My name is Stefan Ashwell and when I'm not coding personal projects or painting miniatures, I'm a Software Engineer at Holmes Media in Market Harborough.

This blog is a place for me to write about things that require that little bit extra to solve. We all have gaps in our knowledge and every now and then I need to reach out on search engines or blogs to find an answer. Often, these answers come from multiple sources. This blog serves as a personal resource, but if it's helpful for me I'm sure it'll help others too!

eCommerce packages – why are they all rubbish?

Posted on 13 July 2016

Something about eCommerce packages has always ground my gears. They are all rubbish. I’ve had to use a number of them, and each time I end up frustrated, angry and wanting more. It got to the point where I’d recommend a custom built solution over any eCommerce package 100% of the time. However that’s not always feasible when it comes to costs. So I’m asking the question and throwing it out there – why are all eCommerce packages rubbish?!

The first eCommerce packages I used

I’ll begin briefly with my experiences early on in my career, around 10 years ago now. Back then I had to use JShop, osCommerce and Zen Cart at various points. I think it’d be unfair to criticise them too much after 10 years, things have moved on since then. Shockingly though they all still exist and don’t seem to have advanced very far – if at all – in that time. Still, I wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole.

No thanks Magento

More recently, as a lot of people have, I’ve had to build shops in Magento. I find it difficult to find the words to describe exactly how much I hate Magento. It is one of the worst experiences of my entire career without a doubt. The worst thing about this disorganised, badly structured, complete and utter abomination of a piece of software is how great it is for store owners. If they’re running a regular old online shop the features list is top notch. Anyone selling small or large quantities of products online has nearly everything they need at their disposal. But heaven forbid I want to do something a little bit special with it. Or add a feature that’s not “standard”.

I could look for a plugin that might be vaguely similar to my client’s requirements and hope they like it. Or, as the experienced PHP developer I am, I’ll get stuck in and write some code and get things to work just as I need.

Nope, Magento sticks it’s big fat two fingers up at you again. “Here, have a huge amount of files to wade through, you can do what you need in there” it says. While doing an evil laugh and watching you bash your head against your keyboard. No matter how many videos and online tutorials you read, it still doesn’t make any sense. Whatever sense it does make is lost the next day after you’ve dealt with 10 more confusing and over complicated challenges in order to get your site working.

Yes I could spend a lot of time training and learn the intricate ins and outs of their system which I’m sure makes a lot of sense once you understand it, but the key thing is I shouldn’t have to!

No thanks Magento.

WooCommerce & Other WordPress Plugins

WooCommerce is nice, I like WordPress because it’s straight forward, well documented and easy to achieve anything you want to. Using a plugin like WooCommerce comes with the added bonus that you can create an actual website rather than just a product catalogue – which eCommerce packages seem to forget about. Unfortunately my issue with WooCommerce and indeed any eCommerce plugin for WordPress is that I just wouldn’t feel comfortable running a full eCommerce site with it. The bigger the project gets to less a WordPress solution seems viable. I know a lot of people do operate entirely out of WordPress, and on a large scale too, but it just doesn’t sit right with me.

I think it’s a victim of the nature it needs to be created. It is, and has to be, an “add on” and because of this it always feels “tacked on”. If you’re wanting to run a successful eCommerce business and you’ll be living day to day in the admin panel processing orders and adding products etc, then you want it to feel like the system has been created for that purpose. I tend to find I end up in situations, especially after installing a few plugins, where it seems like all the features have been thrown at the page with an “it’s ok they’re all there so it works” attitude.

Are Shopify & Hosted Services the answer?

And so I find myself here, frustrated, annoyed and disappointed in the fact that it’s 2016. The internet is doing some amazing things, but it seems eCommerce packages have lost the love they deserve. Hosted services like Shopify are very popular these days, and I can see the advantages. Shopify in particular has an impressive features list and a great design. They have a modern way of approaching the sector and how they communicate with their customers.

I’ve yet to jump in and look around but one thing still sticks in my mind – and that is “what if I need to do something Shopify hasn’t thought of?”. I know full well what clients are like, and it’s only natural that when someone starts a business they want to be different and stand out from the crowd. Often this comes as an idea for a feature that isn’t “standard”. If that happens and the best solution is a hosted solution which doesn’t allow for such development, then you’re left with an amazing piece of software that does everything your client needs, which you can’t offer to them – and you don’t really have an alternative.

Are eCommerce Packages Dead?

So I guess the question is this – are eCommerce packages dead? I know there are a lot of them out there, and I’ve not tried them all. Who knows – the perfect system might be sitting there waiting for me.