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Is an Open Source Platform Right for Your Ecommerce Business?

Posted on May 21, 2015 by Jenna Compton

About The Author

Jenna is the Director of Marketing at Blue Stout, a digital production agency that builds custom commerce applications, like ecommerce shops and interactive mobile apps, for clients ranging from startups to billion-dollar public companies. Jenna provides regular contributions to the blog, and when she’s not reading about business, she can be found running or drinking lots of coffee (never at the same time).

Ready to launch your online retail store? Choosing the right platform for your ecommerce business can be a challenge, especially with all of the different open source and full-service options available.

Larger businesses need to be equipped with more features and professional support, while smaller businesses may be looking for a lower-cost option that will allow them to manage their customers and products in an easier way.

Here are the pros and cons of some of the most popular open source and full-service ecommerce platforms used today to help you decide which platform fits your company at this stage of your business development.

Open Source Pros/Cons

Pros: free, customizable and manageable for small startup businesses

Cons: costly add-ons, less technical support, and too basic for businesses growing quickly.

Open Source Solution: Spree

Spree Commerce is an open source option for those who are interested in a self-hosted solution that’s built on Ruby on Rails. Known for its speed, Ruby on Rails was used to build over 200,000 websites, including big names like Basecamp and Groupon. Shopify’s developer, Sean Schofield, developed Spree as the shopping cart open source alternative. Although you’ll need to download extra apps in order to get more out of Spree, it still offers many free options.

As soon as you have access to the platform you can download discount code apps, make use of special offer and gift card capabilities, try selling on Facebook, and take advantage of more immediate features. Due to its fully customizable nature, it will take you time to learn how to use Spree, as the initial setup is not as simple as most Enterprise solutions. So even though you may have a slight learning curve in using it, Spree Commerce is a platform we highly recommend here at Blue Stout and have worked with it on multiple ecommerce designs.

Still Undecided?

If you’re still not sure if open source is the best choice for you, read more about the pros/cons of fully-hosted enterprise solutions in my post here on the Blue Stout blog.

Spree Commerce vs. Magento

Posted on May 20, 2015 by Fareed Dudhia

About the Author

Fareed Dudhia is a developer for Spree Commerce Certified Partner, Made. Made is a leading UK software services provider. The team works with businesses to craft software that delivers results; from ecommerce stores and CMS-driven websites, to enterprise karaoke platforms.

There has been so much written about how Spree stacks up against Magento over the last few years that it’d be easy to dismiss another article out of hand.

They’re great to contrast, as they’re both open-source ecommerce platforms. I’ve worked professionally with both, and I can identify with both sides of the argument. The Spree folks say that Spree can do everything Magento can, and do it in 1/200th the amount of code (their cores are 45k vs 8.2m lines of code respectively). The Magento folks say that Spree is new and relatively untested and, as such, is only really good for smaller businesses that won’t be hurt too much if their site is somewhat lacking in the reliability department.

Well, Spree’s come of age now, and perhaps it’s time to contrast Spree against Magento again, in 2015.

Maturity & Reliability

The main argument levelled against Spree has mostly been that it’s a newcomer; immature technologies are generally less reliable than their better-established competitors. Magento beats Spree in maturity, that’s for sure. We’ve been hearing this for quite a few years now, and you’ll still see arguments levelled against Spree on the basis that it’s an immature technology.

These arguments, of course, neglect the fact that larger codebases tend to be much less reliable than smaller ones (Magento is several hundred times larger, codebase-wise) and the fact that Spree is built upon the rock-solid Ruby on Rails framework. Rails powers some of the largest and most robust websites on the internet, including Airbnb, Square, Github, Hulu, and many others.

So, for how many more years is Spree going to be considered a newcomer? At some point, “it came first” stops being a reason that one product can be considered better than another. Spree already powers a whole bunch of successful, high-revenue online storefronts: Dulux, Bonobos, Fortnum & Mason, Finery and On Running all spring to mind (in fact, Bonobos switched from Magento to Spree). Spree has been around going on eight years now, and in the tech world, that’s actually a pretty long time. Again, Spree has come of age.

Speed of Development

No one’s arguing that Magento is quicker to develop features for than Spree; Ruby on Rails is renowned for being the most productive web framework out there, and adding new features to a gargantuan codebase like Magento takes considerable time. Where Magento does score points, however, is concerning plugins.

