re getting for your money.  Sure, quantity does not equal quality, but you can almost guarantee that the eCommerce site you start with is not what you stick with.  You will always want to grow and add features based on customer and market demand, so why not start with a platform that has several additional features already baked in and ready to be deployed?

Maintenance – What happens if the company or person building my 100% custom solution is no longer available to maintain it?

This question should be enough to scare any sane owner/executive/manager.  Often referred to as the “hit by a bus question”.

Sure, web development languages are pretty well known and you can always find another programmer who knows PHP or ASP.NET, but you’re banking on your original developer documenting their solution so well that the “ramp time” of replacement developer is minimized.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a C# project/library that I can barely decipher, even though it’s in a language I’m very familiar with. 

Working with proven, established platforms that have strong development communities will ensure that you can always find someone who is familiar with at least the core functionality of your eCommerce store.  This will make fixing critical problems and performing upgrades much less stressful and far more cost effective. 

In other words, imagine being handed a 500 page book to read in your native language (i.e. English) but all the paragraphs and pages are shuffled around.  I imagine that book would take you an order of magnitude longer to read than one which is in an order you are familiar with.

If you think your in house developer will never leave, or that the company building the solution for you will never not be around, think again.  We’re currently working with a sizeable eCommerce operation that had their lead developer get critically ill.  It’s an extremely sad situation, but life (and business) sometimes works out this way.  Protect yourself!