So before we dive into the pros and cons of DIY eCommerce, let's first provide a definition of DIY eCommerce and a quick summary of the reasons businesses sometimes opt to create their own eCommerce solution.
Defining DIY eCommerce
So DIY eCommerce is really in the name. A company will hire, or already have, an internal developer or development team that the business directs to build custom solutions to meet specific business requirements and processes. This creates a proprietary eCommerce solution that is unique to the business.
Why do businesses go DIY anyway?
Business typically choose the DIY route because their business model or processes demands total control over their application, technology stack and implementation. This always comes with either a conscious or unconscious tradeoff between control and the implementation/iteration speed of development.
When DIY is not a good fit?
The majority of cookie-cutter eCommerce businesses have migrated to cloud based SaaS eCommerce platforms over the past 5-10 years and we certainly would not advocate fairly standardized businesses like these to consider a DIY based approach as the traditional eCommerce website use case and demands do not warrant such an unnecessary investment because they don’t deviate from the norm.
Who is DIY really for?
In speaking to prospects and customers who currently have their own DIY platforms there is a clear pattern where they usually fall into two categories. The first is the B2B space, given that traditional eCommerce platforms are not really set up to cater to this space as each B2B use case can be radically different. The second category is where the customer journey again does not conform or fit to a traditional checkout process where additional steps and processes need to be introduced before, during and/or after (e.g. validation or approval processes).
Having to grapple with these use cases makes buying an off-the-shelf templated platform a non-starter due to the loss of control and the difficulty to deliver complex / custom business requirements due to the monolithic nature of these platforms. Proprietary templating engines, plugins and integrations can actually slow down development in the long run and get in the way when you deviate from the common path. That’s not to say that Shopify or BigCommerce are bad, they are just generally not a good fit for those that are evaluating a DIY build.
Magento as a DIY framework?
We also see many prospects and customers that initially selected Magento as a starting point to build their own DIY platform. They selected Magento to act as a framework rather than an out of the box eCommerce platform and leveraged its modular structure to build custom workflows and processes for their business. Whilst this has been great in the past, with the evolving nature of Magento, both in terms of ownership changes but also the retirement of Magento V1 and forced migration to Magento V2, many merchants are beginning to question the original choice having experienced some of the pains we’ll highlight below for many DIY builds. Over time a base Magento installation can evolve into dozens and in some cases hundreds of custom modules, plugins and thousands of lines of DIY code. This leads to increased bloat & complexity, longer implementation times and ultimately higher cost.
The downsides of DIY eCommerce
So far we’ve quickly covered a definition of DIY eCommerce, why businesses choose this route (the loose benefits around control), who DIY is and is not for really and utilizing Magento as a DIY framework. In this section we’ll quickly cover some of the key considerations when evaluating whether the DIY approach is the right approach for your business.
Implementation & iteration time
DIY projects typically require a multi-disciplined team of developers and project managers to deliver specific business requirements. This can take time and effort, especially when the buy vs build decision leans heavily on the latter. DIY eCommerce platforms typically take multiple months or even years for large projects to get off the ground and into production making them a high risk investment.
The labor pool differs completely when it comes to hiring for proprietary, DIY systems. Rather than looking to a specific developer with certifications for a specific platform, you will first need to decide what technologies your custom solution will leverage. From here you can begin to scope out the types of developers that you need to hire.
The second concern to point out is when it comes to hiring is employee onboarding. New members of the team that you hire will require training and time to get the grips with a proprietary platform or set of technologies. This can severely limit your labour pool and ability to iterate fast.
Lastly with DIY builds there is an increased risk that knowledge can escape the organization if key developers that built the initial platform decide to leave in unforeseen circumstances by management. Poor documentation and siloed knowledge can be a killer for a DIY platform which can lead to an even more costly rescue re-platforming earlier than the business initially anticipated. This can be mitigated to some extent by ensuring you have a larger enough development team that actively shares knowledge of all the component parts of the in-house platform and stick to strict coding and documentation standards.
Maintenance & Security
Once you have your initial DIY implementation live and have a team in place that can support the platform your business will have to keep investing into this DIY platform, from bug fixes through uptime management, performance management, hosting, support and security vulnerabilities. When you’re building your business, DIY solutions can often cause a significant distraction to your business operations.
Ability to adapt quickly
Continuing to build on top of your DIY eCommerce platform can be a challenge. Over time corners can and will be cut to meet deadlines, this leads to technical debt which in turns slows down development further. Bad practices here can create a situation where iteration time elongates over time which means the business can no longer adapt to a changing competitor landscape and compete effectively.
Ultimately all of the above variables leads to the biggest concern of all, ROI. DIY projects are notorious for their high risk and potential to spiral out of control.
Moltin as your DIY framework
So how do we eliminate some of these downsides?
By leveraging a cloud based, headless and flexible eCommerce engine, such as Moltin, that is designed to compliment and accelerate your DIY build you no longer need to make the tradeoff between speed and control. Your team can leverage the turn key nature of a SaaS platform whilst maintaining total control over your business logic and processes. Combine this with the ability to bring your own frontend, flows functionality to rapidly extend your data models and lightweight integration patterns on the backend to other best in class providers, your development team is free to rapidly design and implement a fit for purpose eCommerce stack.
Moltin implementations typically follow the JAMstack pattern with lightweight serverless functions on the backend written in Node.js or Go ensuring you have a modern and highly performant solution with a wide and growing talent pool to recruit from. Onboarding new developers typically takes a few hours or days if they are familiar with APIs and the average project length for Moltin builds is 3-6 months.
If you’re interested in exploring your complex or unique use case with a Moltin solution architect or engineer please get in touch.