in Development

The Problem With Ecommerce

I just spoke with someone who is wanting to set up an ecommerce store to sell just 12 products online. She’s smart in that unlike most prospects she is actually reviewing the different ecommerce engines available on the market first, and then looking for a development shop to build the site based on her choice.

I find it surprising how often people and companies want to get down and dirty and customize an ecommerce engine to make it work for them. Not simple customizations like look and feel, but major things that change the core system in a deep way.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the last year and I told the lady that I don’t recommend it for off the shelf ecommerce products. One reason: because two years down the line when you want to upgrade to the latest version of the software the upgrade process will be nearly impossible. Or if it is, it will be expensive because you have to do your changes again.

Reasoning:

#1: The upgrade process will overwrite any changes you made to the source code.

#2: If you want to upgrade the software, you’ll have to re-do all of your “modifications” which is expensive.

#3: No guarantees that the original developer will be available. Knowledge will be lost.

#4: Something is guaranteed to break somewhere or sometime… and it will be difficult to track down.

So with that said, let me make some hypothetical comparisons:

#1: Lady walks into a Hummer dealership and says “this H2 is really great except I’d like it to be 5 inches longer and can you put leather on the floors, too? …oh, and here’s my eye prescription. I’d like my windshield to be perfect for me.” Nobody ever does this.

#2: Businessman buys QuickBooks for his small business accounting and realizes it doesn’t do everything he wants. After using the software for a while he decides “I want to get this customized so it’s just right for me.” Nobody ever does this.

#3: Guy walks into Burger King and says “I’d like a Whopper without the lettuce and tomato and hold the mayo.” Oh wait, people already do this.

Too many people think it’s a piece of cake to customize ecommerce engines and don’t think about the long term implications.

So I told her that my recommendation is to find the ecommerce engine that fits 90% or more of her requirements and then change her online business model so it works with the ecommerce engine of question.

She thought I was nuts.

She said she was looking at ProductCart, X-Cart, Storefront, and a few others. Has anybody used Storefront before? It looks pretty good. It’s built using .NET and appears to be geared to the same audience as ProductCart. I know how bad X-Cart is, and I told her so.

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  1. yeah we get that all the time ” i want to use actinic” then they complain because they ASSUME it will do this and that (we have a massive problem with Andy Thorntons 40,000 products in an actinic system – they complained as we said heres your money back – for £2k what do they expect)

  2. Hi Mark, I’m glad to see at lease one person can relate to what I’m saying. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.

    One of my upcoming articles will be about building web applications and my experience about those areas of web business. I’m planning to also touch on the difficulty of finding good developers and what I look for when hiring developers. Such is life.

  3. my advice would be custom pages linked to paypal or some other such engine. Installing a whole shopping cart for just twelve items is possibly overkill.