Forget the Myths: What You Really Need to Consider When Selecting an eCommerce Platform

Full Disclosure: It’s no secret that we at Something Digital are fans of Magento. Our blog is filled with stories about the platform, we participate in the Magento Community, speak at their conferences, and we initiate and sponsor events around them. That said, about a year and a half ago we expanded our partnerships to include other platforms because, at the end of the day, we are focused on delivering the right solution for each client, and that goal trumps loyalty to any partnership.

However, we have experienced some unfair mud slinging toward Magento from their competitors which is creating confusion in the market, and we wanted to dispel a few myths so retailers can make the right choice for their businesses.

Myth #1: Magento is pulling the plug on Magento v.1, forcing all customers to upgrade whether they want to or not

Contrary to what you may have heard, Magento IS NOT pulling the plug on the first version of its platform and forcing retailers who are happy to migrate to version 2. The truth is, Magento has committed to fully support M1.x until the end of 2020 (and that includes any necessary security fixes). To be clear, since M2 launched in November 2016, merchants will have in total four full years of runway to upgrade.

Myth #2: You need an advanced engineering degree to implement Magento

We’ve been in this business for 14+ years and have worked with online retailers and ecommerce sites of all stripes and sizes and I have to say, we find the new Magento Enterprise Cloud offering removes many technology and security elements from the merchant’s plate.

That said, some retailers have more complicated selling models, customizable products, multi-warehouse delivery, multiple currencies, or want a shared shopping cart to work across multiple brands. These are functionalities that require additional engineering, which is where system integrators, like Something Digital, come in.

Myth #3: Once You Buy, Magento Waves Good-Bye

I’ve heard a lot of chatter that once you sign the contract for Magento, you’re on your own from a technical point of view.  But I can assure you that both Magento and its partners, such as Something Digital, are there for the long term, actively working with you to ensure your success.  Magento’s focus on its Enterprise Cloud product is the best indication of how the platform plans to support merchants in the long term. In fact, Magento has the largest market share of any ecommerce platform, and is still growing.

And no platform has an established developer community like Magento’s, which continuously provides core updates, innovative extensions and add-ons. The community offers a lot of brainpower and creativity for you to tap into.

Myth #4: Magento will Nickle & Dime Merchants

Be wary of claims regarding costs. There are many providers of cloud-based ecommerce platforms that tout a low cost, and that may be fine if you are a small retailer with simple needs. If you need extras, the costs can creep up. As for Magento nickling and diming its merchants, the company bundles its features into its basic packages that include robust business intelligence platform, Magento Social, which allows you to sell on social media, and a new performance monitoring tool called New Relic.

The bottom line, for all but the most simple needs, the “real cost” of a solution requires a detailed discussion with the provider.

Myth #5: Magento’s B2B/Enterprise Product is Overly Complex

B2B ecommerce itself is different than B2C. Enterprise class sellers require key features, such as omni-channel and order management capabilities. They also need to integrate seamlessly into other business systems. Additionally, enterprise-level sites often require a higher degree of customization, especially as it pertains to the customer experience. That level of customization isn’t easily accomplished with out-of-the box templates.

And again, Magento and its partners ecosystem are available to businesses to deliver solutions based on each customer’s unique needs.

Questions to Ask

Before you make a platform selection, Something Digital suggests you compile a list of questions that reflect your 5+ year strategy. These questions should factor in your plans for international expansion, new products, fulfillment options, future sales and marketing channels.

Something Digital’s team can provide a questionnaire to assist with this process. If you’d like more information contact us here.

How Being Available on GitHub Has Changed Magento Development (for the better) at SD

Magento has always been an open source platform. If you ask me, this fundamental tenant of the software is likely the biggest contributor to the platform’s success.

With Magento 2, however, this open source ethos has been taken to the next level. Now, the source code for the software is hosted on GitHub, where a dedicated “Community Engineering” team is responsible for triaging issues and pull requests contributed by the Magento community.

In this post, I’ll discuss how being available on GitHub has changed the Magento development experience at Something Digital, for the better.

A New Approach To Implementing New Features / Platform Improvements

In the Magento 1 days, if you wanted to add a new feature to the Magento platform, the approach was simple. Build a module to implement the desired functionality and install it on the code base in question. At Something Digital, we’ve done that countless times. In fact, we have made many of those publicly available on our GitHub page, and there are even more that we’ve decided to keep private.

With the Magento 2 code base being available on GitHub, however, things have changed. Now we’re presented with a few options…

1. Custom build and install a module as we would have done in the pre-GitHub days

2. Contribute the changes back to the Magento code base via a pull request and upgrade when the changes become available

The main benefit of the latter option is that the code we write and submit via a pull request becomes an official part of the Magento code base. As such, we do not have to worry (hopefully 😀) that future changes to the Magento code base will break our customizations. Further our changes are now available to and will be used by the Magento community, meaning Magento core developers or Magento community contributors can enhance or bugfix the changes we introduce.

