While referring to e-commerce systems, we usually hear terms like cloud-backed database, multizone NoSQL backend, Power BI, PostgreSQL, etc. However, what exactly do these mean, and is it necessary for an e-commerce system to have a database at the backend? What is the actual purpose of a database? Is it possible to have any formal store without a database? In this article, we will review the databases and what purpose these services in the e-commerce applications.
As many of us already know, the database is a system that helps to organize data and retrieve it when needed. You maintain a set of data, and when it comes to e-commerce, it may be the details of transactions or the inventory of products in stock, etc. A database helps to organize all this information based on the custom settings as you define. In e-commerce applications, data usually falls into two major categories:
- Site content
- Transactional data
This is what you see when you browse through online stores. This is the data, which generates the dynamic HTML pages. Site content consists of content pages like:
- About us page
- Contact us page
- Product info
- Shipping policies
- FAQ and so on.
The product pages also show the details as the price specifications, product description, images, color, size, etc. Category pages are those which group all similar products.
Transactional data is generated as the users take some actions on the page. In the case of typical e-commerce websites, there may not be any transactional data to save. But, as the shoppers start to act by purchasing products to make inquiries about the products, these activities populate transactional data. Some examples of transactional data are customer orders, including their name, phone number, email address, the products they have shown interest in, etc. The inventory updates include the items sold out, stock replenished, and so on. The design of an e-commerce database will determine what items it stores, how the data related to it is organized, and how the application code can access the data.
The primary objective of an e-commerce database is to store relevant store information. If you have any questions about the customer orders, you can check the database. If someone wants to know the product price, they can also query the database. A web application may ignore the actual data and focus right on the behavior and presentation of the data by having a good database. As a result, the amount of code and logic in a web application can be reduced to a bigger extent and easier to understand. For e-com database administration services, explore what RemoteDBA got to offer.
For example, if all the products feature images, then the web application needs to ask for the data as an image that shows a product review. It does not consider if there is only one image or three or the number of images showing. The application expects to get back the image URL that is being displayed to the user.
What will an e-com database do?
Here are a few things which e-commerce databases typically do;
- Track the transactions – One major task of the e-commerce database is to manage the transactions. It keeps track of every order and the details associated with it for the company to process a transaction. There may be a lot of data needed to process an order accurately. This is one functionality that dominates the most on e-Commerce databases. You can see databases with millions and millions of data entries to support the order transactions.
- Organizing products – Another major database task is to organize the products in e-commerce stores. Based on the store’s nature, there would be thousands or millions of products, with each having different styles and descriptions. Organizing this fine mix of products and options is a crucial function of an e-commerce database.
- Providing proper structure to the store data – Putting a proper structure around the vast amounts of data availed is one of the major features of a good database. It does not matter if you have only a handful of products or a million products. All these can be organized well by a good database system. With this, you can create a simple code to access the data needed easier. E-commerce applications do not have to manage the data by themselves, but just a structure that can be queried through simple quotes.
Weaknesses of e-commerce databases
E-com databases may have some weaknesses, too, such as lack of analytical ability and complexity, etc. Let us explore these in a bit more detail.
Database complexity – if you are selling one product, you may not need to have a database. Your store may be pretty simple to make, code-wise. But if there are thousands of products, then organizing them without a database is impossible. However, there is a real cost addition to building a base for a store. Even if you need a basic database, there are still setup and management steps that demand an investment of time, money, and effort for data authentication, organization, validation, and so on.
Data Analysis – Another shortfall of many standard e-commerce databases is that it is geared towards generating and processing orders. The data is usually organized in such a way to make it easier to add and update transactions. Unfortunately, this structure is not ideal for data analysis. Say, for example, if you want to identify the top 10 percent of your potential customers, you have to organize the database differently. Your analysis and reporting programs need to be reorganized for data on the fly by showing the responses. This is why many of the larger databases are now being copied and reorganized into a different structure, making reporting and analysis easier.
So, unless you have a strong e-commerce database platform, you may not be able to run your e-com store well. You have many choices now, and the usage of the database must be done after thorough testing to meet both your transactional and analytical needs.