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The thin eshop concept

This article can be regarded as a consideration of why an eshop should only be a presentation layer displaying catalogue information. A thin eshop should also ensure both interaction with the customer and the transfer to other systems of gathered data.

Market overview

At the moment, countless numbers of eCommerce systems are available, from large global to small local versions, offering a wide range of functionalities and the option of system enlargement.  Despite this, selecting the right system is not easy and therefore it is still true that if you want to set up an eshop, it is a question of “10 minutes“ and then you sell. 

Of course, there are some clients who do not approach eCommerce system, as “out of the box“ software but as a platform for their eCommerce solution (often they also have their own platform). The solution must be in line their ambitions, which are frequently global, and actively promote further growth.  Naturally, the solution should be strongly linked to internal systems, which are the source of most information. The solution should also support existing processes for dispatching the orders. It is often about combining B2C and B2B needs within one unit.

Do all robust enterprises need an eshop platform?

Are existing enterprise platforms excessively robust? Do they contain so much that customers become unsure if they should make adjustments, based on their needs, to internal systems or platforms? And neither the systems or platforms are cheap. Another question is whether this frequently concerns customers, who have internal processes, and strong support from the IT side. Are customers simply wanting to “stretch“ their systems on the Internet, so that they can sell?

Is the thin eshop the answer?

I suspect that in some cases the race to create the perfect eCommerce platform is unnecessary and the thin eshop concept can be applied instead. This is based on the assumption that all data administration for the eshop (typically this involves a structured catalogue of products) is carried out at the level of internal systems currently in place. All gathered data in the eshop (mainly order forms), goes to the internal systems again. The thin eshop layer deals only with visualisation and additional functionality.

The concept comes from three-layer architecture,  in which the thin eshop is the presentation tier. Issues of data storage are not resolved at this level, i.e. the data tier, not is the question of data transformation in the logic tier. The gathered data are visualised and on the other hand collected and handed over – nothing more, nothing less.

thin eshop scheme

When right opportunity for setting up a thin eshop arises.

The thin eshop concept only makes sense for certain solutions that have the parameters for applying it. The solution should be based on the following assumptions:

  • Internal processes are mainly covered by IT tools and resources. In practice, this involves existing systems, containing all information about products, stock and accessibility to them.
  • A central system for managing order management system is in place, regardless of the sales channel (either a bricks and mortar shop or an online shop), and this means that the whole process of dispatched orders is in place.
  • A payment method has been set up, including order matching.
  • There are records of customer relationships – in the form of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) or as part of another system.
  • The above system has interfaces enabling direct or indirect connections
  • All the data necessary for generating product orders and their attachments are accessible in the internal systems.
  • Internal IT infrastructure is prepared in a new sales channel.

Thin eshop architecture

The thin eshop minimises the demands on catalogue management and orders received. The data is either directly taken over, or handed over from/to other systems. The thin eshop then simply ensures the appropriate data visualisation, including support for multichannel communication (desktop, mobile telephone, tablet, smartTV, etc.). Therefore, from the administrative perspective, the thin eshop only provides a means to manage the structure and content of the presentation layer, not the data itself, i.e. information about products and categories.

Advantages and disadvantages

There are advantages and disadvantages of thin eshop concept that should be considered in specific solutions.

Pluses

+ Fewer demands made on the eshop software. Because the demands on the administrative part are minimalised and transferred to the internal systems, the stress on the platform can be significantly reduced.

+ Simplicity: efforts are concentrated mainly on the presentation layer and various communication channels.

+ Simple changes to the appearance, and support for other communication channels. The visualisation layer deals mainly with the client part and its optimisation for various forms of use.

+ Easy administration: within the website part only structural or content-related changes are deal with, which are unrelated to the eshop as such (text pages).

+ The whole visualisation layer can be easily be changed while retaining the existing interface with the internal systems.

+ Efficiency: The internal systems deal with all business logistics issues. Only visualisation is carried out on the shop side, which reduces the demand on computer performance and offers a better basis for caching pages.

+ Security: Internal systems are clearly set apart from the shop. Communication between the visualisation layer and the internal systems is carried out  by the security channel.

Minuses

There are demands to change the internal systems, and they do not provide a suitable interface or do not contain the data required for an eshop (especially the catalogue).

- When internal systems do not contain data essential for displaying the catalogue there will often be a need to add additional functionality to the visualisation layer, including administration. In such a case it is important to consider making use of full eshop platforms, which this functionality contains. However, this is an abandonment of the whole thin eshop concept.

- Robust eCommerce platforms contain a whole range of additional functionalities to be used. (this disadvantage can be minimised to some extent by choosing the right tool on which the visualisation layer of the thin eshop is based)

- Linking information. The thin eshop concept is more demanding in terms of linking information

The connection thin eshop and web integration

The thin eshop is one method of implementing a web integration eCommerce project. The task of a web integrator  is to be able to distinguish the requisites in order to make use of the thin eshop idea and if necessary to put into practice. It is no mistake if it becomes apparent that the thin eshop concept cannot be applied and that a suitable full-value eCommerce platorm cannot be selected.

In projects the web integrator therefore ensures the coordination of the affected parties affected and and the progress of solutions, including further development.

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