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Oct 28 2020
Oct 28

Getting bogged down in the day-to-day, repetitive tasks that a business requires is not only a drain on your mental health, but it could also become a hindrance to growing and scaling your business. Add up the time from all the little tasks you do in a day. If you could automate one-third of those tasks, think about how much more your business could grow! Read on to learn more about business automation and how Drupal could be the answer to your business woes.

  • Business automation is a strategy in which a business like yours finds a way to automate processes and manual tasks to reduce costs/time.

  • The time savings that come from having solid business processes and automation setup, is time that you and your staff get to leverage to grow your business.

  • Since Drupal is an open source platform, it gives business owners a huge opportunity to build custom integrations that can drastically reduce workload and help with business automation.

What is business automation?

Expert advice from an Ecommerce Software Consultant | Acro MediaBusiness automation is a strategy in which a business like yours finds a way to automate processes and manual tasks to reduce costs/time. This is normally accomplished through third party software and integrations.

Business automation can be applied in many areas of a company, including, but not limited to:

  • Marketing & Sales
  • Project Management & Product Development
  • Accounting & Inventory

Why does business automation matter?

At the end of the day what we are trying to do is save time. Think about it… if you can save 30 hours a month because you have solid business processes and automation setup, that's an extra 30 hours a month you and your staff get to leverage to grow your business.

Business automation is a powerful thing, it gives you the ability to scale your business much faster than if you had to do things manually. Here are the steps you should be taking to work on your business automation.

  1. What recurring tasks and processes do you and your staff currently have? Also, take a look at any swivel chair processes you may have and see if they can be eliminated.
  2. Is there a tool, integration or software that is designed to automate this task?
  3. What is the price of that tool and does it justify the time and money saved for automating that specific task?

Follow those three steps over and over again when trying to find ways to automate your business and you will be well on your way to increasing efficiency in your business.

Why Drupal is great for business automation

This one is simple. Since Drupal is an open source platform, it gives business owners a huge opportunity to build custom integrations that can drastically reduce workload and help with business automation.

Yes, lots of software as a service (SAAS) platforms have plugins and apps that can integrate with their system. But, for the most part, these integrations, modules and APIs are very standard. The moment a business requires something custom that they need their website to integrate with, all these other platforms fail to pan out. On the other hand, if your software is open source, and your business needs a custom integration, it’s most likely it can be built on Drupal due to the open source framework. Just ask some of our clients!

Bar Codes Talk

Selling barcodes & labels is a very complex business. It’s a very unique product that requires a lot of unique solutions. In our time working with Bar Codes Talk our main mission has always been the same, how can we streamline the fulfillment process for both barcodes and labels? With some hard work and custom modules, we have created some awesome integrations that have helped with all of this.

  • Nicelabel/NiceForm Module: Communicates with NiceForm (label printing software) and automatically puts the labels purchased in the printing queue.
  • Hubspot: Automatically inputs all Bar Codes Talk customers into the Hubspot CRM and separates each customer into different sales tiers based on their purchase.
  • Stamps: Communicates with the Stamps.com API for enhanced USPS shipping automation during the shipping fulfillment process.

Click here to see Bar Codes Talk full case study.

The Vault Pro Scooters

The Vault Pro Scooters is a client of ours who was struggling with their shipping/fulfillment process. Their staff was performing a lot of the shipping tasks manually, which was eating up a huge portion of their time that they could be using somewhere else.

In this specific scenario, we flew out one of our lead developers to their office/warehouse to analyze and study their shipping/fulfillment process. Because of this, we were able to use the Drupal platform to eliminate a lot of the manual tasks they were performing during the shipping and fulfillment process.

Here are some other modules that have helped automate and streamline their business.

  • Commerce Fulfillment: Allows The Vault to create shipments on their website and automatically send shipment information to FedEx and USPS to generate shipping labels for printing.
  • FedEx Crossborder: Integrates with FedEx's Crossborder platform to automatically provide international shipping rates and submit international order information to FedEx. The Vault then just ships order to FedEx's distribution center and FedEx handles shipping the order to the customer.
  • Commerce Stock: Automatically updates product stock when purchases are made, either through the online check or through the Point of Sale.
  • Drupal POS: We built a POS specifically for the Pro Vault Scooters. The great thing about the POS is that it is built on Drupal. Now all the Pro Vault Scooters inventory, content, product info, pricing, customer data, digital assets, and functionality are all stored in one system. With this one system, you are equipped with an infinite amount of data for personalization, marketing automation, real-time analytics, and business logic. Click here to learn about our POS.

How Acro Media is contributing to business automation

We know the importance of business automation, and while it’s hard for us to know exactly what your business could benefit most from, we tried to create something that could help the majority of our clients.

This is why we created a Drupal Quickbooks integration! Now you can automate all the boring, manual accounting tasks. This integration will sync and automate all your product orders, customers, refunds, credit memos, invoicing… and much more.

If you are looking to save a huge amount of time every month in Quickbooks, you can learn more about our Drupal Quickbooks integration here.

Other Drupal modules that help with business automation

Please note that to be able to use the modules below you will need to own or have access to a subscription for these products.

Hubspot Module: Hubspot is an amazing CRM and marketing tool used by many companies. Some features are free and others are paid. This module facilitates the submission of webforms to the HubSpot Leads API to help in tracking leads through Hubspot.

Mailchimp Module: Mailchimp, in simple terms, is an awesome email marketing tool. This module makes it possible to connect Mailchimp directly with your website helping you automate and build lists that can be directly synced from your Drupal site into Mailchimp.

Marketo Module: The Marketo Module helps you integrate the tracking capabilities offered by the Marketo Automation tool. Webform integration and user registration are key features of this module which also helps you in assessing your website’s ability to capture lead data.

Amazon Module: Syncs your Drupal store with your Amazon store. If you're removing items, adding items, selling items, this module will keep both stores updated and in sync automatically.

eBay Module: Syncs your Drupal store with your eBay account. If you're removing items, adding items, selling items, this module will keep both stores updated and in sync automatically.

CRM Modules: Drupal integrates with many different CRM platforms. If you are currently using any popular CRM, it is most likely there is a Drupal module that will integrate directly with that CRM.

The anything your business needs Module: This is the beauty of Drupal and open source. We can create just about any module for any integration with any software or third party tool you might be using. If there isn’t a module that does what you need, we can build it! This is why Drupal is so superior when it comes to integrations and business automation.

Other cool automation tools

I want to finish this post by giving a list of some other cool tools you can use to help with business and marketing automation. Some of them are free and some of them are paid. Check them out and let us know what you think.

Buffer (free & paid): Looking for a simple way to automate your social media marketing, then this is a tool you need.

Mailchimp (free & paid): If you are looking to do email marketing (which you should), then Mailchimp is a great software we use for most of our clients. It allows you to send automated emails based on customer behaviour and preferences. You can get started with pre-built Workflows or use their built-in segmentation and targeting options to build custom rules.

Spark Shipping (paid): Spark Shipping is dropshipping software that integrates with your existing E-commerce store to automate order fulfillment, provide dropshipping automation and Amazon repricing. If you don’t do dropshipping, you can ignore this one.

IFTTT (free & paid): This tool has a TON (over 340 services) of different apps and integrations that can be automated. Rather than me explaining everything, I suggest you check it out and see what it can do for you.

Conclusion

Now that you know how powerful business automation can be for your business, you should take the time to follow the steps I outlined at the beginning of this article, to find out what you can be automating and see if what tools and integrations can help you automate those tasks.

Feeling a little overwhelmed and need an extra set of hands? Our ecommerce software consultants are business automation pros and would love to chat with you about your business and help you find ways to streamline things so that you can focus more time and energy on the important things that will help you grow your business. Reach out at any time. We are always here to help.

Expert advice from an Ecommerce Software Consultant | Acro Media

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on August 24, 2016, and has been updated for freshness, accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Jun 02 2020
Jun 02

End of life (EOL) software is a very real problem. Whether your business is using ecommerce and customer relationship management systems across multiple platforms or relying on basic scheduling and accounting software, you will at some point reach a technological expiry date.

Acro Media has developed a 6 step action plan for handling software end of life. View it here >>

When a system reaches end of life, the creator/owner of the software/technology no longer delivers support services for the product. That can include technical support, hardware or software upgrades, bug fixes, security patches, or feature development. In short, the system gets abandoned by its owner. 

Software becoming obsolete can cause all sorts of problems. Here are a few of the  risks to your business in running EOL software:

1. Compromised security

If you hold people's information and data, you are responsible and liable for it.

End of life technology receives no security updates. No bug fixes. No patches. No monitoring. Your technology is dead in the eyes of the creator. That means your security is completely compromised, not only for the platform that is EOL, but also potentially for any others that connect to it.

At minimum, your system can be accessed and your content or records edited, stolen, or deleted. If you have any user data, financial data, or sensitive information, you could have a major problem. The monetary and reputational cost could kill your business.

A survey of 2,600 CIOs across the U.S. found that the number one concern was keeping systems and information secure. By being proactive and not letting your systems reach their end of life, your company is better positioned to ensure that your data, and your customer’s information remains secure.

2. Lack of reliability

If you were a taxi driver, would you willingly drive an old car that is no longer maintained and has sporadic issues? Of course not. That’s because your livelihood relies on the economics of your vehicle. 

But that is what you are doing if you continue with EOL software. Old software is less reliable and more prone to failure. 

Maintaining EOL software is complex and expensive, and integrations into other systems require even more time-consuming and expensive workarounds. 

Regular updates, bug fixes and support in general goes away at EOL, which makes system maintenance much more difficult. Instead of spending your resources on new tools or building better customer experiences, you are stuck paying top dollar for fixes and updates no longer covered by the software creator.

Which brings us to our final point...

3. Higher operational costs

EOL software costs more, whether it’s through lost/stolen data, updating and maintaining with third parties, legal liabilities, or lost revenue from downtime or issues. 

The sticker price on a new system can sometimes seem large and prohibitive from a business point of view. But, consider the consequences of a security breach, or a major bug. The peace of mind  that comes with having a fully secure and supported system that won’t arbitrarily go offline is worth its weight in gold.

Another benefit from moving away from EOL software is the opportunity to review your company's entire technology stack/architecture. If you have software moving towards EOL, it's essential to look at not only replacing the single system, but also assessing your whole technology landscape for opportunities to make larger improvements.

Conclusion

Ultimately, EOL technology is costly to your business in multiple ways. Most technology providers give lots of notice when one of their products is going to be unsupported. That gives you time to assess your options and determine the path you should take. 

To help you assess your options download our 6 step action plan for handling software end of life.

Download the End of Life Playbook (PDF)

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on June 2, 2020 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy and comprehensiveness.
May 26 2020
May 26

Many costs are associated with developing a new ecommerce site or migrating from an antiquated setup to an upgraded version. And unless you work in the thick of ecommerce development every day, you likely don't know what questions to ask to ensure you’re getting the full picture.

This article explains what your typical expenses will look like and makes a few suggestions about how to approach budgeting for this undertaking.

Open Source vs. SaaS: A Comparison of Costs

You need to decide whether you will go with open source or a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform to power your site. The cost of doing business is very different with each model.

An open source ecommerce framework has the expenses front-loaded. You pay for development time and configuration costs, and then the final product is yours to own and manage—license-free. 

A SaaS approach is quicker to get live and has lower costs up front. But then you pay an annual license fee and give a percentage of your revenue to the platform with each transaction made. 

Start by doing some easy math. Calculate three percent of your average annual sales. With an SaaS approach, if you sell $50 million online each year, you'll pay $1.5 million in revenue share (on top of licensing fees). If that is an acceptable cost of doing business and allows you to “set it and forget it," then SaaS is likely the right way to go for you.

But if you're a business that needs or wants more control of the front- and back-end experiences, you can use that three percent as a starting point to decide how to shape and invest in your online architecture. With open source software, you’d invest this money up front in year one. In years two and beyond, expenses taper down to about 15 percent of this initial investment annually to keep operational. 

Complete this exercise in relation to your own revenue and figure out what your working budget would be to get started. If three percent leaves you with peanuts, I’d suggest searching out a DIY platform-first ecommerce tool and seeking the help of an independent contractor to start generating revenue online. Your year-one investment may look closer to 50 percent of your annual online revenue to get where you need to be. 

Try to avoid thinking of this as an expense. Instead, think of how much money you’re going to spend to get a return on investment. How long will it take you to earn that ROI? Are these expectations realistic?

How to Budget for an Open Source eCommerce Architecture

Moving from an existing platform (typically SaaS or home-brew) over to a fully open source, headless ecommerce architecture setup incurs costs like:

Planning

Planning is the backbone of a successful ecommerce development project. If you don’t spend the time and money to work out that foundational blueprint, you will get a half-assed outcome that will likely cost more than you were initially promised.

On average, the planning processes for building a substantial ecommerce site for businesses that generate $50 million or more in revenue take 10 weeks of work and cost about $50,000. 

Planning is the absolute MUST-DO on your list. If you skip it, you may save $50,000, but your project will spend it on the other end trying to figure out who meant what because you flew cheap and blind. 

Ask if your proposed agency completes the following activities in their planning phase: 

  • Visualization / live prototyping 
  • Conversion planning, persona development, user journeys 
  • API integration planning, platform and integration reviews and selections 
  • ERP / product mapping 
  • Server and dev ops planning, security, performance and scalability planning

If you’re being pitched the above list, and you can see working past examples of blueprints such as these, then you’re spending your money wisely and you have a shot at getting this project right the first time. 

TIP: This plan should be detailed enough that you can either take it and build out your new site in its entirety with your on-staff tech team, or take it to ANY agency and have a crystal-clear spec for execution. 

Planning is not conceptual. It is a fully operational blueprint that the engineers have stamped and approved. This is a one time cost and the most essential ingredient in your budget. 

If you can only afford to get through planning in year one, make it a priority and wait for the next round of capital expenditure funding to implement it.  

Creative Design

Designing a new eComm site is the fun part. This phase of the project should be done after planning is fully signed off on. That’s because planning allows ideas to flow and evolve. And changes in functionality dictate front-end experiences. 

Your design phase will vary in price depending on what you want to see mocked up versus just built by the team without your input. Set aside $25,000 to $45,000 to make sure your creative phase reflects the quality of your business accurately. This is a one-time cost.

Here are a few tips to ensure that you’re spending your money wisely:

  • Beware of agencies that propose mockups for 30 pages within your new ecommerce site. This is a waste, a cash grab, and a sign of an inexperienced development team.  
  • Limit mockups to the home page, catalog landing page, product details page, and a general content page. However, if you have some funky options in your cart and/or checkout process, design them, too. 
  • Don’t bother fully mocking up creative designs for responsive options. If you’re dead set on seeing the mobile experience, start with the homepage on phone only and evaluate from there. 
  • Don’t waste time or money creating full mockups for each page. You can always add more designs as you go, if needed, or designers can provide elements to improve designs on single pages.
  • Complete and approve the home page design fully first before moving onto any “internal” templates. You don’t want rework across multiple designs. 
  • Use a web design agency, not a design agency. There are specifics for designing to web standards that don’t apply to companies that deal in logos, brands, and print work.

Sprinting / Development

Your project team should work with you to break your planning into stories, block these stories into epics, and group these epics into sprints. You’ll then have an idea of how many sprints you’ll need to get live.

Typical costs for sprinting range from $20,000 to $60,000 a month for the lifetime of the build cycle, which is usually six to 12 months. After this investment, you have a feature-rich ecommerce setup to push live. (Remember: These expenses are front-loaded. After this one-time cost, you own the site and don’t have to pay licensing fees or share your revenue).

Sprinting costs depend on velocity. That is, how many bodies can we afford to put on this development until the sprints are done? If you have $20,000 a month to spend for six months, you’ll get through $120,000 worth of programming or about 600 hours (give or take per agency).

That’s a decent amount of programming time for a version one go-live. You can alter the velocity, or speed with which you move, by altering your spend. After you get to that first launch, you may have the option to taper down resourcing (i.e., output) and slow spending over the following months.

Additional Features or Ongoing Support

Your site is not a static business channel. You’ll need to budget for continued rollout of new ideas, features, integrations, and changes. We often work with companies to train an in-house developer and take the agency expense out. With an open architecture and open source ecommerce setup, the ongoing costs are fully in your control.

Plan out your monthly spend over 12 months to figure out what’s realistic to your ROI, and if you should start right away or take a break.

TIP: Budget for  at least a year of ongoing expenses at whatever rate you deem suitable if you want to get a little consulting, training, advice, or coding from some experts. Just be sure to align your expectations of output with your willingness to spend.

Third-Party Expenses

Look past your site to see the full picture. What else does it need or plug into that has an annual contract? Account for these costs, too. A few typical additional expenses include:

  • Hosting
  • Server maintenance, security, updates and monitoring
  • Accounting software
  • ERP software / PIM 
  • CRM software
  • 3PL software (shipping, warehousing, labeling)
  • Programmers on staff
  • CSRs on staff 
  • Training and documentation

Conclusion

Your website is not an expense; it's a revenue channel that needs to be flexible and well architected. A substantial investment will be needed to compete online, so make sure you understand the costs involved. 

If you don’t know where to start, chat with a consultant to see if your math lines up with your goals, and then take this information to your internal team. You have options, and they should be clearly laid out for you up front, not presented to you with an invoice when you’re well into development with an agency’s team. 

Inform yourself on the process, not on the programming, and you’ll be in a better position to evaluate the best path forward.  

Click to contact one of our ecommerce consultants

May 19 2020
May 19

How amazing does it feel when you walk into a coffee shop and the barista greets you by name and asks if you’d like the usual? Or when you meet someone you haven’t seen in a long time and they ask about some obscure and specific hobby you once mentioned you had?

