Zen of React

Should I Use Gatsby for My E-Commerce Business?

July 26, 2019 • ☕️ 3 min read

If you run an ecommerce business or want to start one, you’ve probably heard that having a slow website can hurt your sales. That might make you wonder if you should build your store using Gatsby, since you’ve probably heard Gatsby sites rank among the fastest on the internet. But don’t let that single idea carry you away. As a business owner with a budget you have more to consider.

I advise that you skip using Gatsby when building an ecommerce site, despite my love for Gatsby. I speak from my experience working as a software engineer at one of the first companies to use Gatsby in production and consulting for several online retailers including Rumpl, Western Rise, and Oliver’s Apparel.

Sure, Gatsby has benefits. It builds blazing fast websites, like this one. It has a highly extensible base because its GraphQL data querying system lets it integrate a variety of data sources at build time. It brings the power of React to static website generators. But none of these benefits specifically suits Gatsby to ecommerce.

A lot goes into building a successful ecommerce sales machine, and Gatsby simply doesn’t have the support for many specialized tools that a mature platform like Shopify has. Choosing to use Gatsby for an ecommerce platform could lead to ballooning development costs as you realize that even basic functionality for a store front would require custom development in Gatsby. Let’s use some examples.

Color pickers and out of stock functionality

Some of the most basic features for online stores include displaying different variants of each product such as size and color. Customers expect to click on a color swatch and see gallery images of the color they selected. They also expect that if they select a color and size that you don’t have in stock that they will know right away. They might also like to subscribe to an email notification letting know them know when you have inventory again.

Do these sound like basic features to you? None of my clients could have tolerated a site that didn’t provide these basic functions.

And yet, the Gatsby ecommerce starter sites that currently exist lack all of this functionality. Sure, a developer could build of all those features, but developers cost a lot, especially compared to a platform that provides those basic features and much more right from the start.

Exit intent signup forms

To maximize your sales funnel over time it helps to capture a lead before your visitor exits the site. You’ve ceraintly seen the email list popups offering a coupon code right as you might have otherwise quit.

Established platforms like Shopify have apps you can simply install from a marketplace that take care of this functionality. By contrast, Gatsby doesn’t have integrations with the vast majority of tools and services built to help online stores. The way Gatsby does everything through React can even make it harder to integrate third party plugins that expect to work through simple script injection, as illustrated by this Reddit thread showcasing the surmountable but unnecessary difficulty of installing widgets.

Focus on your core business

Pouring too much effort into building your online store using new technology could detract from your core business. Developers cost money and time. Bugs will surface which can hurt your sales and you will have to keep a developer around to fix those problems. Bugs will pop up even on a mature platform like Shopify, Magento, or Woocommerce, etc. but on those platforms at least the basic features already exist and don’t need debugging.

The benefit of Gatsby boils down to a faster website. I do advise my clients to speed up their websites, but only after more important aspects of their business work effectively, like email marketing, and SEO. Yes, site speed can play a small role in SEO, but platforms like Shopify don’t run so slow that they negatively impact your SEO unless laden down with too many sluggish plugins.

To get a marginal speed improvement do you really want to go through the hassle of building basic elements of your business from scratch when you could rely on battle tested platforms that thousands of businesses have proven? Sure, you could drill a screw with a hammer, but wouldn’t you rather use a drill or even a screwdriver?