Lex Melnykow Head of Web

    E-Commerce Backend: How To Create the Perfect Foundation for Your App Iceberg

    Backend is one of the most crucial parts of the whole machine named e-commerce application. Can you imagine a F1 bolid without an engine, suspension, aerodynamic kit, or high-traction tires? It has everything that a car is supposed to have on the outside: extraordinary wheels, doors with liveries, a hood and a bumper, and others. It looks as attractive as Venus. And if it were a Behance project, it would get featured and win all possible awards on UX and UI. But still, it would never win the F1 race since it has nothing to help it gain proper momentum, to enter the turn smoothly without the threat of crashing into a barrier, and pass all the other obstacles on the way to the finish line. In addition, it’ll never win without a strong engineering team with smart solutions.

    At first glance, this metaphor has nothing to do with an e-commerce application. But in fact, they have a lot in common. The competition in the e-commerce app market is as strong as on the racetrack. And literally the  success depends on the quality of the parts under the hood. The application functionality, performance, user-friendliness, and revenue in the end depend on the backend’s thoroughness and overall quality.

    Let’s discover what a good e-commerce backend is, what exactly its quality depends on, and how we at Surf develop the application infrastructure and architecture.

    apps developed by Surf
    E-commerce apps by Surf

    How proper backend affects your app’s chances of success 

    Usability, conversion, and coherence of all parts of the application depend not only on UI and UX, but also on the backend and architecture of an e-commerce application. They form the foundation of application performance. 

    To provide a decent performance of your e-commerce app and be able to maintain it easily in the future, you should start by defining the features your application will have.

    Backend impact scheme

    For some e-commerce applications the standard scope is enough: having connected authentication, CRM, notification and payment services, you’re ready to make your customers happy and earn money. However, some companies require a broader scope due to the unique  project idea and/or specific features by which you want to differentiate your project from competitors. For instance, you may plan to create an application with an AR fitting room or product pages with 3D models of the products instead of common photos.

    Fortunately, these days the level of backend development tools is high enough to provide exceptional performance even for highly loaded systems. For instance, Golang, which is used by companies from various fields, is able to run 70,000 requests per machine with just 20 MB of RAM.

    Want to know how Surf helps companies build cutting-edge apps?

    Read the case studies

    Besides, be aware of the legal issues concerning the storage of personal data. For instance, if you’re developing an app for the European market, you have to make it GDPR compliant. You don’t want to spend your revenue on fines for violating GDPR, do you? Information collected from consent forms, separate storage of logs and sensitive data, and other GDPR-related info needs  a safe place. And you have to consider that.

    How to build a well-ordered e-commerce app backend

    3 things you should do at the planning stage

    A thoroughly made plan is half the race. Pay attention to these points to avoid problems during the launch phase of your e-commerce app.

    • Allocate functional responsibility. Define the scope of solutions that will be used for particular tasks in your e-commerce application. It’s closely related to the complexity of the latter, to what result you want to achieve and how quickly you want to get it. For instance, there are 3 possible ways of implementing a loyalty program in your e-commerce app: creating a custom solution from scratch, using off-the-shelf CRM, or some hybrid solution. The backend specialist will help you find the perfect backend development services that suit your needs and plans best.
    • Make a step-by-step implementation plan. We at Surf usually start by prioritizing and focusing on the key features of the project and then, as the development progresses, move on with app extension and perfecting the details.
    • Provide for eventual changes in business processes after launch. When entering the market, various nuances may emerge, and fears about certain risks may be justified. It’s crucial to take them into account at the planning stage to avoid hurdles in the future. For example, many countries prohibit the delivery of drugs by courier, but there is a chance that it will soon be allowed. If you are developing an online pharmacy application, you’d better take possible perspectives into account and consider this in the architecture.
    Schedule section of KFC app

    We at Surf cover all these points in our Zero Sprint. It’s useful for any kind of project, but especially for projects that fall beyond standard scopes, MVPs that require prioritization, and projects where architecture is not clearly defined yet.

    A skilled architect is the key to success

    Most of the tips mentioned above are closely related to the architectural part of your e-commerce application. Properly made architecture makes sure you get a flexible and scalable product. Perhaps, you’ve heard it thousands of times before, but the basics are still worth recalling from time to time. Such an app can be easily adapted to current market demands, and you’ll be able to easily and quickly implement new ideas and features.

    The  architect does a lot more than the things we’ve discussed. They’re up to:

    • Making an e-commerce application concept
    • Defining the scope of possible solutions, overall work and team members required to develop the planned functionality
    • Describing eventual changes, predicting possible risks and ways to mitigate them

    All of these are articulated in a Project Scope Statement. This is a fundamental document for the entire backend development process. It helps to:

    • Provide best match of the client’s goals and expectations with the final result 
    • Set up a clear e-commerce app structure and avoid particular mistakes like using excess integrations or missing some necessary ones

    A Project Scope Statement gives all backend development process members a “helicopter view” and the same understanding of what should and will be done at the next stages. Besides, the architect helps establish a scalable environment for post-launch changes we’ve mentioned before. 

    In addition, a quality architecture makes it far easier to onboard the client’s in-house team in case of handing the project over to them.