These personalized experiences give you the warm and fuzzies. You typically come away from those interactions a fan of the place or person. Heck, if someone were to criticize them, you’d speak up that that's not your experience. And you wouldn’t hesitate to recommend that place or person to others.

At an event a few years ago, I noticed someone who seemed a little hesitant. I introduced myself and invited them to join me at my table, and we chatted a little. We never spoke much after that. But on multiple occasions over the past few years, that person has given me a glowing reference when I came up in conversation. 

Personalization makes us feel valued and understood. And that's how you want your customers to feel. Because if they do, they will buy more and advocate for your brand.

Personalized Marketing Options to Consider

Broadly speaking, there are two ways to do web personalization: with real-time data or historical data.

Real-time data involves using location data to serve up a specific site, content, or offer. Here are a few examples:

  • Using device type or operating system to either manage how content is displayed or make assumptions on product needs
  • Using traffic source to tailor content (i.e., looking at when and what the user came from)
  • Basing promotions on products or services that have proven popular with others

Historical data goes deeper. This involves presenting personalized content, products, or offers based on users' previous interactions. You could look at factors like:

  • The number of orders they made
  • Their average order size
  • The total amount they spent
  • The products they looked at
  • The carts they abandoned
  • The time that has elapsed since their last transaction and/or visit

The options are as vast as the data you have collected. But through segmentation and rules, you can greatly increase the user's odds of converting.

Why You Need to Tread Carefully

Many consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about privacy and data management. You need to ensure that the personalization you supply is helping them in making a conversion decision and not simply showing them how much you know about them.

For instance, your barista asking if you fancy trying the new mocha latte (because they knew you had recently bought one from another brand) is much less creepy than being greeted with, "I heard you’re now into chocolate, so try this new mocha latte." The difference is small, but crucial.

Choose the Right Tools

With the overwhelming array of personalization options, it's important to work with an experienced team that can help guide you. At Acro, we love Drupal, and it can do many entry personalization functions within its platform (much more than most content management systems).

However, if you need to get very sophisticated, then you need a third-party platform. We love Acquia Lift. For features, usability and support, it is unparalleled. If you would like a personalized introduction to Acquia, hit me up and I’ll set you up, personally. 

The Bottom Line

Global research and advisory firm Gartner stated that the three key takeaways on personalization are:

  1. Consumers want to receive personalized help as they navigate the buying journey.
  2. Focusing solely on personalized recognition is potentially detrimental to a company’s commercial objectives.
  3. When it comes to help, consumers prioritize information, a simpler purchase process and saving time.1

Peronalization isn’t the ultimate goal. It’s another tool to achieve whatever your actual goal is, whether that be increased sales, increased order value, increased frequency or brand loyalty. Once you define what your goals are, you can explore if personalization will give the required ROI.

If you would like to have a conversation about your business goals and see if personalization is an appropriate tool for you, give me a call. And if not, if we ever meet out and about, you’re always welcome to sit at my table.

Click to contact one of our ecommerce consultants

1 - Source: Gartner, "Maximize the Impact of Personalization,” April 2019

May 12 2020
May 12

Many people researching Drupal Commerce 2.x for Drupal 8 (or the upcoming Drupal 9) are likely wanting to either remove the extra ecommerce shopping carts or allow checkout for multiple carts. This blog post will explain why we have multiple carts—and why being able to checkout with multiple carts is challenging, but possible.

Why you can have more than one Drupal Commerce cart

First, let’s demonstrate what Commerce 2.x can do out of the box for a single user and is often considered a bug. 

  1. Go to Acro Media’s demo store.
  2. Start out as anonymous and register as a user.
    1. Register here.
    2. Check your email/spam and click a link.
    3. Set your password because you’ll need to log back in shortly.
      Note: Acro doesn’t use your email address used on the account sign up on this site to contact you for marketing purposes. You can opt into marketing materials by clicking the large red help question mark on the right.
  3. Once registered, add something to your cart, and log out.
  4. Add something to your cart and log in.
  5. Go to /cart.

Shopping-cart

If you are seeing two carts, then you have discovered, like many others, that Drupal Commerce 2.x shows multiple carts by design. Drupal Commerce 1.x created multiple carts like this as well, but would only show one cart at a time. In 1.x, you could follow the five steps outlined above, then checkout and your original cart would display.

Why? Because the system will not delete carts. We’re using a simple anonymous session to create two carts in a potentially common edge case.

The pros and cons of multiple carts

Pro Con
  • Customers never lose a cart, even if their use of the site means they have more than one.
  • You could have multiple sellers, enabling a marketplace feature to be built on top of the existing functionality
  • You could enable different checkout workflows (one for digital services, one for recurring services, and another for physical items that require shipping).
  • You could end up with a confusing user experience by making your customers check out multiple times.
  • Payment and fulfillment must be handled separately for different items or different vendors.
  • More than one cart presents a significant visual challenge for designers. In the cart dropdown, for example, how do you should more than one cart? On the cart page, for another example, how do you handle more than one checkout button?

Turning off multiple carts in Drupal Commerce 2.x

There are two relatively simple Drupal modules you can use to show a single cart to a user:

Commerce Combine Carts—If this module is turned on, the multi-cart demo above would not produce two carts.

Commerce Cart Advanced—This module packs a lot of features into it for the crowd of users who want management tools around their multiple cart experience, but it also includes the feature to display only one cart at a time. It was created and is maintained by Acro Media’s senior developer known as krystalcode (Dimitris Bozelos).

Checking out multiple carts, Etsy/Amazon style

The holy grail of marketplace commerce is multi-store and single-checkout. The idea is that you could have a site that features multiple stores and customers could check out once from more than one store. 

According to the original author and former maintainer of Drupal Commerce 2.x, bojanz, you can do this by coding a form that acts like a checkout flow-form, but changes more than one order simultaneously.

However, you also have to consider a number of other issues: 

  • Fulfillment—If the stores are selling physical products, how will these orders appear to the customer and to customer service for each store? Likely, each store would want to only see the products for which they are responsible.
  • Order management—Even Amazon does some weird things with orders for its customers. Often, orders are split up for seemingly no reason, changing order totals and making order management challenging for customers and for customer service.
  • Payment—If you, as the site owner, plan to pay stores from your own bank account, you’ll want to set up a single, site-wide payment gateway and manage disbursement payments to your store owners. If not, then you’ll require each store to have its own payment gateway credentials or some other even more complex setup.
  • Taxes—Assuming you have good solutions for all of the above, taxes will still likely make it very hard to move forward. Tax law is hard in the best of times, and depending on how you take payment, tax rules would need to be created and maintained per store. Solutions like Avalara AvaTax only work per store and can be overly expensive for small retailers.

The bottom line

Basically, you have a few contrib options if you want to manage carts for your customers. But if you want that elusive multi-vendor, single checkout, you’ll have to plan well according to your business needs. Regardless, the flexibility of Drupal’s ecommerce cart functionality is capable of creating the best ecommerce shopping carts out there, you just need to know how to do it.

Feb 11 2020
Feb 11

1) Built-in support for multi-language sites and admin portals

Let's jump right in! For business owners, ecommerce eliminates many restrictions of traditional business practices. One opportunity is the ability to sell your product to overseas consumers, expanding your possible market to contain, well virtually, the whole world. Of course, one of the barriers to entry into certain markets may be the language.

Imagine this: You are a Brazilian business owner who just invented chewing gum that never loses its flavour. Obviously, the demand for this product is worldwide. The only problem is that you do not feel comfortable writing the script for your new online product page in English or any language other than Portuguese for that matter. In a perfect world, the ideal solution might be to hire translators for every language of each country that you want to sell this amazing gum in. However, the costs of such an endeavour are enough to make even those with even the deepest of pockets think twice.

In my opinion, the next best and completely viable option is to choose to develop your chewing gum site using Drupal then make use of the many multilingual modules to automatically translate your content (just Google “Drupal automatic translate” for a list of options). The advantage of these Drupal translation modules is that, first, it can appear as an option at the top of the page and is therefore easily accessible to the customer. Second, additional modules can allow you to automatically show the users local language based on their browser’s set language. Third, you can choose which blocks of text you want to translate and which you do not; so let us say for aesthetic reasons or brand awareness you do not want a certain block of the site to be translated, you simply do not enable the translation for that block in the admin portal. Additionally, while your site frontend is being translated for your visitors, as an admin you can maintain Portuguese as the primary language to run your backend admin portal.

Read the full Gartner reportSpeaking from my own experience, I shop online for bicycle components quite often. The problem is many of the unique manufacturers I am looking to buy from are based out of Italy and Germany. Google translate can do an adequate job of helping you navigate the site, but when it comes to the finer details like product specifications or return policies I quickly find myself out of my depth. The great thing about using Drupal Translate is that you can manually enter the translation for each language of every block on your website. So for example, instead of paying for a full site translation in each language, you could hire professionals to translate the important areas like the fine print and leave the less critical areas up to Drupal.

2) Features on features

Okay, Drupal is not exactly an episode of Pimp My Ride, but it can pretty much do anything you can dream of. If, for some reason, you want to design a site that sources all of the types of chicken wings sold in restaurants across your city. Then create a catalogue that breaks down the various chicken wings by texture, flavour, price, size, messiness, etc. Now you want to integrate a system that uses logic and intelligence to recommend the best beer your company sells to accompany any wing selection made. This is all possible with Drupal.

The cost to develop such a unique site with these custom modules on Drupal would not be cheap. However, the point remains that a feature such as the one mentioned above is quite crazy, but completely possible. If there is functionality that you need, it can be built on Drupal. The other big takeaway is that once you have paid for the development of the module you are now the owner and do not have to worry about any ongoing licensing costs. For reasons like these, it is my opinion that Drupal is the best CMS for such robust and custom site requirements.

3) Security

Of course, nothing can ever be fully secure especially without regular upkeep, but Drupal does a few things differently that should help you sleep better at night. Unlike the many popular SaaS platforms, Drupal is open source and non-proprietary. This means that you are the owner of your data and you are the one who decides how it is managed, meaning you can fine tune every aspect of your Drupal site from the site itself to your hosting environment. If you have a security team or security-focused partner that you work with, Drupal provides the flexibility they need to keep your data safe.

The official Drupal Security Team is also thoroughly on top of the security of the core Drupal software’s code and helps module developers keep their modules secure. This team frequently releases security patches that address any vulnerabilities that come up. In addition to the official Drupal team, the large Drupal community of developers donate their time to develop and monitor Drupal’s code. Drupal and all of it’s modules are built using a core set of coding standards, so the many thousands of developers working with Drupal’s code ensures security issues are found and addressed quickly.

Lastly, one of the features of Drupal that is best known is its ability to integrate into third-party applications. As such, Drupal is also capable of easily integrating into other security systems and platforms on the market. You’re not restricted to Drupal alone.

4) Open source community

In my mind, there are two main reasons that the open-source nature of Drupal and the community that surrounds it are such an advantage.

First, because of the large community of developers and its open-sourced nature, there are countless plug-and-play ready modules available free of licensing fees just waiting to be added to your website. This means, in addition, you are the owner of your own code and data. Furthermore, you never have to worry about losing development support for your website. There will always be another Drupal agency out there waiting to pick up the pieces if something were to go wrong.

Second, because there is such a large community of developers behind the expansion of Drupal, you have a veritable fusion of diverse ideas and designs. Instead of a single organization pushing code in a certain direction, you can find incredibly creative and unique libraries of code. This means a deeper pool of free talent to pull from. Even with the creative minds driving the development of Drupal, there is still consistency in the underlying code. This enables easier upkeep of the code itself and allows a lower barrier of entry when onboarding new developers. The advantage to the end-user is that, when compared to a fully custom build, using Drupal means that should your partner agency ever go out of business or the relationship deteriorates, you will have other experts in Drupal to turn to.

5) Future-proof

I keep bringing this up, but it really enables so many possibilities; because Drupal is so open to API integrations, you can design Drupal to work as a modular middleware behind the scenes. This means as you acquire new technology and software, it really is as simple as plugging it in and configuring an API hook.

Furthermore, as long as Drupal is paired with the right server, it can handle endless amounts of traffic and scale from small business to enterprise. This is a reason why Drupal is such a popular CMS of choice for medium-sized to enterprise-level organizations.

Finally, Drupal as a CMS is kind of like Play-Doh. You can build out your frontend experience for the market you are presently targeting using Drupal’s built-in theming layer or by using one of the many other frontend frameworks. Drupal’s APIs allow it to run headless, so it can hold your backend data but you’re not tied down to any specific way of building your frontend. Ten years down the road, though, you may have a completely different set of needs for your frontend framework. No problem, you can rest assured that Drupal won't get in your way.

Are you considering options for your digital experience platform?

Choosing the right DXP now is important to your business now and in the future. Protect your tech investment by assessing the trade-offs of buy or build deployment options and how they relate to your digital experience goals and business outcomes. This Gartner report has been made available to our readers for a limited time and will help you get started. Check it out.

Click to access the Gartner report today

Jan 28 2020
Jan 28

Due to the nature of B2B sales, one of my roles is cold outreach. Most of the time my first method of outreach garners no replies. However, every so often I will receive a prompt email message or reply over the phone. It usually goes something along the lines of: “We already have a web development agency.” or “We are not interested.” I often wish I was at a sit-down meeting when these situations arise. This is because I simply cannot describe the multi-faceted solutions Drupal can provide, far and above a typical web development agency. “You should absolutely stay with them” is my typical response to prospects that have an agency they are happy with. I say this because there is so much more that Drupal, as a business solution, can provide without even interacting with the frontend of their website. What we often promote with Drupal is its capability to create a more complete digital experience platform (DXP), not just a website.

What Gartner has to say about the DXP

In a 2019 report, Gartner has this analysis about DXPs:

“Driven by digital transformation efforts, organizations are moving beyond the traditional audience engagement resources of websites and mobile apps. There is a growing acceptance of the idea of digital experience platforms as vital to these efforts. DXPs provide a scalable foundation for creating, optimizing, integrating, delivering and managing a range of digital experiences for different audiences, both internal and external.1”

So let me unpack that a little bit in my own words. Essentially, your website and mobile apps are still very much at the forefront of digital marketing. Moving forward, though, more organizations have and will continue to create a more cohesive, single platform (DXP) in order to cater to all stakeholders of the company. This not only includes said organizations’ customers but also their teams and employees, allowing for a more comprehensive snapshot of the company from the outside and inside. In the same report, Gartner estimates that:

“Through 2021, 85% of the effort and cost involved in a digital experience platform (DXP) program will be spent on integrations with internal and external systems, including the DXP’s own, built-in capabilities.1”

In my opinion, this assumption by Gartner indicates that organizations are already well aware of the advantages a DXP can provide. 

Don't wreck digital engagement with bad deployment decisions Use Drupal and Drupal Commerce for your digital experience platform >

An imaginary business case for a DXP

Imagine you started a business selling gadgets. Your gadgets were better for target market X because they were less complicated than the gadgets that were available on the market at the time. So first off, you rented a storefront and sold the gadgets in your store, but you also realized you could scale your business by selling the same gadgets online. So in addition to your point of sale system (POS), you now had to adopt an appropriate ecommerce platform and build a website to sell the gadgets online.

Now that you were selling gadgets online you also had to have a shipping channel and a returns channel for replacing defective gadgets. As demand for your product began to grow you needed more gadgets on hand at any given time. The obvious solution was a warehouse, but you also needed a product information management (PIM) system to keep on top of your inventory and distribution channels.

As your product created a name for itself you opened a few more gadget stores and to satisfy demand across the globe you began selling your product through Amazon. With increased demand came competition, so in response, you invested in marketing software to stay on top of the industry trends. You began to diversify in order to make your business more resilient to market volatility. The diversification led to custom gadgets in addition to a gadget service and repair business.

In order to keep track of what your customers had purchased and to identify opportunities for cross-selling and up-selling, you invested in a customer relationship management (CRM) system. Finally, just under a year ago you invested in a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. This way all of your new departments had the information they needed to operate efficiently.

So we are now in the present day. Like many other businesses that grew at a rapid pace, you find yourself in a situation where all of your technology has become siloed. In this analogy, your data and information all exist, but it is locked away in separate silos. Each silo represents a piece of software, a distribution channel, a legacy POS system, or that missing Amazon integration that can only be accessed from one place. You can run a business this way, and many organizations do just that, without realizing that there is actually a more efficient way to do things. This is where the DXP comes into play. What you would prefer rather than individual silos would be a horizontal technology architecture with open lines of communication between everything. This, as one could imagine, can save a tremendous amount of time and manual workflows, eliminating what we call swivel-chair processes. Simply stated it is a more efficient way of doing business. The problem is many business owners and decision makers may not even realize this is happening because they live in their own silos and no one has pointed it out to them.

How does Drupal come into play?

Drupal is a content management system (CMS), but at the same time, Drupal can do so much more than a traditional CMS. Through API integrations, also known as API hooks, Drupal has the ability to be used as middleware. As middleware, Drupal can act as a modular engine that connects all the data from the aforementioned gadget business’ technology. Data can flow forwards and backward between the various pieces of technology and even integrate into legacy systems like the POS in the gadget example. Furthermore, the modular nature of Drupal middleware essentially future proofs your business allowing for business scalability.

Drupal as middleware example

To give an analogy, you can think of Drupal middleware as a computer with unlimited USB ports. The computer acts as the brain passing information back and forth between systems and the USB ports are the API hooks. USB ports are non-proprietary and you can, therefore, unplug cables you no longer need and replace them with new cables. You can also add or remove cables as necessary and the computer keeps on functioning as long as you configure the drivers. So as you outgrow software systems or you decide to replace that legacy POS, no problem because you can just plug in the new software, install the drivers, and you are back up and running again.

