December 29, 2009, 12:00 AM

Open for business?

(Page 2 of 2)

Brown says the new system gives him much more flexibility. Zumiez’s old platform was managed and updated by an outsourced developer and Brown says it was time-consuming to make changes in response to sales trends.

The new site is flexible and customizable, Brown says. “We can now use the site as the marketing tool it is meant to be.”

Growing out of open

Even if open source could be a good choice for smaller online retailers, some experts are skeptical that it’s suitable for larger merchants.

“There is still some doubt about whether open source is scalable for larger e-commerce companies,” Walker says. He says that at this point open source e-commerce packages are most ideal for e-retailers with annual web sales in the $10 million and under range.

“I’m definitely not seeing the larger companies going for open source,” agrees AMR’s Sherlock. In fact, Sherlock, who advises mainly for $1 billion to $5 billion retailers, says not a single merchant she has worked with has seriously considered an open source platform.“You don’t see companies with a lot of serious marketing and promotional, shopping cart, or international requirements using open source. You’d have to sink too much into customization.”

But that customization is what makes open source so alluring to some. There are no limits on what a retailer can do with the software. Because of this, Sherlock says advertising and marketing agencies often promote open source technology because it affords them freedom to innovate.

That freedom was the main reason CableOrganizer.com began exploring open source when it started looking for a new e-commerce platform a few years ago. CableOrganizer.com has for six years operated on a platform from a traditional e-commerce vendor, ShopSite Inc. John Young, vice president of sales for ShopSite, confirms that the vendor does not offer access to its source code. He says clients can tweak templates the vendor offers, or build their own to customize their sites.

But I.T. director Nicolas Dubus says he found it difficult to make the changes he wanted. For example, Dubus says he wanted to add more payment methods to his site, but couldn’t.

In the end, CableOrganizer.com did not go with open source. Instead, it chose e-commerce software provider AspDotNetStoreFront, which uses a web site development technology called ASP.net that Microsoft Corp. makes available for free to developers who use Microsoft’s .Net technology.

CableOrganizer, which plans to go live on the platform in a few months, last year paid a one-time fee of $2,600 for the program. That gave it access to the source code and a year’s worth of product updates. The vendor will continue to charge CableOrganizer $300 a year for access to product updates.

Dubus says he chose AspDotNetStoreFront over open source packages because it offers him direct access to the developers who created the program. “With open source, you are really on your own or have to rely on the community to develop solutions,” he says.

Because open source is constantly modified and customized by users, it can be difficult to find a developer who knows the ins and outs of the program, Dubus says. Plus, AspDotNetStoreFront offers already built integration with Dubus’ order management system from Stone Edge Technologies Inc. as well as a list of certified partners CableOrganizer can contact for custom projects.

CableOrganizer does use open source technology for less critical features of its site. The retailer runs its blogs on WordPress, an open source technology, and it uses Joomula, also open source, for content management.

Dubus says he can risk the CableOrganizer blog crashing, but not its shopping cart.

katie@verticalwebmedia.com

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