E Commerce Platform Buy It or Build It

The last time I blogged about Target.com crashing, it was to remind you to have a viable ecommerce contingency plan, no matter the size or flavor of your site – big, little, B2B or B2C. Last Friday Target.com crashed again. This is the 5th crash since August 23rd when Target.com left the Amazon ecommerce platform and launched a new site on its own platform.

According to a press release dated August 23, 2011, it appears that Target has built its own proprietary ecommerce platform to host their ecommerce site. A good option for an ecommerce vendor of Target’s size–or was it?

There’s a lot of discussion about whether an enterprise organization should build its own custom ecommerce solution or buy a solution from an ecommerce vendor. There are definite instances where a company might choose one over the other, but there are also some critical considerations to take into account before deciding.

Build It

The argument for building your own e-commerce platform can be a compelling one–especially at first blush. Here are the PROS and CONS as I see them.

PROS

  • You no longer owe your platform vendor licensing, maintenance, or a percentage of sales in exchange for their technology.
  • You control how often your platform is updated.
  • You control the exact features and functions offered by your platform.
  • The platform is yours. Forever and ever.

CONS

  • You must build and maintain your own platform. This requires that you have the appropriate talent on staff or a hefty budget for paying consultant developers to build your platform.
  • If your developers are on-staff, you must ensure that they keep abreast of the best and brightest technologies to keep your platform up to par with your competitors. Ongoing continuing education and skills building is essential.
  • If your developers are contractors, anytime they “pop the hood,” be prepared to pay.
  • It is your responsibility to understand the breadth and depth of what the rest of the ecommerce world is doing and evaluate whether it would be an appropriate fit for your site.
  • The platform is yours…to fix when it crashes or when bugs arise. If you use a contract developer, prepare to pay each time something breaks.

Bottom line: Upfront cash outlay is generally less than buying, but total cost of site ownership is higher over time. You own the site; it’s up to you to fix it when it breaks. You must have a dedicated ecommerce development staff or contract developers on call to manage and grow the site.

Buy It

The argument for buying an existing ecommerce platform is pretty straight forward—you’ll pay more at first, but you don’t have to deal with all the headaches along the way. Here are the PROS and CONS as I see them.

PROS

  • You’re buying an existing ecommerce platform. Your launch date is limited by actual site development rather than trying to make a platform work as intended.
  • You don’t have to have developers on staff or even contract developers on the payroll unless you decide to take the platform “off-road” and use a software development kit on your own.
  • The ecommerce platform vendor keeps up-to-date on the biggest and best features and functionalities available in ecommerce today. They can help you determine what functionality you need and guide you toward technologies you may not have known existed.
  • It’s not your problem when the platform crashes or when bugs arise.

CONS

  • You must pay your ecommerce vendor licensing, maintenance, or a percentage of sales in exchange for their technology.
  • You do not control how often the platform technology–not your actual site–is updated.
  • Features and functionalities are dictated by the vendor’s product road map, not your inclinations.
  • You may be offered technology you don’t need/want.
  • The platform technology isn’t yours–you can’t edit your vendor’s expansion plans.

Bottom line: Upfront cash outlay is probably more than building your own, but total cost of site ownership is lower over time. You are not responsible for fixing the site when it breaks—that’s the ecommerce vendor’s headache. Staff developers not required.

Conclusion

Overall, I’d say that building your own ecommerce platform is a risky proposition (unless you are Amazon.com—they did it successfully and now sell their solution to other retailers). It’s unlikely that building ecommerce platforms and developing ecommerce websites is your business specialty. Purchasing a proven ecommerce platform is less risky and will save you a ton of headaches—and money—down the line.

To learn more about how to ensure your ecommerce initiative is a success, download the white paper, Integrated Ecommerce–Why Updating and Integrating Your Ecommerce Effort is Essential to Success.