Choosing the Best Technology Stack for Ecommerce Development

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Ecommerce solutions have their own characteristics and require special frameworks and tools to develop. Fortunately, there are many technologies for developing ecommerce software.

What is a technology stack?

A technology stack, or tech stack, is a combination of frameworks, tools, applications, platforms, and programming languages used to develop a website or mobile application. In a technology stack, tools and platforms are “stacked” one on top of another to create a fully functioning system. 

This system has two main parts:

  • The front end (client-facing)
  • The back end (server-facing)

A tech stack for any ecommerce store

Let’s dive deep into technology stacks for ecommerce websites.

Frontend ecommerce technologies

The user interface is what your website visitors see when they browse your online store. If a product page takes too long to load, your customers will leave the store without making a purchase. The optimal loading speed of an online store is 2.5 seconds. If your online store does not load at least this fast, you are losing potential profit. A website’s loading speed is also a ranking factor for search engines.

Responsive design is another important requirement for frontend development. Mobile ecommerce sales accounted for 34.5% of total ecommerce sales in 2017. In order to receive orders from mobile users, your online store must be responsive.

Frontend development starts with design. The design team creates layouts and prototypes of the site and sends them to the development team. Developers then use HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript libraries (Angular, Vue, React) to develop the front end of the ecommerce website.

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Backend ecommerce technologies

Backend technologies are complex. However, without business logic, an ecommerce website would not work. The server side of an online store is responsible for managing orders, adding products to the catalog, optimizing pages for search engines, editing site pages, scaling the online store, registering users, and letting users pay. If the back end is not built correctly, the entire ecommerce website will not work.

The most popular programming languages used for server-side development include PHP, Ruby, Java, and Python.

Operating systems

Selecting an operating system (OS) is the first decision you need to make. There are four major operating systems today (their shares in the global operating system market in June 2020 are shown in brackets):

Web server

A web server is software that accepts requests from users, analyzes them, and provides users with requested documents. The two main open-source and free web servers are Apache and Nginx.

Apache is nine years older, so it has been tried and tested since 1995. Nginx is younger but is gaining popularity among developers due to its architecture that allows users to process an unlimited number of requests at the same time, making it ideal for large volumes of websites.

Databases

Databases are a vital part of the server ecosystem that allow multiple data points to be maintained and processed. The most popular databases are:

Storage

The most popular storage solutions are:

Programming languages

Programming languages use syntax to tell the computer what to do. These are the main programming languages used in website technology stacks, with associated frameworks in brackets.

  • Ruby [Ruby on Rails]
  • Java [Spring]
  • Python [Django, Pylons, Flask] 
  • Scala [Play]
  • PHP [Laravel]
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Third-party services

Oftentimes, an ecommerce website needs additional tools to meet business needs. To do this, ecommerce developers integrate third-party services into the code of an online store. The most popular integrations include:

  • Payment gateways
  • Analytics tools
  • Shipping modules
  • CRMs
  • Social networks
  • Multi-vendor stores such as eBay and Amazon

Integrations such as for accepting alternative payment methods can make your customer service more convenient and increase your conversion rates. Here are some of the payment systems you can integrate:

  • Stripe
  • Authorize.Net
  • PayPal
  • Braintree

Analytics tools display important business metrics like the conversion rate, customer lifetime value (CLV), bounce rate, and cart abandonment rate. Examples of analytics tools:

  • KISSmetrics
  • Piwik
  • Hotjar
  • Woopra

Delivery modules are important for online stores, as they inform customers about shipping costs and the delivery time of their orders. Here are some examples:

  • ShippingEasy
  • Shippo
  • Sellbrite 
  • ShipStation

Integrating a CRM is also popular, especially if the online store has a lot of customers. A customer relationship management system helps online store managers collect customer data such as names, email addresses, phone numbers, and purchase histories. This integration is useful when analyzing customer behavior based on previous purchases.

