At Blue Acorn we’ve worked with a number of different eCommerce platforms – too many to count. And while we certainly do a lot of work with the Magento Commerce platform, the reality is that we are platform-agnostic, and we’re always on the lookout for new, innovative solutions in the marketplace that present significant advantages and benefits for our clients. In the end, we want to work with best-of-breed software to ensure our clients’ interests are aligned with the technology. Given that, we’ve been following the ShopIgniter platform over the past few months in anticipation of some of the “next generation” of eCommerce software. Today we attended a live demo of the platform to learn more about the platform and its potential benefits. What follows is an overview of the platform and our initial thoughts from what we’ve seen so far. Keep in mind that we have not had the opportunity to use it in a real-world scenario, which is where many of its benefits, as well as its flaws, will expose themselves.
The ShopIgniter Premise
ShopIgniter is an upcoming platform that boasts a tight integration with Social Media (their coin-phrase being “eCommerce, meet social media”) that is architected on the CodeIgniter PHP framework. ShopIgniter is offered through a SaaS delivery model (and downloadable version in the future), which, according to Gartner, will account for 40% of eCommerce deployments by 2013! The Rackspace Cloud will be powering the infrastructure of CodeIgniter, another trend of leveraging cloud-based computing for the delivery of SaaS solutions. So the folks at ShopIgniter seem to be jumping in at the right moment, as more and more online retailers look to SaaS solutions to run their online storefront.
With the use of social media on the rise, and its increasing influence on purchasing behaviors, it only makes sense for eCommerce platforms to adapt and provide the ability for retailers to take advantage of the marketing opportunities that “social eCommerce” presents. A recent ComScore report indicates that during the last holiday season, 28 percent of shoppers say that social media influenced their purchases – and that number is expected to rise. While other platforms stand on their heels, or rely on third party developers to innovate, ShopIgniter has jumped on the opportunity. Some of the social eCommerce functionality can be found with other platforms, such as the ability to share your order on Twitter or Facebook, but their Facebook store allows you to publish your website to facebook whereby users of the social network can browse, shop, and actually purchase products without leaving the Facebook site itself.
Our Thoughts on ShopIgniter
- Speed – the first thing that was very evident throughout the demo was that the interface was very sleek and responsive. Granted, this is a demo and even the slowest of platforms looks fast in an isolated demo environment with little to no data, but we’d be curious to see some benchmark tests against other platforms with similar infrastructure and data (their website boasts “50x faster than Varien’s Magento, 20x-30x faster than other SaaS solutions”) if they’re going to claim as such.
- “SmartShip” – while this feature is not yet available for demo, it sounds promising. In all of the work with our clients, and the different platforms we’ve worked with, one of the most common complaints comes down to the order fulfillment side of things. Most eCommerce platforms rely on third party applications and developers to introduce the capabilities to completely fulfill orders, specifically when it comes down to the interaction with the major shipping providers. The smartship functionality promises to allow administrators to be able to completely fulfill orders right through the web-based backend – no third parties needed – no desktop software required.
- Intent-based search – another feature not yet ready to demo, it allows you to find people on social networks that may be interested in the brands or products you offer, interact with them, and incentivize them to purchase. If this feature presents more capabilities than otherwise doing this manually (like reporting, analytics on effectiveness, etc) it will present itself as some of the most cutting-edge, built-in, social marketing capabilities of any platform on the market.
- Back-office integration – another common pain-point from online retailers with whom we talk daily is how the sales collected through their eCommerce platform flow back to their back-office software – ERP, accounting, and POS systems. It is unclear at this point exactly what capabilities are going to be provided first party vs. third party, but it was indicated that QuickBooks, the most-used platform for smaller retailers, will be integrated out-of-the-box. The widespread adoption of the ShopIgniter platform is going to rely heavily on these integrations, so we hope to see some movement on this in the near future.
- Cost – it’s all in the eye of the beholder isn’t it? While some might look at the pricing of ShopIgniter in shock and awe, others may find this a welcome change in the SaaS community away from transaction-based fees. I’m not going to judge whether this is an expensive platform or not, because when it comes down to it, it’s all about value. If the platform brings enough capabilities along with it and presents significant value in helping you – as an online retailer – to actually achieve more revenue and better results than a competing product, then it’s worth it. Given its price tag however (starts at $8,500 for year one), I do see this product fitting more with the enterprise-focused software and their competing SaaS players in that market. In the SaaS eCommerce world, I see two broad types, those that have low monthly fees targeted more to smaller stores (Shopify, BigCommerce, Volusion, etc) and some of the larger, enterprise-based players (Venda, ATG, Demandware, etc). Where exactly ShopIgniter fits in seems to be somewhere in the middle, and when it introduces the community platform who knows where it will end up, but it is unclear to me at this point where exactly that will be. This is not going to be something that will gain mainstream momentum with the likes of Magento Commerce (depending on how the future Community Edition releases), but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. But I think it will be important for ShopIgniter to properly position itself in the market
We’ve been following ShopIgniter for the past few months as several of our developers are fans of the CodeIgniter platform. We’ll continue to keep an eye on this newcomer and to anticipate some major movement from the company in 2010 given their recent injection of $3M in venture capital – aimed at expediting their sales, marketing, and development efforts. Overall, ShopIgniter is riding the wave and the buzz around social ecommerce, but the big question is if this is a fad, or will it really play out into actual increased revenues for retailers. If it is going to leverage that angle as its unique selling proposition, it better make sure the feature-set around those functions is not easily duplicated in other platforms. I’m sure you’d expect to see any of the capabilities inherent to the platform to be introduced by third parties on other platforms, thus taking away its distinct advantages. I definitely see a market for another strong eCommerce platform in the space, but see some hurdles for ShopIgniter:
- How to position itself in the market
- How to “sell” the cost against open-source alternatives and even lower cost SaaS alternatives
- Balance between its simple, clean, intuitive features against the complex needs of an enterprise retailer
- Truly providing a revolutionary experience in social capabilities, it better be more than just a Twitter search and Facebook store in an iframe
All in all, we look forward to watching the platform grow, and are impressed with the approach and the effort. From our standpoint, we love when new platforms introduce innovation and push the envelope, as it creates a stronger set of solutions with which to work, and it benefits our clients in the end – and ShopIgniter looks to do just that.