A Talk with Spree, the Fastest-Growing Open-Source Ecommerce Platform

Peter Curac-Dahl

A Talk with Spree, the Fastest-Growing Open-Source Ecommerce Platform

We reached out to the Spree open-source core team to see if they could shed some light on what it's like working on this awesome project from their perspective.

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Spree Commerce, led by the Spark Solutions team, is an open-source ecommerce platform. Built for Rails 6 with a mobile-first UX, optional PWA frontend, REST API, GraphQL, multiple official extensions, and an ecosystem of third-party integrations, Spree Commerce looks great. But not only that, with over 800 Github contributors, 1 million Spree downloads, and too many Spree Commerce shops to keep track of, Spark Solutions doesn’t talk a big game, with Spree Commerce they deliver.

Let's dive in and see what they had to say.

spree_commerce_global_ecommerce_2@2x     spreecommerce.org 

What accomplishments are you most proud of since taking over Spree Commerce open source?

We’ve released several major versions of Spree which modernized the entire platform: starting from the ultra-fast mobile-first storefront, service-oriented architecture, headless API mode, new modern REST API, Vue Storefront PWA integration, improved responsive Admin Panel, several new extensions and integrations, new documentation website.

That’s the technical part of it, the second more humane part is the community and ecosystem: 5000 members on our Slack channel, countless contributions to Spree and Spree plugins by open source developers. We’re very proud that people use Spree and help us make it better each day

What are, and were, some of the common problems people had when working with Spree Commerce and how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge was the upgrade path. In the past, it was very difficult to upgrade from one Spree version to another. We put in a lot of work and thought to make this process smooth and less stressful.

Another challenge was that some Spree extensions worked with only specific Spree versions. We fixed that by rewriting those extensions to be universal and work across many Spree releases. With each major Spree upgrade, we make sure those extensions will continue to work with new releases.

We also adore and have roots in Ruby On Rails, what makes it your language of choice?

Ruby on Rails is a highly productive and mature framework. It’s great for MVP projects when you need to iterate quickly and it's also great for projects that require stability, eCommerce being the prime example. That allows us to deliver great value for our customers with relatively short project timelines.

What are some of the more unique implementations of Spree Commerce that you have seen or heard about?

Where do we even start… We’ve seen Spree used for online groceries, a multi-vendor marketplace for craft beers, underwear subscriptions, an online showroom for bridesmaids, and many more use cases. Spree is used by a variety of businesses from various industries. To give you a good example, both a 300-year-old-luxury retailer from London - Fortnum & Mason and The New England Patriots NFL team use Spree for their online stores.

You hosted all over the world (NYC, Berlin, London, Ottawa) in 2019, and 2016 in NYC, aiming to create a space where ecommerce professionals could network together and make a creative space — how did it go, and can we look forward to more Spree Commerce events?

Berlin 2019 Spree CommerceSpree Commerce event in Berlin, 2019

It was great to meet ecommerce professionals and enthusiasts from all over the world and listen to their stories. We loved the experience and believe that sharing knowledge and networking are super important. We’re particularly proud of the NYC events, as we’ve managed to invite very interesting people as speakers - CEOs and CTOs of successful ecommerce businesses and startups. Unfortunately, at the moment, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s impossible to plan any offline events.

Do you have any stories about something unexpected happening in the planning process or during one of these events?

Event organization is always full of unexpected situations. Organizing something 100% remotely (for example a conference in NYC while living in Europe) requires much more effort and precautions. Fortunately, we’ve always had everything well prepared and a backup plan just in case. I don’t know if you can say that a heavy downpour in London is something unexpected;) but we certainly did not expect the whole city transport to be paralyzed on our arrival day. Since our team was flying from different cities and to different airports, we had a little bit of trouble getting everyone to meet in one place. The event was scheduled for the next day, however, so we managed to get everything ready regardless of the weather.

What are the plans for the future of Spree Commerce?

COVID-19 has changed our daily lives, it also changed the direction of the eCommerce market itself. We’re seeing a great surge in demand for multi-region / multi-language marketplaces, both B2C and B2B. That’s the area we will try to tackle and improve Spree to fit that scenario. That means better seller tools like reporting and admin dashboard.

For developers - we’re constantly improving our REST API for headless implementations which are very popular these days. The next step is GraphQL API. We’re also making the platform more flexible for different needs and customizations. That also means better development tools documentation and SDKs.

I can see Spree Commerce is utilized by some stores selling CBD, you also have some material on your blog regarding this. Are you uniquely positioned, as an open-source solution, to cater to the cannabidiol market?

CBD is a popular trend in the last 2 years. It’s quite a new market that isn’t supported by platforms such as Shopify. There are also concerns about which payment providers can be used for selling products such as these, especially that most sales are subscription-based. Because of that Spree as a self-hosted open-source platform can work with any payment provider (no restrictions whatsoever) so it’s a perfect match for businesses that are limited by cloud providers.

You spent over 6,000 hours between 25+ members to complete Spree Commerce 4.1 and huge institutions like the New England Patriots implement your solutions. What is the business model that generates revenue for you, and if it’s open-source why do they pay you?

Our business model is quite simple, to be frank. We’re heavily investing in the open-source platform which later we and our partners will implement for clients. We’re also available for consultation to help out other teams to fully utilize Spree potential in their organizations.

Sometimes we also partner with 3rd party vendors such as PayPal, Braintree, Stripe, or Avatax to build open-source Spree connectors for those services.



Answers provided by Damian Legawiec  https://github.com/damianlegawiec

Damian Legawiec is a Ruby on Rails, Spree, React architect, and developer of scalable e-commerce apps. Previously founder of a Spree-based P2P consumer electronics marketplace startup with over 300k registered users. Raised funding from various Seed/VC funds. Exited early 2014. Co-founded Spark Solutions crafting fully customized mobile-ready front-ends for great, industry-relevant user experience, highly scalable back-ends for high-traffic, high-volume stores or marketplaces. Spree Commerce open-source tech lead.

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Peter Curac-Dahl