Practical eCommerce counts over 300 different shopping cart systems. In this weekly “Cart of the Week” feature, we profile a specific cart, asking the cart’s owners and users about its strengths and weaknesses.
Here we profile the ASP.NET eCommerce Framework (ECF) by Mediachase. The Los Angeles-based company offers an application platform with available source code for merchants and developers. We asked Mediachase representative Peter Yeung to explain the benefits of his company’s cart. We then asked Competitive Computing Practice Manager Jeff Pratt, whose company uses the platform to develop ecommerce solutions for clients, for his evaluation.
PeC: Please provide some general background on the cart.
Yeung: “Our product is less of a cart and more of a strategic commerce platform for launching multiple kinds of commerce solutions that require different kinds of integration needs. The current version is 5.0, or eCommerce Framework Generation 5. ECF G5 provides for comprehensive support of the development life cycle from planning through deployment. Operations and licensing are structured around providing our customers with the source code license for any number of developers within an organization and deployment licensing for production instances.”
“In general, there are two types of organizations that purchase and benefit from the ECF. The first are service companies that provide end-to-end solutions for end customers and organizations. These companies purchase the ECF to provide a common base of code to solve different kinds of commerce challenges for multiple clients. The second type of customer is end customers with IT organizations who want to be able to fully control and differentiate their commerce solution based on their own unique needs, existing infrastructures and third party products they wish to add to their infrastructure.”
PeC: What are the cart’s biggest strengths?
Yeung: “The biggest strength of the ECF is that it has been designed to support cross-discipline business and technology teams with a goal of establishing a scalable commerce infrastructure that can be adapted over an extended lifetime without limitations.”
“This is accomplished through a loosely coupled best practices and .NET architecture that can be unified or separated based on the manner in which you need or want to deploy your solution. For example, you can use the ECF in its entirety as a base for running and operating a complete multi-site, multi-language business-to-consumer store for smaller mid-market businesses, or you can be an enterprise that is looking for a better order management or shopping cart and simply use those aspects of the ECF.”
“From a shopping cart perspective we offer fast Lucene-based searching, filtering and narrowing. It is implemented in such a way that you can choose to easily replace it with other approaches, custom code or third party products like Netopia, Coveo or Mercado.”
PeC: What are some of its weaknesses?
Yeung: “Our current weaknesses is our ability to communicate and explain the nature of the ECF and to better explain the value of the architecture and philosophy of the product. Because we have chosen the philosophy of enabling the customer to have more control, we have much more work to do to simplify some aspects of the product and to improve the detailed documentation and example situations where the end customer can more clearly visualize the value.”
“[Also,] we do not provide out of the box connectors or adapters to all of the systems that people ask us for. It is a heavy burden and we are starting to consider certain market-leading platforms as areas we want to do better at delivering more ready-to-go tools and samples.”
PeC: What plans to you have for future cart development?
Yeung: “We are currently focusing our efforts on improving four major areas of ECF to better serve the different kinds of resources who work on the implementation and operation of commerce solutions.”
“The first is improved content management and asset management advancements. We are investing in more choices and middleware for back office integration. We are really looking to offer a clearer integration context that uses a service bus or messaging middleware paradigm with connectors to some of the more requested platforms. We are also working on adding and enhancing features we have in areas like cloud computing and social networking/commerce, business intelligence and personalization. Finally, we continue to push our own technology base and core technologies. Our promotions engine is moving to a full-fledged expressions editor that will provide flexibility for merchandising and sales.”
PeC: How specifically would using eCommerce Framework improve a merchant’s business?
Yeung: “ECF specifically improves a merchant’s business through the inherit benefits of the framework itself and the assembly model it supports. A lot of people say they can integrate into other systems, ERPs [enterprise resource planning], legacy data system, CRMs [customer relationship management], and CMSs [content management system], but the honest truth is that ECF allows business to choose the best of business and operational software and pair it with the most flexible, extensible and scalable commerce solution available. If you need to change your ERP from a middle-tier to an enterprise-level solution, your ECF platform supports that adaptation with you. If you need to move your hosting into a cloud environment, your ECF platform supports that shift and grows with you. If you need a multi-site, multi-channel, multi-language, multi-currency solution, your ECF platform enables that for you from the ground up.”
PeC: Any other thoughts for our readers?
Yeung: “ECF is really designed for the merchants, organizations and integrators who look beyond a shopping cart to a more connected and re-usable platform to leverage and extend in the ways they need without compromise.”
A Customer’s View
Jeff Pratt has experience using Mediachase’s eCommerce Framework as practice manager for Competitive Computing (C2), a Vermont-based consulting and custom development firm. Here is Pratt’s evaluation of the platform.
PeC: What are Mediachase’s biggest strengths?
Pratt: “C2 views the strengths of Mediachase falling into three main areas. It is a well-architected .Net platform. In our experience, one size does not fit all, and custom work will always be required. Integration to back-end systems and other supporting applications is essential, and Mediachase has done an excellent job in designing a platform that facilitates this central role for our core ecommerce platform.”
“Mediachase also offers an accessible code base and inclusive business model. You just can’t beat having open access to all the code and the architect and design team should questions or issues arise during our development efforts.”
“Industry focus and a partner-development model that keeps the platform in-sync with current market demands for features and functionality. As with any technology driven effort these days, the only thing we know for sure is that our solutions will be outdated within months of deployment. Mediachase employs a platform code development model of constant improvement and updating to the core code base.”
PeC: What are some of its weaknesses?
Pratt: “We don’t really identify too many weaknesses in the Mediachase platform because Mediachase’s role in their business model is not to provide specific solutions but to support companies, like C2, in the accelerated development of solutions. Initial experiences had us wishing for more documentation and other reference solution providers, but both of those were in short supply since we were among the first partners to launch with ECF G5. Both areas have been significantly improved.”
PeC: How specifically would using Mediachase improve a merchant’s business?
Pratt: “Mediachase provides a base commerce platform that can be implemented in a number of different ways by their solution partners. In our case, the C2/Mediachase solution addresses the list of features and integration points of most industry-leading sites.”
“With many commerce platforms based on proprietary software and inaccessible code and platform architecture, retailers often have found themselves hostage to those development companies when it comes time to perform site enhancements, launch new sites, support new channels or otherwise extend the core platform. The C2 approach to the deployment of our Mediachase solutions embraces whatever level of in-house technical expertise they may have. Once the site is launched, it is very often an in-house .NET development staff that tweaks and enhances that core site.”
PeC: Do you plan to continue using Mediachase? Why or why not?
Pratt: “Yes. C2 has invested heavily in the relationship with Mediachase and our positioning of its ECF V5 platform within our go-forward commerce strategy. We relate well to the technical integrity of the ECF V5 platform and the open and honest Mediachase management.”
PeC: Any other thoughts on shopping carts for our readers?
Pratt: “We often encounter businesses looking to replace a platform because the performance, integration capacity or extendibility just aren’t there, even though a specific feature set was delivered. If you are serious about growing your online business, think beyond the list of features and consider those more strategic aspects of the on-going business relationship with your platform vendor. Consider the business model and market position of the commerce company you select, and be sure that you’re aligned for the longer term.”