Drupal Commerce basics: Why you need a lot more than out-of-the-box functionality
When talking with prospective clients about building an ecommerce solution for their business, there’s a big process that involves romancing, schmoozing and everything in between.
After the first few dates, if all goes well, you may decide it’s time to take the relationship in a more seriously committed direction. It’s time to talk details. If your new customer is a first-time Drupal user, they often tell you that all their company needs are “basic” or “out-of-the-box functionality” when it comes to their ecommerce experience.
As a salesperson I hear this and think, ya right.
There’s nothing standard about your request.
So, why do customers have a skewed vision of what a website platform can do by default?
Well, we use websites every day – nearly every minute of every day. What websites do we frequent the most? Google, Facebook and Amazon spring to mind. What size is the development team behind each of those companies? What’s the CEO’s annual salary? What is a single share worth? They have the manpower and capital to make your online experience so seamless, so elegant and so intuitive that you expect, ney, you demand that all of your online experiences be so simple and rich and come at no cost.
Most ecommerce platform providers will promise you parity with the big three, but that simply is not the case.
Why Drupal is your best bet
Here is the truth about the Drupal community and the team that powers the platform. We are all just volunteers serving the greater good in some respect. While the community size is 1.3 million strong, everyone is working in a silo to develop “what they need next”. And what they need next isn’t what you are likely looking for. This simple truth changes what out-of-the-box means, and that’s ok.
Out-of-the-box is best described as the ultimate adaptive base. What makes our out-of-the-box experience second to none?
- It’s secure – Estimates show that approximately 100,000+ users are actively contributing to Drupal and Drupal modules. That’s a lot of eyes on the tool you’re relying on.
- It’s adaptive – The tool isn’t locked down, it’s not prescribed and it’s not hindered by digital roadmaps dictated by directors. It’s driven by the community and thus, can be turned into anything you need at the inception of your build or years into the future.
- It’s basic – That means we’ve focused energy on making the most important parts of an ecommerce framework highly functional, secure, performant and intuitive. We didn’t spread the skills and code across “a bunch of small parts to make more features”. We focused on making the core of the tool indestructible and scalable. Does that make you nervous? Here’s what “basic” means in Drupal Commerce.
Drupal Commerce is focused on rock-solid security. You’re dealing with financial transactions online and this is our first concern.
Secondly, we think about how it will perform and scale once we combine thousands of products, images and users all into the site hitting the same server and the same database. It can be shiny, but it's useless if it doesn’t run.
Lastly with Drupal Commerce, we’ve focused on the core features that deal with products, the search, and the catalogue. In Drupal Commerce, all three of those elements are actually generated from a single brain that allows for a faceted search, an intuitive and changeable catalogue structure and rich product pages. If you have the data, we can show it, sort it, shop it, and organize it.
Circling back to the beginning: You think you just need the standard, out-of-the-box version of Drupal Commerce. It’s very feature-rich and it comes with a price tag that makes you believe it will perform every task custom to your business without further investment. No. This is just plain wrong.
The power of open-source freedom
Drupal Commerce is open source; It is free to use and available for download by anyone. When we say free to use, we mean free to customize; a tiny percentage of customers want to keep it as-is once they get their hands on it. To further modify, adapt, integrate, and customize it is where agencies like Acro Media come in to serve clients.
Your physical business operations can be paired with the website to become automated. Your stock and inventory between your site, your Point-Of-Sale, and your Amazon feed can be synced in real-time. These are very real outcomes of Drupal Commerce sites; they become the brain of your business. There are no monthly subscription fees with Drupal, so your costs come in upfront - you pay to customize your system to match your operational needs and once those expenses are out of the way, the hot rod is yours to keep.
When researching a new platform and reading the endless checklists of features they offer, you will find yourself thinking “this is all I need.” I encourage you to read on. No matter how feature-rich the base tool appears to be, your business will need a tweak, an edit, an addition or a change. And that’s okay. It’s about selecting a platform framework that is built for these modifications and can grow with you. How do you ensure you’re making an informed choice? Ask to see it in action.
Why you need to see the demo in action
Acro Media has built a very detailed demo site showing you what you get “out-of-the-box” with Drupal Commerce 2. What you see is what you get. Is a key element missing for how you run your business in this demo? Well, that’s when you’re talking about custom modules and programming.
Remember to ask to see the backend too. While the front end of a site is what your customer experiences, what will your team be working on each day? How will you admin orders and list products? Get a tour behind the curtain and make sure you’re satisfied with the default functions for your in-house team as well.
How do you research and prepare yourself to and talk to potential platform vendors? You need to know what’s unique about your business from an operational standpoint. Attend these meetings armed with these details listed below, and ask at each step - is this a standard default feature or would it require custom development? Keep in mind, custom development is not a bad answer - matching the software to your business is the ultimate in flexibility and streamlined operations.
Questions to ask potential vendors:
- Is there a maximum number of products your platform can handle by default?
- How are stock and inventory tracked? Can this be changed, tied to my POS, or replaced if needed?
- Does the platform connect to any of the following?
- Point of Sale
- Shipping couriers
- Fulfillment centers
- Can I drop, ship, and print labels?
- What forms of payment will I be able to take?
- Credit card
- Gift Cards
- Purchase orders/Invoices
- Apple Pay/Google Wallet
- How are taxes calculated?
- Who controls site admin permissions and user roles?
A few basic questions such as these will help you to understand what “standard” means between platforms and allow you to stack the needs up against your business model.
What really needs to change?
A thought to leave you with. When selecting a platform to move your ecommerce business to, ask yourself: Will the platform match my business operations, or do I need to change how we operate to match the new website?
It should be a give and take; replacing parts of your operations due to platform constraints should only happen in a positive fashion. If it’s a step backwards, introduces manual labour, throws out your stock and inventory or causes additional steps and tracking, move along. Ask to see a demo of what you’d be getting yourself into, and find out what it costs to modify it to match your needs.
Happy platform hunting and remember: There’s nothing standard about your request, as it’s unique to your business. And that’s okay.