Connecting it all together

How to patch digital gaps in a growing business Find out how Drupal can improve customer experiences and streamline backend operations.So to return to my statement at the beginning of this blog post, the reason I wish I could sit down with those who respond so quickly to my first cold outreach is that I do not want to be typecast as just another web development agency. In actual fact, because our expertise lies in Drupal we are far better positioned to provide solutions that lay beyond the scope of the traditional idea of a website. Sure we can develop an incredibly robust frontend experience and, likewise, a flexible scalable ecommerce engine. But, we can also use Drupal as middleware that allows for seamless flow of information between systems.

If you've read this and would like to have a quick chat, let us know! We're happy to help. I also mentioned a Gartner report from 2019 that is a great introduction for anyone trying to nail down their digital experience platform.

While this report is no longer available, we invite you to reach out to us at any time to discuss how connecting your systems through middleware can improve your business operations and income. 

1 - Gartner, "Don’t Wreck Digital Engagement With Bad Deployment Decisions for Your Digital Experience Platform,” 31 July 2019, Gene Phifer.

Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

Dec 02 2019
Dec 02
A Step-by-step guide to integrating your BigCommerce store with the Drupal CMS


The BigCommerce for Drupal module, created by Acro Media in partnership with BigCommerce, was released early this year and brings together two different platforms – BigCommerce, the open SaaS ecommerce platform, and Drupal, the open source content management system. The result provides a wonderful new way for retailers to implement an innovative and content rich headless ecommerce strategy. If you use one and would like to have the capabilities of the other, the BigCommerce for Drupal module is the bridge you need. With this module, you can use Drupal as the powerful front-end CMS with BigCommerce as the easy-to-use and scalable ecommerce backend.

This post is a step-by-step guide for people who want to know how to install the BigCommerce for Drupal module and get started with both platforms. If you just want to know more about the BigCommerce and Drupal together as ecommerce solution, check out this post instead.

How this module works

Here’s a quick overview of how this all works. The BigCommerce for Drupal module integrates BigCommerce and Drupal together, but each platform is still used for different tasks.

In BigCommerce, you configure products, categories, shipping, taxes and everything else for the ecommerce side of your site. BigCommerce is also where you go to manage orders as they come in.

Drupal is then used for the website frontend and theming. Product and category information from BigCommerce are synced to Drupal, importing them as Drupal Commerce products so that they can be displayed and used like any other Drupal-based content. Any non-commerce content is also managed within Drupal. When a customer goes to checkout, a BigCommerce checkout pane is embedded in the Drupal site to securely process payment and save customer and order information.

Setup BigCommerce and Drupal

On to the guide! Follow these steps and you’ll have your BigCommerce and Drupal store configured in no time!

Prerequisites

This guide already assumes that you have the following ready.

  1. A BigCommerce account and store created
    You will need to create a BigCommerce account with at least one product, shipping method and payment method configured in your BigCommerce store. Do this here, not in Drupal.

    NOTE: BigCommerce currently offers a 14-day trial period, so any one can go and create and configure a store easily for free. For this demo, I signed up for that and created some random products to use for testing.

  2. A working Drupal 8 site
    You should have a Drupal 8 site with the Commerce module enabled and a default store added (via Commerce > Configuration > Store > Stores). You don’t need to do any other setup here yet or enable any of the other Commerce modules like checkout or payment. BigCommerce is going to handle all of this for you.
  3. An SSL certificate for your Drupal site
    Your Drupal website needs to have an SSL certificate active for the BigCommerce checkout form to render. This is required because it ensures security for your customers at checkout, so make sure you install one.

BigCommerce for Drupal setup guide

With the prerequisites done, here’s what you need to do to the the BigCommerce for Drupal connection made.

Step 1: Create a BigCommerce API account

  1. Go to your BigCommerce store admin page and navigate to Advanced Settings > API Accounts.
  2. Click on “Create API Account” button and select “Create V3/V2 API Token”.

    BigCommerce Store API Accounts page
    Fig: BigCommerce Store API Accounts page

  3. Provide a name (i.e. Product Sync) and select the scope for each features (i.e. if you don’t want the ability for the Drupal admin to modify product information, you can set the scope for “Products” as “read-only”).

    API configuration in BigCommerce
    Fig: API configuration in BigCommerce

  4. Click “Save” to save your changes. Once saved, you will see a summary and a prompt to download a file. Download it and keep it safe. Once you create an API account, you can’t modify the keys (but you can always make a new one).

    BigCommerce API Credentials dialog box
    Fig: BigCommerce API Credentials dialog box

Step 2: Download and configure the BigCommerce for Drupal module

  1. Get and install the BigCommerce for Drupal module.

    TIP: This module requires a bunch of other modules to work. To get the BigCommerce for Drupal module and all of its dependencies at the same time it’s recommended to use Composer instead of manually downloading it. Running the following command within your Composer based Drupal project will get everything you need.

    composer require drupal/bigcommerce
  2. In Drupal, navigate to module configuration page at Commerce > Configuration > BigCommerce > BigCommerce Settings.
    1. Fill in the API Path, Client ID, Secret Key, and Access Token that you received when creating the BigCommerce API.
    2. Hit “Save”. If everything is correct, you will see a message saying “Connected Successfully”.

      BigCommerce Configuration page in Drupal
      Fig: BigCommerce Configuration page in Drupal site

  3. Next we configure the Channel Settings. This will create a storefront url for you in BigCommerce which will match the one that is generated on the Drupal side.
    1. Select “Add new channel” from the select channel list.
    2. Provide a channel name.
    3. Click the “Create new BigCommerce channel” button. You will then see a Site ID and Site URL on the setting page.

      BigCommerce configuration page in Drupal - Channel settings
      Fig: BigCommerce configuration page in Drupal

  4. Now in the same Channel Settings area, click on the “Update BigCommerce Site URL” button. This lets you confirm that the url generated is actually sent to the BigCommerce, otherwise the checkout form will not be loaded on your Drupal site.

    You can also confirm the channel connection in from within the BigCommerce admin dashboard by visiting the Channel Manager admin page.

    Channel Manager storefront confirmation in BigCommerce
    Fig: Channel Manager storefront confirmation in BigCommerce

Step 3 : Sync products, variations and taxonomies from BigCommerce

  1. In Drupal, navigate to the product synchronization page at at Commerce > Configuration > BigCommerce > BigCommerce Product Synchronization.
  2. Click the “Sync Products from BigCommerce” button and ta-da, all the products, variations, and categories will be synced to your Drupal site in an instant.

    Alternately, you can also synchronize via the following Drush command. Advanced Drupal users can use this command on cron to do automatic syncing.

    drush migrate:import --group bigcommerce
    Product Synchronization page
    Fig: Product Synchronization page

    BC4D-Setup_Syncing-from-BigCommerce-in-progress-1
    Fig: Syncing from BigCommerce in progress

    NOTE: If you run into errors when syncing products, it probably because you don’t have a store added in the Drupal Commerce module yet. Add one at Commerce > Configuration > Store > Stores.

    TIP: Any time you make changes to the products in BigCommerce, visit this page or use the Drush command to synchronize the changes. Before syncing, you’ll also see a message telling you that updates are available.

  3. Confirm the products have synced by visiting the Product page for Drupal Commerce at Commerce > Products. A list of all of the products brought in from BigCommerce will appear here.

Step 4 : See the BigCommerce checkout in action

  1. Now that everything is set up, go to a product page, and it to your cart and proceed to checkout.

    If everything was done correctly, you will be able to see the BigCommerce checkout form embedded in to your Drupal site! Hurray! All of the shipping methods, payment methods, tax calculations, and other BigCommerce store configurations will be seen in the embedded form here.

    If you don’t see the checkout form make sure that your channels settings are correct and that you have an SSL certificate installed.

    Drupal’s checkout page with embedded BigCommerce checkout form
    Fig: Drupal’s checkout page with embedded BigCommerce checkout form

    Drupal’s checkout page after order complete
    Fig: Drupal’s checkout page after order complete

  2. Once an order has been placed, the order information will be stored in Drupal (at Commerce > Orders) and will also be sent to BigCommerce (at Orders > View).

    BigCommerce backend View Orders page
    Fig: BigCommerce backend View Orders page

Additional notes

The BigCommerce for Drupal module is ready for production and available for all to use. When writing this guide, there were some additional notes that I wanted to share.

  • At this time, product management should always be handled within BigCommerce and then synced to Drupal. Currently there is no option to bring back a product if you delete it in the Drupal side, so be careful.
  • A development roadmap for the module can be found here. It outlines future features and plans.
  • If you use the module and find any bugs or want specific features, please add them to the module issue queue here.

Acro Media is a BigCommerce Elite Partner

Acro Media is the development team partnered with BigCommerce that made the BigCommerce for Drupal module a reality. We have many, many years of ecommerce consulting and development experience available to support your team too. If you’re interested in exploring Drupal, BigCommerce or both for your online store, we’d love to talk.

View our BigCommerce for Drupal services

Nov 05 2019
Nov 05

Shawn McCabe, Acro Media’s CTO, recently made waves when he proclaimed through our blog that Ubercart is dead. We received both praise and criticism from the Drupal community for saying it, but the truth of the matter is that Ubercart, once the primary module businesses relied on for adding ecommerce functionality into the Drupal CMS, has yet to have a stable Drupal 8 release (even though Drupal 8 was released 4 years ago in November, 2015). It’s currently stuck in “alpha” and overall usage has been steadily declining for years. Read the initial post for more information.

We put out that post as an attempt to inform businesses that are currently using Ubercart that they should be planning their migration to something else ASAP, before Drupal 7 reaches end-of-life. Our suggestion for these businesses is to move to the Drupal Commerce module for Drupal 8. Drupal Commerce is the successor to Ubercart and was founded by one of the Ubercart creators. It’s the natural choice for these businesses and overall it’s a much better platform in every way.

Of course, when you tell a business that they need to replatform because their ecommerce software is “dying,” that’s not an easy thing for business owners to hear. Many flat-out ignore it to be honest, but those who understand the warning want to know more about how it will affect their business. From the reaction we received to the initial post, we understood that more needed to be said. Businesses using Ubercart now have questions that need to be answered. Because of this, we held an “Ubercart is Dead Roundtable” webinar-style discussion where we put Shawn in the spotlight to answer the questions that have come in. The goal of this discussion was to be both informative and demystifying, a general discussion instead of a sales pitch.

So without further ado, here is the roundtable recap video. A list of timestamped discussion topics are shown below the video. If you have any other questions not mentioned here, send us a message. We would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Watch the roundtable

[embedded content]

Host: Jace Anderson
Specialist: Shawn McCabe, CTO

00:00 - Introduction
00:45 - Who is Shawn McCabe
01:55 - Why do you [Shawn] think Ubercart is Dead?
03:07 - Why is Drupal Commerce the next platform of choice?
04:02 - Why should I move off of Ubercart when our business is currently operating fine?
05:58 - Is there a performance difference between Ubercart and Drupal Commerce?
08:06 - Is it possible to move off of Ubercart but stay on Drupal 7?
09:29 - How do we know Drupal Commerce won’t see the same fate as Ubercart?
11:00 - Is there a big difference in the features from Ubercart to Drupal Commerce? Is Drupal Commerce more robust?
13:35 - Is there a big learning curve for the backend administrators when using Drupal Commerce?
15:21 - How big of an undertaking is the migration from Ubercart to Drupal Commerce? Can an IT team of 5 complete it?
16:44 - What website components add to the complexity of a migration?
18:00 - Would a migration interrupt my business? Will it affect the customer experience?
18:54 - How would a migration impact my internal operations?
20:25 - How do we know Drupal Commerce won’t see the same fate as Ubercart (second part)?
21:26 - Currently we use multi-currency. Does Drupal commerce support this too?
22:41 - We use MailChimp for abandoned cart recovery. Can it still be used with Drupal Commerce?
23:10 - Are there other alternatives to Drupal Commerce? Is it the only option to continue using Drupal?
24:04 - How does Drupal Commerce perform on mobile?
25:02 - From your blog post, there looks to be companies using Ubercart on Drupal 8. What would prompt this?
25:57 - Can Drupal Commerce be used for custom customer experiences?
27:20 - Based on my research, Drupal Commerce is defined as having a difficult user interface. How can we ensure our team will be able to manage the backend?
28:28 - Can I manage my orders from my mobile device?
29:19 - What does Drupal Commerce offer for legacy software integration?
30:51 - What are the key specifications in a migration that attribute to an increased cost when doing a migration?
32:31 - Is my data migrated automatically? Can I also move order history, receipts and customer data?
33:40 - For a migration, where does one find support?
34:52 - What process is involved in managing coupons and promotions?
37:01 - How does bundling differ from Ubercart to Drupal Commerce?
38:00 - Does Drupal Commerce have subscription payment functionality?
40:05 - Is Drupal Commerce catalog taxonomy based?
41:10 - Shawn’s final words to those still on Ubercart who are not planning their move away from it yet.

Click to contact one of our ecommerce consultants

Oct 28 2019
Oct 28

Drupal Commerce 2, like Drupal 8, was a big change from previous versions. The code base is much different and it’s quite a learning curve when moving from Drupal 7 to the more complex approaches in Drupal 8. However, this is good. The new versions are modern and all around better. I’ve had a number of revelations while working with Drupal Commerce 2 and Drupal 8 that made me smile. In this post, I’ll explore one revelation I had while working with Drupal Commerce 2’s checkout handling and how it’s forward-thinking development has paved the way (and encourages all new checkout panes to follow suit) for headless ecommerce using Drupal.

Drupal Commerce 2 checkout is not a form… say what!?

Generally, when you think of checkout, you think of it as a sequence of events and one big final submission. This is further driven home by the idea that you can, and should, be able to go back and edit your checkout choices before the final submission. In Drupal Commerce 2, going back and forth between checkout steps is supported, but there is no final submission handler that saves everything.

Wait, what? That’s right, there’s no need to save all the data on the checkout form once checkout is completed. You see, all checkout panes (a step in the checkout process) have a submission event that gets called when it's time to save the data. So if you’re going to save data in a checkout pane, you gotta do it after your customer has moved forward in the checkout process but before your customer is ready to commit to the checkout pane’s final value state (complete checkout). Submission is perceived to be at the end of checkout, not before.

On the surface that might make sense, in fact, this workflow being so obvious might even blind you to the implications. Since each pane is basically handling its own submission workflow, you can’t allow your form state to persist choices and not make a decision until the end. You’re probably, like me, thinking that saving data and reacting to data is the same thing. But this assumption is old, out of date, incompatible with best practices, and in checkout for Commerce 2, causes design problems.

Click to discover your ideal architecture with our analysis.

Explanation through an example: A checkout newsletter subscription

A common want is to include a little checkbox underneath a contact information email field where new or returning customers can opt-in to a newsletter. Sure, that’s no big deal, right?

Our customer expects that things in checkout aren’t real until they complete checkout (i.e. nothing is saved until they actually place the order). On the other hand, Drupal Commerce 2 expects all panes to save their data after a “continue to next-step” button gets clicked, submitting that pane.

Here’s how the checkbox would be made using our current form submission logic:

  1. Create a CheckoutPaneBase object that collects data through a checkbox
  2. On the pane form submission, subscribe the customer to your newsletter

Do you see the problem? If we react on pane submission (our only choice in our current way of thinking), we’ll subscribe the customer to our newsletter well before they are done with checkout. In fact, each time they see the first page of checkout and proceed to the second, they will be subscribed to our newsletter. Not only is this not what the customer would expect, but subscribing them multiple times is totally unnecessary and would likely cause problems. Subscribing the customer on pane form submission is the wrong approach.

This is where things get really trippy – and awesome and beautiful and wonderfully clever and great. You see, Drupal 8, which Commerce 2 is built around, has been designed to not require forms, form states and value persistence in order to trigger important actions. This is a whole new way of thinking and maybe the most important to our discussion. Previous to this, most Drupal 7 developers would have assumed that all forms require user-facing interfaces that would be submitted, but that is a pretty brutal assumption and has plagued a lot of Drupal installations over the years. If that was still the case, then form submissions are something that headless implementations of Drupal would never really trigger. There must be a better way.

Headless decoupling breeds better code using events

If checkout was a single form with a final submission handler that submitted payment, subscribed users to newsletters, saved addresses to profiles, and did all the things you would expect all at once, then all the code that manages these things would have to react to a single form submission.

However, if we use Drupal's built in event system instead, we suddenly have much greater degree of control. But before we get into that, let’s first take a quick look at what events are and where they come from.

Drupal 8 made a big shift towards being object oriented by adopting Symfony within its framework. Symphony provides a number of components useful in modern object oriented programming, one of which is events. Events in Drupal 8 give developers a new way to extend and modify how interactions with core and other modules work. If you’re already familiar with Drupal 7, events are basically meant to replace hooks. Drupal 8’s event system documentation helps us to understand the basic concepts and components making up the event system.

  • Event Subscribers - Sometimes called "Listeners", are callable methods or functions that react to an event being propagated throughout the Event Registry.
  • Event Registry - Where event subscribers are collected and sorted.
  • Event Dispatcher - The mechanism in which an event is triggered, or "dispatched" throughout the system.
  • Event Context - Many events require specific set of data that is important to the subscribers to an event. This can be as simple as a value passed to the Event Subscriber, or as complex as a specially created class that contains the relevant data.

Source: Drupal.org documentation, Subscribe to and dispatch events (link)

Getting back to our checkout scenario, if you use the events system and your checkout completion is simply a state transition from Draft to Completed, then other modules could subscribe to that transition event, take the saved data from the different pane submissions, and do whatever they want with it.

Do you see the beauty here? By forcing checkout panes to submit before the final submission, we (module builders, implementers, etc.) have a baked-in reason to store checkout decisions on the order so that order events can access them separately, giving us the ability to create orders with checkout decisions saved that can skip checkout completely and still have the events trigger the needed actions. This is quite powerful and opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Of course, since this is an implicit design choice, it’s up to the author of the module or code to see the reasons and embrace them.

Entity + event-based instead of form-based

So to complete our newsletter subscription pane example using our new knowledge of events instead of form submissions, here’s what we would do:

  1. Create a CheckoutPaneBase object that collects data through a checkbox and saves it to the order (either through a field value or the ->setData typed data interface.
  2. Save this value on pane submission but don’t act on the value (i.e. don’t subscribe the user)
  3. Create an event subscriber and use the transition event you want to use as a trigger. Completing checkout makes the most sense.
  4. Treat the order value as a "request subscription to newsletter." Then, when the event fires and the event subscriber runs, it can look for the saved value and set the user to subscribed or not after it returns. This allows us to handle someone going through an event twice for some reason, like for multiple orders, etc.

Your customer gets subscribed to your newsletter when they, and you, expect them to. No forms needed. ISN’T THAT AMAZING!

Thanks to the many authors of Drupal Commerce 2, including Bojan Živanović and Matt Glaman, that implemented this design choice years ago, many modules and implementations are simply technically better and likely ready for headless implementations now that headless is all-the-rage.

And best of all, from a developer standpoint, this also means the bulk of your most critical automated tests that interact with your code doesn’t have to access the checkout form. They simply have to have orders that get transitioned. This makes writing tests, which equates to better code, simpler.

Your Drupal Commerce experts

As a full service Drupal agency, Acro Media has significant expertise in digital commerce architecture, ecommerce consulting and design, customer experience, Drupal development and hosting architecture. We would love the opportunity to work with you.

View Our Drupal Commerce Services

Oct 02 2019
Oct 02

With its open source software and proven technology, Drupal is the first choice for many business owners when it comes to deciding a framework for their digital commerce business. After all, it’s a great CMS and ecommerce can be added to it through custom-built development (although custom might not be best, more on that later).

So, how about your business? Are you using Drupal and have an integrated or custom ecommerce component? Or, maybe you’re still deciding on which way to go to add ecommerce functionality? If so, let’s talk about the features that you probably wish to have in your website:

  • Are you looking for limitless product presentation and customization options?
  • Do you have plans to set up multichannel marketing and automation for your website?
  • Are you planning to integrate third party systems or run custom social media campaigns?
  • Do you need the flexibility to scale your website with endless options?

If you replied “yes” to any of the above questions, I would say custom-built ecommerce probably isn’t your best option. Nor do I think you need a pre-packaged SaaS solution, either. Before I suggest what you might want to do, let’s first look specifically at why custom ecommerce can present its own difficult challenges you definitely want to avoid.

5 challenges of a custom ecommerce system

Depending upon the complexity of requirements, it can take anywhere from months to years to set up a proper ecommerce site, no joke. Let’s say you’ve decided on building custom ecommerce functionality into your Drupal site. You’ve hired a developer, or maybe an agency or an internal team, to build it and have been able to get the ecommerce functionality that your business needed to get started. Great!

Now, after a year or so, you start thinking of scaling it by adding more features and functionality. This is where you may start running into challenges. Let me outline some of the more critical challenges you may face.

1. Handcuffed to an internal development team or outside agency

This can be a touchy subject but is probably the biggest liability for a company using custom development, so let’s start here. Ideally you’d still want to use that original development team who has all the knowledge of how your ecommerce component was made. But what if you can’t get the same developers or what if you have a falling-out with the agency who built it? Imagine how difficult it might be to onboard new developers when you yourself don’t know the code. Without a predefined standard or framework, how your ecommerce was built is anyone's guess. Significant cost will be added just to get any new developers up-to-speed.

2. Slow to implement new features and/or functionality

If you’re constantly feeling like you are reacting to the market rather than being a proactive innovator, this can be a direct cause of custom development. Simply put, everything you add to your website needs to be built and nothing is ready-made that you can just plug in. There is no time saving options that you can take advantage of to speed things up.

3. Inability to integrate with desired third party platforms

Integrations are one of the biggest benefits of an open source platform so it can be a real problem if you’re not able to integrate quickly and effectively.

Consider the cost that you have to bear when you are introducing something as simple as a new payment system or a new tax rule. Something that should be easy might take far too much time than it’s worth because you don’t have access to an underlying framework that was made specifically to make building these integrations faster.

Or maybe a robust new marketing tool comes in to the market and if you want to take advantage of it by integrating it with your ecommerce site. Let peace be upon you… this larger integration could be a monumental task. Every integration you require means more custom development, more cost, and lengthy timelines to completion.

4. Sacrificing the front-end customer experience

Custom development is built by developers first and so the actual look and presentation is often sacrificed for functionality. This isn’t meant to be a knock on developers, but the simple truth of the matter is that building code and building layout and design are two entirely different specialties. It’s very rare that you find someone with both skill sets. Without good UX and design, your customers will not get the front-end experience they expect which could impact your business performance.

If the makeup of your team includes designers and frontend developers, great! This would alleviate presentation issues, but these extra specialists will add additional expense to your custom build.

5. Unable to take advantage of the community

If all you have is custom functionality, you could be spending a lot of time and money developing features and/or integrations that potentially already would have existed if you had gone a different route. If you think about it, one of the great things about Drupal in general is all of the community-made modules that you have access to for extending your site’s functionality. While you’ll still be able to use them with your Drupal site, the custom ecommerce side of things doesn’t have that benefit. Everything you need must be built and probably only your team of developers can do it.

If not custom development, then what?

So what do you choose when custom development is a hassle and I’ve already mentioned that I’m not pushing you towards a SaaS solution. Well, my suggestion is that you should consider using the Drupal-native ecommerce module, Drupal Commerce. I mean, why marry off your Drupal site with someone else when we have fully compatible Drupal Commerce with us. It has been a proven ecommerce framework since 2011 (view usage stats) and lets you build a secure, scalable, SEO and mobile friendly ecommerce site in whatever way your business needs! It’s framework has been made for extending. It’s documented and has a large community centered around it (which Acro Media is a part of). Maybe you’ve heard negative rumblings about it in the past, and if so, I think you should look again.

Here’s how I justify my view, or rather, how Drupal Commerce can help you fulfill your ecommerce requirements.

Top 7 reasons why you should use Drupal Commerce

Below are the top 7 reasons why you should be selecting Drupal Commerce over any custom or off-the-shelf hosted solutions out there.

1. Commerce and content will easily get along

When we use Drupal Commerce with Drupal, it will let you manage your content strategy right within your ecommerce platform. You can easily manage complex relationship between products and other contents in the site. The CMS part will let you create custom landing pages to attract the attention of users while flexibility in the ecommerce part will make it easier for a site owner to manage new products and its workflow.

2. Requires less development effort

When you need a content site as well as an ecommerce site, With out-of-the-box modules and pre-configured distributions, a Drupal Commerce store can be easily setup without much hassle. Plus, when custom development is required, Drupal’s strict code standards ensure that any competent Drupal developer can easily jump-in and understand what’s going on. You’re not stuck with just a single developer or agency to manage your project. You have the freedom to shop around.

3. Highly customizable and scalable

Unlike most SaaS systems, Drupal and Drupal Commerce can be customized according to the business’s needs. Even though Drupal and Drupal Commerce are architected to be extended limitlessly, all the extensions follow a general standard. This makes sure that when the next person with knowledge in Drupal Commerce comes along, either from a development or administrator standpoint, this person can handle the software easily. New features or integrations can be performed faster which takes the system scalable to the next level.

From a performance perspective, Drupal and Drupal Commerce are more than capable of scaling to meet the needs of small business all the way to enterprise. Need proof, we’ve tested their performance and you can see the results here.

4. Integration with external systems

This is the core strength of Drupal. Drupal modules have been built so that they can interact with one another easily. If you need to connect your ecommerce to payment gateways, marketplaces, CRMs, analytics tools, SEO tools, shipping providers, the list goes on, they can be done as quickly as within a few hours (integration depending, of course). Drupal takes an API first approach which is what you want for integrations now and in the future.

5. Free and open source

Unlike proprietary ecommerce systems, Drupal Commerce is open source and there is no licensing cost or usage limits. Unlike other open source solutions, there are no paid modules within the Drupal community. You have access to it all and can extend and customize it in whatever you like. By saving money on the software, you can instead invest that money in your Drupal based platform and your own business needs.

6. Community support

Drupal has an immensely large community with thousands of active users helping to build and maintain the core software and its extensions. The features you require for your site could be already created by someone else and available on Drupal.org, waiting for you to take advantage of. Various IRC channels, blogs, forums, agencies, etc. will help you in case you are blocked or need advice on almost anything related to Drupal.

7. Solid future version support

With the release of Drupal 8, we are quite clear on how migrations to the next version will happen. If your site is already using Drupal 8, then you don’t have to worry about Drupal 8 being unsupported by community because you will easily be able to migrate your site to Drupal 9 (and future versions) when the time comes.

It doesn’t mean that your Drupal 7 site will be isolated either. The stable Migrate module in Drupal 8 will make a migration of your Drupal 7 site to Drupal 8 easier than ever before, saving time and money when adopting the newer version.

Demo Drupal Commerce today! View our demo site.View a Drupal Commerce demo

To help show you what a Drupal Commerce ecommerce solution looks like, check out our fully functional Drupal Commerce demo site, Urban Hipster.

Here you can click around and “buy” products just like you would using any real ecommerce site. You will see content pages, a best-practice product catalog, a variety of product types, and more. This feature rich demo was made to give you an idea of what your Drupal Commerce site could do, but of course this is just one example. The possibilities are endless.

Plan your move to Drupal Commerce

Leave custom development and integrated ecommerce frameworks behind by starting your move to Drupal Commerce today. Acro Media is an ecommerce consulting and development company that specializes in open source and Drupal Commerce. Take a look at our Drupal Commerce solutions today and let us know if you have any questions. We’d love to help you understand if Drupal Commerce is a good fit for your business.

Sep 19 2019
Sep 19

Ubercart, once the go-to commerce option for Drupal and the precursor to Drupal Commerce, is slowly fading away. Its usage has been declining for years and a stable Drupal 8 release will never happen. Even one of the original creators has moved on to support a new Drupal ecommerce solution instead of continuing on with Ubercart. In you’re running an ecommerce site that uses Ubercart, this post is for you. Our goal is to show you why you should consider moving off of Ubercart now instead of waiting until it finally reaches end of life.

UPDATE: Click here for an Ubarcart is Dead roundtable discussion. The roundtabe discussion is a follow up to this article in the form of a webinar-style question and answer recorded video session with Shawn McCabe.

The decline of Ubercart today

As mentioned in the introduction. Ubercart usage has been declining for years. The Drupal 7 version of the module is where it saw most of its success with usage peaking in 2014/2015, but usage has been continuously dropping since then. The following graph is a snapshot of Ubercart’s usage history as recorded on Drupal.org.

Ubercart usage history
Ubercart usage history (source)

Ryan Szrama, one of the original creators of Ubercart, moved away from it and started the Commerce module for Drupal as a replacement. Since then, the majority of the ecommerce community around Drupal has also moved along with him making Drupal Commerce the new go-to option for ecommerce built on Drupal. Not only does Commerce now have more installs for both Drupal 7 and Drupal 8, but it is also a much more active development community.

Usage-statistics-for-Drupal-Commerce-1
Commerce usage history (source)

Ubercart and Drupal 8

The Ubercart module has never moved over to a proper Drupal 8 release. Development is stuck in alpha and without a new release in over 3 years, there is never going to be a stable Drupal 8 release.

What “alpha” means

In software development, alpha is a term given to a software release that is still very much in development and not ready for production. Here’s the description of alpha from Drupal.org.

alpha: Most reported errors are resolved, but there may still be serious outstanding known issues, including security issues. Project is not thoroughly tested, so there may also be many unknown bugs. There is a README.txt/README.md that documents the project and its API (if any). The API and DB schema may be unstable, but all changes to these are reported in the release notes, and hook_update_N is implemented to preserve data through schema changes, but no other upgrade/update path. Not suitable for production sites. Target audience is developers who wants to participate in testing, debugging and development of the project.

In contrast, the Drupal Commerce module has had many full production-ready releases for Drupal 8 and follows a release schedule for bug fixes and new features. The group behind Drupal Commerce is actively developing the core software and the wider community is also active in supporting the project.

Ubercart and Drupal 7

What Ubercart development still happens focuses on maintenance of the Drupal 7 version only. The catch here is that Drupal 7 reaches end of life November 2021, which will likely spell the effective end of Ubercart as well. If you’re using Ubercart and Drupal 7 together and you want new features and active development, that realistically ended years ago when the majority of the contributor community moved away from the project.

Here’s a couple snapshots of the commit history for both the core Ubercart module and the core Drupal Commerce module. A commit is a term given to code changes that have been added to the module. Commits are typically code improvements, new features, bug fixes and security updates that have been written, tested and approved for release.

ubercart-commit-historyUbercart commit history

drupal-commerce-commit-history
Commerce commit history

When looking at the graphs above, it’s important to know that it’s common to see number of commits trailing off over time. This is because the majority of the core software is built early on and so fewer commits are made over time as development of the core ramps down. What is important to see is that development of Drupal Commerce over Ubercart is still continuing, meaning new features and code improvements are being actively made to the core Commerce software but not to Ubercart.

Another point to note about these graphs is that when commits are ramping down to the core software, development efforts are likely being moved to community built extensions. This data isn’t reflected in the graphs above. The community built extensions is the ecosystem of new add-ons and features that aren’t found in the core software. In the case of Ubercart, this community development is very small and limited whereas for Drupal Commerce community is very active and engaged.

Where to go from Ubercart?

You’ve probably guessed this already, but the clear path moving away from Ubercart is to Drupal Commerce. Commerce is the Ubercart replacement and it’s capable of so much more. It’s also Drupal 8 ready and will provide a painless transition to Drupal 9, when that happens.

Commerce improvements over Ubercart

The following is a list of improvements Commerce for Drupal 8 has over Ubercart:

Drupal 8 improvements over Drupal 7 include:

  • Robust caching and performance for authenticate or unique users, very important for any ecommerce site
  • Drupal’s new rolling release schedule, no more large updates between versions makes updates easier
  • Modern object oriented design, which makes testing, extension and use of 3rd party libraries easier. Commerce follows all of the architectural improvements for Drupal 8 and has, in some cases, lead the way by innovating first.

Commerce improvements over Ubercart include:

  • More secure payment architecture. Commerce encourages the lowest level of PCI risk possible and enforces good practices with it’s payment API, compared to Ubercart’s primarily DIY payment model.
  • Proper variation based product model with unique SKUs for each variation
  • Robust and accurate promotions, discounts and pricing adjustments. If you’ve struggled with pricing accuracy in Ubercart you’ll understand.
  • Multi-store and multi-currency support is robust and built in.
  • And the list goes on…

Why move now instead of later?

While you could wait until Drupal 7 end of life to move your ecommerce site off of Ubercart and onto Drupal Commerce, this is not something we would ever recommend. The truth of the matter is that by waiting until the very end, you’re taking on a lot of unnecessary risk for both your business and your customers. You don’t want to be in a position where you’re scrambling to make-it-happen quickly when suddenly you’re not getting any more security updates to both Drupal 7 AND Ubercart. That is a worse-case scenario and you would be wise to avoid it.

Right now is an ideal time for you to consider making the switch. Both Drupal 8 and Commerce have been used in the wild now for years and the software is very stable. Most likely all of the features and functionality that you currently use has already been ported over to the new versions. The tools that help migrate Drupal 7 and Ubercart over to Drupal 8 and Commerce have been created to assist with the move. Really, from a technical standpoint there’s no reason to not make the move now.

Of course, it can’t be denied that completing a migration to the latest and greatest does take time and effort to do, and there will be a cost involved. All the more reason to start the process now. Right now you have the time to find the help you need and to properly budget and plan how your migration will be executed. Right now it’s not a hassle, it’s an opportunity to make your business better for both you and your customers while at the same time correcting any of the little things that bother you about your site now.

Acro Media has been helping ecommerce owners and operators with consultation and development for well over 10 years. We’re intimate with both Ubercart and Drupal Commerce, and we even staff some of the talented people who built Commerce and the migration tools everyone uses to make the move. If you want to learn more about how your migration would happen, we would love to talk. Click the link below to get started.

Read the full Gartner report

Aug 13 2019
Aug 13

Back in April, BigCommerce, in partnership with Acro Media, announced the release of the BigCommerce for Drupal module. This module effectively bridges the gap between the BigCommerce SaaS ecommerce platform and the Drupal open source content management system. It allows Drupal to be used as the frontend customer experience engine for a headless BigCommerce ecommerce store.

For BigCommerce, this integration provides a new and exciting way to utilize their platform for creating innovative, content-rich commerce experiences that were not possible via BigCommerce alone.

For Drupal, this integration extends the options its users and site-builders have for adding ecommerce functionality into a Drupal site. The flexibility of Drupal combined with the stability and ease-of-use of BigCommerce opens up new possibilities for Drupal that didn’t previously exist.

Since the announcement, BigCommerce and Acro Media have continued to educate and promote this exciting new headless commerce option. A new post on the BigCommerce blog published last week title Leverage Headless Commerce To Transform Your User Experience with Drupal Ecommerce (link below) is a recent addition to this information campaign. The BigCommerce teams are experts in what they do and Acro Media is an expert in open source integrations and Drupal. They asked if we could provide an introduction for their readers to really explain what Drupal is and where it fits in to the headless commerce mix. This, of course, was an opportunity not to be missed and so our teams buckled down together once again to provide readers with the best information possible.

So without further explanation, click the link below to learn how you can leverage headless commerce to transform your user experience with Drupal.

Read the full post on the BigCommerce blog

Additional resources:

May 28 2019
May 28

This is the second post in a two part series focused on specific platforms for experience-led ecommerce. The first post focused on Drupal, an open-source CMS, as an excellent option for creating content-rich customer experiences when combined with an ecommerce component of your choice. This post will focus on BigCommerce, an increasingly popular open SaaS ecommerce platform, and how its strengths in ecommerce can be complemented by an integration with Drupal.

A quick introduction

Like the last post, here’s a quick introduction to the main concepts and software discussed.

SaaS

Whether it’s accounting, marketing, ecommerce, etc., SaaS (software as a service) platforms are a great option for many businesses. With this service model, businesses simply sign up and pay a monthly fee to use the platform. This is an attractive option because the cost is generally quite reasonable and the onus is on the service provider, not the business, to host the service and keep it up and running. For a business, it’s hands-off and requires little to no IT staff to manage.

Open SaaS

Open SaaS is still a relatively new term and has a couple different meanings. For this post, I’m using open SaaS to describe a SaaS services that is also open for integration and innovation through APIs and webhooks. This means that a business can use the SaaS service as-is, but it’s not restricted by it. This will become more clear the further you read through this post.

BigCommerce

BigCommerce is gaining popularity as a SaaS ecommerce platform. As a service, BigCommerce provides everything a business needs to quickly create an online store and start selling products. It has a wide variety of customizable themes available, supports custom themes, and has an extension library to add additional functionality to the base platform. While this is all quite normal for SaaS ecommerce, what makes BigCommerce an exciting platform is it’s commitment to being open via APIs and webhooks. This allows BigCommerce to be used as a headless backend store management area with the front-end of your choice, opening up a world of possibilities for creating customer experiences not previously possible with other popular SaaS ecommerce solutions.

SaaS at different stages of growth

Ecommerce businesses can grow quickly. Being set up for scalability to handle this growth is extremely important early on to eliminate headaches later on. This is the main reason why all of us at Acro Media are always talking about the importance of utilizing the right commerce architecture. The right architecture will enable a business to scale effectively without bottlenecking operations with swivel-chair processes. BigCommerce is uniquely capable of handling this growth, from startup all the way up to enterprise powerhouse.

Click to discover your ideal architecture with our analysis.

SaaS for startup and small businesses

For many small ecommerce businesses, SaaS ecommerce platforms like BigCommerce provide a quick and cost-effective solution to get to market. These businesses typically have a low IT budget and are just looking for solutions that are easy to implement and use. In many cases, SaaS checks these boxes and is the perfect starting point. This is why platforms like BigCommerce, Shopify and SquareSpace have become so popular. We call this scenario commerce-led because the ecommerce platform used dictates what other software and integration are also used in combination.

SaaS for medium, large and enterprise businesses

While SaaS is typically great for startups and small businesses, established businesses are an entirely different situation. They’re now looking at technology as an enabler for reaching the next level. They see personalization and the customer’s experience as an area where they can differentiate themselves from their competitors. These businesses are now hitting the limitations and restrictions of their SaaS ecommerce platform due to the fact that SaaS is typically built for the most common use cases and is therefore rigid in allowing these businesses to add the unique functionality and the integrations that they need. As technological requirements for a business changes, the software used must change too. These businesses are now looking at investing in stable technology that increases efficiencies, automates time consuming tasks, and gives them the edge in defining their customer journey. This may mean moving away from a commerce-led architecture and into experience-led. Often, ecommerce replatforming is part of this move.

BigCommerce is different

So, where does BigCommerce and Drupal fit into the mix. As I mentioned earlier, BigCommerce as a SaaS service is an ideal ecommerce platform for startup and small business. Not only does it give these businesses the ecommerce tools and stability needed to easily conduct business online, but it’s uniquely capable of growing with these businesses further, all the way through to enterprise.

How? Through BigCommerce’s open APIs and webhooks, BigCommerce can be run headless as a robust and secure enterprise-level ecommerce backend that compliments the incredible content experience capabilities of Drupal as the frontend. This means that these businesses can start with a SaaS solution that works great and then replace the frontend with Drupal if and when it makes sense to do so. They integrate directly together, creating a SaaS & open source hybrid ready to disrupt the insanely expensive enterprise ecommerce space, finally giving companies a capable and cost-effective alternative solution that is built for growth, scalability and integration.

Why Drupal?

If you haven’t read the first post in this series, I’d recommend you take a moment to do that. It discusses the strengths of Drupal for experience-led ecommerce complete with some examples. In short, customer experience is seen as a major competitive advantage in established ecommerce and Drupal is able to provide that experience while also being able to integrate with the ecommerce component of your choice. One choices being BigCommerce.

How it works

Acro Media teamed up with BigCommerce to create the BigCommerce for Drupal integration, so we are very in-tune with the strengths of both platforms. Here’s a high-level breakdown of how the integration works.

  1. Set up a BigCommerce store
    The business signs up for an account with BigCommerce and adds products, payment gateways and shipping options as it normally would. The BigCommerce backend is used for all of the ecommerce functionality, so the store configuration happens here.

    As mentioned earlier, existing BigCommerce store’s don’t need to create a new store for this integration with Drupal to work. Drupal just replaces the frontend, so the integration can happen at the beginning or anytime in the future.

  2. Connect BigCommerce and Drupal
    Drupal is then installed separately and the BigCommerce for Drupal module is added along with any dependencies. The module’s settings page within Drupal is where the BigCommerce store is connected and products get synced. This brings the products into Drupal as content.
  3. Complete the Drupal website frontend
    The rest of the website is then built within Drupal like any normal Drupal website. This involves setting up additional content types, configuring the display of this content and imported products, and finally theming the site.

That’s it! Drupal is where the content lives and what customers interact with. Operational staff who manage the store and fulfill orders do so within BigCommerce. When customers decide to purchase products, they do so through an embedded BigCommerce secure checkout.

And there you have it, the best of both worlds!

Further information

Interested in learning how your business can leverage the strengths of BigCommerce and Drupal together?

Discover BigCommerce for Drupal

Or check out these related resources.

May 21 2019
May 21

This is the first of a two part series (UPDATE: part two here) discussing a couple of different platforms that we at Acro Media endorse for our clients. First up, I’ll talk about Drupal, a popular open-source content management system, and how it’s excellent content capabilities can be extended using an ecommerce component of your choice. For companies that require experience-led commerce architecture solutions, Drupal as an integration friendly content engine is an ideal open source choice.

A quick introduction

People who follow our blog will already know about open source technology and Drupal because we talked about them a lot. For those of you who don’t know, here’s a quick introduction.

Open Source

Wikipedia sums up open source software well.

Open-source software is a type of computer software in which source code is released under a license in which the copyright holder grants users the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. Open-source software may be developed in a collaborative public manner. Open-source software is a prominent example of open collaboration.

Open-source software development can bring in diverse perspectives beyond those of a single company. A 2008 report by the Standish Group stated that adoption of open-source software models have resulted in savings of about $60 billion (£48 billion) per year for consumers.

While that describes open source software as a whole, there are many advantages of open source specifically for content creation and ecommerce. No licensing fees brings the total cost of ownership down, businesses are fully in control of their data, and integrations with virtually any other system can be created. If you like, you can read more about the advantages of open source for ecommerce via this ebook.

Drupal

Drupal is a leading open source content management system that is known for being extremely customizable and ideal for creating rich content experiences. In a CMS world dominated by WordPress, Drupal is often overlooked because of its complexity and somewhat steep learning curve. Don’t let that stop you from considering it, however, as this complexity is actually one of Drupal’s greatest strengths and the learning curve is continuously improving through admin-focused UX initiatives.

The platform can literally be made to do anything and it shines when very specialized or unique functionality is required. It has a rich ecosystem of extensions and is very developer friendly, boasting a massive development community ensuring that businesses using Drupal always have support.

On top of this, Drupal has various strategic initiatives that will keep it modern and relevant now and into the future. One of the initiatives is for the platform to be fully API-first, meaning that a primary focus of Drupal is to be integration friendly. Developers can integrate Drupal with any other software that has an API available.

Drupal for experience-led commerce

Drupal is suited for any of the three main architectures (discover your ideal architecture here), but experience-led commerce is where it’s most capable. Experience-led is for businesses who keep the customer experience top of mind. These businesses want more than to just sell products, they want to also tell their story and foster a community around their brand and their customers. They want their customer experiences to be personalized and content rich. It’s these experiences that set them apart from their competitors, and they want the freedom to innovate in whatever way is best for their business.

Click to discover your ideal architecture with our analysis.More often than not, SaaS ecommerce platforms alone just don’t cut it here. This is simply because they’re built for ecommerce, not as an engine for other content. Although there are a lot of benefits to SaaS for ecommerce, businesses using SaaS must conform to the limitations set by the platform and its extensions. Robust content is just not typically possible. Sure, a business may be able to maintain a blog through their SaaS ecommerce platform, but that’s about it.

Drupal, on the other hand, is a content engine first. It was built for content, whatever that content may be. If you can dream it, Drupal can do. On top of this, Drupal, being integration friendly through its API-first initiative, allows businesses the freedom to integrate any compatible SaaS or open source ecommerce platform. At this point, a complete content & commerce solution has been created and the only limitation is your imagination and available resources to implement it. Implementation can be done in-house with an internal IT team or outsourced to one of the many service providers within the Drupal marketplace, Acro Media being one of them.

Let’s look at three widely different examples of Drupal based experience-led commerce.

TELUS Mobility

Website: www.telus.com

TELUS Mobility is one of Canada’s largest telecommunications companies. Imagine the missed opportunities when a customer’s online billing isn’t connected to your latest promotions and customer service can’t quickly or easily get this information in front of them. This was a problem that they faced and business restrictions, one being that they need to own all of their code and data, required that they look outside of the SaaS marketplace for a solution. Drupal, combined with a Drupal-native Drupal Commerce extension, was the solution that they needed. The open source code base of both Drupal and the Commerce extension meant that TELUS Mobility had the control and ownership that they needed. The result was huge, many important customers and customer service UX improvements were made which enabled TELUS Mobility to outperform their competitors.

You can read the full TELUS Mobility case study here.

Bug Out Bag Builder

Website: www.bugoutbagbuilder.com

Bug Out Bag Builder (BOBB) is a content-rich resource centered around preparedness. They generate a lot of different types of content and needed a way to do it that is easy and reusable. They also had a very unique commerce element that needed to tie in seamlessly. Here’s how we did it.

First is the content aspect. BOBB is full of content! They maintain an active blog, continuously write lengthy product reviews and provide their readers with various guides and tutorials. They’re a one-stop-shop for anything preparedness and have a ton of information to share. As you can see, a simple blog wouldn’t be sufficient enough for this business. They needed a way to create various types of content that can be shared and reused in multiple places. The Drupal CMS was easily able to accommodate. All of the content has a specific home within the site, but each article is categorized and searchable. Content can be featured on the homepage with the click of a button. Various blocks throughout the site show visitors the most recent content. Reviews can be attached to products within their online custom bug out bag builder application (more on this below). All of this is great, but what makes Drupal a fantastic content engine is that if BOBB ever needs to use this content in another way, all of the saved data can be reused and repurposed without needing to recreate the content. Just a little configuration and theming work would need to be done.

Second is the commerce aspect. BOBB is not a standard ecommerce store. At their core, they’re actually an Amazon Associate. They’ve developed a trust with their readers by providing fair and honest reviews of preparedness products that are listed on the Amazon marketplace. If a reader then goes and buys the product, BOBB gets a cut since they helped make the sale.

That’s all pretty normal, but what makes BOBB unique is that they also have a web-based Custom Bag Builder application. This tool has a number of pre-built “BOBB recommended” bag configurations for certain situations. Customers can select these bags (or start from scratch), view/add/remove any of the products, and finally complete the purchase. Since BOBB doesn’t need the full capabilities of ecommerce, it didn’t make sense for them to be paying monthly licensing fees. Drupal Commerce was selected for this purpose. It’s used as a catalog for holding the product information and creating a cart. Then, an integration between Drupal Commerce and Amazon transfers the cart information to Amazon where the customer ultimately goes through checkout. Amazon then handles all of the fulfillment and BOBB gets the commission.

BikeHike Adventures

Website: www.bikehike.com

BikeHike Adventures was founded as a way of bringing like-minded adventurers together through the unique style of world travel that they promote – activity, culture and experience. They provide curated travel packages that customers enquire about through the BikeHike Adventure website. Travel is all about experience and they needed to share this experience through their website. They also needed more than just a standard article page to do it since there is a ton of information to share about each package. Furthermore, they wanted to give customers a way to reserve a trip for pre-selected dates or through a custom trip planner. Again, Drupal was a perfect fit.

When you visit the site, you’re immediately thrown into the world of active travel through a rich video banner followed by a series of travel packages, a travel blog and more. There is a lot of exciting locations and vibrant imagery throughout.

Clicking into a package, you’re again hit with spectacular photography and all of the information you would need to make a decision. You can read about the trip, view the itinerary and locations marked on a map, learn about what’s included and where you’ll be staying, read interesting and useful facts about the country and location, see a breakdown of day-to-day activities, read previous traveler review, and more. When a customer is ready to book, they can submit an enquiry which is then handed off to the BikeHike Adventures travel agents.

A commerce component isn’t actually being used in this site, but it’s just a great example of content and customer experience that is used to facilitate a booking with a travel agent. If BikeHike Adventures wanted to in the future, they are free to integrate the booking and payment platforms of their choice to automate some, if not all, of that aspect of this process. By utilizing the open source Drupal CMS, this is an option that they can exercise at any point in time.

Who is Drupal best suited for?

Drupal could be used for any business, but it’s typically best suited for ecommerce businesses:

  • Who want to differentiate their brand through personalized shopping experiences
  • Who want to showcase products outside of a standard product page
  • Who want the power to develop a content-rich experience AND have an industry standard checkout process
  • Who want to sell across multiple channels and third-party marketplaces
  • Who need to develop and execute cohesive and synchronized marketing campaigns across multiple channels
  • Who want the freedom to integrate and connect their CMS and commerce platform with other components within their overall architecture
  • Who want to limit platform fees and instead invest in their own commerce infrastructure

In closing, there’s a reason why the ecommerce market is open to open source more than ever. Businesses are increasingly seeing that open source provides a quality foundation for which to build and integrate the solutions they need for today's new-age ecommerce. Customer experience is now seen as a competitive advantage and there are a handful of options that can provide this experience, Drupal being one of them. If you’re looking experience-led ecommerce solutions, consider Drupal. It might just be what you need.

UPDATE: Read part 2 of this series - BigCommerce & Drupal for Growing Ecommerce Businesses

Additional resources

If you liked this article, check out these related resources.

Click to discover your ideal architecture with our analysis.

Apr 08 2019
Apr 08
Acro Media teams up with BigCommerce


Acro Media has teamed up with BigCommerce, a leading SaaS ecommerce platform, to create the BigCommerce for Drupal module, a headless commerce module integrating both platforms together.

What does this mean? It means that companies can now utilize the quick-to-market and feature-rich backend benefits of BigCommerce SaaS while enjoying the content-rich and extensible frontend experience of Drupal, the open-source CMS. It’s a melding of systems that results in a best-of-both-worlds solution for today's digital experience driven ecommerce needs.

Discover BigCommerce for Drupal

Read the full press release below.

April 8, 2019 11:00 am EDT

BigCommerce for Drupal Brings Customized Shopping Experiences to Drupal Community

SEATTLE – April 8, 2019 – BigCommerce, the leading SaaS ecommerce platform for fast-growing and established brands, today announced BigCommerce for Drupal, a headless commerce module built specifically for the open-source content management system (CMS), at DrupalCon Seattle. Developed in partnership with Acro Media, a world-renowned digital commerce agency, BigCommerce for Drupal gives brands the ability to embed flexible, enterprise-level ecommerce functionality into revolutionary customer experiences created within Drupal’s highly-extensible and secure CMS.

Available now in the Drupal module library, BigCommerce for Drupal facilitates an agile headless commerce architecture for merchants by decoupling Drupal’s powerful front-end CMS and BigCommerce’s scalable commerce engine. Knitted together by fast, open-source APIs, the module allows the two platforms to operate simultaneously and more efficiently within a single interface. Additionally, BigCommerce for Drupal is built directly into Drupal Commerce, making it compatible with the many existing themes and modules available within Drupal Commerce.

“Shopping experiences should not be limited by any single content management or ecommerce platform’s native capabilities, and BigCommerce for Drupal embodies that philosophy. We want pioneering brands to continue driving retail innovation forward and help redefine how customers buy products, whether it be through augmented reality, social selling or any disruptive technology that lies ahead,” said Russell Klein, chief development officer at BigCommerce. “Furthermore, announcing BigCommerce’s headless implementation at DrupalCon, an event that brings together one of the strongest and most engaged online communities, signals the value we place on open-source technology that can be made better through collaboration.”

Key features of BigCommerce for Drupal include:

  • Drupal Commerce Core: BigCommerce for Drupal is built atop the Drupal Commerce module, developed in part by Acro Media, tapping into years of iterative improvements and enhancements.
  • Data Sync: With BigCommerce for Drupal, retailers can synchronize product and metadata directly from BigCommerce into Drupal, and then augment and manage data directly within the Drupal CMS.
  • Cached Commerce: The connected BigCommerce store will sync at merchant-determined intervals, saving a cached version of the catalog inside Drupal rather than pinging BigCommerce APIs for information.

“As two open, API-driven platforms, there is a natural alignment between BigCommerce and Drupal, and this module bridges the gap to unify their respective functionalities into one intuitive interface,” said Shae Inglis, chief executive officer at Acro Media. “The future of ecommerce is open architecture, and headless integrations lets even enterprise-level brands be nimble and capitalize on the explosion of new, innovative consumer touchpoints.”

To learn more about BigCommerce for Drupal visit www.bigcommerce.com/drupal. To download the BigCommerce for Drupal Module visit www.drupal.org/project/bigcommerce. DrupalCon attendees can also get more information by visiting the Acro Media booth (#802).

Is BigCommerce and Drupal right for you?

Quickly find out using Acro Media's Ideal Commerce Architecture Analysis.

Complete Your Ideal Architecture Analysis

Feb 19 2019
Feb 19
Performance and scale for all levels of digital commerce


Drupal Commerce is a fantastic open source ecommerce platform, but there is a common misconception that it is lacking when it comes to performance and scalability. This is not true! Drupal Commerce is extremely fast and is more than capable of scaling from small business all the way to enterprise level ecommerce. We have proof and it’s right here for you to view.

Download the Drupal 8 Commerce Performance Benchmarks Report (PDF)

About the report

Shawn McCabe, Acro Media’s CTO, put Drupal Commerce to the test to see how it performed on a number of different AWS configurations, ranging from single server setups all the way up to multi-server configurations.

He ran simulated traffic through Drupal Commerce, mimicking actual traffic as close as possible, testing concurrent users, site speed, transactions per second, and a number of other useful technical metrics.

The smallest server configuration tested was capable of handling 130 concurrent users flawlessly, with a throughput of 13.59 transactions per second. On the other hand, the largest configuration could handle 52,000 concurrent users with a throughput of 1,305.85 transactions per second.

The report goes further and includes how the tests were set up, their limitations and methodology, all of the server configurations details and, of course, the test results. This testing puts the performance and scalability question to rest, backed by hard data that anyone can reproduce. Drupal Commerce is a viable option for ecommerce that businesses of any size can use and grow with in the future.

Jan 07 2019
Jan 07
What we can learn from day one of legal online cannabis sales in Canada


On October 17, 2018, Canada took a progressive step forward as the sale of recreational cannabis became legal for the entire country. It was the end of a prohibition, sparking a wave of new business opportunity. It’s hard to find official numbers for Canada as a whole, but it’s estimated that there were about 212,000 first-day sales across the country worth approximately $28 million! We thought it would be a good opportunity to show some of the benefits of open source vs. SaaS solutions for online cannabis.

First off, It’s hard to say exactly how many transactions occurred online for Canada as a whole. It’s up to each province and territory to decide how they want sales to proceed and stats are quite limited at this point. We do, however, have solid information for a couple smaller provinces that we can start with. Then we can expand with speculation after that.

What we know

Cannabis Yukon

Cannabis Yukon, the Yukon government run retail outlet, had a combined online and in-store sales totalling about $59,900 (source). About 25% of that number, roughly $15,000, was transacted online. The online retail outlet uses the open source platform Drupal.

PEI Cannabis

PEI Cannabis, the Prince Edward Island government run retail outlet, had a combined online and in-store sales totalling about $152,000 (source). About 7% of that number, roughly $21,000, was transacted online. The online retail outlet uses the SaaS platform Shopify. It’s interesting to note that Shopify also runs the provincial online pot shops for Ontario, British Columbia and Newfoundland.

Functionality is the same

All ecommerce cannabis outlets in Canada, government or private, are going to have the same features. They need to block access to minors, they need to sell products based on weight and they need to restrict the maximum amount of cannabis an individual can purchase at one time. All other functionality required is standard ecommerce. Functionality-wise, Cannabis Yukon and PEI Cannabis do the same thing. Whether it’s open source or SaaS, there isn’t an edge either way there.

Where open source has the advantage

Where it gets interesting, and where the Yukon Government is in a great position to succeed, is commerce architecture and service fees. These are a couple of big reasons why open source is really catching fire in the ecommerce marketplace.

Commerce architecture

Yukon Cannabis is built on the Drupal platform. It’s open source software meaning there are no service fees to use and anyone who uses it can customize and innovate the software however they like. Development can be done in-house or with any 3rd party development agency familiar with the underlying code, mainly PHP.

An advantage to using a platform like Drupal is that it can integrate and talk to other services your operation may use for accounting, marketing, inventory, customer management, etc. Integrations and automation eliminate swivel chair processes that restrict business growth.

PEI Cannabis, on the other hand, is somewhat vendor locked using the Shopify platform. Shopify does have a rich ecosystem of integrations, but if there’s ever a need to develop a new integration, PEI Cannabis is restricted to dealing with only Shopify or their small group of partners. That usually means high cost.

Service fees

When a sale is made using a SaaS platform, a certain percentage of the sale is lost to taxes and additional platform specific transaction fees. In the case of Shopify Plus, the enterprise fee structure is $2,000 per month + 0.25% per transaction, capping at a maximum of $42,000 per month (source). You can optionally use ‘Shopify Payments’ instead which carries a transaction fee of 1.6% + 30 cents per transaction. This would be a better way to go only if you don’t require any other payment gateways, but in our experience that isn’t the case. Finally, in addition to Shopify’s fees, the platform has an extension library to extend the functionality to your store. Most of these extensions carry their own monthly fee and there’s a very good chance you would need some of them.

With SaaS ecommerce platforms like Shopify, year after year the cost of ownership increases. At minimum, the yearly fees paid to Shopify amount to $24,000 and can rise as high as $480,000. That doesn’t include any additional extensions that you use or any payment gateway fees. PEI Cannabis must pay these fees (and so do the governments of BC, Ontario and Newfoundland who also use Shopify).

Open source ecommerce platforms, on the other hand, don’t necessarily have any of these additional fees. Aside from the standard payment gateway fees and hosting fees, Yukon Cannabis pays no additional monthly or yearly licensing fee to use their ecommerce platform. Whether they sell $15,000 or $15 million, the investment that they’ve made into the development of their website should pay for itself quite quickly, potentially within a year.

Furthermore, provincial government cannabis retailers are essentially public companies. A large portion of the profit made is to be distributed at the provincial and federal levels to support various public services and initiatives. By utilizing open source technology and therefore avoiding platform-specific fees, the Yukon government will have more capital available for their public services and initiatives. Yukon constituents should be quite happy about that!

By utilizing open source technology and therefore avoiding platform-specific fees, the Yukon government will have more capital available for their public services and initiatives. Yukon constituents should be quite happy about that!

Service fee breakdown

Here’s a rough breakdown of potential monthly and annual platform service fees based on some of the numbers we know. We know the combined (online and in-store) sales from day one were elevated due to the hype of legalization, and we know that BC sales dropped by 70% on day two. For our fee breakdown, we’ll take the 70% reduced amount from the combined total numbers we know and use that to calculate a 30 day monthly sales estimate. We’ll use the combined total because most ecommerce platforms also support an official in-store point of sale component. This is all speculation of course, but it still shows realistic ecommerce sales numbers and how service fees accumulate based on them.

While the numbers shown below may appear to be quite large at first, Statistics Canada, the national statistics government agency, predicted back in September that legal cannabis sales for the first 3 months will be between $816 million and $1 billion nationwide. If that ends up being true, the numbers below would actually be grossly underestimated!

Est. Monthly Sales
Based on 30% of day one total x 30 days (XX/100 x 30) x 30 Open source
Annual and Monthly Fee: 0% Shopify Plus
Monthly including transaction fee
(calculator) Shopify Plus
Annual 
(monthly x 12)Yukon Cannabis
30 day est: $539,100
Day one: $59,900$0$2,994.31$35,931.72PEI Cannabis
30 day est: $1,368,000
Day one: $152,000$0$4523.13$54,277.56Nova Scotia
30 day est: $5,940,000
Day one: $660,000$0$12,955.69$155,468.28Alberta
30 day est: $6,870,000
Day one: $730,000$0$14,670.97$176,051.64All of Canada *
30 day est: $252,000,000
Day one: $28,000,000$0$40,000 (cap)  $480,000 (cap)

* The government agency Statistics Canada predicts that legal cannabis sales in Canada will be between $816 million and $1 billion (source).

Where SaaS has the advantage

The biggest advantage that SaaS such as Shopify has over open source is the speed at which you can get your product to market and the simplicity of use.

If you’re just starting out and need to get an ecommerce site up and running quick, these services are turn-key and can get your product to market fast. The website management interface is clean and easy to use, and most people can do what they need to do with little to no training.

There is a reason why companies like Shopify are quite dominant and it’s largely because of the simplicity. While we strongly believe that you shouldn’t choose your platform based on features, many people are willing to pay extra to be able to do it all themselves.

Takeaways

Watching a new industry unfold in Canada has been fun. It’s interesting to see that both open source and SaaS has found its way into the legal cannabis marketplace. Clearly both open source and SaaS work for this industry, it’s more about what you’re willing to pay and what ecommerce ecosystem you think is best for your business and its future growth.

If you’re thinking about online cannabis retail (or any other online retail for that matter), Acro Media has the expertise and processes in place to help guide you to online commerce success. Try our Digital Commerce Assessment Tool to uncover problematic areas within your digital commerce operations.

Complete Your Digital Commerce Assessment

Dec 11 2018
Dec 11

When it comes to ecommerce, a fast site can make a big difference in overall sales. I recently went through an exercise to tune a Drupal 7 Commerce site for high traffic on a Black Friday sales promotion. In previous years, the site would die in the beginning of the promotion, which really put a damper on the sale! I really enjoyed this exercise, finding all the issues in Commerce and Drupal that caused the site to perform sub-optimally.

FYI, We also have a Drupal 8 Commerce Performance Tuning guide here.

Scenario

Check Out Our High Five Drupal Web Series

In our baseline, for this specific site the response time was 25 seconds and we were able to handle only about 1000 orders an hour. With a very heavy percentage of 500s, timeouts and general unresponsiveness. CPU and memory utilization on web and database servers was very high.

Fast-forward to the end of all the tuning and we were able to handle 12K-15K orders an hour! The load generator couldn’t generate any more load, or the internet bandwidth on the load generators would get saturated, or something external to the Drupal environment became the limiter. At this point, we stopped trying to tune things. Horizontal capacity by adding additional webheads was linear. If we had added more webheads, they could handle the traffic. The database server wasn’t deadlocking. Its CPU and memory was very stable. CPU on the web servers would peak out at ~80% utilization, then more capacity would get added by spinning up a new server. The entire time, response time hovered around 500-600ms.

Enough about the scenario. Let’s dive into things.

Getting Started

The first step in tuning a site for a high volume of users and orders is to build a script that will create synthetic users and populate and submit the form(s) to add item(s) to the cart, register new users, input the shipping address and any other payment details. There’s a couple options to do this. JMeter is very popular. I’ve used it in the past with pretty decent success. In my most recent scenario, I used locust.io because it was recommended as a good tool. I hadn’t used it before and gave it a try. It worked well. And there are other load testing tools available too.

acro.blog-performance-tuning-4

OK, now you are generating load on the site. Now start tuning the site. I used New Relic's APM monitoring to flag transactions and PHP methods that were red flags. Transactions that take a long time or happen with great frequency are all good candidates for red flags. If you don’t have access to New Relic, another option is Blackfire. Regardless what you use for identifying slow transactions, use something.

Make sure that there’s nothing crazy going on. In my case, there was a really bad performing query that was called in the theme’s template.php and it was getting loaded on every single page call. Even when it wasn’t needed. Tuning that query gave use an instant speed-up in performance.

After that, we starting digging into things. There are several core and contrib patches I’ll mention and explain why and when you should consider applying them on your site.

In your specific commerce site, things might be different. You might have different payment gateways or external integration points. But the process of identifying pain points it the same. Run a 30-60 minute load test and find long running PHP functions. Then fix them so it doesn’t take as long.

As a first step, install the Memcache (or Redis) module and set it up for locking. Without that one step, you’ll almost immediately run into deadlocks on the DB for the semaphore table. This is a critical first step. From my experience, deadlocks are the number one issue when running a site under load. And deadlocks on the semaphore table is probably the most common scenario. Do yourself a favor. Install Memcache and avoid the problem entirely.

Then see if you can disable form caching on checkout and user registration. This helped save a TON of traffic against the database for forms that really don’t need to be cached. More about that later in specific findings.

One last thing before diving into some findings...

SHOW ENGINE INNODB STATUS

...will become your favorite friend. Use it to find deadlocks on your MySQL server.

Specific Findings

The following section describes specific problems and links to issues and patches related to the problems.
  • Do not attempt field storage write when field content did not change
    Commerce and Rules run and reprocess an order a lot. And then blindly save the results. If nothing has changed, why re-save everything again? So don’t. Apply this patch and see fewer deadlocks on order saves.
  • field_sql_storage_field_storage_load does use an unnecessary sort in the DB leading to a filesort
    Many times it makes sense to use your database to process the query. Until it doesn’t make sense. This is a case it leads to a filesort in MySQL (which you can discover using EXPLAIN in MySQL) and locking of tables and deadlocks. It is not that hard to do the sort in PHP. So do it.
  • Do not make entries in "cache_form" when viewing forms that use #ajax['callback'] (Drupal 7 port)
    This is a huge win, if you can pull it off. For transient form processing like login and checkout, disabling form cache is a huge relief to the DB. You might need to put the entire cart checkout onto a single page. No cart wizard. But the gains are pretty amazing.
  • If you are using captcha or anything with ajax on it on the login page, then you’ll need to make sure you are running the latest versions of Captcha and Recaptcha. See issues #2449209 and #2219993. Also, side note: if using the timing feature of recaptcha, the page this form falls on will not be cacheable and tends to bust page cache for important pages (like homepages that have a newsletter sign up form).
  • form_get_cache called when no_cache enabled
    You’ve done all that work to cut down on what is stored in cache. Great. But Drupal still wants to retrieve from cache. Let’s fix that. Cut down more DB calls.
  • commerce_payment_pane_checkout_form uses form_state values instead of input
    If your webshop is like most webshops, it is there to generate revenue. If you disable form caching on checkout, without this patch the values in your payment (including the ones for receiving payment) aren’t captured. Oops. Let’s fix that too.
  • Variable set stampede for js and css during asset building
    If you are using any auto scaling system and building out new servers when the site is under heavy load, you might already be using Advagg. But if you aren’t and are still using Drupal core’s asset system, spinning up a new system or two will cause some issues. Deadlocks galore when generating the CSS and JS aggregates. So either install Advagg or this patch.
  • Reduce database load by adding order_number during load
    Commerce and Rules really like to reprocess orders. An easy win is to reduce the number of one-off resaves and assign the order number after the first load.
  • Never use aggregation in maintenance mode
    While the site is under heavy load, the database sometimes becomes unreachable. Drupal treats this as maintenance mode. And tries to aggregate the JS/CSS and talk to the database. But the database isn’t reachable. It is a little ridiculous to aggregate JS/CSS on the maintenance page. And even more to try to talk to the database. So cut out that nonsense.
  • drupal_goto short circuits and doesn't set things to cache
    If you have any PHP classes you are using during the checkout, Drupal’s classloader auto loads them into memory. It then keeps track of where the files exist on the disk and this makes the next load of those classes just that much faster. Well, drupal_goto kills all this caching. And drupal_goto gets called when navigating through checkout.

Recap

acro.blog-performance-tuning-5

Wow! That was a long list of performance enhancements. Here’s a quick recap though. Identify critical flow of your application. Generate load on that flow. Use a profiler to find pain points in that process. Then start picking things off, looking on drupal.org for existing issues, filing bugs, applying patches. Many of the identified issues discussed here will apply to your site. Others won’t apply and you’ll have different issues.

Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly, the biggest wins in our discovery process were the low hanging fruit, not the complex changes. That query in the template.php was killing the site. After that, switching to use Memcache for the semaphore table and eliminating form cache for orders also cut down on a lot of chatter with the database.

I hope you too can tune that Drupal 7 Commerce site to be able to handle thousands of orders an hour. The potential exists in the platform, it is just a matter of giving performance bottlenecks a little attention and fine tuning for your particular use case. Of course, if you need a little help we'd be happy to assist. A little bit of time spent can have you reaping the rewards from then on.

Contact Acro Media Today!

Dec 11 2018
Dec 11

Here are some performance tuning tips and instructions for setting up a very performant Drupal 8 Commerce site using Varnish, Redis, Nginx and MySQL. I’ve got this setup running nicely for at least 13,000 concurrent users and it should scale well past that.

FYI, We also have a Drupal 7 Commerce Performance Tuning guide here.

Varnish

Config

You’ll need some specific config for Drupal as well as some extra config to work nicely with BigPipe caching. These are standard for Varnish and Drupal and not specific to Commerce.

Drupal

acro.blog-performance-tuning-1You’ll want to setup the Purge and Varnish Purge modules to handle tag based cache invalidation, nothing here is unique to Commerce, so you can follow the standard instructions. You will, however, want to make sure your pages actually are cached, as often modules or small misconfigurations can make a page not cacheable. To work nicely with Varnish, you want the entire page to be cacheable so your webserver doesn’t even get hit. An underused module that I find very helpful is Renderviz, which will show you a 3D breakdown of what cache tags are attached to what parts and can help you identify problem parts. I run

renderviz(‘max-age’, ‘0’) to show me anything that can’t be cached. Usually the parts you find can be corrected and made cacheable.

For example: In a recent set of performance testing I was doing, I found a newsletter signup that appeared on the bottom of every page had an overly aggressive honeypot setting, which rendered the page uncacheable. Changing the settings to only apply to necessary forms, as well as correcting a language selector, turned tons of uncached pages into cacheable pages. Now these pages return <10ms and put zero load on my web servers or database.

Demo Drupal Commerce today! View our demo site.

Web Servers

PHP

Use the most modern version of PHP you can, preferably the latest stable. Never ever ever use PHP 5 which is terrible, terrible, terrible. Otherwise, make sure you have sufficient memory and allowed threads, and that will cover most of your PHP tuning. This is almost certainly the most resource heavy part of your Drupal stack, but it is also easy to scan horizontally, pretty much indefinitely. Also, the more you can make use of Varnish, the less this will get used.

Nginx/Apache

Most of this is just making sure you can handle the number of connections. You may need to up the file limit...

ulimit -n

...of your web user to allow for more than 1024 connections per nginx instance.

Database

acro.blog-performance-tuning-2

A Commerce site is usually more write-heavy than your standard site, as your users create lots of "content" (aka carts and orders). This will usually change your MySQL config a bit, although the majority of your queries will still be reads. A pretty simple way to tune your site is to run...

mysqltuner

...against it after getting some real traffic data for at least a couple days, or simulating high traffic. It’s recommendations will get you a pretty good setup.

There is one other VERY important thing you need to do, you need to change your transaction isolation level from READ-REPEATABLE to READ-COMMITTED. READ-REPEATABLE is much too aggressive at table locking to work with most Drupal sites, especially anything write heavy. You will suffer from constant deadlocks even at fairly low traffic levels without this. Frankly, I think this should be a flag in the status page, but my patch hasn’t gotten any traction.

Cache Server

Nothing special here, but you are going to want use a separate caching option. It could be Memcache, Redis or even just a separate MySQL database. Redis is nice and fast, but the biggest gain is just splitting your cache away from the rest of your db so you can scale them easier.

Patches

There are a few specific patches that will be a great help to your performance.

_list cache tag invalidation

See: https://www.drupal.org/project/drupal/issues/2966607

Every entity type has an entity_type_list cache tag, which gets invalidated any time an entity of that type is added or changed and that those lists will need to get rebuild. This happens a LOT, but is a relatively simple query.

update cachetags set invalidation=invalidation+1 where tag=’my_entity_list’

This is an update, which is a blocking query, nothing else can edit this row while this query is running, which wouldn’t be so bad except...

acro.blog-performance-tuning-3This query often gets run as a part of larger tasks, in our case, such as when placing an order. A big task like this is run in a transaction, which basically means we save up all the queries and run them at once so they can be rolled back if something goes wrong. This means though, that this row stays locked for the whole duration of the transaction, not just the short time it takes this little query to run. If this invalidation happens near the start of the transaction, it can take a query that would take 0.002 seconds and make it take 0.500 seconds, for example. Now, if we have more than 2 of these happening a second, we start to back up and build a queue of these queries, which just keeps getting longer and longer until we just start returning timeouts. Since this query is part of the bigger order transaction, it stops the whole order from being processed and can bring your checkout flow to a halt. 

Thankfully, the above listed patch allows these cache invalidations to be deferred so as to not block large transactions. I think the update query for invalidating cache tags is still a bottleneck as you could eventually reach it without these long transactions, but at this point that problem is more hypothetical than something you will practically encounter.

Add index to profiles

See: https://www.drupal.org/project/profile/issues/3017788

As you start getting more and more customers and orders, you will get more profiles. Loading them, especially for anonymous users, will really start to slow down and become a bottleneck. The listed patch simply adds an index to prevent that. Please note, this is a patch for the Profile module, not Commerce itself.

Make language switcher block cacheable

See: https://www.drupal.org/project/drupal/issues/2232375

This issue is unfortunately on hold pending some large core changes, but once it does land, this will allow the language switcher block to be used without worry of it blocking full page caching.

Conclusion

You should be able to scale well above 10,000 concurrent users with these tips. If you encounter any other bottlenecks or bugs, I’d love to hear about them. If you want help with some performance improvements from Acro Media and yours truly, feel free to contact us.

Contact Acro Media Today!

Nov 27 2018
Nov 27

If you’re evaluating CMS platforms for an upcoming project, Drupal should be one platform that you consider. It was built for generating content and also has robust ecommerce abilities through the Drupal Commerce module. If you only need to publish content, it’s great for that. If you only need ecommerce, it’s great for that, too. The fact that it does both very well is a winning combination that will always be available to you, now or down the road. This post takes a look under the hood of Drupal to show you why you might want to take a first, or second, look at the Drupal CMS.

Drupal for Content

As mentioned in the introduction, Drupal was built for content creation and it is very good at that. But, if you’re unfamiliar with Drupal, you probably wouldn’t understand WHY it works so well for this. Here are some of the things that really separate Drupal from other platforms.

Content Types

At the core of Drupal content creation is something called a Content Type. A content type is a collection of fields that are used to generate a certain type of content, such as a general page, landing page, blog post, press release, etc. It’s one of the first pieces of a new Drupal site to be configured.

Demo Drupal Commerce today! View our demo site.Configuring content types is mostly done through Drupal’s admin user interface (UI). Through the interface, you add fields. If you think of any website form that you’ve seen in the past, the form is made up of fields for you to enter in your information. This is the same for Drupal, but you’re actually creating the fields that are used to generate content. For example, a blog post typically contains a title (text field), body (textarea field), header image (image field), publish date (date field), author and category (reference fields). For the blog content type, all of these fields would be added as well as any other that you need. The field options available a many. If you don’t see a field that you need, chances are someone has already created it and you just need to install a module that adds it in.

After all of the fields have been added, you then configure how the fields are displayed to your content creators and to the end user viewing the content. I won’t get into details here, but many fields have options for how that content gets rendered on the page. Using an image field as an example, you can choose to render the image as the original image, or as a processed image (like a thumbnail), or as the url path to the image on the server. Each option has its uses once you start theming the site.

Regions and Blocks

Keeping with the blog post example, when viewing a blog post you typically see other elements on the pages such as a subscribe form, list of recent posts, and call to actions. It doesn’t make sense to manually add these things to every single blog post, so instead we place this content in something called a Block and assign the block to a Region.

Regions are added to your page templates and are there for you to place blocks into. When adding a block into a region, each block can be configured independently of one another so that you can assign blocks to specific pages, content types, access levels (i.e. anonymous vs. logged in users), etc. A block can be many different things, but one type of block is similar to a content type in that you can add fields that are used to make up the block.

Views

A View is a powerful tool within Drupal for creating dynamic content based on other content. Views allow you to take existing content, manipulate it, and display it in another way. They can be used to create both pages and blocks.

Again, using the blog as an example, if you look at a page that is listing all of your blog posts at one time, this is most likely a view. The view is taking content generated using the blog content type, manipulating each post so that you’re only seeing specific information such as a date, title and introduction, and then adding a ‘Read More’ link after the introduction. Not only is the view manipulating each post like this, it’s also displaying the 10 most recent posts and showing you a ‘Load More’ button afterwards to load the next 10 posts.

This is a pretty simple example, but as you can see it’s quite powerful. You can use as much or as little of the content information as you need and it gives you fine-grained control to use and re-use your content in new ways. 

Metatags

Any serious content platform needs to include a robust set of metatag options. The built in metatag module for Drupal is excellent in this regard. You can set default options for every content type and override those defaults for individual pieces of content if needed. You can choose if your content should be crawled by search bots or not, how your post would appear on social media if shared, and more.

Workflows

This might not apply to you if you’re the only one creating content for your website, but, if you have a team of content creators, workflows let you assign specific permissions to your teammates. For example, you can allow your writers to draft content, your editors to approve the content, and finally a publisher can publish the content. Instead of explaining it all here, here’s a separate article and video that shows you how it works.

Modules

Anything that adds new functionality to the base Drupal platform is called a module. A module can be small (such as adding a new field type) or big (such as adding ecommerce functionality). You can separately Google “best modules for Drupal” and see a whole bunch of popular modules, but one of our favorites that I want to mention for content creation is the “Paragraphs” module. This module lets you create reusable sections of content that can be used within your content types and product pages. So, instead of just a body of text you can add cta straps, rich media, image galleries, forms, etc., all within your content. We use it on our own site to quickly make unique page layouts for our content.

Theming

Drupal’s theming engine enables your designers and front end developers to implement anything they can dream up. You have broad control over the look and feel of your site so that everything is consistent, but you can also create totally unique pieces of content or individual pages that may break away from your normal styleguide.

Say you have a new product lineup that you’re launching. You’re store branding is one thing, but this product has its own unique branding and personality that you want to convey. Well, you can give your designers full control over how the product should appear on your website and your front end developers can make it happen using the granular template override system.

Drupal for Commerce

The Commerce module for Drupal turns your Drupal site into a fully fledged ecommerce platform that is 100% capable of running any size of ecommerce site you throw at it. And remember, this is adding functionality to Drupal, so you still maintain the ability to do all of the content side of things mentioned above. 

In fact, not only can you still generate other content, but all of the things that make content creation great on Drupal also apply to the ecommerce side of your site. Your product pages are totally fieldable and themable, just like the content. You can assign blocks to your project pages. You can use views to set up your catalog and create blogs that filter out featured products or related products. Everything is fully customizable. 

There are also many modules available specifically for Commerce that give you even more functionality and integrations, and this is actually where ecommerce on Drupal becomes a “big deal”. Drupal Commerce is API first, which means that it was made to be able to connect to other services. So while you might run your ecommerce store on Drupal Commerce, you will most likely also use other software for your business accounting, marketing and customer relations, to name a few. Drupal Commerce can integrate with these services and share information in order to automate tasks.

We have a whole article that drills down on this topic and explains why ecommerce platforms like Drupal Commerce can be a great fit for your business. I would recommend reading it here.

Content and Commerce

We’ve really only scratched the surface on what Drupal can do from both a content and commerce perspective. I hope you’re beginning to see the whole picture. 

The truth is that most ecommerce platforms don’t do both content and commerce well. You can definitely find many great content creation platforms out there, but can they also do ecommerce? Likewise, there are a ton of ecommerce platforms that will sell your products, but how well can you create other content and do you have the flexibility to customize one or all product pages in the way that works best for your products. And, can you integrate that platform with other services?

These are all important questions to ask even if you don’t think you need a robust content platform or an ecommerce component now. If you think you might need it in the future, planning ahead could save you a headache later. While there are a lot of options out there and I encourage you to explore them, Drupal should be high on your list of possible options.

Try A Demo

It’s one thing to say Drupal is great at all of these things, but why not give it a try. We’ve actually created a complete Drupal demo that showcases both content and commerce together. Click the link below to check it out and see what you think. If you’re interested in exploring how Drupal can fit with your business, feel free to Contact Us. We’d be happy to have that discussion with you.

Demo Drupal Commerce today! View our demo site.

Oct 02 2018
Oct 02

The Media module made its way into Drupal core for the Drupal 8.4 release a while back. It gives Drupal users a standardized way for managing local media resources, including image, audio, video, and document files. We wanted to add using this module into our Drupal Commerce demo site to give an example of how this module could potentially be used in a Commerce setting.

In this Tech Talk video, I’ll quickly show you how we updated our digital download Commerce product example to use the Media module, giving us the flexibility to add audio samples to the product page and access to the full download after purchase.

[embedded content]

Background

The product I wanted to update is the Epic Mix Tape by Urban Hipster digital download example product. This is a fake album featuring all of your favourites by artists you’ve never heard before. The idea is to showcase that you can add digital products to a Drupal Commerce based online store, not just physical products.

Originally we were using just a standard file field that, when checkout was completed, gave the customer access to download the file. This was done before the Media module made its way into core. Now that the Media module is in core, we figured it’s time to update it.

Setting up an Album media type

When the Media module is installed you get some new admin menu items. The first is a section called Media Types (under Structure) where you can configure your media entities like any other Drupal content entity. Here I created an ‘Album’ media type with two unlimited file fields, one for sample audio tracks and one for the full audio tracks. This is the basis for creating my downloadable albums.

The second admin menu is under Content. Here you get a new Media tab which is where you can add, edit and remove any media items. Since I already created the Album media type I can now add the Epic Mix Tape album files here. This completes the media side of the updated digital download product. All I need to do now is update the product configuration to use it.

Completing the digital download product configuration

Now that the media type has been added and I’ve uploaded an album, I need to set up a way to use it. It’s pretty easy to do. First, for the digital download Product Type, I add an entity reference field to give a way for selecting the album media entity to use for the product samples.

I then do the same thing for the Product Variation Type. This one, however, will be used to give access to the full files after purchase.

Finally, some template updates. The Drupal Commerce demo site has some pretty custom template files for the products. In the template, I access the media entity directly and loop through the items, printing each audio sample and track title onto the product page. I do the same thing for the checkout complete page but print out the full tracks instead.

Depending on your templates and display settings, you can get similar results without manually accessing the files in the template file, however I wanted to print out the file description with the audio player right on the page. Showing the description unfortunately is something you don’t have the option of doing using the standard audio display widget.

And that’s it! Check out the Urban Hipster Drupal Commerce demo site below to see it in action.

Demo Drupal Commerce today! View our demo site.

Jul 30 2018
Jul 30
Comparing Drupal POS, Shopify POS and Square POS


If you need to accept card payment in a physical location, you need a point of sale (POS) system. There are many different POS systems out there so knowing how to choose the right one for your business can be challenging. All systems claim to be everything you need, however this might not be the case for all businesses. Most POS systems are designed around “industry best practices,” meaning that they try to serve the majority of businesses based on the most common needs. Many systems start to fail when the requirements of the business break away from the norm.

How do you choose the right point of sale for your business? The best way I’ve found is to look at three or four different examples and do a direct comparison. Today I’ll compare 3 different web-based point of sales systems - Drupal POS, Shopify POS, and Square POS. I’ll look at features, costs, usability, integrations, and more. In the end, I’ll try to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each and ultimately determine what business types they work best with.

All of the POS systems I examine today are web-based (or cloud-based). This means that these systems are connected to the internet and all of the data is kept online. Web-based systems are increasingly becoming more popular because they are generally easier to setup and require less time and knowledge to maintain. They can also integrate with your eCommerce store. You can read more benefits here.

The point of sale systems

Here is an introduction to the three POS systems I’ll be comparing.

Drupal POS

Drupal POS is a free add-on to the popular Drupal content management system. Drupal is open-source and completely free to use. It’s known as a very developer-friendly platform to build a website on and has a massive community, over a million strong, helping to advance the software and keep it secure. The open-source eCommerce component for Drupal is called Drupal Commerce. While Drupal Commerce has a relatively small market share, the platform is very powerful and can be a very good choice for businesses that have demanding requirements or unique product offerings.

Shopify POS

Shopify POS integrates with the popular Shopify SaaS eCommerce platform. Unlike Drupal Commerce, Shopify is a standalone product and stores running on the platform pay a monthly subscription fee to use it. With that said, business owners are given a well developed tool out-of-the-box that has all of the bells and whistles most stores require to get up and running fast. Shopify aims to serve the common needs of most businesses, so very unique business requirements can be hard to achieve.

Square POS

Square POS is an add-on point of sale service for your business and is not really a platform for running your entire store, although it does now offer a basic eCommerce component. It can also integrate with many eCommerce platforms, including Drupal Commerce. Square aims to make the process of accepting card payment easy to do, without bulky equipment.

Service comparison

Below is a side-by-side comparison of each service (as of July, 2018). Note that some of the information below applies to stores who also have an eCommerce component. If you don’t need eCommerce, you can ignore those items.

Note for mobile viewers: Swipe the table side-to-side to see it all.

 

Drupal logo

Drupal POS

Shopify logo

Shopify POS

Square logo

Square POS

Service philosophy

Open-source 

ProprietaryProprietaryService support Yes *
* via Drupal Commerce, in-house IT or third-party support  Yes *
* via Shopify or third-party support Yes *
* via Square Setup costs for basic service  $0 *
* The software doesn’t cost anything to use, however you may need to pay someone to set it up for you

$29 USD *
* Basic package pricing

$0 Ongoing costs for basic service $0 *
* The software doesn’t cost anything to use, however you may need to pay someone to apply occasional software updates. Third-party transactions fees may apply. Website domain and hosting also required $29/mth plus transaction fees and add-on product fees. Monthly fee increases with package Transaction fees and add-on product fees Payment gateways Third-party Shopify or third-party Square Accept cash payments Yes  Yes Yes  Accept card payments Yes Yes Yes Save cards (card on file) Yes  Yes  Yes Process recurring payments (i.e. subscriptions) Yes Yes *
* Third-party add-on required with separate monthly fees Yes Accept mobile payments Yes *
* Third-party hardware required Yes *
* Monthly fee for service hardware Yes *
* $59 USD one time price for service hardware Built in invoicing Yes *
* Using free add-on Yes Yes Apply discounts and promotions Yes Yes Yes Use with gift cards & coupon codes Yes Yes *
* Not available for basic plan  Yes  Printed gift cards provided by service  No *
* Add-on could be created to allow this functionality, but does not currently exist Yes *
* Additional fee for printing  Yes *
* Additional fee for printing Integrated taxes  Yes *
* Advanced taxes can be handled via third-party add-ons or configured directly within the platform Yes Yes *
* Third-party add-ons required
  Apply additional custom fees (i.e. environment fees, tipping, donations, etc.) Yes Yes Yes *
* Limited to tipping Built-in eCommerce Shop Yes *
* Drupal POS is an add-on for Drupal Commerce Yes *
* Shopify POS is an add-on for Shopify Yes *
* Basic Square store or integrate with third-party platforms Built-in website and blog Yes Yes  Yes  Multi-business (separate businesses using same platform or account) Yes No *
* Separate account required for each business No *
* Separate account required for each business/bank account Multi-store (multiple locations or stores of the same business) Yes  Yes  Yes  Number of products allowedUnlimited 2000-7000 *
* Number depends on device used to manage inventory Unlimited *
* Square eCommerce store only displays 1000 products. Third-party platform needed to run a larger store Number of product variations allowedUnlimited 4000-10,000 *
* Number depends on device used to manage inventory Unlimited * 
* Square eCommerce store only displays 1000 products. Third-party platform needed to run a larger store Number of registers allowedUnlimitedUnlimited  UnlimitedNumber of cashiers accounts allowedUnlimited  2 *
* Number of accounts increase with service plan Unlimited  Access controls Yes Yes  Yes *
* Additional fee of $6/employee  Create new user roles for advanced access controls Yes No Yes *
* Grouped with additional fee above. Mobile POS (i.e. use at trade shows, markets, etc.) Yes Yes Yes Sync inventory between online and offline stores Yes Yes Yes *
* Third-party platforms may not be able to sync inventory  Sync user accounts between online and offline stores Yes Yes Yes Sync orders between online and offline stores Yes Yes Yes  Park & retrieve orders Yes  Yes  Yes  Abandoned cart recovery (eCommerce) Yes *
* Using free add-on or third-party solutions Yes Yes *
* Requires third-party solutions Generate product labels Yes Yes Yes Print receipt Yes  Yes  Yes  Email receipt Yes Yes Yes  Customize receipt information Yes Yes *
* No layout customization, only the information shown Yes *
* No layout customization, only the information shown Process returns Yes Yes Yes  Basic reporting Yes Yes *
* Not available for basic plan Yes  Advanced reporting Yes *
* Using free add-on Yes *
* Not available for basic or mid-tier plans Yes  Supported operating systems Any *
* Requires only a web browser to use  Android, iOS *
* Requires app. iPad recommended with limited support for iPhone and Android Android, iOS *
* Requires app Themable (i.e. brand the POS interface) Yes  No No Customer facing display Yes No No Integrate with accounting/bookkeeping services? Yes Yes  Yes Integrate with other eCommerce sales platforms (Amazon, Ebay, etc.)? Yes Yes Yes *
* Only if using third-party eCommerce platform that supports this Integrate with marketing services (MailChimp, HubSpot, etc.)? Yes Yes Yes *
* Only if using third-party eCommerce platform that supports this Integrate with shipping providers (FedEx, UPS, etc.)? Yes Yes Yes Third-party calculated shipping rates Yes Yes *
* Not available for basic or mid-tier plans No Generate shipping labels Yes Yes Yes *
* Integration with ShipStation adds this functionality for an extra monthly cost Custom integrations with third-party services Yes Yes Yes Use offline (and have your transactions sync once back online)No *
* This is a requested feature currently in discussion Yes *
* Can only accept cash or other manual payments Yes Personalized customer feedback/support Yes Yes Yes

Hardware Requirements

Cashier terminal Third-party *
* Can be anything that runs a web browser (computer, tablet, phone, etc.) Third-party *
* iPad recommended with limited support for iPhone and Android Third-party *
* Any device running Android or iOS Card reader Third-party Provided Provided  Contactless payment Third-party Third-party Proprietary only  Cash drawer Third-party Third-party  Third-party  Barcode scanner Third-party *
* Can be a traditional barcode scanner or anything with a camera (i.e. phone, tablet, webcam, etc.) Third-party Third-party  Receipt printer Third-party Third-party  Third-party  Barcode printer Third-party Third-party None  Customer facing display Third-party *
* Can be anything that runs a web browser (computer, tablet, phone, etc) None None Custom/DIY hardware Yes No No

What business is best suited for each POS?

As you can see, all three options have most of the same features. Most businesses would probably be fine with any of them, but let’s see if we can distil down where each system fits best.

Drupal POS

Who’s it for?

If you have a medium to large business with unique business requirements, Drupal POS could be the ideal platform for you to work with. For small business, Drupal POS and Drupal Commerce might not be for you. The initial cost to get a site built might be too high for your budget, however, if you look at the long term fees charged month by month from the other venders, this upfront cost will be saved in a matter of time. Also, if you have a really obscure need that no other platform will accomodate, Drupal Commerce can.

If you’re already running a Drupal Commerce store and now want to add point of sale to your physical locations, Drupal POS is probably a no-brainer. It’s built on-top of the existing Commerce architecture, so you know it will integrate properly in every way, and you can utilize your existing web development service provider to help you set it up.

Demo Drupal Commerce today! View our demo site.Additional details:

If you’re not already using Drupal then you have some larger questions to consider. Do you already have an ecommerce website? Would you be willing to invest in replatforming? Since Drupal Commerce is an eCommerce platform, you would ideally be running your whole operation from Drupal Commerce. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. Drupal can readily handle any business case you can throw at it. It can integrate with virtually any third-party service, it can provide you with a single location to manage all of your products, orders, customer accounts, etc., it’s built to scale with your business, and on top of all that it’s a powerful content management system that will run your blog and any other content need you might have.

From a support point of view, because Drupal is open-source, you don’t have a single source of support to contact. Instead, you would need to utilize your current web development service provider (if you have one), or work with one of the many Drupal agencies out there who are specialized in Drupal development. This means you can shop around and find the company will work best with you.

Another advantage to Drupal POS (and Drupal as a whole) is that because it’s free, open-source software, you don’t actually have any type of fee to use it. Not one cent. You can have as many stores, products, staff accounts, transactions, registers, etc. as you need, and the price is still $0. Instead of spending your hard earned money on platform fees, you can now redirect those funds to developing your website and POS to do whatever you need it to, or towards marketing, or staffing, or growing your business.

Shopify POS

Who’s it for?

If you’re a small to medium sized business who is just getting started, you don’t have a large budget, and you want the best eCommerce site with POS capabilities, Shopify and Shopify POS is probably your best bet. Also, if you’re already running a Shopify site and happy with it, the Shopify POS is probably ideal for you.

If your business is growing, or you run a large, enterprise level company, Shopify and Shopify POS probably won’t cut it. For one, the fees associated with this level of company can be significant. If you’re at that point, replatforming to something like Drupal Commerce can recuperate a lot of lost earnings and give you full control of your development path, without restrictions.

Additional details:

Shopify has built their business around being easy. Whether it’s opening up a new store or managing your inventory and customers, the Shopify interface is clean and straightforward. As mentioned earlier, it’s ideal for small and medium sized companies just getting started.

However, where Shopify starts to fail is when your business growth is strong and your requirements start to become more complicated. With Shopify, the number of products and product variations you’re allowed can limit your growth. As you start adding more staff, your costs go up. You can pretty quickly go from a $29/mth plan to a $300+/mth plan in short order. 

Another possible deal-breaker is if your product offerings have very unique requirements. Shopify is built to work around the most common business requirements. When your business breaks out of this mold, the platform isn’t designed to accommodate. However, if you can stay within the “typical” business requirements, Shopify probably has everything you need as long as you’re willing to pay for it.

Square POS

Who’s it for?

Square POS is great for small businesses and food service businesses. It’s an easy to use, low-cost option that doesn’t really require anything more than your phone and the provided card reader. Their software interface is clean and easy to understand.

If you’re a medium to large business, or you have very high traffic, Square POS might not be for you. Square is mainly an add-on service to existing businesses, so don’t expect much from an eCommerce perspective. 

Additional details:

Square has become a pretty common sight around town these days, especially when you’re at small business such as cafes or walking around a farmers/artisan market. Square has been able to provide a very good product that allows people to jump in to card transactions easily. It fills this need.

When your business grows and you start having multiple stores and an eCommerce component, you may quickly grow beyond Square’s capabilities. Drupal POS and Shopify POS both have native eCommerce that they work with. This is important when you’re talking about inventory management and other integrations. While Square does have a basic eCommerce component and can integrate with various eCommerce platforms (Drupal Commerce being one of them), you may struggle to get some of the features that Drupal Commerce and Shopify have by default.

Your point of sale integrator

Acro Media is an open-source eCommerce development agency. Our experience in this area is vast and we would love to share it with you. If you have a project that you’d like to discuss, one of our friendly business developers are always available to have that discussion at no cost to you.

Contact Acro Media Today!

Jun 19 2018
Jun 19

Omnichannel generally means the shopping experience is unified and seamless whether you do it on your laptop, in store, through your phone, etc. The team at Acro Media set out to demonstrate just how easy it is to give your customers a true omnichannel experience using Drupal and Drupal Commerce.

[embedded content]

The omnichannel setup

As part of our demo at DrupalCon in Nashville, we did a pseudo T-shirt pre-order. Before the conference, attendees could use our Urban Hipster eCommerce demo site to pre-order a Drupal Commerce shirt in their size. When they completed their pre-order, they got an order number to bring with them to our booth. 

Check Out Our High Five Drupal Web SeriesPeople who didn't pre-order could also come to our booth and "purchase" (for free) a T-shirt using a self serve kiosk running the same demo site. 

So one side of the booth was the set up as the cashier/fulfillment area. The other side had the self-serve kiosk. We also had other laptops available so that we could bring up the admin interface as if we were a customer support person assisting a customer over the phone. The "support person" could find the customers order number or email address and fulfill the order. Easy peasy.

The whole time, our inventory of shirt sizes was counting down until the stock count hit 0. When our inventory reached 0 for a certain size, orders for that size could no longer be placed.

Why is this so amazing?

Some people were impressed but also a little puzzled, thinking that this sort of setup should just exist everywhere. Which it should, but it doesn't. With most retail stores, the online and in-store experiences are completely separate. They might as well be two different companies. If you buy something online and try to return it in store, it often can't happen. Loyalty points often don't transfer. The list goes on. Some places will let you buy online and pick up in store, but there might be a delay. They might say sure, you can pick it up in store, but not for 24 hours. In that case, you might as well just go to the store and find it yourself. Even knowing if an item is in stock can be tricky. The website might say there are three left, but that's just a snapshot from a certain point in time, and you don't know how often that gets updated. Maybe that was valid six hours ago, but that item has since sold out.

Why Drupal rocks

What makes Drupal so cool is that the point of sale and the Commerce module both use the same orders. A point of sale order is just a Drupal Commerce order. It has some specifics to the point of sale, but it can be loaded up in a regular interface. They use the same stock, the same products, everything. This is surprisingly rare. A lot of POS systems in particular are very antiquated. They date from pre-Internet times and have no concept of syncing up with things.

But we've created a true omnichannel experience. We've done it, and implemented it, and it's all open source and freely available. Anyone else could set up the same omnichannel setup that we did. We used a laptop, a cash drawer, a couple of iPads, nothing too fancy.

What's more, as the software matures, we're working on an even better demo with more smoothed out features, better integration, nicer interface, etc. Stay tuned.

Demo Drupal Commerce today! View our demo site.

More from Acro Media

Let's talk omnichannel!

We're always happy to help you understand how you can deliver a true omnichannel experience for you customers. Contact us today to talk to one of our business development experts.

Contact Us

May 29 2018
May 29

Did you know that Drupal has a Point of Sale (POS) module that pairs with the widely used Commerce module? That's right, Drupal Commerce is now the full end-to-end platform for a complete omnichannel ecommerce experience. Whether you're running an online store, a physical store, or both, you can do it all with Drupal Commerce!

One of the great things about a web-based POS is that all you need is a web browser for it to work. This opens the door to new POS hardware options. You can use an iPad, a laptop, or anything that has a browser. You don't need any expensive or specialized hardware from Moneris, nor do you need a branded solution such as Square. Instead, you now even have the option to build your own POS hardware for very little cost. Today we're featuring a Raspberry Pi based prototype that WE built! The whole setup cost about $250 CAD.

Watch the video below, or keep reading to learn more.

[embedded content]

As mentioned above, we bought a simple touchscreen and mounted a Raspberry Pi on the back. Once up and running, all you have to do is plug it in, connect it to the Internet, and it will automatically boot up into the POS login screen. If your staff has a problem, all they have to do is unplug it and plug it back in. There's no messing with settings or anything. Just reboot. Easy!

Once you get the hardware working, the display can be used in 3 different ways depending on how you need it:Check Out Our High Five Drupal Web Series

  1. The administrative view, which is what the cashier would use.
  2. A customer display view, which shows what the cashier has added so the customer can see the products and prices entered in real-time. Remember: all you need is a browser and something that can display a browser. The customer display is especially easy because it doesn't have to be a touchscreen; you could just use any monitor, a TV, etc, and run it off of the cashier hardware.
  3. A kiosk view, which is basically just running the front end of the site like your customers would do on their home computers. You could set that out in your store and let customers browse products and make purchases.

So, for a shoestring budget, we created a working point of sale that could be used in a store (see the video above). Aside from looking a little silly, our example is perfectly fine and works great. Plus, there are endless options for inexpensive enclosures to make it look better. You could even build or 3D print your own.

The do-it-yourself (DIY) route is a lot cheaper and gives you the freedom to do whatever you want. We will post further details soon on how to do all this yourself, including specific links to the components we used. And remember: it's Drupal, so it's open source, and all the software is free.

Integrated Drupal Ecommerce Solutions

May 01 2018
May 01

A lot of universities use Drupal in some capacity. Universities don't typically have just one site; they're made up of a ton of different pieces put together for course registrations and calendars and events and alumni and so on. So a couple of those pieces might use Drupal. Or one or two departments might use Drupal even if others do not.

Many educational institutions like Drupal because it's open source. Universities are often publicly funded and favor open stuff more than proprietary products. Plus, they need to manage a ton of content by a ton of different people, so they need a really big robust CMS.

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Introducing OpenEDU 3.0

The new OpenEDU 3.0 is a Drupal distribution setup for educational institutions. The older version was mostly a set of custom configurations, whereas 3.0 actually has unique functionality. It has analytics and monitoring built right into it, for instance. There's a new analytics dashboard that allows a central admin to see what's going on in all the different sections without having to check a while bunch of different accounts, which is pretty cool. There's also new functionality related to content management, workflows and editing flows that universities need to handle.

OpenEDU is also being integrated into the Commerce (keep an eye out at commercekickstart.com), so you can have both of them together.

The Commerce Disconnect

Strangely, a ton of universities are using Drupal, but they are not using Commerce. Even those they use Drupal and perform ecommerce are typically using pretty terrible antiquated systems, if they have a system at all.

Check Out Our High Five Drupal Web SeriesLack of awareness is a big factor in this. A lot of universities are so focused on the publishing end that they don't even think about commerce. Another stumbling block is security—they don't want to deal with the compliance issues around online payments, so they just keep doing what they're doing (i.e. accepting cash or taking credit card details over the phone, which is even less secure).

The reality is that businesses or organizations within a university could really benefit from using Commerce, particularly if they already use Drupal. They could just tack on a bit of Commerce and easily sell club memberships and accept donations (remember: Commerce has a built-in point of sale). There could be one central system that IT could maintain and keep secure, and everyone could still spin up their own customized version of it.

TL:DR - Educational institutions already use Drupal and so should really adopt Drupal Commerce to replace their old, antiquated payment systems.

More from Acro Media

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Our team understands that one-size does not fit all, especially in the education space, so we listen and work together to bring your students and staff the most secure and integrated open source solution available in the Commerce arena. Contact us today to discuss how Drupal Commerce can fit it with your existing systems.

Contact Acro Media Today!

Apr 19 2018
Apr 19

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DrupalCon Nashville 2018 Session

Join Acro Media's technical Drupal Commerce veteran, Josh Miller (all things programming) and Business Developer, Becky Parisotto (all things business) as they walk through the wild world of physical commerce that is powered by and paired with a Drupal web interface. Both Josh and Becky work together with a number of physical commerce clients. Through our client’s requirements, we have gained a better understanding of the iceberg that is building an interface for retail, and allowing for that true omni-channel experience for both customer, and (sometimes more importantly) the business owner.

Josh will review the state of Point of Sale as it integrates with Drupal Commerce 2 on Drupal 8, compare and contrast fulfillment in the new shipping and inventory modules, and talk about a new module that handles requesting products from your suppliers and updates store stock when its received. Additionally, Becky will walk us through what Drupal Commerce is capable of in the way of “powering your business” and truly being the end to end backend brain for finances, accounting, product management, customer management, shipping, fulfillment, stock, inventory and community. Drupal Commerce is a big box of legos, come and learn how we build fully integrated businesses, from the web to the storefront to the back of house, to the warehouse, and more.

This is meant to be a practical review with easy to digest client examples and micro case studies of how we merge an online tool with a physical store. Setting clients in digital stone, all powered by Drupal.

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Acro Media is a Drupal Commerce development agency that specializes in enterprise-level ecommerce. We are committed to building strong strategic partnerships and using our ecommerce expertise to help clients create a dynamic web presence that engages audiences, generates revenue, and boosts brand awareness.

Contact Acro Media Today!

Contact us and learn more about our custom ecommerce solutions

About Drupal Sun

Drupal Sun is an Evolving Web project. It allows you to:

  • Do full-text search on all the articles in Drupal Planet (thanks to Apache Solr)
  • Facet based on tags, author, or feed
  • Flip through articles quickly (with j/k or arrow keys) to find what you're interested in
  • View the entire article text inline, or in the context of the site where it was created

See the blog post at Evolving Web

Evolving Web