Eliminating barriers to Drupal Commerce growth

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At the end of 2018, Dries Buytaert, creator of Drupal, asked folks involved with the project to share their thoughts on what's "holding Drupal back." His prompt came on the heels of two great blog posts related to his company Acquia's growth strategy and lessons he's learned and applied from Amazon's growth strategy. I didn’t beat his third post on overcoming Drupal’s obstacles to the punch, but the series did prompt me to think long and hard about the barriers we face as maintainers and leaders of the Commerce project within the Drupal ecosystem.

For the entirety of our existence, Commerce Guys has focused on building and promoting Drupal as an eCommerce platform, first through Ubercart and then Drupal Commerce. While eCommerce is a huge industry, our reach within the community has only averaged around 5% of all Drupal sites. Given the diverse and varied types of users Drupal serves, I consider this relatively low number unsurprising. (A certain percentage will also choose to integrate third party shopping cart systems, but historically that’s always been a fraction of the number of Drupal sites using our native solutions.)

It’s tempting to be fatalistic about Drupal Commerce’s growth and accept that our growth rate will be pegged to Drupal’s own growth rate so long as our relative percentage holds. It actually is an important baseline to acknowledge - our success is tied to Drupal’s success, and so we prioritize contributing to initiatives that help improve Drupal’s core APIs, make it easier to maintain and upgrade, and attract new audiences through API-first / JavaScript initiatives. However, I think we can and should do better than just waiting for growth to happen upon us.

Why should I think we can do better?

After Dries’s posts last year I compared our usage statistics for Commerce 2.x (on Drupal 8) to our usage statistics for Commerce 1.x (on Drupal 7) at the same point in its life-cycle. What I saw convinced me we have plenty of room to grow:

  • In 2013, Drupal Commerce 1.x grew from 23,224 to 33,989 sites.
  • These numbers represent growing from 4.02% to 4.50% of all Drupal 7 sites.
  • Our average growth rate that year was 3.89% month over month; Drupal’s own growth rate was 2.72%.
  • In 2018, Drupal Commerce 2.x grew from 3,097 to 6,980 sites.
  • These numbers represent growing from 1.41% to 2.85% of all Drupal 8 sites.
  • Our average growth rate last year was 8.65% month over month; Drupal’s own growth rate was 1.23%.

Just based on those numbers, even though Commerce 2.x grew over twice as fast last year as Commerce 1.x did in a similar timeframe in its life-cycle, we still represent only half of the relative number of Drupal sites we did back then. We can double our user base on Drupal 8 without challenging our historical average representation at all. That’s good news!

Our growth rate right now is fantastic, especially compared to Drupal's own. There are likely a variety of factors at play here, but I think it boils down to some combination of recognized maturity, excellent word of mouth from a steady stream of case studies, and our contributed module ecosystem stabilizing to a point that Drupal 7 / Commerce 1.x sites are finally porting to Drupal 8 / Commerce 2.x. As our 2.x project lead recently observed, we’re now up to over 250 contributed modules on drupal.org and maintain a community support Slack channel with over 1,000 participants.

Eliminating barriers to growth in 2019

In order for us to keep up and even accelerate our rate of growth, Commerce Guys has been working hard to identify our barriers to growth and develop solutions to them. As a small team playing in a large market (against very well-funded competitors), we can only do so much … but every bit of progress on any of the following fronts will help.

1. Features and integrations

The biggest barrier to growth has historically been our under-developed contributed module and integration ecosystem. Ecosystem development is incredibly important - agencies don’t often have the expertise or confidence to develop new features or integrations themselves. Our major competitors (Magento, Shopify, et al) all have massive ecosystems that third-party software vendors take the initiative to join while our own ecosystem remains dependent on our own team or the core of our development community to expand.

2. Developer support and education

It’s tempting to point to performance and scalability as another barrier to growth, but we see poorly performing Drupal Commerce sites as a symptom of another issue - lack of exposure by the average Drupal developer to best practices for scaling sites with a large amount of authenticated (or otherwise cache-breaking) traffic. We know that we can scale Drupal Commerce to support 10,000+ transactions per hour and thousands of concurrent users, but we also know that otherwise capable Drupal teams struggle at a fraction of that scale. In other words, it’s not a capabilities gap, it’s a knowledge gap, and we’re to blame for not sharing what we've learned with our userbase.

3. Reaching our core audience

Finally, we’re hardly communicating to the market at all about why they should be choosing Drupal Commerce. Our websites are aging, and organizations who do decide upon Drupal are often confused about what sort of support, if any, we might offer them if they choose to adopt our software. We understand how our solution differs from other major players in the market and where it should be seriously evaluated (e.g. cross-border commerce, digital product sales, subscription billing), but we aren’t doing enough to demonstrate our capabilities or provide a vision for why merchants will be better off using Drupal Commerce than a competing application.

We certainly have our work cut out for us in 2019, but we’re encouraged by last year’s growth and the support of our friends and champions within the Drupal community. We believe we can work to eliminate these barriers to growth while building a sustainable business that allows us to grow without compromising our values. In reverse order, the basic roadmap we’re targeting to address those known-blockers above will be:

  1. Relaunch our company and project websites to more clearly communicate who we are, what our software can do, and how we support eCommerce teams to build with confidence on Drupal.
  2. Standardize our consulting efforts and support retainers into concrete, documented offerings that anyone can understand.
  3. Coordinate our development roadmap with more agency and technology partners to ensure essential contributed modules receive the attention they deserve and our integration roster continues to grow.

We'll be encoding our expertise into productized solutions that allow us to grow a team focused on ensuring eCommerce sites built with Drupal are optimized for stability, security, and scalability. We've always valued the impact we have on the Drupal community even as a small team, and we believe addressing these issues will afford us the opportunity to grow, broaden our impact, and grow Drupal itself as a result.

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