Published on 04/05/17 by Mark West
There are some excellent open source eCommerce packages available to anyone looking to set-up their first shop online, Magento is probably the best known open source platform. For many retailers they work well at their primary job of enabling customers to transact and buy and also include many advanced features and functionality once only thought possible by having a tailor-made site built from scratch.
However, in this article I am going to set out what I feel are the clear advantages for selecting a custom-built ecommerce platform from a talented software agency like Remarkable Commerce.
Of course, the core service from my agency is to develop eCommerce platforms so you could accuse me of being biased. But I do genuinely believe that there are fundamental reasons why you should choose to have your own custom made platform developed by an agency such as mine. In a nutshell, they are significantly better in quality and sales effectiveness.
Which is best value – open source versus a tailor-made platform?
Any open source platform by its very nature has code that is entirely free to use or comes with a low monthly or annual fee. The main platform will usually have a selection of essential functionality as standard – product management, cart functionality, payment gateway integration and the administration area to operate the whole site. They also come with many available functionality addons on a fee-per-module basis or are included within a subscription. However some open source platforms charge you a per-transaction fee – so you pay them a small fee for every order you receive.
Without doubt, an open source ecommerce is likely to always cost less initially than a bespoke development. However, the long term cost should definitely be examined carefully. As your site grows so will costs. Your open source provider will likely charge for add-ons, extra hosting space, extra bandwidth and increased support. And, as I mentioned, some open source platforms charge you a per transaction fee – so you pay them a small fee for every order you receive.
One ecommerce provider I know charges a low setup and monthly fee, but then starts to ramp up costs as your site grows and you also have to pay a 2.5% transaction fee. On the surface this may look extremely cost effective at first, however taken over an 18 month period with increased functionality, hosting and transactional costs – this provider would be charging double that of a bespoke development if sales were to grow substantially.
In the medium to longer-term open source platforms can be expensive. Although as a site grows cost grows for both open source and bespoke, the cost of bespoke is much smaller. Size for size, the cost of a bespoke platform is probably always going to be smaller long term when you factor in additional charges. Importantly, bespoke costs can stay fixed as your sales increase. This is extra profit on your bottom line and extra return on investment. Clearly, if you take a three year view of your investment then bespoke platforms perform significantly better.
Not only is investment better but the value and flexibility of the site is much better. Most online retailers will agree with this point. A bespoke platform driving a successful online retail business with its own unique, tailor-made proprietary ecommerce facility will always be valued higher than a platform that cannot easily be customised. Loss of flexibility costs money and, importantly, it is a significant barrier to growth. Nothing more depressing to find that your open source platform was fine for sales up to £3m but will not cope with sales up to £6m!
Why is this? Open source platforms are designed to cope with most needs not your needs. By its very nature, open source code is replicated across thousands of other sites. If you reach its limits then you are stuck – could even be back to the drawing board. This is just not good business by any standards. Whereas with bespoke platforms and certainly at Remarkable Commerce, there are no limits – it just expands and adapts as you need it to. That is good business.
In summary, think carefully about open source vs bespoke platforms. A good bespoke solution will cost a little bit more in the short-term but it pays for itself many times over in the medium to longer-term. It is lower cost to run and provides much higher returns on investment. And, as I mentioned in my last point – you gain more flexibility to grow your business at a much lower cost. In my honest view, good bespoke beats good open source for any serious retailer wishing to grow their turnover beyond £1m per annum.
The big question – what happens if you want to change your agency?
Over the years I have heard many stories of clients who have been contracted to a bespoke web agency only to find that if things go sour with the relationship, they find they cannot leave. They are bound to stay with that agency for various reasons from legal contracts through to source code legalities. Even the client being bound to the agency as the code could not be easily worked on by any other party down the line. Imagine the frustration for the online retailer; the promises of sales performance turning out to be false, client and supplier arguing all the time, one side blaming the other and so on. But, you cannot move – that is bad business, isn’t it?