The Magento store has integrations for pretty much everything under the sun, and you might find that you can buy all the integrations you need without having to pay anyone to write any code. There’s also a ton of themes that work well out of the box. Magento also scores points here in that it’s written in PHP. PHP is a very popular language, and finding PHP programmers is considerably easier than finding Ruby programmers.

Having said that, Magento sites often suffer from the codebase becoming large and unwieldy. Hiring more developers does not fix this problem, as those developers then have to be trained on the project. If the codebase becomes difficult enough to understand, hiring new developers does not guarantee that work will be done any quicker. These projects may grind to a halt, as new work requires understanding of the old work. Project managers on these projects become very well acquainted with terms like “bus factor” and “development hell.”

Features

Back when Spree was relatively new, it was missing all kinds of features that online shoppers have come to expect. Proper product searching, sales, wishlists, BOGOF promotions, and multiple currencies were either not fully polished or missing entirely.

Spree has come a long way since then, and now really can do everything that Magento can. I’d be happy to settle for a draw in this department, were it not for one thing that Magento stores can really struggle with: loading a page quickly. It’s well known that page load speed can severely effect conversion rates, and this is an area that Magento will always struggle with, especially given the size of the codebase.

Pricing

If we disregard Magento Enterprise (the pricing of which would make Donald Trump’s wig fly off), the pricing of Magento and how that compares with Spree’s pricing is really more about the company that you get to do the work.

It’s well known that quotes in this business can vary wildly, and finding the right company for you is a quest that you must embark upon yourself, as a business (although we might know of one company that can help). This is assuming the quote is, of course, for getting an initial site up. If your business then decides to add a bunch of features and remove a bunch of different features, the manpower required is significantly less for Spree, and as such should be reflected in the cost of getting the work done.

Conclusion

Comparisons in 2012 had a fairer pro/con list between these two platforms. In 2015, Magento is very similar to how it was, whereas Spree is a completely different beast. With the release of Spree 3, the main reason I’ve found for a business to build a project with Magento is that their developers are already familiar with PHP.

I’ll fully admit to bias here, as I worked professionally with Magento for several years and consciously made the decision to move away from it for precisely the reasons I’ve described in this article. Things move pretty fast in the technology world, and often the slow-moving maturity that Magento exhibits is but a few short steps from obsolescence.

To read this post in its original format, visit the blog of Made.

Choosing Spree Commerce for Best Online Shopping

Posted on May 19, 2015 by 2beDigital

About the Author

2beDigital is a digital marketing agency based in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia and Barcelona. 2bedigital was formed by a multidisciplinary team whose principles of trust and transparency power their work.

Why do companies choose Spree Commerce for their online stores?

More and more companies are choosing Spree Commerce to be their ecommerce solution. At 2beDigital, we recommend it for its scalability and flexibility, as well as for its wide array of payment solutions. These solutions give it a real advantage over other open source platforms.

Spree Commerce can be adapted to any setting

By choosing Spree, you have access to its wide base of official extensions, as well as countless others developed by the community. Although it may require some work on the development of integrations, this application will enable you to take advantage of any gems available in the wider Ruby ecosystem.

All this ensures that your store can be optimized visually, as well as in its feature set.

Who is using Spree Commerce?

Spree is driving the storefronts for companies in a wide range of sectors. In fashion, major retailers like fine men’s clothing brand Bonobos and the beauty product line Glossier have chosen Spree. In food, Spree powers the likes of Vegan Snack Packs and Club de Quesos. And that’s just a small sample; there are thousands of retailers who are powered by Spree Commerce.

Do all stores look the same?

As we’ve seen in previous websites, there are endless possibilities in terms of the features that software engineers can add to your application. The appearance and usability of any Spree Commerce store can be as flexible and unique as your business.

Since version 3 of Spree, both the user interface and the administration area are implementing Bootsrap. The technology represented by Bootstrap opens the door to a ton of customization options. Users don’t even need to edit in HTML code; simply choose your colors and your store will be up and running in no time.

However, if you want a fully customized storefront, those aspects will take a little more work. There’s no need to worry, though, because Spree has thought of this and uses a Ruby gem called Deface. Deface replaces and easily customizes any Spree template code, so that you can easily work with any given extension. This allows you to truly customize each and every page to the needs of your customers. When combined with a personalized style, you’ll get a truly unique shop.

Spree is a great platform, and through the use of both official extensions and the community, you can create highly-customized stores that are as unique as the requirements of your business. The flexibility of Spree does not end with the possibilities of the application. By using Deface, the storefront is fully customizable so that you can develop a Spree store that is adaptable to any and all of your business requirements.