The most popular CRM integrations among our customers are:

  • Salesforce
  • Zoho
  • InfoFlo
  • Microsoft Dynamics

Integrating online stores with multi-vendor marketplaces, such as eBay and Amazon, helps online stores increase conversions and sales channels. Below, we highlight some popular tools:

  • Sellbrite
  • Nchanne
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Examples of modern ecommerce tech stacks

While there are an infinite number of possible ecommerce technology stacks, there are several common ready-made stacks. Some of the more popular include:

  • The LAMP stack, the main backend components of which are Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP. The frontend stack does not require any particular technology, so you can choose what works best for you. The LAMP stack is good for rapid application development, but it’s not very scalable.
  • The MEAN stack, which is short for MongoDB, Express, Angular, and Node.js, is often used when developing online stores. The Node.js runtime allows developers to easily code JavaScript for both the front end and back end. In fact, the main characteristic of this stack is that everything is centered around one programming language.
  • The Python-Django stack uses the Python language and Django framework for internal development. Other components include Apache and MySQL or PostgreSQL.

Some vendors do not adhere to these patterns and instead choose to customize every part of their technology stack, including creating their own microservices. This was a viable option in the past, as using a third-party service meant a tradeoff in terms of flexibility and customization.

However, third-party ecommerce solutions have evolved to the point where many can offer large enterprises the same level of quality and flexibility as custom development.  

This has changed the approach many retailers take when deciding on their ecommerce technology stacks. Building a solution in-house requires a significant investment of time and money as well as significant maintenance. Instead, you’ll find today that many retailers choose to deploy some if not all of their technology packages in the cloud with a SaaS provider. This significantly reduces the implementation time and eliminates the need to maintain the solution internally. SaaS vendors also offer a more scalable solution because their infrastructure is designed to handle high bandwidth and because SaaS solutions are not constrained by internal resources.

You will see this reflected in the tech stacks of some of the largest online retailers, as many rely on third-party solutions to provide basic functionality. We’ve compiled lists of technology stacks from several of the world’s leading ecommerce brands. Consider how they pair technologies, and perhaps you will even find an interesting combination that you had not previously considered.

Rent the Runway

Technology Stack for Ecommerce Development

Rent The Runway uses a variety of programming languages including Java, Python, JavaScript, and Ruby. According to Hampton, the vice president of development for Cutlin, Java is the main server-side language, while Ruby serves as the glue for most production systems. Rather than relying solely on CSS for styling, the company uses SASS, an extension that allows for additional functionality such as variables, nested rules, and inline imports.

Instacart

Technology Stack for Ecommerce Development

Instacart has built a robust technology stack to support their grocery delivery service. The company relies on several AWS solutions including S3, EC2, and RDS for PostgreSQL. They use Firebase for real-time data transfer to provide customers with immediate order updates right on their devices. Programming is done in several languages including Ruby, Python, and Objective-C for iOS applications.

Soylent

Technology Stack for Ecommerce

Soylent is using a slightly modified version of the traditional Python-Django stack, with Nginx instead of Apache for the server. Like many ecommerce companies, Soylent uses JavaScript to add interactivity to its frontend and relies on Amazon S3 to store data.

How to choose a tech stack for ecommerce

Make sure it’s compatible with your existing stack

Unless you’re a startup entrepreneur building tech stacks for web development from scratch, existing tools and frameworks are your best starting point. Make sure new platforms and tools you adopt are compatible with the solutions you currently use.

Consider project specifics

Once you understand your initial project requirements, including the size and specific characteristics of the niche, you can significantly narrow your choices in terms of the technology stack for ecommerce development.

Consider time to market

Time to market is another factor to consider when choosing ecommerce technologies. If you just need a quick app to test an idea, you can use the LAMP stack quite well. If your development time frame allows for a leisurely approach with an emphasis on quality and flexibility, you are unlikely to choose LAMP, however, because of its poor scalability and mediocre performance.

