E-Commerce Front Lines Report: Developer Pains & Product Review

It shouldn't be hard for developers to enable full e-commerce on any website.

In the beginning, that's the main pain we set out to ease with Snipcart. Three years have passed, and we now ease even more pains for devs:

We allow them to avoid closed ecosystems and adopt an API-driven, modular approach to e-commerce. To ditch heavy databases and build secure, fast & lean e-commerce static sites. To forget templates and call their own shots when it comes to shopping cart customization.

But these are only a fraction of the pains developers face when building e-commerce projects. It's hard for our small team to keep in mind all of the complexities of e-commerce. It's a good thing we're not alone!

Our user base and extended community has reached a critical mass since we launched. So we turned to 100 developers among them and asked one simple question:

What's your #1 pain in the ass when developing for e-commerce?

The plan was to collect quality feedback from lots of experienced developers. Some who have actively used Snipcart, and some who never touched it. Why did we do this? To try and identify recurring pains in our industry, see if we're solving them adequately, and maybe influence that product roadmap of ours a bit!

Truth is there was no dominant trend in the answers we got. No One Ultimate E-Commerce Pain in the Ass.

So today, we're going to categorize these pains the best we can, and add a layer of product introspection to them.

Pain reported #1: Keeping a coherent UX & UI through the entire shopping experience

A: Getting the e-commerce part of the website (i.e. cart and customer management areas) to look like it is part of the website rather than a separate website that has just been bolted on. Often trying to bend the shopping cart to fit the needs of the client’s expectations and their branding can be challenging and expensive with a lot of the off the shelf solutions out there. - James Bolitho, Inception Design

From discovering a site & browsing products to entering payment info & receiving an order, lots of customer-business interactions happen. Many developers expressed that there was often a clash in the overall UX or a change in the UI that harmed merchants' conversion rates:

  • Shopping cart or payment form doesn't match site branding
  • Shopping cart is hard to interact with and/or quit (especially on mobile)
  • Demanding & time-consuming checkout forms
  • Shipping rates aren't presented clearly
  • Forcing account creation before checkout
  • URL redirections during checkout
  • Impersonal email confirmations & follow-ups

Are we solving this?

Yes: we allow developers to easily customize their shopping cart, our check-out flow converts well, and all of our transactions happen on-site, with no redirection.

What could we do to improve?

While we've had good feedback on our current checkout flow, we're eager to experiment with a new one. We'll be looking at re-hauling our modal checkout to optimize its speed-to-completion and conversion rate. We're also considering giving full control to developers when it comes to checkout form building. We'll keep everyone posted of these advancements through our newsletter.

Note: Since Snipcart only handles the shopping cart part of your e-commerce site, I thought I'd share another helpful on-site UX resource for web devs: eCommerce UX Mistakes That Drive Us Nuts and Crush Customer Confidence - Specky Boy.

Pain reported #2: Integrating with all the right tools

There're a plethora of solutions available to help developers and merchants at every step of their e-commerce operations. Sometimes, getting all of them to play nicely together ends up being a hassle:

  • Migrating non-transactional/old sites to hosted e-commerce solutions
  • Strenuous or unsupported payment gateways
  • Limited payment options for customers (deferred payments, cash, direct bank account transfers)
  • Connecting with external inventory management systems
  • Various CMS limitations

With all the different components at play within e-commerce, we can't blame some developers for choosing turnkey solutions. Many will prefer a feature bloat to a few headaches. However, with the rise of APIs, it gets easier to pick specific tools and set up just the right amount of features you need.

Note: here's a handy little tool to search for the right APIs your project needs: APIs.io.

Are we solving this?

Yes: since our shopping cart platform is injected via simple HTML/JS + offers strong APIs, many of the integration challenges mentioned can be overcome with a few lines of code.

What could we do to improve?

We should provide more native integrations with key third party solutions (think shipping fulfillment, email marketing). We'll also try our best to integrate more payment gateways. While bank transfers haven't been mentioned much among our community, we'll definitely have a look!

Pain reported #3: Customizing products

A: Creating product variations with different prices each, with different prices by size. - Mikael Boutin, Go Hockey

Product customization was often a thorn in developers' side during e-commerce projects. According to them, many e-commerce solutions offer limited options for truly custom products. Dynamic pricing calculation depending on product options and user-created products were among the popular ones mentioned.

Are we solving this?

Yes, for the most parts, we are. Our custom fields enable a certain depth of products customization and dynamic pricing alterations. This Snipcart merchant, for instance, enabled complex product configuration on his site to allow customers to create their own custom running shoes.

What could we do to improve?

A few quick improvement wins for us here would be to allow developers to change product weight, image, and SKU depending on selected custom fields.

Pain reported #4: Handling logistics—mostly taxes & shipping

A: The number one pain when developing for e-commerce is the client location management: which taxes to charge, shipping fees and delivery management. In the end, e-commerce is not a technical challenge. It's a matter of integrating the most regulations and automations for clients around the globe. - Dominic Goulet, Momenteo

E-commerce's critical steps often take place in the offline world. Digital-only businesses apart, tons of merchants ship physical products to customers all over the world. The numerous specifics these operations require often cause pains for developers:

  • Varied tax management and calculations
  • Location-specific shipping methods
  • Real-time shipping estimates
  • Lack of product-specific shipping options
  • Unsupported shipping providers

Are we solving this?

Yes. Out of the box, we do support most big shipping carriers, custom shipping rates, and real-time shipping estimates. For the rest of the use cases mentioned, we offer an API & webhooks to handle shipping more specifically.

Our merchants' biggest tax pain was handling US taxes. To solve it, we've integrated with TaxCloud, a free tax management software.

What could we do to improve?

We already planned to improve our custom shipping rates to add conditions, making it easier for devs & merchants to set it up without coding. Same thing goes for product-specific shipping rates.

We could also integrate with a tax management software platform for our European users, who deal with the infamous VAT on a regular basis.

Pain reported #5: Quality testing before going live

A: I don't entirely look at it that way. As e-commerce developers we've been given some good tools that take part of the strain while allowing flexibility. But if I had to choose one thing, I'd say it's getting data together for a client demo. It's necessary and needs to show the power of this essential piece of the business jigsaw, but takes time. Time I'd rather be spending on technical or creative challenges. - Mike Danson, Simply Effective Websites

A: Testing checkout flow all the way from adding a product into the cart to the "customer" receiving their email invoice. - Anna Brown, Media Girl Inc.

Many developers expressed that comprehensive testing accompanied with good test data is often hard to get right and time-consuming.

Are we solving this?

Yes. Our Test environment allows devs to test transactions, cart interactions, shipping configurations, order confirmations and much more for free on a live website.

What could we do to improve?

At the moment, to gather dummy data and test locally, you need to use a tool like ngrok with Snipcart. We'll eventually enable native local testing for our developers for sure. We should also offer a batch of test data for developers looking to demo our products more quickly to clients.

Conclusion

For us, what started out as a simple drop-in HTML/JavaScript shopping cart evolved into a complete shopping cart platform used by thousands of sites. But even if our solution is more comprehensive, we can't afford to do everything. We need to keep killing it at the shopping cart and e-commerce management level, but not become yet another turnkey solution. We still believe that developers need the freedom to work with the right tool for the right job.

We'll certainly keep an eye out for key features and integrations to develop for our users. You can help us do so on our UserVoice public forum.

In the meantime, let me assure you that all of the "ways to improve" we mentioned in this post have been added to our product backlog. :)

Thanks again to all the developers who took the time to share their e-commerce pains with us!


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