Very recently Roman wrote about the lack of innovations in e-commerce and his frustration with the outlook leaders of popular shop systems gave.
Well, I can feel his pain. Since 2010 there has not really been any kind of innovation across the leading open source systems including Magento, Oxid e-sales, Shopware and PrestaShop from my point of view. It seems everybody got comfortable and relaxed once the feature push of Magento got to an end after the take over by eBay. I am under the impression that everybody went focusing on large “enterprise” clients underlining the stability and scalability of their software and therefore lost the focus on innovation. The nice thing about these enterprise customers is that they do come with deep pockets helping to monetize the open source development and attract other merchants. However at the same time they are the ones usually not requiring innovative features but a robust set of basic native functionality. I strongly recommend to read through this (German) post going into more details about the Enterprise direction the mentioned players are taking. Startups and more agile merchants trying to distinguish themselves from the big players are different and suddenly cannot rely anymore on native innovative features to be introduced by the open source shop systems.
And here we are right in the e-commerce innovation dilemma!
You are not convinced, yet? Let’s take a look at the facts.
Here you can find two years of Magento release notes starting in June 2011 and ending in April 2013. There is not a single major innovation I could find – but countless fixes, changes and refactor tasks.
So was all the innovation saved up for the big Magento 2 release? I was curious as it was first mentioned more than 1.200 days ago. Doing the research I came across an interesting discussion on hacker news I like to quote:
Magento 2.0 sounds promising. However, Magento 2.0 is lead by developers-only. No marketeers are involved to communicate merchant needs. I have tested Magento 2.0 dev60 and it is nothing more than a technical rewrite. Magento 2 offers the same feature set as Magento 1. You’ll just need to pay a developer to migrate all your 1.x extensions to 2.x, since there is no upgrade path.
So as much as I loved and praised the features and innovations Magento introduced and made available back in 2009 it seems to be obvious that whoever stood behind them has left and took the magic away.
And what about Oxid, PrestaShop and Shopware?
Taking a look at their release notes and comparing the feature sets with Magento it is interesting to see that most of the new features are not part of the open source solutions but have been released as chargeable modules and add-ons. For example something quite basic as bundled products is not included as native functionality in Shopware but available for €495 as extra charged module developed by Shopware themselves and published in August 2012. Looking at the PrestaShop module collection (78 modules) or the Oxid e-sales modules and their eFire marketplace it is more or less the same picture. The releases of the core open source product mainly focuses on bug fixes, performance improvements and rewrites. Even essential features are published as complimentary chargeable modules and the real innovation has to be driven in custom projects or bespoke agency work.
An additional good indicator of how innovative shop systems are is to look at startups utilizing the software to go to market. For example shopping clubs or subscription based startups used to be able to start into the market with a quite small budget as the shop systems were able to offer them a 80% ready solution out of the box. Over the last 24 months I have not seen new innovative startups in the e-commerce field who chose to work with one of the solutions mentioned above. For example Chloe+Isabel, an innovative social commerce startup from the US, had to build a custom solution with much higher investments.
When we first launched, we had to create all of our software from scratch as it just didn’t exist. While this was a different kind of challenge, what we quickly realized was that though Chloe + Isabel is a jewelry company, we had to be just as proficient as a technology company.
said Chantel Waterbury the founder of Chloe + Isabel in an interview.
Most of the startups I talked to would have loved to work with one of the open source shop systems after realizing that they are forced to build a costly and risky custom solution to achieve their goals. So why could they not utilize or extend the solutions available? Ironically the APIs are not open and powerful enough to support innovative shopping functionality and content segmentation driven micro sites utilizing just as much commerce functionality as they need. So as a result each of the leading systems has built its own eco system not being able to support true innovation. APIs were not the focus but added and enhanced later on in the process. This makes the solutions slow and harms service orientated architectures where merchants heavily rely on well performing and stable APIs to connect all the components utilized.
So the questions I like to ask are: Will there ever be a new shop system leading innovation and bringing it to the masses like it used to do Magento back in 2009? Or are we at the beginning of a larger paradigm change where shop system setups will not be like we know them up to today?