If you have an open source developed ecommerce platform this concern is not the same – for one thing the developing person or agency cannot claim they own the code as it is usually in the public domain. For example, for popular packages like Magento, there are hundreds of agencies throughout the UK who should be able to work on it should you wish to transfer the site to another company? So, in theory you would not be bound to remain with the same agency if the platform is open source.
Actually, this is not exactly true! Although platforms like Magento are open source developers can also tweak the code and custom-write their own additional functions. This can lead to rights over the source code and the same restrictions and pitfalls as mentioned above.
Whether you choose open source or bespoke, potentially you have major problems if things go wrong in the relationship. There must be another way.
At Remarkable Commerce we are very much focused on ethical and mutually happy relationships with our clients and we do not believe in long and complicated legal contracts. We choose simplicity and we choose pragmatism. Importantly, we plan on our clients being in a long-term partnership with us because they wish to be. In fact, most of our clients have been with us for many years even though the majority of our agreements last 12 months or less.
‘’But what if things go wrong?’’ you say. ‘’Well, they don’t’’ I say. If they were to go wrong then our ethical outlook dictates. All our clients are free to leave us without any impediments or time wasting. In fact, we make it easy for them in the quality of our coding. We write very clean, logical code and architecture so that if a client was to take a platform that we developed to another agency with the popular code and language skill base as we have, they would be able to continue to maintain and develop a site without any difficulty.
This is what we believe and this is what we do. If for any reason, a client is not happy with us then we assist their move without hindrance. Clearly, we would be disappointed. The fact of the matter though, is that our clients do not leave. We work very hard to keep them happy and do a very good job and ultimately bring in the outstanding results our clients demand.
Legacy internal system, which integrates best – open source or bespoke?
Most online retailers have existing technologies e.g. EPOS, stock control, software systems and so on. Some are rudimentary but a lot are pretty advanced. Integrating these legacy systems is an important issue and needs to be reviewed carefully before you make a decision to change.
An open source ecommerce facility will be good at performing fundamental functions. However, when it comes to adapting the open source platform to work with an advanced internal stock, accounts or logistics process things can become very difficult and costly. In many cases I have heard about – also very stressful and frustrating for all concerned.
As I mentioned early, platforms like Magento can have individually coded parts or elements can be written to run alongside the Magento site code. Frankly, this is not ideal and can take a long time to make any bespoke written features work as they should. More often than not, it doesn’t work well in the end and can produce a perpetual stream of bugs and support problems due to the central legacy system coding architecture not marrying up correctly with newly written functionality and code.
This is easy territory for me because this is where bespoke excels. Any bespoke interactions with internal database systems, custom APIs or advanced connections are all entirely possible and usually rapid to develop inside a bespoke ecommerce facility. At Remarkable Commerce we have developed our own platform entirely from the ground up and over the years we have written hundreds of thousands of lines of code that perform advanced routines and tasks that would be very difficult or virtually impossible to undertake by trying to adapt an open source platform.
Each bespoke ecommerce platform we create is done by hand from scratch by our focused client-dedicated design and development teams; we can tweak and customise everything to work exactly how a client needs it to. From advanced stock cover reports showing a view on stock in the warehouse, in all stores and available online versus the rate at which they are selling and our platform then automatically requests replenishment based on this company-wide intelligence. Our experience has taught us that functionality to this level cannot be achieved with an open source platform.
How about making rapid changes and updates – open source or bespoke?
Open source platforms have a user base of thousands to hundreds of thousands across a huge amount of active ecommerce websites. Consequently, there is a large and almost immediate active development community carrying out patches and updates all the time and when any bugs are found they can be rectified.
It is not be the same with bespoke ecommerce platforms. At Remarkable Commerce we do our very best to give open source providers a run for their money. I have a large team of on-site developers standing by to support our clients’ daily needs. Our clients receive a rapid development response so that any bugs and subsequent fixes and updates are almost always rectified within 24 to 48 hours (often much shorter) of being communicated. I have heard many stories in the past where a Magento developed site has bugs or errors reported to the developing company, only to find they then take days or weeks to effect a fix.