    How we at Surf develop e-commerce backend

    The principles we follow

    Over 12 years of application development, we’ve worked out a list of basics that allow us and our clients to achieve the desired results and create a stable foundation for an application. These include:

    • Consistency. Rush is the enemy and details are important. Skipping seemingly insignificant steps can do you a disservice in the future: you will spend much more time fixing bugs. That’s why we move carefully step by step in order to not miss anything but without dragging the process out. We start with discussing the client’s business requirements, continue with shaping the specification with the scope of work based on the feature list, and finish by implementing the solutions we made up together with the client. Our main goal is to provide a high-quality product in its first version.
    • Agile. First, we prioritize the product features which need to be done, and then we start working on the most important ones stage by stage — from design concept to backend. The whole process of development of a particular feature is divided into 1-3 week sprints. After each sprint we share the results with the client for review, discuss suggestions, and send the feature back to the team for improvement. Development of the other parts of the e-commerce application goes alongside that.
    • Time & Material model. The client pays for the actual number of hours spent by our team members on developing a certain part of the project instead of paying the fixed price.
    • Mandatory detailed documentation. Since there are many specialists involved in the implementation of the project, we consider documentation important for smooth cooperation. In addition, detailed and complete documentation makes it easier to pass the project on to the client’s in-house team.
    • Going shoulder to shoulder all the way. We are committed to partnering with our client at all development stages. It proceeds after the release as well. We’re always here to help even if the client decides to continue development and maintenance of their e-commerce app on their own. We may assist with forming a team of all required specialists, conducting tech interviews and onboarding in-house developers.
    Surf-describing adjectives
    Surf’s principles of work

    E-commerce backend development at Surf step by step

    The current backend development workflow in Surf is the result of more than a dozen years of continuous analysis and meticulous tuning. It allows us and our clients to build comfortable and productive communication and get predictably quality results.

    Depending on the difficulty of the project and the scope of work, there are about 2-4 people in the backend development team. 

    • Stage 1: Business analysis. First of all, we discuss the project goals and tasks at each stage of the backend development process. After that we make a tentative list of integrations and integration protocols. The results are arranged in the Project Scope Statement.
    • Stage 2: Architecture and infrastructure design. Surf’s architects make a thorough description of the system considering all existing bottlenecks, limitations and specifics. To make sure your e-commerce application will be scalable and fault-tolerant, the DevOps team assesses the current infrastructure if you already have one, and finds out whether it’s enough for the expected amount of data. If there’s no infrastructure yet, Surf’s DevOps designs it for you.
    • Stage 3: Project evaluation. Surf’s sales team makes an assessment draft and finalizes it together with you.
    • Stage 4: Development. It includes all practical work from code writing to building infrastructure and setting up the automation of the processes.
    Surf's backend techstack
    • Stage 5: Testing & QA. At this stage we conduct a series of stress tests, launch custom automated Unit-tests and do manual testing.
    • Stage 6: Application release. We launch the e-commerce app using DevOps techniques that reduce the roll out time by 90%.
    • Stage 7: Maintenance of the application. Surf’s team keeps in touch with the client team and helps handle all emerging issues and grow the project in accordance with SLA. If the client wants to take over the project, we assist with gathering a development team and onboarding its members.
    app development flow

    Find out what backend development tools we use?

    Learn more

    Using ready-made tools VS building custom e-commerce backend

    We at Surf work with projects from different fields and of varying complexity, and we regularly have to choose between turnkey and custom solutions. We’ve already analyzed which one is best for healthcare applications. Now we’d like to dwell on the criteria we rely on when choosing tools for e-commerce backend development.

    Criterion #1: speed of development and time-to-market.

    There are cases when they’re important:

    1. When you’re launching your product in a highly competitive sector. At this point, you’re probably looking for some quick solutions to have an advantage and offer a product to customers as soon as there is a demand for it. 
    2. When you for some reason need to quickly switch to a new app with a fresh backend avoiding the loss of customers. For instance, if there are some ongoing marketing campaigns or seasonal sales.

    If any of these is exactly your case, using turnkey solutions like ready-made CRM or authentication services makes sense. However, you’re still likely to need someone to design the overall logic of these out-of-the-box tools so that everything works together smoothly.

    Criterion #2: possibility to use your existing backend.

    If you already have an app the development team can possibly use the current backend and add some turnkey tools like CRM or ERP services, open-source solutions and others. But this, of course, is not always possible and depends on the specifics of the existing backend and tasks.

    We’ve already said it and we’ll say it again: every project is unique and requires an individualized approach. In one case the current backend will work out, and in another it won’t. The only way to understand which case your situation refers to is to discuss the details in person with the development team.

    Criterion #3: complexity of the product.

    An e-commerce application with standard functionality is more likely to be developed using mostly off-the-shelf tools. If you’d like to implement something like 3D-models of your products or make AR fitting rooms, it is better to choose backend development from scratch.

    ready-made vs custom backend

    Summing up

    The backend is the detail that starts any application: although it is not conspicuous, a lot depends on it. It may not be obvious, but it is the backend that makes the user experience pleasant and helps your customers enjoy the UI to the fullest, without being distracted by crashes and freezes. 

    When developing an e-commerce backend, particular attention should be paid to the planning stage. At this point it is important to work out the architecture and infrastructure, create a coherent development plan and distribute functional responsibility between tools. What is no less crucial is to find an experienced team. Those who know how to take  into consideration all the project specifics and plan for future scaling, assess the eventual risks and take measures to mitigate them.