Last week while attending the Internet Retailer Conference in Boston, I had the pleasure of meeting a variety of eCommerce vendors in the exhibition hall. Many of them with innovative (and some not so innovative) software, solutions, or services targeted towards online retailers and solving their needs, pain points, and goals. In discussions with a few eCommerce software vendors, I noticed a trend that seemed to pique my interest and raise concern. This is the trend of eCommerce solutions as a service. Vendors that provide the solution, the hosting, and the services on the platform, all from one place. At first glance, this seems like a great solution for merchants – get everything you need all in one place, right?
Well, my concern with this practice stems from a few points:
- Running an eCommerce Consulting firm, we talk to a lot of online retailers. A large portion of those online retailers come to us looking to re-platform onto a new solution. In most of these cases, they are currently running on either a proprietary, or custom-built solution from a provider that supplied the software, the hosting, and the development. Either the software has some limitation, the hosting has been troublesome, or the relationship with the vendor has soured. In these scenarios, the merchant is left in a corner, they can’t move the site to another host, they can’t get another developer to work on it, and they are locked in with that vendor on that specific solution. The only way out is to rebuild the entire platform, in turn wasting many thousands of dollars, and time invested in the original site. Usually, this happens within the first two years of running their site, and in many cases even less than that.
- I’ve built an eCommerce company from the ground up, so I’ve been in the shoes of these merchants that are tempted by these offers. I understand the benefit of only having to deal with one company instead of getting a game of finger pointing between the software vendor, the merchant, and the host. However, managing a software company is much different than managing a services company, and also much different than a hosting provider. It is very difficult to specialize in all areas unless you have very deep teams in each area, which most businesses do not. As I evaluated solutions for my business years ago, I quickly came to the decision that I wanted freedom and flexibility in these areas to grow as I expected my business to. By choosing one vendor for everything, I would have staked my entire business on the expectation that this solution would be able to keep me happy for years to come – and I’m a pretty picky individual.
While certainly performing due diligence during your vendor selection process will help you avoid future headaches down the road no matter which direction you take, there is a certain level or risk you take when committing to a solutions provider. By placing all of the eggs in one basket, you are in a sense, compounding that risk. I have found very few retailers that have stayed with the same host, platform, and services provider for even a few years. Many do successfully find a software that stays with them for many years, but oftentimes look to other solutions providers that can better accommodate their needs as the site matures, or need to evaluate alternative hosts to address performance as the site scales.
When you choose an all in one provider, if any one one of those key areas becomes a problem, you have no choice but to completely transition onto an entirely new platform and start from scratch, or, you could always just grin and bear it. But is that what’s best for your business, or for theirs?
And while you might think I’m coming off as “preachy” or if this sounds like a sales pitch, the reality is the reasoning for this post is truly to educate eCommerce merchants more about the vendor selection process. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve run an eCommerce business, I’ve been in your shoes, and wading through the abundance of eCommerce platforms can be an overwhelming task. I’ve been pitched software, services, and all kinds of things to make my site “better”. The whole time these providers didn’t realize that I was doing all of these things myself, and listening to their pitches, doing a bit of research only to realize they were not what they were cracked up to be. I was in a unique position that I understood the “tech” side of things, and could actually evaluate their offerings and their effectiveness with a “behind the scenes” approach.
It’s not to say that you can’t find a successful relationship with an “all in one” provider, and I’m sure many of them truly do a great job. But our approach is much different, our approach is finding solutions that are in the best interests of our clients. Solutions that you can grow with, scale with, and that empower you with the flexibility to take it where you want, and have whoever you’d like to work on it. It’s a little thing I like to call eCommerce freedom – the freedom to choose. Whether you’re a mom and pop shop, or an enterprise multi-channel retailer, a solution such as Magento Commerce gives you that freedom, you can modify the software, take it with you wherever you go, and have whoever you want work on it. At the end of the day however, it is always yours, and that is something that will last as long as you’d like it to.
While we all hope that by properly researching your choices to begin with will lead to a decision that you won’t have to worry about this scenario (we know our Blue Acorn clients don’t) – it does happen, and more often than you might think. So better to think about it now, evaluate your risk exposure, and make an educated decision about whether “one stop eCommerce” vendors are a viable solution for your business. And those of you that have had experiences with “all in one” solution providers, please share your thoughts – was it successful for you in the end?