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Why an ecommerce solution is more than just a shopping cart

Drupal Commerce - an integrated CMS and shopping cart

If you're looking to build an online store, you need to know that deploying a shopping cart platform such as Magento or Prestashop is only half the story. The other half of the story is the content management system you pair the shopping cart with and - more importantly - the integration of the two platforms so your customers have a seamless journey from landing on your site to placing an order. In this post I explain why I'd never recommend a solution like this, and why an integrated platform such as Drupal + Drupal Commerce are a far more compelling proposition.

Some colleagues and I recently worked on a proposal to build an ecommerce solution for a prospective customer in the US.

The brief was that they wanted a WordPress site plus a standalone shopping cart platform (they mentioned Magento or Prestashop, but they were open to suggestions). They expected the finished solution to integrate the shopping cart with WordPress so that the administration of both sites and, more importantly, the customer journey from landing on the website through to purchasing a product from the online store would be seamless.

They were set on having a WordPress site as the base platform. We checked if they'd be open to the idea of implementing an integrated platform consisting of Drupal and Drupal Commerce. Their answer suggested the door to that option was closed but not locked. So we proceeded to submit our bid based on Drupal, in which we explained carefully why an solution based on Drupal was better than trying to glue a separate CMS (WordPress) and Shopping Cart together.

Why you need an integrated ecommerce platform

 There are a number of reasons why we recommended an integrated platform as the best way to meet their needs.

  • You need to be able to create marketing and blog content on the site.
    • Content marketing is the only sustainable way to grow your traffic in the medium-long term.
    • This means you need the freedom to create extra content outside the product catalogue of the site.
    • Most shopping cart platforms simply don't give you that option, or charge you extra for it.
  • A better customer experience mean more sales.
    • Trying to integrate two separate platforms together and ensure a seamless customer journey was like asking Frankenstein to dance a ballet. It might happen, but it won't look pretty, and it won't convert as many visitors to customers as a single integrated platform.
    • Creating an integrated mobile version of the site adds a magnitude of difficulty to this integration.
  • A single platform means the budget gets spent on things that matter.
    • The cost of integrating two separate platforms together adds little value to the effectiveness of the finished solution at converting visitors to customers.
    • This customer wanted to stay with WordPress for the main website content, since their team was already familiar with it. That seemed like the tail wagging the dog to us.
  • Managing content on one platform and products on another is inefficient.
    • Your team needs to learn two systems, and deal with the foibles of both.
    • What happens when you want to build a landing page that includes content from WordPress and a product from Magento? Sounds like duplication of effort to us.
  • Optimising the sales conversion rate is a whole lot harder.
    • SEO (search engine optimisation), CRO (conversion rate optimisation) and website analytics are much easier to control because you only have to work with one system, not two.
    • Optimizing the customer journey is much easier because it’s all one journey, not two journeys with a bridge between them.
    • Not only that, but your team needs to be familiar with the optimisation of two platforms - not just one.
  • Creating an online community consisting of both customers and non-customers is really hard.
    • Not all online businesses want to do this, but this customer did.

Why we recommended Drupal plus Drupal Commerce as the best integrated solution

We considered a number of ways to deliver a fully-integrated solution to meet this customer's requirements.

  • We thought about WordPress plus one of the integrated shopping cart modules that have been developed especially for WordPress. Unfortunately, those shopping carts were limited in their capabilities and - more importantly - flexibility to make changes to how they functioned. This flexibility was implied by the client's brief.
  • We considered Magento and its integrated content management system. Problem is - that version of Magento requires an annual license of more than US$15,000, and the license included a lot of features that the client wouldn't need.

In the end, we decided that Drupal plus Drupal Commerce was a better solution than either of these options - and light years ahead of the Frankenstein solution of integrating two completely separate platforms. Here's why:

  • Drupal and Drupal Commerce are integrated at the very deepest level. That means that both customers and site administrators have a completely seamless experience.
  • Because this integration is so tight, you're not paying for extra development to make the two platforms work together.
  • Drupal Commerce is an ecommerce framework, not just a shopping cart. All the standard functionality you'd expect from an ecommerce platform is available through a series of contributed modules (all of which are free, by the way), but you can also extend it easily to add just about any functionality you might want.
  • Drupal Commerce's order management tools are part of the same administration toolset found in the CMS, so you can easily view, manage and update orders on the website, and send update notifications via the website (so that the correspondence relating to the order is all kept in one place).
  • Drupal does a really good job of allowing you to create a responsive version of the site for smartphones and tablets.
  • Drupal is one of the best platforms around for building an online community site. And when a user account is created for a new customer, that user account can be used for your online community as well, rather than having to create a second user account in the contennt management system where the online community is hosted.
  • Last, but not least, Drupal offers two very special modules that allow you to extend its capabilities in ways that are not possible in WordPress, Magento or Prestashop.
    • Views gives you the flexibilty to create custom displays of any content that you want. This includes products on the front end, and order management on the back end.
    • Rules lets you configure your website to react to almost anything a visitor or customer does, and to trigger an action or workflow based on that. Examples include automatically sending a follow-up email to a customer who abandoned their card during checkout, or creating complex shipping rules to handle any scenario.

Conclusion

As a rule, I try to avoid discussions with customers where I recommend a particular technology for technology's sake. However, in the case of ecommerce and online stores, I believe strongly that choosing the wrong technology will tie one or both hands behind your back. Not only that, but it's very easy to find yourself being talked into a solution that is less than optimal.

In the customer example I descibed earlier in this post, we decided that we would not submit a bid if the customer was insistent on using WordPress as the basis for their new online store. We simply didn't want to get involved in a project where the integration with a separate shopping cart platform simply wouldn't deliver what the customer wanted - or needed.

If you are planning an ecommerce website, then give us a call on +64 7 281 1041, or email us via our contact form. We're passionate about designing and develping ecommerce solutions that deliver real results. We provide advice tailored to your specific needs to help you make the right decisions when developing your online store. And the first hour you spend with us is free!