The Path to Commerce Kickstart 2.0

Editor's note: Drupal Commerce Kickstart 2.0 was released yesterday after much testing and perfecting, and the article below describes part of that path in the words of its lead developer, Ryan Szrama. Commerce Kickstart is a bundled Drupal solution that allows a site builder to get up and running with an ecommerce site fairly quickly, including Drupal core, Drupal Commerce and dependent modules, and pre-configured options.

“Commerce Kickstart 2.0 takes all of the core strengths of our flexible eCommerce framework, Drupal Commerce, and makes it easier to use and quicker to deploy for e-retailers,” said Mike O'Connor, president for North America of Commerce Guys. “Leveraging an open-source technology with an engaged community like Drupal was a huge asset when shaping the beta product into what Commerce Kickstart is today.”

With more than 2650 reported active sites just since the August beta release, you'd be in good company giving Drupal Commerce Kickstart a try. And, now that the world isn't going to end, what better time is there to launch that online store you've always wanted?

One of the challenges we faced early on in Drupal Commerce’s development was a complicated installation process. Drupal Commerce was developed on Drupal 7 during its "unstable" tag cycle and depended on three other major contributed modules—Entity API, Rules, and Views—that were still in development. Drupal Commerce was also the first major contributed project to put the new entity and fields systems in Drupal core to the test. Using these systems during an ad hoc installation to define data types often failed.

Our solution to the difficulties developers faced was to introduce an installation profile called Commerce Kickstart that simply installed Drupal 7, Drupal Commerce and all its dependencies during the normal Drupal installation process. Kickstart performed a minor amount of store configuration and demo content creation, but it was still largely a tool for developers. It made it simple to test a barebones installation of Drupal Commerce, which accelerated the project's adoption by seasoned Drupal developers and companies.

However, for Drupal Commerce to succeed, we had to win over more than just developers. After we released Drupal Commerce 1.0 at DrupalCon London 2011, it was time to shift focus from the developer experience to the store administrator user experience. When designing the core architecture, we had prioritized flexibility over a robust default configuration. But as merchants and their customers are the ultimate end users, the last thing we wanted was to force every site builder to reinvent a usability layer to make it easier for clients to manage their stores.

This shift in priority extended to our larger strategy. We moved from developing the framework itself to developing a series of distributions of Drupal that optimize the user experience and configuration for various vertical markets. Commerce Kickstart had existed since early 2011, but it did not qualify as a true distribution. It provided little more than the installation of a set of modules. Out of the box, it did not look, feel or function like what the average Web developer expects from an eCommerce application. Our non-Drupal native partners, when confronted with the spartan Bartik theme and minimal post-installation content, had difficulty envisioning how what they saw could translate into a modern eCommerce website.

Starting in March 2012, we built a team to brainstorm and implement a complete vision for Commerce Kickstart. The goal was to not only carry Drupal Commerce to a broader audience, but to push the boundaries of what a Drupal distribution can and should be. We improved everything from the appearance and flow of the installer to the guided support available in the store’s back end. We created a killer front end theme and invested in usability testing and a comprehensive user experience review with community professionals. The enthusiasm of the Drupal community as it has tested and reviewed our beta releases has been mind-blowing. The result is a solution that can swiftly deploy Drupal Commerce without sacrificing the flexibility and strength of its core. Commerce Kickstart 2.0 comes complete with simplified product catalog management, order activity management, social media connections, advanced product search and faceted browsing, rich product page with advanced imaging options and powerful content management with Drupal 7.

A New Kind of Distribution

One of the oldest problems with Drupal distributions is that they are not cost effective. It takes an incredible amount of development effort and determination to roll out a highly polished distribution. With Commerce Kickstart 2.0, we broke that mold by integrating with service providers to generate revenue. Administrators can easily connect their new stores to our recently-launched Commerce Marketplace, where we provide access to proven enhancements for Drupal Commerce stores. Early focus has been on integrating services that appeal to a wide variety of users, such as analytics, reporting and payment services. Commerce Marketplace is being built to provide everything a store needs to succeed, regardless of the store type or the vertical markets served by subsequent distributions of Drupal Commerce.

We will continue to improve Commerce Kickstart even as Drupal itself evolves and moves into its next phase. There are many opportunities to integrate new services into Marketplace; we are even planning our own set of cloud services and tools to simplify the launch and maintenance of Drupal Commerce sites. As we bring true flexibility and simplicity closer together, we look forward to the day that Drupal is recognized as the number one open-source eCommerce platform in the world.

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