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A Year Later and Drupal Commerce is Still in Existential Crisis

Jun 01 '18

Last year I wrote an article, The Death of Drupal Commerce, which was the result of my analysis of where digital commerce was going and a frank assessment of how Drupal Commerce did or didn’t fit into that reality.

Unfortunately, the last year has confirmed that Drupal Commerce is in terminal decline. Let’s explore why.

Reason 1: Drupal Commerce for Drupal 8 was released nearly two years after Drupal 8

Drupal 8 was released in November 2015 but Drupal Commerce did not have an official release until nearly two later, in September 2017. The software languished in beta for a year: an average of little more than one commit a day occurred during the entire beta process.

Such a glacial pace of development further demonstrates that the lack of robust corporate support is a real risk for any organization choosing to invest in Drupal Commerce.

Reason 2: Drupal Commerce is a solution without a use case

A use case for Drupal Commerce is hard to find:

  • For small sites Shopify (rightfully) dominates with a turnkey solution cheaper and more fully featured than Drupal Commerce.

  • For clients of any budget that do not need full code control Shopify Plus provides an incredible platform for mission-critical commerce, a more robust feature set, strong market adoption, and a better partner ecosystem than Drupal Commerce.

  • For budgets that need full code control, Magento 2 offers a vastly superior commerce platform with all of the same (and many more) benefits of Drupal Commerce for the same implementation effort (price). Magento 2 is widely supported, is open source, integrates with many external systems, has a healthy partner ecosystem, and is proven to scale. Drupal Commerce cannot compete in any of these areas against Magento.

  • For projects where you want to plug commerce into your existing digital experience, headless commerce providers are gaining market momentum. (See reason 3 for more information.)

One argument against my original article suggested that Drupal Commerce’s true market was to be the foundation for creating commerce SaaS platforms. If such a market does exist it’s not large enough to support a corporate backer for the platform and a healthy partner ecosystem. But more importantly is that Drupal Commerce isn’t the right platform to build a SaaS platform (commerce or not), lower level frameworks like Laravel are. Laravel is designed from the ground up to be a platform you use to build SaaS applications, and it’s that intention that makes such a critical difference.

Since it’s release in 2014 Shopify Plus has seen tremendous market adoption. By eliminating backend development budgets and providing near-infinite scale, Shopify Plus can handle large and small commerce sites that need mission critical platforms.

For any enterprise commerce platform project you need to first ask if it can be run on Shopify Plus, and if not, then consider other platforms. There are plenty of use cases that Shopify Plus isn’t a good fit for where other platforms shine (like Salesforce Commerce Cloud, BigCommerce, Magento), but over the next decade, it won’t be as many as you think.

Reason 3: Headless commerce is gaining momentum

One of the use cases where Drupal Commerce advocates for its utility is adding commerce to already established digital experiences built on Drupal, an open source content management system that powers a non-trivial number of the Alexa top one million sites.

As the thinking goes Drupal Commerce is a strong choice to enable commerce in Drupal without having to rebuild or replace your existing digital platform.

Unfortunately for Drupal Commerce, long-established players and new entrants in the headless commerce space—players like Elastic Path, Commerce Tools, Reaction Commerce, and FastSpring, just to name a few—provide superior features and scalability while costing less, and still provide a plug-and-play experience into your existing digital platform.

And unlike Drupal Commerce, these headless platforms plug into pretty much any digital layer that supports invoking APIs (read: all of them). This is an important competitive advantage in today’s ecosystem where organizations typically run many different tools across digital, from websites to web apps to mobile apps.

We have entered the era of third wave commerce platforms and everything has changed. Check out our guide on how to select a third wave commerce platform.

Reason 4: Digital commerce platform value has moved up a level of abstraction

The market again provides all the evidence we need of Drupal Commerce’s irrelevance. When PFSweb decided to make a move into content management which platforms did they decide to go to market with? BloomReach and Amplience.

BloomReach is the new company behind HippoCMS and Amplience is a SaaS platform that drives commerce conversion through engaging content.

Digital Commerce has moved firmly into the experience layer, and Drupal Commerce offers no compelling features set at the experience layer.

The future of digital commerce

More broadly, where is digital commerce headed in the next year? The trends I mentioned a year ago continue apace:

  • Shopify Plus is going to continue to eat into $100-500k commerce project market.

  • Fewer growing stores will move to full code control platforms like Magento as they find they can more easily move from Shopify to Shopify Plus as they grow.

  • In the near term, Magento will continue to strengthen its position in the mid-market dominated projects that require full code control, but the longer term view is less clear.

  • More sophisticated platforms like Amplience and Acquia’s rumored commerce play that add value to the experience layer (rather than the integration layer) will see more adoption and put pressure on less sophisticated platforms.

The writing is on the wall

As I have advised Third & Grove’s clients over the last year Drupal Commerce should not be considered when evaluating a digital commerce platform.

The lack of partner ecosystem and strong corporate backer make the risks too high, the market has moved on, platform value has moved beyond the system integration layer to the experience layer, and more mature solutions are available at the same or lower price points.

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