To view this piece in its original format, visit the blog of 2beDigital.

Staggeringly Smooth—The Fortnum & Mason Spree Commerce Release

Posted on May 14, 2015 by Roise Proven

Roisi Proven is a test lead for Red Badger. Red Badger is a Spree Commerce Certified Partner and creative software workshop. They create beautiful, compelling experiences built around robust technologies. They specialize in user experience, design, project management and testing.

It would be difficult for me to overstate the importance of launching a brand new version of an international ecommerce website. This was no mere reskin; we’ve been rebuilding the Fortnum & Mason website from the ground up. We started with the decision to use Spree Commerce for the storefront, and have been continuing all the way through to building Fortnum’s a bespoke CMS using our very own Colonel.

Because the Fortnum brand values customers above all, they felt it was of the utmost importance that the customers help drive the direction of the site. As a result, we decided it was important not to rush a release. We’ve spoken already about our approach to deployment, allowing us to deliver rapidly and regularly, but in order to get to that stage, we needed to be confident that the core of what we were delivering was sound.

The First Step

The first thing that we had to do before we could make a plan, was to figure out where our weaknesses were. If we knew the elements that were most likely to fail, we could work pre-emptively to fix these areas before going live to the world. What has always been apparent to us is that with so many third parties to rely on, no amount of automated or manual testing was going to truly expose our pain points.

So, as soon as the site was fully transactional, we made the decision to do a highly controlled soft launch prior to Christmas peak. A selection of Fortnum’s trusted customers were contacted, and given a password to our still very much unfinished site. By communicating to these customers, and making them a part of our development, we hoped to not just get a more robust test of our site, we also aimed to gain feedback from these key users that would inform the ongoing development.

The Slow Burn

And so the feedback came. However, it came slowly. Too slowly for our liking. So, further down the line towards the middle of January, we had a meeting with the team over at Fortnum. We came up with a plan to run both the old site and the new site in parallel, directing traffic in ever-increasing quantities to our site. So new.fortnumandmason.com was born.

The need to login to get access to the site was removed, and people started using our site. For the first time, we weren’t just inviting people to use the site, we were allowing them to get there on their own, initially via a marketing email, and later by directing a percentage of traffic from the old site to the new. In doing this, we were making sure that when the time came to release to 100% of the public we wouldn’t see the dip in sales and conversion that so often accompanies site re-launches.

Running two sites at the same time came with its own problems. There were moments when we wondered if we should have held off on introducing users to the new site, despite the fact that we knew releasing to customers early, with the intention of learning from them, was hugely important.

However, the results were undeniable. Major issues were uncovered, but instead of affecting hundreds of customers, it would affect one or two. If a couple of people encounter an issue, you can contact them personally and make sure they still feel of value. If hundreds, or even dozens of people are affected, it becomes a great deal harder. Also, if there were any issues that we needed more time to fix, it was very easy to direct all users back to the old site.

“Release” Day

The 17th of February rolled around. This was the day we’d all been waiting for. For the previous fortnight, around 40% of Fortnum & Mason users were being directed to new.fortnumandmason.com using the Qubit system to redirect them. We had encountered issues, some minor and some not so minor. We’d managed to maintain our development momentum along with fixing these issues. Using Kanban, we had a clear view of work in progress and bugs that needed fixing urgently, all the while maintaining a focus on throughput—getting features shipped into live.

At 8am we made the call to change the DNS records. The old site drifted away, and new.fortnumandmason.com became www.fortnumandmason.com. We pulled up our analytics and collectively held out breath.

It Just Worked

A part of everyone was waiting for the other shoe to drop, for complaints to start flooding in or for orders to start failing. A bigger part of us knew that our gentle filter of customers over the previous weeks and months had prepared us well for this. Of course there were still small issues, a customer struggling to pay here, a missing product there, but overall there were no alarming issues.

Ongoing Positivity

As the website bedded in over the next couple of weeks, we continued to see minimal issues and an increasingly positive impact. We have already seen an overall growth of 89% year on year, with the conversion increase coming in at an impressive 20% up. We have also seen an 18% reduction in customer service calls, with a particular drop in calls related to issues with payment.

As we finish up our first couple of months being fully live, the mood across Red Badger, and across the business at Fortnum, has been hugely positive. We are immensely proud of what we’ve achieved, and we don’t feel that we could have had such a successful release if we hadn’t ramped up slowly in the way that we did.

To view this post in its original format, visit the blog of blog of Red Badger.