We've recently started offering early access to MultiMerch Standalone, our next-gen marketplace platform software, at 50% off.
In this blog post I'll cover Standalone and its features in more detail, offer some development insights and share our roadmap for the platform.
Why MultiMerch Standalone (the state of OpenCart in 2019)
Although MultiMerch 8 is built for OpenCart, it's more than a multi vendor OpenCart extension. We've always been building MultiMerch as an all-in-one marketplace platform.
However, we still have to rely on OpenCart for the core ecommerce functionality and we've been paying close attention to the evolution of OpenCart itself.
Back in 2017 and 2018, I published a few blog posts highlighting the problems with OpenCart:
- The Deadly Sins of OpenCart: complex upgrades, destructive releases and lack of integrity
- The Deadly Sins of OpenCart: poor core feature set
- OpenCart 3 vs OpenCart 2 in 2018: Should You Update?
My point back then was that OpenCart has a number of major flaws that it needs to address to stay relevant as an ecommerce solution today.
Today, a little more than a year later, nothing has fundamentally changed (unfortunately). And with OpenCart 3.1 being delayed since July 2018 it's not looking great for the project.
And as long as we're offering MultiMerch as an extension, we can't fix OpenCart's underlying core flaws:
- we can't fix OpenCart's outdated core ecommerce feature set and its usability issues
- we can't fix OpenCart's poorly designed upgrade, theme and extension systems
- we can't fix OpenCart's development processes and its lack of a clear roadmap
In today's world of modern cloud commerce, all of these issues make OpenCart an obsolete second-class shopping cart framework at best. It's something for indie developers to play with, but not a solution you'll chose to build your next successful online store, let alone a marketplace.
However, we can – and did – make sure MultiMerch software itself is better than this:
- we release at least one major MultiMerch version a month with bugfix releases in between
- we keep our upgrade process really simple, safe and straight-forward
- all MultiMerch 8.x releases backward-compatible and you can install 2 years worth of updates at once
- we design our features and interfaces based on the latest ecommerce research (such as Baymard)
Now, it's time to take what we learned building MultiMerch for OpenCart and apply it to the system as a whole.
This is where MultiMerch Standalone comes in.
What's in Standalone for the user?
Standalone is our take at building a better modern all-in-one marketplace platform that is:
- designed for sales and usability based on current ecommerce research
- really easy to use – for buyers, vendors, marketplace owners and developers
- stable, reliable and easy to deploy, customize and keep maintained
This will require a lot of improvements both in MultiMerch multi vendor core and the underlying ecommerce systems, but we can do it.
Here are some of the major improvement points we're working on:
Modern design and layouts
You can't expect to run a successful modern online marketplace if your design and layouts aren't up to the job. The design and layouts is what we'll be focusing on first and foremost.
Powerful product search and display
If the buyer can't find a product they're looking for on your platform they'll go elsewhere.
The catalog features of Standalone are built with this in mind – powerful product search, information-dense categories with automated faceted product filters and product cards that provide exactly the information customers look for.
Automated marketplace SEO
Search engine optimization can make or break your organic customer acquisition.
MultiMerch Core already provides most of the SEO your vendors need in an online marketplace and we will be expanding it in Standalone to cover the whole platform.
This includes automatic generation of all metadata, SEO-friendly products, categories and sellers, microdata, URL structures and more.
Clean, informative product pages
The product page is where the customer decides whether or not they'll buy the product. Unfortunately OpenCart doesn't offer a great product page experience out of the box.
Standalone comes with its own product pages designed with the buyer in mind.
Think great images, information density, seller info and review sections, shipping details tailored to the current customer and so on.
Better product management for vendors
The product publisher in MultiMerch Core is designed to be as flexible as possible, but it still suffers from OpenCart's underlying product system drawbacks.
We plan to introduce a number of major product publishing improvements into Standalone, such as a more powerful category-based attribute and variation system, multiple vendors offering the same product and various third party ecommerce platform integrations.
Better notifications, emails and messaging
In one of the recent major updates we've introduced our own multichannel notification system and onsite notifications for vendors.
This will be extended to support beautifully designed email templates, onsite and mobile notifications for vendors and customers and a more powerful RabbitMQ notification queues.
Better localization, shipping and tax management
OpenCart offers basic localization, zone and tax settings, but they're not as useful in marketplace environments compared to regular stores.
We will be introducing our own region and taxation systems to make MultiMerch's existing vendor shipping and reporting systems even better.
More sales & marketing tools
A modern marketplace needs a number of important tools to generate revenue which OpenCart doesn't offer out of the box.
Standalone will include automated customer review procurement and mass discount campaign management for vendors to intelligent product bundling, product recommendations, up- and cross-selling and sponsorships.
API, integrations and mobile apps
First and foremost, Standalone will have its own API for developers to work with.
We will also offer a number of the crucial payment, shipping and marketing integrations and a way to offer a mobile app out of the box.
Core architecture improvements
OpenCart offers a decent MVC architecture, but not much more than that – I already mentioned the lack of a decent upgrade process and not so well-thought-out extension and theme systems. This makes OpenCart a pain to use, customize, update and maintain.
We will take what we've learned designing MultiMerch Core and apply it to the whole marketplace system.
When can we expect it?
"That's great, Martin, but when can we expect it?"
Well, all of the screenshots you've seen in this post are real. Standalone isn't production-ready yet, but we plan to get the initial version rolled out around Q2 this year.
At the moment, you can purchase early access for MultiMerch Standalone at a lower cost. This gives you a Standalone license and an OpenCart extension if you plan to start working at once. Once Standalone is production-ready enough we'll be offering a way to migrate to it from OpenCart.
And another important thing - this doesn't mean we're abandoning MultiMerch Core. In fact, most of the Standalone features will be introduced into Core as well (unless we absolutely can't due to OpenCart limitations). So, if you're currently using MultiMerch for OpenCart - don't worry, it's not going anywhere.
If you're looking for an early demo of MultiMerch Standalone, visit our Demos page and sign up for a quick demonstration.