IRCE 2011 Report: When open source can be a better option for e-retailers

Open source technology can provide more functionality and control at lower costs.

Paul Demery

Retailers speaking in a session on open source e-commerce technology at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition this week said that, after extensive reviews of available e-commerce software, they found open source technology the best overall option for web site functionality, direct control of technology and cost of technology deployment. Open source technology enables site developers to access software source code to build on it as they see fit.

Jason Shaw, president of a group of home products retail operations including Myperfectcolor and Breslow Home Design Center, said that migrating his e-commerce sites from proprietary software to open source technology has provided better overall functionality with lower implementation costs. After launching house paint retail site Myperfectcolor.com several years ago on a proprietary technology platform, Shaw decided to review other platforms for broader site functionality. But after reviewing more than 30 vendors, the retailer found they were all either too expensive or incapable of providing the functionality he wanted in a site.

Instead, Shaw went with open source technology known as LAMP, which stands for a mixture of the open-source technologies Linux, Appache, MySQL and PHP. He also used some Joomla open source technology.

The cost to deploy the new site was one quarter to one half the cost of the estimates he had received from proprietary vendors, Shaw said. The new site has the level of functionality he wanted, such as web pages where shoppers can click color palettes to call up, without leaving the page, along with separate windows of product information and customer reviews.

On his other site, Breslow.com, Shaw decided to go with Joomla and Wordpress open source technology. One of the advantages of open source on Breslow.com, he said, was in the support Joomla offered through technology extensions developed by the community of Joomla developers. When he wanted a rotating flash banner on the site, for example, Shaw searched the Internet for available Joomla technology extensions and quickly found one. “A half hour later we had an excellent rotating flash banner on our site,” he said.

Adam Golomb, director of e-commerce for Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, who joined Shaw in the session, said he reviewed 13 proposals, including several from proprietary software vendors, when he set out to build a highly functional web site on a tight budget. He decided to go with the Magento open-source platform and Lyons Consulting Group to deploy it. “I wanted a million-dollar solution, but only had a budget for about 20% of that,” he said.

The new site, SmileyCookie.com, was launched within budget and provides functionality important to the retailer’s business, including letting shoppers use a configuration tool to select among nearly 1,000 variations of customizable cookies.

The major advantages of open source technology, Golomb and Shaw said, include fast development time, the flexibility to do nearly anything you want in site development and often at low expense, and the resources of a large pool of developers.

There are also disadvantages, they added. For example, open source projects can require more work to set up than proprietary software; add-ons from outside developers may be unreliable; and unexpected development work can be costly. In addition, retailers can be tempted to overbuild their open source projects, resulting in a complicated platform that can be difficult to maintain and upgrade.

They can also wind up costing more in ongoing maintenance, but for his company it has been worth it, Shaw said. “We’re spending more per month to maintain Myperfectcolor, but we’re far happier,” he said.


Adam Golomb, Apache, Breslow Home Design Center, e-commerce platforms, IRCE, IRCE 2011, IRCE 2011 Daily Report, Jason Shaw, Joomla, LAMP, Linux, Lyons Consulting Group, Magento, Myperfectcolor, MySQL, open source, PHP, WordPress