Cotton On does e-commerce with Aussie open source apps

Fashion retailer Cotton On has launched into global e-commerce with a rapid two-month project which leverages local open source apps developed with the Django framework, with point of sale and supply chain integration thrown in for good measure.

The new e-commerce portal was developed by Melbourne-based company Citrus and uses the open source Mezzanine CMS and Cartridge e-commerce projects.

This is Cotton On’s first foray into e-commerce, with the existing website used for catalogue marketing and store location.

Andrew Fisher, general manager of technology at Citrus said Cotton On had broad business objectives and certain mandatory requirements, like PoS and back office integration.

“Cotton On has an end-to-end retail management system – from orders to customer management – so when a customer purchases something through the website it goes through PoS for accounts and stock management,” Fisher said. “The e-commerce site is just like another PoS channel.”

Fisher said unlike many retail systems, the one used at Cotton On has a “relatively modern API” which exposes Web services.

“It’s a little restrictive in places, but it’s mostly straightforward,” he said. “There is real-time visibility of stock and orders and online orders are shipped from Cotton On’s warehouse.”

Based in Geelong, Victoria, Cotton On has more than 600 stores and 4500 staff. Most of the company’s stores all around Australia, but it also has a growing international presence with sales in New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and the US.

When selecting an e-commerce application, Fisher said Citrus likes Cartridge because, unlike an off-the-shelf app, it assumes there is going to be some customisation.

“With Cartridge 70 per cent of the features are there and it assumes the programmer will do 30 per cent of the customisation, as every e-commerce site is different,” he said, adding the product data is exported from internal systems.

“Many e-commerce platforms assume a lot of what you want to do and we have come across problems in past with having to re-write code. Also, a lot of the open source e-commerce projects are US-based and make assumptions about tax and payment processors.”

Both Mezzanine and Catridge are developed with the Python-based Django framework, which Fisher says is “rock solid and fast to develop with”.

“We built, tested and deployed Cotton On in eight weeks with five or six people, including designers and project managers,” he said. “It’s a good open source stack, very flexible and has dealt with the large amount of traffic we have had so far.”

“Django on Linux is a great stack and there is no other way to build a site these days.”

The Cotton On shop used the MySQL database and the Nginx Web server instead of the popular Apache.

“Apache is struggling to keep up with today’s performance requirements and Django under Apache doesn’t perform as well,” Fisher said. “Nginx is so high performance oriented it’s not funny. The whole stack is designed for performance and that’s what is required for retail.”

Follow Rodney Gedda on Twitter: @rodneygedda

Follow TechWorld Australia on Twitter: @Techworld_AU

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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