Using Ruby on Rails for Faster Ecommerce Development

May 05, 2014 10:42 AM  By

As online shopping increases at a tremendous rate, exhibiting year-over-year double-digit growth, winning at ecommerce becomes more challenging.  Retailers constantly leverage new strategies to evolve their site, realizing the importance of having an omnichannel presence and the resources to offer the speed shoppers have come to expect.

Forrester Research analyst Brian Hopkins’ report, “Top Technology Trends To Watch: 2014 To 2016,” states, “A great digital experience is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s a make-or-break point for your business as we more fully enter the digital age.”  It’s not enough to keep customers happy; you must exceed expectations.

This is proof that retailers must spend money to meet the demands, as success depends upon technology that supports innovation, flexibility, and speed.  Those who do are investing in solutions to produce enhanced, dynamic, personalized, and engaging sites that streamline the purchase process, leading to higher conversion rates and increased revenue.

The underlying architecture is an important consideration when selecting an ecommerce platform that is more sophisticated, stable, cost effective, and quicker to implement than they could on their own. New technologies exist that are more modern, flexible, and faster, resulting in a more robust, sophisticated system that also happens to move and react at an unprecedented pace.

Watch and learn
These technologies – Ruby on Rails, NoSQL databases like MongoDB, flexible APIs for connectivity, and Javascript-driven templates enable flexible web architectures that deliver fast, user-friendly sites – are being adopted by some of the most successful online companies like Amazon, Twitter, Hulu, and Groupon.

For example, the outdoor clothing brand Free Country launched their first online store after deciding they wanted to sell directly to consumers and not just via wholesale channels. Using Ruby on Rails, the site went live and almost immediately built stronger customer relationships for the brand with a visually engaging site that reacted well to product demand and sales. With Ruby features and functionality, Free Country shoppers saw site search auto-complete and suggestions on every page of the site; a user-centric checkout experience designed to maximize conversions; and a fully scalable platform that is capable of handling considerable growth.

This is not your father’s COBOL
Ruby on Rails is an open source web application language and framework that enables rapid development of ecommerce systems. It is this flexibility that makes the creation and maintenance of websites more affordable while also offering enhanced performance, faster development, and quicker times to market – making it a game changer for the following reasons:

  • User-friendly administration and content management.  Creating a more segmented approach to development and including high-end features like bulk updates/uploads and easy content management for thousands of product descriptions, photos, etc., the “heavy lifting” isn’t as heavy.
  • Flexibility. With Ruby, custom pricing engines, product thumbnails, and product sorting algorithms are easily achievable.
  • Performance.  Sites will launch and modify faster, sometimes cutting development time in half due to a modular design. Developers re-use existing components and incorporate plug-ins rather than building functionality from scratch, and there is no repetitive code.
  • Efficiency. Since it’s easier and faster to build and modify with Ruby on Rails, it costs less to build and maintain a website, making implementing post-launch changes a snap.

Retailers want to follow market trends and Ruby helps differentiate from the competition with economical customization and increased productivity over other languages, accommodating hundreds of millions of users, and performing as well as any enterprise-level language.

Database product attribute complexity is a “pain in the cache” for developers as ecommerce platforms can either be simple, inflexible, with standard attribute selections; or flexible but wildly complex and difficult to manage.  Complex models can lead to poor performance – taking longer to access data, longer page load times, and increased cost of customization and maintenance.

MongoDB to the rescue
Another new technology rescuing developers from the mess is MongoDB, the leader in a class of NoSQL databases finding a significant and growing use in real-time web applications.  NoSQL databases store documents and data objects, removing the rigid structure required by traditional relational databases and proving ideal for applications that are data-intensive with many concurrent users.

MongoDB is revolutionizing ecommerce development since it’s optimized for the fast storage and retrieval of complex data and is easily scalable. On an ecommerce site, MongoDB makes search and retrieval quick and easy while also enabling speed and flexibility on the backend. It was created out of frustration with the slow processes of relational databases, which organize data in columns and rows, using multiple tables. Applications recall data from the separate tables and process it in response to a query, which takes longer and is more difficult to manage than newer options like MongoDB.

As consumers use more and different devices to interact with companies and products, businesses need to deliver their brand throughout the consumers’ network.  APIs are a crucial component to tie all of these fast, new ecommerce tools together and are a means to drive and extend business in the world of social, everywhere commerce. APIs also enable new forms of innovation and a consistent experience across consumer touchpoints.  Developers can easily access and integrate third party content, data, services, social networks, and more in order to build unique shopping experiences across multiple devices without having to support each system.

In order to ensure quick delivery of content to devices, developers use JavaScript templates – which render client-side – generating all or part of a web page, thereby minimizing HTTP requests to the server.  This improves the speed of the UI and overall platform performance.

These technologies will become more commonplace as the success they are driving in the online arena is realized.  They enable sites to be built rapidly and perform as intended from the start.  Faster tools mean faster ecommerce solutions: Ruby on Rails = fast development; MongoDB = fast performance; APIs = fast communication between different systems. Explore the possibilities and make sure your internal team or ecommerce partner is using the right tools to grow your business and stay competitive.

Avery Amaya is VP, Business Development, with WebLinc.