Three developer-friendly ecommerce platforms you may not have heard of

Three developer-friendly ecommerce platforms

This article introduces you to three developer-friendly ecommerce platforms that may fit your needs without having to resort to the ones everyone has heard of (like BigCommerce, Salesforce Commerce Cloud and Shopify - all of which are members of our ecommerce platform shortlist but don't suit everyone).

The three ecommerce platforms in this article are:

Each of these offers a set of tools to help developers to build a customized ecommerce experience, but none of them are well-known or regularly discussed by mainstream analysts. They are also not alone - there are literally hundreds of ecommerce platforms available, some providing incredible features, service and value, and deserve to have better recognition.

What is "developer-friendly"?

Merchant-friendly ecommerce platforms

Many of the best-known ecommerce platforms are merchant-friendly and not necessarily developer-friendly. By this, I mean the platforms are designed and developed by the platform vendor with the merchant, the business operator, foremost in mind. Priority is given by the platform vendor to either providing depth and sophistication in the tools that a merchant will be using to manage the site (its product catalogue, pricing and promotions, the customer experience and order management), or the simplicity and ease-of-use of these features.

Take two examples of Shopify and Salesforce Commerce Cloud.

Shopify has a tremendously easy-to-use set of features for merchants - ease of setup, access and operation is clearly given a lot of thought and priority in Shopify's product roadmap.

Salesforce Commerce Cloud provides a huge depth of features for merchants, so that experienced and sophisticated retailers and brands can finely tune the customer experience and the way in which the site operates, divide this work across larger, more specialist business teams and integrate with leading best-of-breed point solutions to accomplish highly specialized outcomes.

Developer-friendly ecommerce platforms

Developer-friendly ecommerce platform vendors focus on providing the tools, documentation and support that a software developer requires to build a unique customer experience and ecommerce capability that suits the needs of the brand or retailer they are working with. 

Features that appeal to developers include:

  • Headless ecommerce architecture - the ecommerce platform provides functionality and data management, but the developer is free to choose their own content management system or front-end to build the visual interface that is displayed to the customer through a website, App, wearable or voice device, etc.
  • Cloud first - the product is delivered as a cloud service, so that no product installation is required either in development or production environments and the developer can use development tools with which they are already familiar
  • Comprehensive API set - the features of the commerce platform are exposed through a consistent and comprehensive set of APIs that share common features such as authentication to enable third-party , best-of-breed applications to be integrated more easily
  • Reference storefront - an example web storefront that is production-ready and which is well-designed in a popular front-end framework (such as React) and makes strong use of the platform APIs
  • Testing framework - well-designed testing framework to enable developers to incorporate automated testing into their workflow and ensure higher quality of code
  • Documentation and training - training materials and documentation that is focused on a developer's needs, including the architecture, the features, how to setup the development environment, a comprehensive API reference and the software development lifecycle

The remainder of the article describes the three featured ecommerce platforms.

Commerce Layer

Commerce Layer describes itself as "headless commerce for global brands".

  • Strapline "Headless commerce for global brands"
  • What is it Commerce Layer is a set of APIs for ecommerce that integrates with your choice of CMS and provides no storefront or merchant tools for managing an ecommerce business. As such it is the purest form of developer tools only, and requires each customer to build these customer-facing and merchant-facing tools themselves. It describes itself as participating very well in the modern JAMStack (JavaScript, APIs, Markup) approach to building and deploying websites, where the browser interacts with a CDN to retrieve pre-rendered content including JavaScript for interactivity and API calls to provide external services (in this case from Commerce Layer).
  • Website https://commercelayer.io/ Commerce Layer on GitHub
  • Blog https://commercelayer.io/blog/
  • Team Based in San Jose area, CA 
  • Founder and CEO Filippo Conforti LinkedIn Twitter
  • Technical Foundation SaaS application accessed via JSON API v1.0-compliant API using OAuth 2.0 authentication. 
  • Extensibility Webhook mechanism to POST to callback endpoints on specific events, e.g. customers.create
  • Documentation https://docs.commercelayer.io/api/
  • Pricing Test version free for life, production from $900 per month rising according to monthly orders, number of price lists, number of stock locations, number of SKUs, number of users. No transaction fees.

Neto

Neto, an Australian ecommerce platform, modestly describes itself as "Australia's best ecommerce platform, made for growing retail".

  • Strapline "Australia's best ecommerce platform, made for growing retail"
  • What is it Neto is a SaaS application that offers a wide range of functionality for building, managing and operating a retail or wholesale business, including the B2C or B2B ecommerce storefront, product data, inventory, orders and shipping and marketplace integration, as well as physical POS
  • Website https://www.netohq.com/
  • Blog https://www.netohq.com/blog
  • Team Based in Brisbane, Australia since 2009, part-owned by Telstra the Australian telecoms company since 2015
  • Founder and CEO Ryan Murtagh LinkedIn 
  • Technical Foundation Storefront appearance controlled by themes using proprietary templating language loaded via FTP, APIs reached via HTTPS POST using XML or JSON, at single endpoint, limit of 500 API requests per minute, API authentication through API key or OAuth 2.0
  • Extensibility Custom add-ons integrate via Neto APIs and can be hosted in merchant control panel via iFrame or accessed externally, possible to create public add-ons to make them available to all Neto merchants
  • Download Not available
  • Documentation https://developers.neto.com.au/
  • Pricing From $79 per month, rising as revenue increases

Saleor

Saleor describes itself as "a headless, GraphQL-first, open-source e-commerce platform", firmly positioning itself as a developer platform.

  • Strapline "A headless, GraphQL-first, open-source e-commerce platform"
  • What is it Saleor is an open-source ecommerce platform written in Python / Django that can be downloaded and run without license cost, with a paid-for cloud version also available; it is a headless platform with strong set of GraphQL APIs, a modern PWA reference storefront and merchant control panel built on React
  • Website https://saleor.io/ Saleor on GitHub
  • Blog https://saleor.io/blog/
  • Team 10 full-time, based in Wroclaw, Poland since 2012
  • Lead Developer Marcin Gębala LinkedIn Medium.com Twitter
  • Technical Foundation Apollo GraphQL, Python 3, NodeJS, Django 2, React storefront and merchant tools written in TypeScript, Docker deployment, OpenTracing monitoring
  • Extensibility Functionality extended through Apps and Plug-Ins
    • Apps are separate applications notified of events in the core via webhooks, e.g. CUSTOMER_CREATED, and can act on core via the GraphQL API
    • Plug-ins are code running in same application process as the core, activated via callbacks from core code; plug-ins are not supported in cloud version
  • Download https://github.com/mirumee/saleor
  • Documentation https://docs.saleor.io/docs/
  • Pricing Open source free, support packages from $950 per month, cloud offering from $795 per month

Concluding thoughts

There are many ecommerce platforms available. While mainstream attention falls on just a few of them, those with the biggest marketing budgets in particular, there are several ecommerce platforms available that can provide a good basis for a build. With any software project developers must consider the longevity of the frameworks and solutions they are considering. This tends to steer buyers away from lesser known platforms, but with a smaller user base comes more direct access to the R&D team that is building it, and potentially some financial advantages, too.

This article was updated on January 31, 2021

M Ryan

M Ryan is an ecommerce consultant with twenty years experience working with retailers, consumer brand manufacturers and other consumer-facing businesses helping them to develop their ecommerce strategy, implement ecommerce technology and improve their ecommerce operations. He works extensively throughout US and Europe, with clients including global brands, large retailers and household names in consumer goods.