Ensure scalability

The scalability of an ecommerce platform is a fundamental factor that can affect a company’s growth. If your distribution stack is as big as your product, you can grow it fast and crazy. If your platforms and frameworks can’t scale quickly without significant additional investment in terms of talent, time, and capital, you will lose market share and face potential revenue losses every minute.

Go with tried & tested over young and ambitious

Maturity means smooth movement, but sometimes it can also mean old-school methods. Modern fashionable technologies may include revolutionary approaches and innovative solutions, but they definitely mean obstacles in the way. 

Make sure talent is available

Talent usually follows money. The more popular a technology, the more developers master it. On the other hand, the simpler and more convenient a technology, the more developers enjoy mastering it. At the other end of the spectrum, since developers are not that rare for a very specific structure, talent is available in all price ranges, for all languages and skills.

Be sure to consider the talent available in your area or remotely for your chosen ecommerce technology stack.

Use a turnkey solution to deal with hiccups

Developer communities and open-source software have been around for many years. Make sure the technology you are using for your project has extensive documentation, a community around it, and support.

Plan your hardware budget requirements

Some software may require multiple servers to perform basic functions. Triple-check your chosen solutions for hardware requirements, especially if your company is an ecommerce startup with a tight budget.

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Main factors in choosing an ecommerce solution

The type and size of the project are the main factors we ask our clients about when they hire us to grow their ecommerce businesses, as the type of project will determine the entire technology stack of the online store.

Small projects

If a retailer has fewer than 500 items to sell and a limited time frame, we suggest developing an online store using an existing solution like a CMS or WordPress, especially if the client needs a working prototype on a tight deadline. In such cases, the developer’s technology stack should include:

  • PHP and the Nginx plugin for WordPress
  • Nginx, MySQL, and Ruby for Shopify
  • PHP, Nginx, and Sass for BigCommerce

Midsize projects

For a midsize project, we would use a different set of technologies. When a client wants to create an online store with about 500 products, high traffic, and customizable features, we offer open-source solutions like Magento. In this case, the technology stack would include:

  • Apache, Nginx, PHP, and MySQL for Magento
  • Nginx, Bootstrap, and jQuery UI for Prestashop
  • PHP, HTML/CSS, MySQL, and DHTML for OpenCart

Big and complex projects

If you’re going to invest in developing a custom two-way platform, social network, or enterprise-sized online store with lots of integrations and customizable features, that will require a different technology stack.

  • PHP (5.5 or 5.6), HTML5, JQuery, and RequireJS for Magento Enterprise
  • JavaScript, Bootstrap, jQuery, MySQL, and Ruby for Sharetribe

Now you know how the set of technologies you should choose for developing your ecommerce website depends on the size of your project and your business goals.

Final thoughts

Advances in ecommerce have made setting up a technology stack easier than ever. Not all technologies will work together, however, so it’s important to consider all the components you want to include before building your stack. For example, you might want to use a specific programming language. But is that language compatible with the database you want to use?

Aside from technical interoperability, there are several other factors to consider when building a modern ecommerce technology stack. First, analyze your software architecture, as it will determine what technologies you can use and how easy it is to update them or add new features.

A monolithic architecture limits the flexibility of your technology stack, and continuous deployment of new features is difficult because all components are interconnected. If you want to change part of the system, you will need to change it completely.

A microservices architecture offers flexibility in the technical stack, as you can choose a different technology for each specific function.

Since components are not related to each other, deploying new features or making changes can be done without problems.

If your organization has the necessary resources, you will also be faced with the decision to build or buy. A custom solution gives you complete control over the technology, but is it worth it?

Many solutions are available on modern SaaS platforms to create highly functional and scalable systems. What you can lose in management you can more than make up for in savings and reduced time to implementation.

Overall, advances in technology and the ability to seamlessly integrate different solutions have opened up great opportunities for ecommerce businesses. Take some inspiration from the examples above and see if you can implement some of these approaches in your own technology stack.

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