The main downside to the second approach is that going through the code review / release process adds some additional time to the overall turnaround of the change which may or may not be tolerable. However, while the changes are going through review, we can generate patch files to apply to our client’s sites, prior to upgrades being available through official Magento releases.

As you can imagine, we typically favor the latter option whenever possible.

GitHub Issues

Another major improvement that has come with GitHub hosting is GitHub issues. While there are many channels for “Googling” Magento (StackExchange, Magento Forums, various blogs), GitHub issues provide a unique environment that is unparalleled by any other.

Among other things, issues on GitHub provide references to specific lines of code, labels and responses from Magento core engineers, and workarounds identified by community members. They’ve been invaluable for our team to get to the bottom of issues reported by our clients.

Git Blame / Pull Request Audit Trails

Finally, by being on GitHub, we are able to use the powerful Git tools such as git blame to understand the code archeology of any and all code in the Magento code base. We can then review commit messages and conversations about the changes that happened via a GitHub pull request. Again, this has come in handy more times than I can remember.

Conclusion

All in all, being available on GitHub has been very beneficial to our development process at Something Digital. If you’d like to continue the conversation feel free to hit us up @SomethingDigitl on Twitter or on our contact form!

Written by: Max Chadwick, Senior Programmer

7 Must-Have Extensions for Your Magento eCommerce Site

Getting ready to launch a Magento store? Congratulations! With 2 billion online shoppers worldwide, online commerce is a great way to build or expand your business.

Succeeding in the online space requires more than building a nicely branded Magento store. You’ll need to map out the entire selling cycle, so that customers can find what they need or get new ideas, and you can create a positive experience for all involved.

That lifecycle includes:

  • Merchandising your store and populating your catalog with product descriptions and images
  • Building your pages and managing content
  • Integrating products and sales into your ERP system so they can be invoiced, tracked and delivered, and keeping tabs on your inventory so you don’t accidentally sell products you don’t actually have in stock.
  • Creating a robust search tool to help customers find relevant products
  • Nurturing your customers through email campaigns and sales promotions
    Paying your taxes

 

We like building sites in Magento Commerce Cloud because the company bundles a lot of features into it, which means you ultimately pay less than with a traditional web-hosting route. That said, there are seven extensions you’ll still need to support the full customer life cycle.

Merchandising: Unirgy uRapidflow Pro

This extension makes quick work of merchandising your store, especially if you have a large product catalog. It provides advanced cataloging and high-speed data import and export, so you can upload and manage product descriptions and product images on your site. We’ve been working with it for years, and can attest to its power.

Building Pages: BlueFoot

BlueFoot is a page builder tool, now owned by Magento, that offers a robust set of tools for creating and managing content on your Magento store. You can use it for your product descriptions as well as your blog. Featuring a drag-and-drop approach, it  makes it easy to design and create web pages according to your vision.

ERP Integration: Xtento Tracking Import

This extension makes it easy to import orders from a CSV or XML files into Magento and process it from end to end. It captures the payment (charges the credit card), notifies your customer when an order is received, ships the order, adds the tracking number, notifies the customer when his or her order has been shipped, as well as changes the order status after the order has been imported. All of this happens automatically.

ERP Integration: Xtento Order Export

This extension provides a fast and convenient way to export your orders, invoices, shipments, credit memos, customers to any third-party system. You can export all sales related data in any file format (Text/TXT, Tabbed, CSV, XML, ASCII/Fixed-Length-Files) and connect your Magento store to almost any ERP, CRM, warehouse, drop-shipping or shipping system.

Elastic Search

Magento Commerce Cloud offers elastic search capabilities, and makes it easy for you to adjust keyword priority and manage word exclusions. We highly recommend it, but it does require some infrastructure set-up and ongoing maintenance. It’s worth the effort, however, because a bad search is worse than no search at all.

Customer Communications: Email Service Provider

An email service provider (ESP) is essential for sending marketing emails and sales promotions, and to allow customers and prospects to sign up for your promotions directly from your website.

There are four we work with frequently and feel confident in recommending:

Enterprise Level

  • Listrak – Offers email and SMS capabilities on one platform. We like it because it allows you to send transactional messages, as well as newsletters.
  • Bronto – A fully fledged marketing automation suite, allowing you to manage email, as well as your Google Adwords campaigns and social media engagements. It’s more complex, which means it’s also more expensive.

 

Mid-Tier

  • Dotmailer – Dotmailer offers the best integration with Magento, which means you can access a lot of its features from within your Magento store. It offers a nice feature in which it can generate an email to a customer with product recommendations based on searches they’ve performed on your site.

 

Small Sites

  • MailChimp – MailChimp is extremely powerful, and is a ubiquitous product for marketing. It’s also free for users who have up to 2,000 subscribers. You can also manage a handful of Google Adwords and Facebook campaigns from within MailChimp.

