Building an E-Commerce Site with Sitecore, Part 2 Separate E-Commerce Tools

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 @ 01:25

By: Brent McLean, Lead Consultant

In this series, I’m going through your options in adding e-commerce into your Sitecore website and looking at the pros and cons of each. In my first post I discussed the advantages and disadvantages of building a custom solution to your e-commerce needs. In this post I’ll discuss using a separate third part e-commerce tool, independent of Sitecore.

In this scenario you have two separate websites: your main Sitecore site and the e-commerce site. They aren’t integrated except perhaps by doing some styling of the e-commerce site make it look similar to the main site. Links are provided to move users back and forth between the two sites.

This approach has two huge advantages: time and money.

Assuming your business needs nicely fit within the capabilities of the many third party e-commerce tools, it can be very quick to get one of these solutions up and running. The e-commerce site can be something that is installed on your web server, but many are available as a hosted solution. A hosted solution is often not customizable, but the flip side is you don’t need a system administrator or developer to implement or maintain it. You’d purchase access, do some minimal styling within their controls, configure the store for things like taxes and shipping options, tie it into your merchant account, enter your products and you are ready for business. Even with the licensing costs of these services, they can be much less expensive than the other options.

PCI compliance is another advantage, particularly if the third party vendor hosts the solution. Credit card providers require that merchants adhere to PCI security standards. These standards are extensive, including a 50 page checklist. They cover technical details such as credit card encryption, but also have lots of requirements about physical and network security, necessary procedures and associated audits. Most of the work in being PCI compliant can be passed off to e-commerce vendor if they host and provide all of the e-commerce services.

So with those huge advantages, what’s the downside? The first downside is the assumption I mentioned about your business needs.

A third party tool can work well if it meets your needs, but if your business have more complex needs you might quickly find yourself chaffing at the limitations of the tools. For many businesses they are completely unusable because they don’t support the features you need. For instance, if your business promotes customized engravings and the e-commerce tool doesn’t support adding a message to each product during the checkout process, the tool won’t work for you, no matter how easy it is to set up. If you need your site to integrate into a lot of systems, such as ERP and CRM, you may also find it doesn’t meet your requirements. Check with several third party e-commerce tools in your evaluation. Some are very basic, but many are quite sophisticated in their capabilities.

Another disadvantage of this approach is that half of your site doesn’t benefit from having Sitecore. Content and navigation changes aren’t updated on the e-commerce site, requiring them to be updated again within the e-commerce administrative tools. In some cases you may need to pay the e-commerce provider to make these updates. Furthermore all of the benefits you get from Sitecore DMS don’t apply to anything with the e-commerce site, severely limiting the benefits of these powerful tools.

Lastly, the completely separate sites can result in a disjointed experience as the user moves back and forth between the main site and e-commerce site.  Difference in the e-commerce site’s look, navigation, and content can make for a more confusing experience.  For instance, a user may not understand why they can access their account information from the e-commerce site, but can’t while they are in the main site.

Pros:

  • Potentially the quickest and least expensive option to implement
  • Requires less development time from IT staff or Sitecore partner
  • Greatly reduces work in being PCI compliant

Cons:

  • Very little control over e-commerce capabilities
  • Limited abilities to customize solution for your business and integration needs
  • Ongoing licensing costs
  • Not integrated with Sitecore
  • Can’t utilize DMS within e-commerce site
  • Disjointed experience for end users

Best For:

  • Sites with Simple e-commerce needs that can be easily segmented from the rest of the main site
  • Sites that need to get e-commerce up and running quickly