The Crunch: PrestaShop has popularized open source e-commerce in Europe — a continent with multiple languages, currencies, and government regulations unique to each country. Cross-border commerce requires localized solutions, and PrestaShop’s open source platform allows developers to create plug-ins to serve smaller markets. The company has plans to continue its growth through a popular ambassador program and a fund that enables developers to create software in emerging markets. Through these creative approaches to online storefronts, PrestaShop makes e-commerce accessible across the globe.
Shortly after graduate school in 2007, Bruno Leveque had a revolutionary idea for an open source e-commerce platform that would democratize technology and facilitate growth in the SMB market. At the time, only the most established businesses had the resources to sell online because the process of hiring developers to build an effective e-commerce site from the ground up was cost prohibitive.
Within a month of Bruno founding PrestaShop, 100 stores in 10 countries were setting up shop through the service. PrestaShop was intended to be international from the start, and it now has 250,000 active stores and more than 1 million users in every country in the world with the exception of North Korea.
The global nature of the company is evident within its central Paris headquarters — a building with a long history of commerce, serving as a bazaar in the late 1800s. Paris is one of the top three European cities for tech startups, and PrestaShop’s multinational employees reflect the company’s global reach.
We recently spoke with Leah Anathan, Chief Marketing Officer for PrestaShop. Born in Boston, Leah ventured to Paris with an American-based company and eventually landed at what Inc. magazine named one of the top five coolest offices in Europe.
“I think one of the things that surprises people is to be in a meeting that’s in Spanish, French, English, and German, and it will bounce back and forth,” she said. “Everything we do in marketing is in six or seven languages, which makes it more complex, but it’s part of the company’s DNA.”
PrestaShop, where Paris’ finest café and croissants are served each morning, boasts a vibrant culture that has been crucial in attracting top engineering talent. The office celebrity is Puff, a white Maine Coon cat that patrols the building.
“It’s really important for us to be in this nice office and to be able to have an environment where engineers feel like they can do some great work here,” she said.
A freemium platform with just 130 employees, PrestaShop fosters growth in emerging markets by providing thousands of developers around the world the ability to create localized add-ons and themes they then sell to PrestaShop users. With so many people contributing to the software, users receive modules that cater to the business practices of each individual market.
“Many people choose PrestaShop because they are planning to grow their business online, so they might start small, but they need functionality that enables them to keep growing,” Leah said.
An Open Source Platform Helps 130 Staffers Serve 1 Million+ Users
PrestaShop’s open source approach can be traced back to its roots in Europe — a continent made up of nations in close proximity, all with unique cultures, languages, currencies, and government regulations.
“Europe prefers open source,” Leah said. “Every country needs truly localized solutions. Open source enables e-commerce merchants to customize for both their industry and local market. Proprietary software just can’t do this at-scale.”
E-commerce can get complicated when you do business across borders, and PrestaShop’s aim is to simplify online business in every corner of the world.
Already popular in several major European markets, like France, Spain, and Italy, PrestaShop’s growth strategy is to focus on emerging markets such as Latin America and Eastern Europe — areas many other e-commerce hosts have neglected.
To better enable its users’ success in these new online frontiers, PrestaShop started a $1 million development fund to help encourage developers to create localized modules.
“Let’s say we need a shipping solution in Argentina,” Leah said. “A developer could come to us and say, ‘I’d like to make a module for this market, and it’s going to be the shipping solution for Argentina.’ We will pay him an advance for that module so that gives him the revenue he needs to make the investment.”
Web store owners in many countries can start selling almost immediately, finding every plug-in they would need within the PrestaShop marketplace.
“That is part of our growth strategy in emerging markets — to be able to get everything a merchant would need in order to start that store because the e-commerce store is not complete unless you’ve got the payment and shipping solutions, and everything else a store needs to get up and running,” Leah said.
Unique challenges exist in corners of the world where infrastructure is lacking, including Latin America, India, and Africa. Payments can be tricky in markets where credit cards aren’t as accessible. Shipping presents another challenge, and solutions must be developed for last-mile delivery in countries where homes are fewer and far between. These are all hurdles to e-commerce that PrestaShop is focused on solving for web store owners in emerging markets.
Open source allows developers in these countries to create solutions and make them available via PrestaShop.
“As soon as we get the plugins, then we can solve those local challenges and be very relevant in the market,” Leah said. “That’s driven a lot of the growth in the past nine years and we expect that to drive growth in the next nine years.”
The Ambassador Program and Events Give Local Communities a Voice
Open source lends itself to collaboration, and much of PrestaShop’s growth has happened organically. When someone wants to start an e-commerce site in a country that doesn’t have all of the plugins they need for business, a developer in that country will create the solution and, through the PrestaShop Addons Marketplace, it will be available for any other entrepreneur in that market. However, getting information out about PrestaShop’s offerings takes a little bit more of a hands-on approach.
To help get the word out, PrestaShop has created an ambassador program in which particularly enthusiastic PrestaShop users get involved in spreading the message and hosting meetups. PrestaShop meetups have been held in places like Nepal, Argentina, and Nigeria, and more than 60 ambassadors have gotten involved in spreading the word.
Another way PrestaShop engages with its users is through what the company calls PrestaShop Days. In 2016, the company held events in Paris, Madrid, and Milan, attracting more than 3,000 users.
PrestaShop Days are essentially a day of conferences, workshops, and networking that revolve around running more effective e-commerce sites. Among the topics are user experience, best practices, web design, and development.
“We host a lot of events with our community,” Leah said. “We really want to see people as much as we can.”
Future Plans Include Helping Users Improve the Customer Experience
Nearly 10 years into PrestaShop’s existence, the company is exiting the startup phase and looking to enter its next phase as an established e-commerce platform, leading the market globally.
Valuing customer feedback, PrestaShop has focused on bolstering its product team by adding new employees who focus on the customer experience through countless user interviews.
“We’re putting a lot of focus on user experience,” Leah said. “When new merchants can spend more time selling and less time with administration, their e-commerce business will grow much faster.”
With an enthusiastic ambassador program and thousands of developers contributing software that provides localized solutions in new markets, PrestaShop is poised to expand its community of more than 1 million users and bring e-commerce capabilities to new areas of the world.