The Death of Drupal Commerce as an Ecommerce Solution

In a report on the sweeping changes in ecommerce platforms from 2012–2015 there’s a telling omission in a graph near the top: Drupal Commerce doesn’t appear. Not once.

Today, 75% of all online stores in the Alexa top one million run on just three platforms: Magento (the Community and Enterprise editions), WooCommerce (commerce on WordPress), and Shopify. These three platforms represent a compelling cross-section of use cases. Magento is open source, has a mature for-profit company supporting the platform, and can handle any enterprise client, no matter how custom the requirements, traffic, or sales volume. WooCommerce offers an easy-to-use solution familiar to the millions already comfortable with WordPress. Shopify provides a platform-as-a-service solution that allows people to launch a store in a few minutes without the need for software engineers. (Shopify is making an exciting play at the enterprise market - more below.)

There have been tectonic shifts in the ecommerce platform space since 2012, with new entrants devastating once-dominant platforms and pushing them into permanent decline. But in this report’s overview of that history, Drupal Commerce doesn’t even appear as a contender.

Drupal Commerce faces four major challenges that together are insurmountable for a platform in such a weak position to overcome:

  • Vanishing market opportunities as SaaS tools devour the low-end market;
  • An inability to serve the enterprise market due to a lack of corporate backer for the platform;
  • Inability to decouple from a content management system that lacks backwards compatibility; and,
  • Maturity of coupled content and commerce platforms.

Challenge 1: On-demand managed solutions like Shopify and BigCommerce cannot be stopped from consuming the low-end market

Shopify has enjoyed explosive growth in the last several years. It is a cost-effective, compelling commerce platform for clients with modest annual revenue or for teams that don’t need custom integrations with other systems. Shopify saves our clients with simpler needs time and money and speeds up their time-to-market by orders of magnitude over traditional commerce systems. Interestingly, Shopify recently launched a new enterprise platform called Shopify Plus targeted at high-traffic enterprise stores. They clearly aspire to break out of the low-end market.

Shopify isn’t going away. It’s in heavy growth and market adoption phase. SquareSpace, a leading website SaaS company recently added commerce support. Just a few short weeks after the company backing Drupal Commerce shut down (see next challenge), BigCommerce raised $30 million in venture capital. This is a startlingly clear message from the market.

The SaaS space is eating into the low-end custom space, and that spells trouble for platforms like Drupal Commerce that haven’t broken out of being niche players.

Challenge 2: Lack of robust corporate support

You know that old adage from the early days of technology about no one getting fired for buying IBM? When C-level leadership of large companies invest in platforms they are making a big bet on the long-term success of the platform. These folks don’t normally bet big on open-source solutions unless the technology is backed by a major company that understands the unique needs and challenges that face senior leadership in large organizations. Profitable companies with revenue fade slower than orphaned open-source projects.

Sadly, earlier this year the for-profit company behind Drupal Commerce dissolved, devolving into a hosting company (platform.sh) and a boutique Drupal agency that focuses on Commerce. Without a mature, stable company that understands the needs of enterprise clients, using Drupal Commerce will always be higher risk than other solutions.

Challenge 3: Monolithic systems are dead

The last major pressure facing Drupal Commerce is arguably the most deadly because it strikes at the heart of the platform’s most compelling feature: the ability to provide rock-solid content management (Drupal) and commerce within the same system.

As demonstrated by our projects with awesome brands like Quicken, Benefit Cosmetics, and Dwell, the era of monolithic single systems is over. Tightly-coupled integrations between best-of-market tools are proving to be far more robust digital platforms than single systems. Magento, Hybris, and ATG aren’t great at content, but Drupal sure is. Combined with the Acquia platform (to Drupal what RedHat is to Linux) Drupal operates at enterprise scale for any digital experience need.

When you combine best-of-breed content (Drupal) with best-of-breed-platform (Acquia) with best-of-breed commerce (like Magento 2, Hybris, or Shopify Plus) using well-designed connectors you get a winning solution every time.

Challenge 4: Cinderblock shoes, or not forking Drupal

Unlike Drupal’s competitors, major releases of Drupal are not backwards-compatible. That means moving a site from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 probably requires the same amount of effort as moving a WordPress site to Drupal.

Drupal Commerce decided to stick with Drupal and is moving to Drupal 8. Why was sticking with Drupal a challenge? Because instead of focusing on building a compelling commerce platform, the core Commerce team has and will spend countless hours upgrading Commerce to Drupal 8. Imagine what the teams at Shopify or WooCommerce or Magento can build in the time that the core Commerce team spends moving Drupal Commerce to Drupal 8.

While many of our clients find us because of our reputation for Drupal excellence at any scale, we frequently spent time telling our clients it’s not about the technology; it’s about how your digital strategy furthers the goals of your business. Arguably, the Drupal Commerce team is too focused on the technology and not enough on the strategy side of their business.

But is Drupal Commerce really dead?

An easy counterargument that Drupal Commerce is alive and thriving would be the usage statistics chart on Drupal.org for Drupal Commerce. At first blush, the chart tells the story of a growing platform: going up and to the right:

Source: https://www.drupal.org/project/usage/commerce

In 2013, it took Drupal Commerce just one year to double the number of sites using the platform. That’s amazing growth. But by 2014, growth slowed to 33% and in 2015 growth was just 18%. In 2016 growth was essentially flat. Slowing growth is a not necessarily a concern when a platform reaches market maturity, but less than 70,000 installations is hardly market maturity when there are millions of online stores.

Lessons from the market

Two critical market moves provide additional, troubling news for Drupal Commerce:

First, look at Acquia’s commerce strategy over the last four years. It appears Acquia and Drupal Commerce attempted to collaborate early on, but little actually occurred. In the years since, Acquia has distanced itself from Drupal Commerce, announcing an exciting partnership with enterprise commerce leader Hybris last June.

Second, look to platform.sh, the hosting platform created by the Drupal Commerce team and recently spun out as its own company. In April, Magento announced at their annual Imagine conference a forthcoming enterprise platform for hosting Magento called Magento Enterprise Cloud (a similar product to what Acquia offers for Drupal). What powers Magento’s cloud platform? None other than platform.sh. The hosting platform originally created by Drupal Commerce has pivoted to power an entirely different commerce platform.

A tremendous amount of awesome engineering work by really smart people has gone into Drupal Commerce over the years. But the combined market forces standing in Drupal Commerce’s way are simply too strong for the platform to overcome. The writing is on the wall.