 

Calculating Taxes

There are two extensions we recommend, based on the size of your ecommerce operations and tax liability:

TaxJar is well suited for SMB customers, and like MailChimp, offers a free tier for smaller users. It prepares your state taxes, and can autofile them for you if you choose.

Avalara is an enterprise tax solution, and can do the tax nexus calculation for your and your accountants. In fact, Avalara has a professional services team that help you determine all of the jurisdictions in which you have a tax liability. Like TaxJar, it will prepare and autofile state taxes.

Bringing it All Together: Something Digital Commerce Accelerator

If this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. Something Digital’s Commerce Accelerator offering for Magento Commerce Cloud lets merchants to go live with an operational online store faster and at a lower cost to market. Our standard offering includes all of the integrations described in this post.

SD Office Hours: Ask Us About Magento, Ep. 6

SD Office Hours gives retailers, technology partners, and fellow developers the opportunity to ask questions about integration suggestions, Magento training, UX design, or any issues they’ve had or are currently having with the Magento platform. I highly recommend that you check out episode 6 of our office hours, you won’t regret it. Check out the full episode below!

 

Stay tuned for the full transcript!

New Promotional Site for Vanguard Promo

Something Digital is pleased to announce that this week, we launched a new Magento 2 ecommerce site for Vanguard Promo, a promotional products company.

Partnering with Something Digital, Vanguard Promo replatformed onto Magento 2 Commerce Cloud using our SD Commerce Accelerator theme and implemented a responsive, front end experience that embodied the look and feel of the Vanguard brand. Vanguard can now manage their store through the use of uRapidflow for product uploads and custom designed BlueFoot CMS enabled homepage. After launching, Vanguard Promo plans to continue working with Something Digital through our Strategic Engagement Services.

M2 Site Launched for New Ecommerce Store Fuzzy Babba

Something Digital is excited to announce the launch of a new Magento 2 ecommerce site for Fuzzy Babba, a brand out of The Moret Group that is focused on turning an everyday essential into a colorful, creative design piece.

Partnering with Something Digital, Fuzzy Babba was built onto Magento 2 Commerce with a custom designed responsive homepage giving their customers a superior shopping experience. A custom ERP system was implemented along with Apple Pay for a seamless checkout. After launching, Fuzzy Babba plans to continue working with Something Digital through our Strategic Engagement Services.

SD Office Hours: Ask Us About Magento, Ep. 5

SD Office Hours gives retailers, technology partners, and fellow developers the opportunity to ask questions about integration suggestions, Magento training, UX design, or any issues they’ve had or are currently having with the Magento platform. I highly recommend that you check out episode 5 of our office hours, you won’t regret it. Check out the full episode below!

Want to know the questions/answers asked without watching the whole video? Check out the cheat sheet below!

Download the full transcript for episode 5!

New M2 Site Gives Home Wet Bar Custom Responsive Design

Something Digital is pleased to announce that this week, we launched a new Magento 2 ecommerce site for Home Wet Bar, a company dedicated to finding unique entertainment items that you, your family, and your friends can enjoy for years to come.

Partnering with Something Digital, Home Wet Bar replatformed onto Magento 2 Commerce with a mobile responsive custom design enabling their customers to shop from anywhere. Home Wet Bar took advantage of Magento’s Bluefoot content management system giving the brand the ability to continue their ever-growing blog. After launching, Home Wet Bar plans to continue working with Something Digital through our Strategic Engagement Services.

SD Office Hours: Ask Us About Magento, Ep. 4

SD Office Hours gives retailers, technology partners, and fellow developers the opportunity to ask questions about integration suggestions, Magento training, UX design, or any issues they’ve had or are currently having with the Magento platform. I highly recommend that you check out episode 4 of our office hours, you won’t regret it. Check out the full episode below!

Download the Full Episode 4 Transcript !

SD Office Hours: Ask Us About Magento, Ep. 3

SD Office Hours gives retailers, technology partners, and fellow developers the opportunity to ask questions about integration suggestions, Magento training, UX design, or any issues they’ve had or are currently having with the Magento platform. I highly recommend that you check out episode 3 of our office hours, you won’t regret it. Check out the full episode below!

Want to know the questions and timestamps without watching the whole video? Check out the cheat sheet below!

  • Primarily as a developer what should one study for the Magento use solution specialists exam? – 01:59-05:47
  • What was your biggest learning? – 06:00-17:23
  • What was the most exotic requirement you had to implement in Magento? – 17:40-24:57
  • In Magento 1 there was a module that would tell you on each page which blocks are being cached. Are there any debug/session dev tools like that for M2? – 25:02-31:00
  • How should inventory be handled sense it can easily be broken by simply saving a product in the admin? – 31:09-35:56
  • What’s the proper etiquette to tell a salesperson to not call/email our office? – 36:17-40:10
  • Magento 2.2 was just released. What do you think of it? – 40:55-47:59
  • Where can we see you Phillip next, in the upcoming year? – 48:01-51:30

 

If you really want to know everything we talked about there’s even a transcript you can download. Enjoy!