Management & Finance

Interview: Ruby on Rails Creator on the State of Ecommerce

David Heinemeier Hansson created the Ruby on Rails software framework. He’s also a partner in 37signals, producers of the popular Basecamp suite of online collaboration tools. In this interview, Heinemeier Hansson discusses the state of ecommerce.

PeC: What do you think of the state of ecommerce and what do you think of most ecommerce sites that you see out there?

DHH: I think that things are a lot better than they used to be. I buy pretty much everything I can online and, sure, a fair amount of that is done through major vendors or merchants such as Amazon, Zappos, and so on.

I generally find that most ecommerce sites are just a lot better than they used to be. I see that the trends coming up from sites such as, that makes it really easy for people who aren’t necessarily the greatest programmers in the world to put up a very convincing shop, is helping things even further. Just as Ruby on Rails has standardized some technical paradigms, sites such as are doing a great deal to standardize ecommerce shops.

At the same time, I am an ecommerce vendor in the sense of selling Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack and the other applications we have. I’m certainly finding that there is a change from when we launched Basecamp four years ago and until today.

It wasn’t that long ago where you still had arguments with customers about “Hey can I put in my credit card” or whatever. Today that’s just a non-issue. We don’t get any support requests saying “Oh I don’t trust you . . . approving my credit card” at all, so it definitely seems like the state of things has moved forward in a very positive way.

PeC: Do you have a favorite ecommerce site?

DHH: I like Zappos a lot and it’s not so much because of the site itself but because of the organization and the incredible emphasis they place on customer service. One of the great ecommerce experiences I have had over the past year or so was ordering my first pair of shoes from Zappos and checking normal delivery, and getting an email two hours later saying, “We’ve upgraded your order to next day [delivery], you’ll have it in the morning.”

I almost didn’t believe it. I made that order at 8 o’clock in the evening and sure enough at 8 o’clock in the morning I had the shoes I ordered. I found that pretty incredible, when a site and an organization just go to the extra length to make sure that a customer is really happy even for things that they didn’t explicitly ask for. So I love that [Zappos] for shopping shoes.

But I have also found that there are actually a ton of shops that sell through Amazon but are not Amazon themselves. Like clothing stores and so forth that I’m discovering that way too and [I’m] really enjoying. Then, of course, I’m also, as I’ve mentioned quite a few times already, a big fan of and the ecommerce sites they are hosting on that platform. They are just really pretty.

One of the things about home rolled ecommerce sites is that something they’re not… they just don’t look that great. I mean you can still do very well even though you don’t look that great, but it’s just nice to see the marriage of superior web design with ecommerce shops.

Kerry Murdock

Kerry Murdock

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