Practical Ecommerce

Which Comes First, the Ecommerce Platform or the Developer?

Your ecommerce business needs a new platform and a developer — but in what order?

An ecommerce platform is the software your business will use to conduct online transactions and a developer is the person who will set up or customize that software.

Odds are good that you weren’t really confused about your software and your developer, but you might not be sure about which one comes first. In fact, you might not even know why it matters.

When changing ecommerce platforms, a trusted advisor-developer can help research choices.

When changing ecommerce platforms, a trusted advisor-developer can help research choices.

When the Developer Comes First

Let’s imagine for a moment that you select the developer first.

You interview a bunch of software development firms, and you pick the one who gave the best presentation, or the one with the nicest looking portfolio, or the one closest to your office, or maybe the one with the cheapest quote.

Developers are experts in writing code and integrating software, but they are often specialized. This developer will, most likely, have experience with one or, perhaps, two different platforms at most.

If you picked a developer experienced with Drupal, you’re probably going to get a Drupal Commerce website.

Drupal Commerce is certainly not the worst ecommerce platform, but, for many businesses, it is also not the best.

Your ecommerce company might have been much better suited for a static site, a Shopify store, or even Salesforce Commerce Cloud implementation. But your developer isn’t familiar with these, so you might not even know they were available.

Your choice of developer limited your platform options, and your platform is going to have a significant impact on your business, from marketing to order fulfillment.

Let’s hope you haven’t gotten the cart before the horse.

When the Platform Comes First

When you start with the platform, you do extensive research.

You read articles, white papers, and case studies. You watch YouTube videos and spend time in webinars or seminars. You endure hours of demos.

You seek to understand available features and what trade-offs or side effects each might cause. Here are a few examples.

  • You want a fast site, so ask about static versus dynamic database selection, and caching.
  • You want an accessible site, so you understand how much control you have over markup and design.
  • Your site should integrate with other systems, so you ask about APIs, extensibility, and databases.
  • You need a secure platform, so you check on PCI compliance, tokenization, payment gateway integration, and common attack vectors.

When you pick a platform that you believe fits your needs, you find a “development partner” who builds, integrates, and customizes it for your business.

You’ll have invested a lot more effort in the beginning of the process, but if you chose wisely, your business should end up with an ecommerce site that works better for your situation.

But there’s one problem. What if you don’t have a clue about technology, platforms, or software integration?

Are you prepared to compare the benefits of a NoSQL database to a relational database? What are the relative differences between Algolia or Twiggle? Do you know a LAMP stack from a MEAN stack or a MERN stack from a JAM stack? What about application programming interfaces — APIs? Should you focus on a particular programming language? Does any of that matter?

It sure would be nice if you have an experienced consultant or developer to help you decide.

Trust

There is a real sense in which you need both an understanding of available platforms and options at the same time that you need a developer’s insights and experience. The solution to this dilemma is trust.

When it is time for your ecommerce business to develop a new website, your company is going to have to trust someone or a small group of someones to help you make the right choices for your situation.

This will mean consulting with experts inside and out of your company and learning a lot about your options.

A mid-market or enterprise retailer may have the advantage of an in-house development team that thoroughly understands your company’s systems, but may want an outside consultant familiar with the many and various ecommerce offerings.

A small ecommerce operation may need to start with a trusted developer to help explain choices or see first hand how the company operates, but should look at several platform options.

If you own the business or manage ecommerce, you will want to be involved at each step in the process, trusting your advisors but also learning the potential limitations of the platforms you’re considering and the developers you’re interviewing.

Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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  1. Maxim July 31, 2017 Reply

    As part of a of team working on the Actonlytics eCommerce platform, I do find some of Armando’s ideas very interesting.

    Very good article!

    Keep it up.

  2. Tom Bowen July 31, 2017 Reply

    Great post (as always) Armando. In my world of Small and Medium business clients, I see by far the Developer being chosen first, mainly because the business owner does not have the time to research different platforms, or thinks he/she cannot understand the technical stuff. Only problem I’ve seen with this route is that many times (most of the time?) they find a developer who is mostly just a good salesman. What the developer needs to be really is a consultant–someone who can look out for the client’s best interest, and direct them to the best platform. If the best platform is not a good fit for that developer, it’s in the best interests of both that the developer recommend someone who does fit that platform better. This was our philosophy when we used to do development work, but I don’t see it very often anymore.

  3. Mike August 3, 2017 Reply

    Great article, Armando. I agree that trust and seamless collaboration are key here. From a technical point of view, there’s also the third path when researching ecommerce solutions – API-first platforms. Sometimes they save enormous engineering time and providing business value from the first day. At the same time, they’re super flexible and they allow to adapt ecommerce process implementation according to the business. Finally, they are usually programming language-agnostic so you can use the technology your trusted developer has already mastered. This is a series of posts on how to build an ecommerce application using API-first tools https://www.voucherify.io/blog/2017/5/12/building-an-online-marketplace-from-scratch-introduction Hope you’ll find it interesting.