Customer enterprise ecommerce vs. Saas

Custom eCommerce websites vs. Bigcommerce enterprise

Whether your are an ambitious retail startup or a fast growing online store, you'll need to find a top quality enterprise level eCommerce solution to keep things running smooth.

But deciding on the right type of system that will allow you to grow and scale without compromising on performance and reliability is not that easy. The bigger the system, the more experience, knowledge and skill is required to handle high volume orders and fulfilment.

And, we're not only talking about Web design and cart software. Bigger stores need high performance hardware and network solutions to distribute load and improve reliability - amongst many other things.

It should come as no surprise then that when a friend approached me for advice on how to setup their new eCommerce site - I had some strong views on the type of solution they should opt for. I thought I would jot down a number of my thoughts that might (hopefully) help you choose the platform that will drive your business in the coming years.

Why Bigcommerce vs. custom design?

This article is really a comparison of custom eCommerce Web design vs. eCommerce website builders at the enterprise level. Mainly because the discussion I had with my friend boiled down to the difference between these two eCommerce development paradigms.

I chose Bigcommerce to represent the side of the website builders because they have both an excellent enterprise level offering, and offer great integration with a wide range of 3rd party providers that can really reduce the amount of time spent on administration.

On the side of custom design I am going with Drupal 7 (+ eCommerce) and dedicated server hosting with a decent CDN (Content Delivery Network) - because that is what I know and use for my own sites.

Enterprise level requirements

Obviously it is important to understand your basic requirements before thinking about which system can meet those requirements. Here's a quick and nasty list that is by no means complete:

  • Underlying quality of Web design
  • Responsiveness for mobile support
  • Usability (Think one-click checkout, abandoned cart recovery features, etc)
  • Speed
  • Reliability / Uptime
  • Limitations - bandwidth, concurrency, etc
  • Security, PCI compliance
  • Cost & difficulty of upgrades and maintenance
  • Access to new technologies
  • Inventory management
  • Integration with PoS systems (for traditional retailers)
  • Integration with other 3rd party services - tax, accounting, CRM, ERP, etc
  • Technical support
  • Fulfilment & order management

So what's the best solution?

Fundamentally, assuming you have some decent network engineers and Web developers in your team, there is almost nothing beyond reach (assuming you also have the budget to pay for a once off high performance system).

With that acknowledged, let's get to the meat of this article. Which solution best answers this question:

Which eCommerce platform best allows you to focus on growing the business instead of managing the website?

For me this is the one million dollar question and there really is only one answer - go with a hosted eCommerce solution like Bigcommerce.

Why Bigcommerce enterprise let's you grow faster

It's not that there is anything wrong with a custom Web solution. I have used Drupal for many years and am constantly amazed by how good the system is (once you know your way around).

Economies of scale

The issue is less to do with the quality of software and more to do with economies of scale. Does it make sense that you could produce a single car for the same price as, say, Toyota? Of course not - building an entire factory to produce a single vehicle is crazy.

And, deciding to build your own Toyota (err, website) means that you will spend more money and time reinventing the wheel.

Unbeatable performance

Look at what you get from Bigcommerce enterprise in terms of performance:

  • 145ms response times
  • 99.99% uptime
  • 500,000+ hits per minute with unlimited bandwidth
  • Advanced DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) protection

Now, I run a site off a dedicated server (costing more than $200 per month) using a CDN to help display images and other media. I also know a little something about performance, but I consider it a triumph if I can get response times under 200ms.

My hosting service does a great job, but 99.99% uptime is better than they can manage - although downtime tends to be concentrated into specific events so I might go months at a time with 100% uptime.

I can tell you now that 500 000 hits per minute would blow my server out of its rack and leave it in a smoking heap, so no competition there. It doesn't matter that I have aggressive caching and PHP performance optimization, combined with top of the range CDN facilities - I still can't match that.

Advanced DDOS? Forget about it. I only have a single server. By definition it is virtually impossible to protect a single server from a distributed attack.

Maintenance & upgrades

SME Pals ran on Drupal 6, which was a fantastic platform... until the rise of the mobile Web required sites to change their design paradigm to mobile first (responsive Web design).

You want to know what a pain it was upgrading from Drupal 6 to Drupal 7 simply to be able to use a responsive theme?

This type of problem is non-existent with Bigcommerce because all their upgrades happen in the background without requiring you to stay on top of the latest trends in technology. They just happen magically at no extra cost.

3rd party integrations

Drupal's community is pretty good at developing and adding plugin modules that offer any number of features and integration. The problem is that there is no guarantee that the specific needs of your site will be met by other developers (who are willing to share that functionality in a freely available module).

Bigcommerce is arguably the leading eCommerce SaaS solution when it comes to integrating with other systems, and this makes it even easier to engineer a high level of automation for your business.

They even allow you integration into the Alibaba system to help source new products - although, unfortunately, they don't yet provide sales analytics and data for competing products via RankTracer Enterprise.

And finally..

Fundamentally, the difference between a great custom solution like Drupal and something like Bigcommerce is that you shouldn't be competing with Bigcommerce while simultaneously trying to build your own business. Instead, use Bigcommerce as a tool to grow your business and stay away from all the technical headaches associated with developing and hosting your own site.

After all, there's no point in giving yourself unnecessary work. Running a server is hard work. When the site goes down (for any number of reasons), it's not likely going to come back up unless you spring into action, any time day or night. There are plenty of unseen costs, and if you ever forget to update an SSL certificate, or misconfigure your email server, your site can be penalized, blacklisted, hacked, and all sorts of horrible things.

So that's my opinion on the difference between custom and hosted eCommerce for enterprise level companies. Do you agree, or disagree? What experiences have you had with either one?

Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments.