A developers environment is ever changing for the greater good, clever people out there are continually providing us with higher levels of abstraction and more intelligent accessible frameworks as cost and compute become less of a concern. The result is that in the line of business environment at least, we can pretty much create what we want, produce stunning results, and leave our clients gobsmacked...except in e commerce that is...
E-commerce is due a shake up. Yes we see plenty of jaw dropping stores out there, but we're at the point at which reasoning our productivity and quality outputs vs cost has become something to think about. There isn't a platform out there that offers the flexibility to quickly and seamlessly create beautiful and bespoke UIs and UXs, whilst in tandem delivering robust, intuitive, scalable and fit for purpose customer journeys. At least not without reaching prohibitive cost as is the case in many mid market scenarios, as a result we're being forced to sacrifice quality.
Moltin markets itself on its homepage as 'The quicker way to build e-commerce applications', possibly an undersell. These guys have identified a few long standing and largely ignored problems with the routes a developer can take to produce a quality e-commerce store. A couple of the most pertinent being:
- If I want to use an off the shelf platform aka Shopify, Magento etc, then I must invest limitless resource ramping up an understanding of the system (notwithstanding its flaws), and most critically, lock myself into the platform or risk sinking costs.
- If I want to build a bespoke e-commerce system then I must invest limitless resource, architecting, testing, maintaining and supporting the system, whilst hoping I get a long enough run before my customers disappear as more advanced platforms emerge in tow with backers with large pockets.
Moltin have introduced a glaringly obvious solution to a glaringly obvious problem. Provide the total decoupling of e-commerce data and logic, from UI and UX through the introduction of RESTful APIs. A concept that is nothing new, and has been shaping the development landscape for a while now.
Let me make the result of this undertaking abundantly clear, Moltin are providing e-commerce developers with the freedom to develop with whichever tools they choose, and are removing the current necessity within the market to lock themselves into not only a pre-imposed language and framework, but more dangerously a single pre-defined, likely bloated and sub-performant architecture. With Moltins API, choice of tools for build is entirely unrestricted, and this is something of priceless value, it allows for clean builds to be created rapidly, using existing knowledge.
Our experience developing against the API
From the get go, Moltin provide a couple of basic necessities:
- A number of SDKs with examples that work against the API (JS, Node, PHP, iOS, Python, and an alpha C# library)
- A backend e-commerce management platform (yes this is built against the APIs)
We add a couple of products to the backend, add 5 lines of JavaScipt and we've got some data down to the client. It's a good start.
Moltin provide an AngularJS example shop on their site, we decided against using this starter project and instead opted for the following tools:
- ASP.NET MVC on the server, primarily to handle routing, but also a future blogging extension.
- KnockoutJS with the mapping library to provide the client side databinding context
- Moltin's JS SDK
- Moltin's C# SDK which we decided upon to allow us to send meta data from the server.
Without going into much more technical detail in this post, the simplicity demonstrated above was our experience throughout, we encountered some issues, and identified some lacking functionality but ultimately we produced a bespoke store, the way we wanted in a short timeframe.
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Should I join the Moltin movement for future builds?
Unsurprisingly the answer is perhaps. As with any decision, the choice will be requirement dependent. Shopify still allows anybody to knock up a generic store in super quick time, Magento is tried and test in some of the most complex environments. Of course these solutions will continue to serve valuable purposes. Moltin is also young and comparatively under developed, leading naturally towards a narrower set of viable use cases.
However, times change, Moltin are delivering a tool that we lack, using a proven concept that lends itself toward freedom and creativity, at a non prohibitive cost. Our expectation is that it will become the platform that drives e-commerce evolution, we'll see bespoke experiences and refined journeys that we currently rarely see in mid market, on a much larger scale.
They don't provide one click integration with Marketing automation tools (yet), they don't provide generic reporting capability (yet), What they do provide is complete and autonomous access to data, and as a developer I value that above anything. We can safely announce that ITpod will be joining Moltin on their journey.