March 25, 2014, 10:33 AM

Why Blue Bottle Coffee switched to an open-source platform

The high-end coffee retailer says that Spree Commerce's open-source technology let it craft its e-commerce site to its exact needs.

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When Blue Bottle Coffee Co. hired David Bowman as its chief financial officer in 2012, its online sales had swollen to about $1 million online. But the e-commerce software it was using—from a vendor Bowman declines to name—didn’t offer features the retailer felt it needed to grow its business online.

The retailer wanted, for instance, to let shoppers buying subscriptions—monthly coffee bean deliveries—the flexibility to pause, cancel or restart their deliveries. The old system couldn't offer that type of functionality.

After evaluating several options, the retailer found Spree Commerce, an open-source platform, fit its needs.

Out of the box, Spree Commerce offers a host of free order management and product management tools. It also incorporates responsive design principles so that Blue Bottle can maintain a single set of web site content that adapts the display depending on whether the consumer is using a computer, tablet or smartphone. Spree Commerce also offers, for an added fee, a tool that links together a retailer’s systems—fulfillment, accounting, anything else—to provide a single location to view all the information in those systems.

“We wanted flexibility and we wanted openness to link our systems together,” Bowman says. Spree Commerce offered both. “Our systems gather a lot of data and that data tells a story,” he says. “But if you can't bring that data together, you won’t understand that story.”

The problem was that Blue Bottle still needed to build custom features, such as the subscription option, but lacked the expertise to do so on its own. The retailer outsourced the work to Dynamo, a Montreal-based digital design firm that is one of 14 vendors Spree Commerce lists as “premier partners.” Those are vendors Spree Commerce has vetted to ensure their competence with its software.

Working with an outside firm was “significantly” less expensive than hiring an engineering team, Bowman says. That’s particularly true since many open-source developers are often command a higher price than other software specialists, says Jeffrey Hammond, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc.

Outsourcing also helped Blue Bottle get started on the build quicker, since it didn’t have to devote time to interviewing applicants.

After Blue Bottle hired Dynamo, it began using collaboration software to keep everyone abreast of progress and problems. It shares visual content using Basecamp, a project management tool that costs anywhere between $20 and $150 a month, based on a merchant’s project and storage needs. And it logs issues using GitHub, which lets multiple users review changes, comment on lines of code, report issues and plan projects. It also holds a weekly call with Dynamo to discuss any problems that arise.

The system has worked. Between the collaboration software and weekly call, the retailer has been able to address any pressing needs—and avoided any unwelcome surprises, Bowman says.

As a result, the site, which launched on time in June, is far more engaging than the previous site, he says. And that’s helped sales triple year over year. The retailer has reduced its bounce rate and nearly doubled the average time on the site.

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