E-commerce solutions have been around for several years. Back in the early days of online shopping, during the late years of the last century, E-commerce solutions were stand alone applications, built using modern web technologies. Integration between these systems and ERP systems were cumbersome, unreliable and insecure.
As open source ERP solutions began to emerged in the early 2000′s, web based business software became one of the hottest trend. There were many good reasons for that trend, one of them was the more natural integration with E-commerce solutions, slowly becoming a crucial competitive necessity for any type of business.
All open source ERP solution offer some E-commerce functionality, either as a native module or through an integration with a dedicated, stand alone E-commerce solution. We will cover these solutions in a series of articles, starting with Apache Ofbiz. We will later cover solutions and integration points from Compiere, Openrbavo, xTuple and others.
The reason we chose to start with Apache Ofbiz that it has the best native E-commerce functionality we’ve seen in any ERP system. It almost seems like it’s an E-commerce solution with an ERP extension. Another OfBiz feature we like is the user experience, which is vital to a successful online shopping store. Although the interface is not the most beautiful (OfBiz plans to tackle this issue by introducing themes), interacting with the interface is very smooth and it is very easy to find what your looking for. I believe OfBiz can make an excellent solution if a better looking, more elegant theme is used.
OfBiz E-commerce Store Features
Ofbiz E-commerce is very similar to other popular solutions such as OSCommerce and ZenCart. At the heart of the system lies the products catalog. You can manage multiple catalogs within a single OfBiz system. The standard catalog search and catalog browser by category are easily accessible from the left menu. At the center of the main page you can find product lists and product information. A single click ‘add to cart’ button allows the user to easily start building his order. A dynamic preview of your cart is available in the upper right hand menu.
There are two features we felt were missing:
- Recommendation engine – analyzing the users’ behaviour and suggesting him products he might be interested in (see Amazon’s ‘people who bought this item also bought..’) is a powerful selling tool. I do not know how many additional sales Amazon generates from these suggestions, but from my own shopping experience, if done properly, these mechanism is useful for both the merchant as well as the consumer. OfBiz employees a Thesaurus engine to provide a partial solution, but it is both difficult and time consuming to maintain.
- Ajax UI – certain functionality in E-commerce solutions should be implemented using Ajax. The advantage in Ajax is that after a user interacts with the systems (e.g. searches for a product or adds it to the shopping cart), no new page loads are required. That makes user interaction much smoother and visits tend to last longer.
With OfBiz catalog manager, you can maintain multiple catalogs in multiple stores, create promotions and manage configuration items. Price management is very flexible, allowing different price lists based on permutations of many parameters, such as categories, catalog, quantity ordered or ordering party. Per the common practice, price lists are time dependant.
A fully functional Content Management System, which is gradually becoming an integral part of many E-commerce solutions, is also part of OfBiz. The purpose of CMS in the context of E-commerce is to keep the online shoppers for longer visits, and provide them with valuable, relevant content, so that they have a good reason to come back to visit your website. The content manager provides management of surveys, forums and different types of contemn types: files, links, text, audio and video. You can create multiple websites, each with its own unique content or share content amongst different sites.
OfBiz E-commerce accepts payments from several sources, most notably from Paypal and Worldpay. A simple export-import integration with ebay products and orders is also available.
Apache OfBiz E-commerce Store Recorded Demo
Click image below. Demo found in the Apache OfBiz drop down menu.
To summarize, Apache OfBiz provides a fully functional, tightly integrated, robust E-commerce solution as an open source ERP solution. With the introduction of themes, the ability to build attractive online stores will make OfBiz a very strong offering.
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