Drupal for e-commerce?
September 22, 2011 7:35 PM   Subscribe

I need to replace an old e-commerce website with something more modern. Can you make recommendations for a non-programmer - Drupal or other CMS? Something else?

I maintain a website that was written a million years ago in ASP. It's time for a new site, and I'm not sure where to start. I got it in my head that a CMS might work well for us - I was thinking Drupal. The problems with the current website are that it doesn’t have all the features we would like, it looks dated, and it’s a hassle to update. I don’t think it’s standards compliant, and if someone else needed to take over the site it would be a major hassle.

The current website has probably $350k a year in sales, and we sell ~200 different products. We have our products in a SQL database right now. I don’t know if we’d be able to use that, but if not, ease of importing products would be important.

Here's what we would like the new site to do:
*Display products by category, ideally individual products would be able to be in more than one category, AND it's important that we're able to control the display order of products within categories. This seems silly and specific, but it’s something we’ve struggled with on the current site.
*Run promos (usually this is a percentage off your order)
*Let users create accounts so they can save info, view orders, create wish lists, etc.
*Let our wholesalers shop online
*Have some interface for our customer service reps to enter phone orders (we’d like web and phone sales to both run through the site)
*Let us run reports on inventory, sales, etc.

So, can Drupal do this? Is there a better solution? (And the budget is really tight, there’s no way there’s money for a real developer – if that is the best option, then we would probably be stuck trying to spiff up the existing templates just to make the site look a little better and leaving it at that.) I do understand that there is a huge learning curve for Drupal in particular, I just want to make sure this is possible before I dive in.

Also, is this totally crazy? I'm not a programmer, but I have had no trouble picking up enough ASP to keep the current site running and to add new features to it. I learn well from books and online, will that be sufficient here or do I need to try to find an in-person class? Any suggestions for learning material would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Anonymous because 1) I’m a little embarrassed to know less than I probably should about some of this stuff, and 2) I don’t want this info linking back to the company via my profile.
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Why do you think you need a new platform? You need to seriously figure out what you have first. What sort of metrics do you have in place? What has driven you to think you need a new site? Because it's old? Get some metrics and then make an informed decision.

You may want to hire someone to come in and figure this stuff out for you because going into this blindly is not a good way to do this.
posted by TheBones at 8:17 PM on September 22, 2011

I've implemented a couple of e-commerce sites and I don't think the primary question is whether you should choose Drupal or any other solution. I have actually been in the exact same position as you and made the decision of going from a custom coded PHP script, that I took over from the previous developer, to an open source e-commerce solution and it went straight to hell. We're talking about 1+ year in development and absolutely no results at all.

Changing platform is a major undertaking and the solution itself or the coding is just a minor part of the entire project. I think you need to think really hard about the value of your e-commerce and honestly decide what your budget is and discuss if you cannot hire pros to help you figure out a relevant strategy.

Some of the stuff you will need to discuss are:
1. A realistic budget. Your e-commerce is a important part of your business, you need to invest serious money in it. Deciding up-front that the budget is tight can do a lot of unintentional damage. This idea absolutely needs to be sold to the rest of the company. It's not just about the money you're making, but all the lost opportunities because your current solution is inadequate.

2. All the issues you are having with the current solution. Try to estimate how much they cost you in terms of time and money. Equally important are the future goals you would like to achieve.

3. Migration. You want all your current data migrated to the new solution, this is pretty non-negotiable. And I'm not just talking about data related to products, product categories, customers and such; you want to make sure that all the URLs are properly redirected so that you don't lose customers simply because Google 404s on your product/category URLs.

4. Staff training. I'm assuming that a couple of people interact with the current ASP site. Those people need to be taught how the new system works and this will cost you time and money. Again, you also need to sell the the idea of the new solution, can't stress this enough. I've many times made the mistake of introducing new tech without doing the proper internal selling and it has always ended bad.

5. Hosting and support. Based on your business needs and constraints, do you really need to host your own solution? Maybe a totally managed solution where a service provider takes care of hosting, development and support suites you better? The drawback is that managed solutions cost much more, especially if you want to add features or change the design. You really need to think about the level and quality of support, though.

6. Integration with other it systems. If your solution needs to be integrated with payment solutions, billing/accounting software, etc, things have just become much more complicated and expensive. This type of integration usually requires custom coding and that might cost you more than the software+hosting+support together.

7+. I have barely scratched the surface here. There's so much else that a professional e-commerce agency would discuss with you.

As for picking a solution, it really depends on the business and tech constraints you have. You're talking about going from ASP to PHP (Drupal), does that mean that you can select your tech stack as you want? Because if that's the case, you need to do some business analysis and figure out which content-to-e-commerce ratio that your future solution must have. Based on my experiences with doing research up to a year ago, e-commerce solutions fall into two categories:
* Those that are dedicated e-commerce engines with basic content management features. Typical examples are Magento, PrestaShop and osCommerce/ZenCart. These solutions excel at supporting sales of products and the shopping experience but they tend to suck at handling content such as articles, blogs, media, etc. Usually you need to use addons to get better content management.

* Solutions that are content management systems with e-commerce as an addon, for example Wordpress+WP e-Commerce or Drupal+Ubercart. These rock at creating easy to use and content rich web sites but the e-commerce addon can feel a bit clunky, sorta like it doesn't really fit or makes the system much more complicated.

I can't say if a approach is better than the other, it really depends on your business and the agency you partner up with.

Gotto sleep so mefi mail me if you got questions.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:54 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding don't skimp on the budget. If you've got an established $350k in sales per year now with a less than ideal solution, you will make more with a well-though-out, well-designed solution. However, if you try to make a change on a shoestring budget without a "real developer" you are certain to lose sales and possibly tank the whole thing.

I just said this in another Ask, but with ecommerce solutions YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. If you want to make (or keep making) real money, you have to spend real money. It is worth it in the long run.
posted by TallulahBankhead at 10:38 PM on September 22, 2011

I agree that you are probably in over your head and should consult with an outside agency or independent contractor.

That said, YOU DON'T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. You need to be very careful in selecting an agency or contractor to assist you in this conversion. There are plenty of people that will charge six figures for a half-baked proprietary solution with no upgrade path and piss poor support. I've seen this happen!

On the other hand you may be able to (relatively to some 100k "big" agency job) cheaply hire a talented independent contractor or small team with the good sense to cleanly implement proven, off-the-shelf technologies that are scalable, well supported and have a well defined upgrade path.

But you need to ask for detailed proposals and when they submit it, send it back and ask for more detail and ask pointed questions on everything they tell you. Foci's bullet points are a good starting point for your questioning.
posted by j03 at 4:27 AM on September 23, 2011

I have a number of clients on the AccelCart CMS/ecommerce platform with Net Acceleration. It can do most of what you're looking for out of the box, and I like working with Glenn and his team. MefiMail me if interested.
posted by omnidrew at 7:32 AM on September 23, 2011

Yes, Drupal can do this. If you are interested in Drupal, you should check out Drupal Commerce, the successor to Ubercart.

Even with all the best tools, it's really easy to do e-commerce poorly. If you have actual products and revenue, then doing everything yourself seems crazy to me. I second everything Foci for Analysis said. The time you save hiring someone who knows what they are doing to migrate your content will pay for itself.

Mefi mail me if you have Drupal-specific questions.
posted by JuliaKM at 11:51 AM on September 23, 2011

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