The true answer to this question doesn’t appear to be relevant to the platform as much as the efficiency and ability of the developer or agency that is supporting you. A very good bespoke platform developed over years of successful operations always tends to beat an open source platform. The golden rule is, choose your website agency with great care.
I want the best sales conversion – which is better, open source or bespoke?
Open source platforms have a wealth of user experience to draw upon and many of the latest systems contain some great innovations and are built in an attempt to always maximise the user experience and subsequent traffic to sales conversion rate.
That being said a bespoke ecommerce platform can be built around the exact target customers. Clearly, this is the most fundamental issue in marketing – knowing your customers, understanding their needs and meeting these needs with your products and services. As you know, people do not buy from people they do not trust. This is where bespoke ecommerce excels. Open source platforms are just standard code; bespoke platforms are developed to suit by astute developers who know their customers inside out.
Shopping trend research shows that different types of customers shop differently online. For example; a man searching for the latest television will go about this buying process in a completely different way to (say) a lady searching for the latest must have party dress. It’s having a fundamental understanding of the best way to appeal to different types of customers that gives bespoke platforms the edge.
At Remarkable Commerce we spend a lot of time researching and understanding the customer(s) before we even start to design and develop. We analyse the client’s products in detail, we separately research the latest research on customers and trends in the marketplace. We also research what the competitors are doing. Only when we understand the fundamentals do we start the development process. Our goal is always to design a shopping process that is ideal and specific to the customer – from a first visit on the site, through the site experience, through the buying process to checkout and completion. Of course, we constantly work with our clients on the site analytics to pinpoint all the tweaks and improvements that are needed to increase sales conversions – and these changes are deployed within hours, not weeks.
Which gives a better return on investment – open source or bespoke?
I discussed this earlier on. In the medium to longer-term bespoke always wins hands down. There are other issues that build on this view. Imagine I ask the question, ‘’Does a poor bespoke platform deliver better return on investment than a good open source platform?’’ The answer is NO. The truth of the matter is it is the ecommerce website agency working very closely with the client that delivers outstanding sales and returns on investment. The bespoke platform is solely the means to achieve this.
At Remarkable Commerce we focus solely on developing ecommerce platforms that deliver results for our clients. Those results can be on several levels: maximum user time and process efficiency, the application of rapid changes to the front-end or back-office systems, ease of use of the administration and processes and how easy are they to use across large teams, flexibility in connecting with multiple channels and processes. All of these are examples of results that build into a pyramid of results. All these are essential and all are important. Get the pyramid right and then you can focus on the sole goal – increasing sales.
This is where Remarkable Commerce wins. We build websites that sell products – this is our sole goal and everything we do is focused on achieving outstanding sales and returns on investment. This is what our client CEO’s want and this is what we deliver – day in and day out, across all our clients’ businesses.
Our ability to consistently deliver outstanding results is not magic or a fluke. It has come about by over 15 years of building our bespoke ecommerce technology and strategy. And, it has come about by over a hundred combined years of analysts, designers and developers working on bespoke ecommerce websites that sell. It’s a vast experience and a very valuable asset that it is at the disposal of our clients. Without doubt, in my sincerely held view, a Remarkable Commerce bespoke ecommerce website will always outsell an open source platform – whoever the agency providing this.
In summary, the clear winner to me will always be to invest in a long-term bespoke ecommerce platform, developed by an agency with a long standing track record of delivering success. We at Remarkable Commerce are such an agency. But, you would expect me to say that, wouldn’t you!
A bespoke platform may not be the cheapest option, certainly initially, but it will be far more valuable to your business once complete. You shouldn’t be tied into any complex legal or code restrictions and should feel completely relaxed that your agency provider has a partnership with you for the long term, but you are under no strong commitment should you wish to exit the relationship at some point.
Important as these points are, the sole purpose is to deliver outstanding sales results and deliver on promises. These build customer loyalty, brand equity, increased profits. Taken together, these mean great returns on investment.
If you want to discuss this article further or want to know more about my business then email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be happy to assist.