Why the ecommerce market is open to open source more than ever
Hint: Headless, API first, modular, integration.
The landscape of ecommerce is ever-changing and influential brands and services are constantly innovating on the bleeding edge of ecommerce technology. To be at the forefront of ecommerce technology means that the software running your business needs to be agile and modular. If a better way to do something comes along, you need to be able to pivot and go. So how do you actually do that? How can your ecommerce store adapt to change quickly? Well, it starts with your platform and how well it supports change.
Turnkey solutions don’t cut it
A turnkey ecommerce platform is a self-contained SaaS (software as a service) solution that is fully managed by the provider. Typically, all you need to do is start a paid account and add your products. Customizations and store management are quite easy to do and the whole experience is user-friendly. Some examples of this type of platform are Shopify, Volusion, SquareSpace and Wix.
While seemingly good at first, what you can do beyond the platform is very limited. You’ll have a number of pre-made integrations that you can use to connect to other services, but you are restricted by the platform and not free to innovate on your own. We call this vendor lock. If the CRM, ERP or other services that you use, or want to use, don’t have a pre-built integration, you’re hooped.
Open source platforms can be a better solution
At its very core, open source is open software. This means that the code is freely available to use and modify. Typically, this is a solution that requires IT governance and so you will need to be technically hands-on with an internal development team or an outsourced development provider (or a mix of both). However, this is what you need if you want full control over your platform and what it connects to. These platforms are modular and able to integrate freely with other services through APIs (application programming interfaces).
A recent report provided to us by Gartner, a leading global research company, sheds some light on the state of open source in the marketplace. Traditionally, companies turn to open source because of cost savings, flexibility, and innovation, with cost savings being the primary reason. In the past, you would see open source software creep into the marketplace to provide a “good enough” solution to expensive proprietary software only available from the mega-vendors of the world (IBM, Oracle, SAP, Microsoft, etc.). Open source was therefore thought of as a lagging indicator of market maturity.
However, now more than ever we are seeing innovation as being the dominant reason for companies to choose open source solutions. This shift, driven by dynamics of collaborative computing and the “internet economy”, is showing open source competing directly with proprietary efforts right from the outset, even preceding them. In modern web development, it’s hard to find any paid SaaS solutions that don’t have an open source counterpart. This is a trend that will continue for the foreseeable future because open source is an enabler of next-generation technology.
Getting back to open source ecommerce platforms, these platforms are no different from other open source solutions in that they have little to no cost to use and provide the flexibility and innovative environment now in-demand in the marketplace. These platforms are a perfect example of “the shift” explained in the last paragraph. So, instead of paying licencing fees, you can redirect that expense into your own development, which can be very beneficial. You can also be sure that next-generation technology is working in parallel with your platform (more on that below). When looking at open source ecommerce platforms, some examples of platforms you will find are Drupal Commerce, Magento, PrestaShop and WooCommerce.
Headless, decoupled, API first
By now you’re probably starting to understand many of the advantages to open source for ecommerce, but let’s take it a step further. With the rapid adoption of next-generation technology taking place, there is a lot of discussion that the next big thing in ecommerce is to be headless (or decoupled). In fact, it’s already happening.
So what does this mean? It means that you use a content platform as the backend for managing your ecommerce data, then connect it to a frontend (website, app, etc.), and finally integrate with best-of-breed services via APIs for everything else (accounting, CRM, analytics, etc.). This is a completely modular, API-first approach where you are no longer relying on a single solution, but instead take advantage of the best options available, whether SaaS or open source and connect them all together via APIs.
But it all starts with your content repository, the backend system that you want to use to manage your data. Many open source ecommerce platforms mentioned, including Drupal Commerce, are capable of running headless and can serve as your backend. Using Drupal Commerce again as an example, the community-based steering committees have outlined API-first as one of their primary strategic initiatives. The move towards headless next-generation open source ecommerce is well underway, and now is a great time to become an adopter.
Open Source has its advantages
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