When building a website where the purpose is to sell, you might be wondering which e-commerce platform is best to use.
Some web development companies build their own systems and try to sell it to you as being the best fit as it is an in-house built system. This comes across well because you think the company who built the system must have a lot of knowledge of building e-commerce sites. If they have built their own system, the company will have control over the system that will run your website’s e-commerce functionality. You may also think that any updates can easily be handled by the company that built it because they have an understanding of the code that powers the e-commerce functionality. After all, they built the underlying system, right? These things are all valid points to consider but the above points are certainly not the only things you should think about when making your mind up.
We have created this blog post to help you decide for yourself: WooCommerce or bespoke? So let’s consider the benefits of going with an open source e-commerce platform like WooCommerce over a closed, in-house built platform.
What is WooCommerce?
WooCommerce is an e-commerce platform launched in September 2011 and has become more advanced over time due to years of development, updates and technical support. WooCommerce is also the world’s favourite e-commerce solution that gives you complete control to sell anything. As of today, the 7th of March 2016, WooCommerce powers over 30% of all online stores. As low as this figure may seem, there are in fact hundreds of e-commerce platforms out there. At 30%, WooCommerce is in fact the front runner. As an example here is an overview of the main ecommerce platform’s market share from October 2015.
So why does market share matter?
It matters because WooCommerce is open source (meaning it is maintained by full-time core team and contributors). It attracts developers all over the world to use it and suggest improvements. Developers can even point out flaws and detail ways of fixing it. This means security holes and bugs get fixed very fast by the core developers. Developers can suggest features that will improve the system and the core team will use the feedback to make future improvements. To date, WooCommerce has 362 official extensions that add extra functionality on top of the already feature-loaded e-commerce suite. This means if you get an e-commerce site that has been built on top of WooCommerce, you can almost guarantee that your specific needs will be viable.
An example that will blow the socks of a normal in-house built e-commerce platform.
A business owner wanted an e-commerce site to sell biomass fuel by the tonne. Later in the website build, he asked his developers if they could add a new feature. The necessary feature was needed due to the specific way the company operated. When the company receives orders from its customers, there is a minimum and maximum amount of tonnes the customer can purchase. This depends on the amount of miles the customer is geographically located away from their shipping depot and would determine the amount the shipping would cost. As WooCommerce is so deep rooted and well supported, it was easy for the developers to find an extension that works out the amount of miles the customer’s address is from their shipping depot and then calculates the amount for the shipping from this. This might sound complicated but it really wasn’t because the code to solve this problem had already been created and was available as an extension. All the developers had to do is purchase the extension for $79, and then install and set it up. If they had to code this feature themselves, it would have taken much more time and money due to development time. Here’s why this matters, when compared to an in-house e-commerce platform:
- The in-house developers may be using most of their time fixing bugs and having to test these fixes by themselves because they don’t have a community of developers helping them out. This means they will most likely have a very long road map of features that they never seem to get around to implementing, causing the in-house system to do the bedrock of e-commerce well but not enabling less important features to flourish.
- Usually new features that are not already part of the in-house system have to be subsidised by the first customer who asks for them. This means that the extra feature that you thought was easy to add has to be developed and you have to pay for the extra development time. If the feature was already part of the in-house platform you might have to pay for it to be turned on anyway.
This is one of the main reasons why WooCommerce is so powerful. Here is the extension. As stated above, there are hundreds of other extensions that can be used if your company has a specific e-commerce requirement! See this link for a full list of official, supported WooCommerce extensions.
What happens if you and your e-commerce provider have a disagreement and you want to move your website away?
With an in-house ecommerce provider, the platform the website is built on is usually seen as their intellectual property and they will not want that code to be released. If you do manage to get your site released, you will have a hard time getting another developer to make updates for you. This is because of the nature of the code. Developers will charge you a lot more to make a change to a site that is made in coding styles that they are not accustomed to. If your site has been built on the WooCommerce e-commerce platform, the code that makes up the underlying e-commerce platform is open source, meaning that it’s freely available. This also means that if you move your site away, you will be welcomed with open arms by the majority of PHP developers, as the WooCommerce platform is widely used by PHP developers around the world. PHP is the coding language used to create WooCommerce. To date, 81.9% of all websites on the internet use PHP as their coding language. This also means finding a developer who can make updates to a site built on top of WooCommerce is easier than ever. Some in-house e-commerce platforms can be built on code other than PHP, meaning the opposite – that you might find it harder to find another developer who can code in the language it was built on. Another thing to note is that it has frequently been found that the cost of a PHP developer is usually a lot less that an ASP.net developer. Below we have included a chart showing the usage stats of the main languages used to build websites online:
On average, is an in-house e-commerce platform any more secure than an open source e-commerce platform like WooCommerce?
No one wants their website to get hacked and have to go through the rigmarole of finding the cause, patching it and sometimes having to have a new site built because the attacker might have put a backdoor into the system. There are many methods hackers can use to infiltrate a site, but one of the main causes of sites being hacked is the quality of code written by the developers that created the system. Now, we are not saying developers who build in-house e-commerce platforms are bad quality coders! We are more interested in the resources that are available to create a system that is secure and maintained.
Which type of system would you think has more resources to maintain quality secure code?
A website using a platform that is under constant improvement by its core team as well as a community of developers helping to report bugs and suggesting improvements or an e-commerce platform that has been built in-house by a company that has a set number of staff that are spread out over building new websites, fixing bugs, testing fixes, creating new features and giving customer support? For ease of mind, every line of code that makes WooCommerce is audited by Sucuri Security Read more about WooCommerce security here.
SEO – search engine optimisation
WooCommerce takes advantage of WordPress (the most widely used CMS). This means that it’s fantastic for SEO because developers can potentially use any of the thousands of modules that WordPress supports, like the Yoast SEO module that allows custom meta tags to be added to product pages and product categories. We can also integrate Google Analytics for traffic analysis and use the advanced custom fields module to allow virtually any type of content to be added to your pages. With in-house platforms, you will be limited to what the platform consists of, meaning you probably won’t be able to pick and choose from thousands of extra features. This could be good or bad depending on how much time has been spent implementing the necessary features into the platform.
Posted on:March 8th, 2016
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