Magento eCommerce is the Right eCommerce Solution For You
Picking an eCommerce Solution That Fits Your Company
Choosing the right eCommerce platform is a conversation we regularly have with prospective clients. It’s an important, long-term decision; after opening your store on an eCommerce system, it’s not easy to quickly switch platforms. Change will affect operations, accounting, customer service, fulfillment, and store management - in addition to the impact it will have on development and data migration costs. Because the needs of each website are different, there is no “one size fits all” option when it comes to choosing the right eCommerce platform. After years of working closely with a wide variety of eCommerce clients, we have learned that the first step of selecting a platform is determining the specific needs of the website.
However, if you find a custom eCommerce platform is right for your website we recommend Magento. Magento is by far the most widely used eCommerce platform on the market, its CMS-like build and wide community of coders ensure the cleanest, most up-to-date experience for merchants and customers alike.
While Magento may be the best answer for some, it’s not the right fit for all. The first question you have to ask is: What kind of store am I?
The Four Online Stores
As a merchant, there are four main choices to sell goods online. (Our customers are generally looking for development partners to help them build the first option.)
Create a custom branded storefront: There is some expense in designing, building, securing and maintaining your own eCommerce platform. However, it will look and feel exactly the way you want. You install the software and run it on your server, owning the store without cutting into your margin by sharing with an external shopping cart program. It allows you to integrate with any other systems and establish a process that fits your company - rather than fitting your company to the software. It’s great for retailers $1M+ in size who can commit to the customization. If you fall into this category, Magento is right for you.
Use a hosted fully-managed store. Shopify, Squarespace, and many others fit this bill. This is for the DIY group. They take care of many of the development, setup and maintenance costs when you use their hosted platform. The trade-off is you lose full control of the image, control of the data, the process, ability to integrate, and usually are paying monthly for the service. For small mom and pop stores, <$1M in sales, these are definitely a better entry point option than building a branded store.
Drop in payment buttons. If you’re running a store with very few stock keeping units (SKUs) it’s possible to just add product detail pages to your site and use Amazon Payments, PayPal, or Stripe to drop buttons or payment forms into your page. Many clients with branded stores will also use these as a secondary payment method (in addition to credit cards).
Sell through a large online retailer. Merchants who choose this option may use programs like eBay or Amazon. You lose all control of the look and feel of the store and they take a hefty margin. Many merchants who have the ability to create their own custom branded storefront will also be using these as outlets or alternative stores.
When wouldn’t we recommend a storefront? When you’re not a retailer and don’t need a cart. For example, a subscription business - where a user is buying a membership, access to content on your site, or purchasing the ability to post a job or other content - would not need a cart. For these, it would make more sense to have a tightly integrated commerce solution with the CMS - since users are really buying access to the CMS.
However, if you find yourself falling under category one and are looking to create your website’s own custom branded storefront, we highly recommend you consider Magento. As a company of senior web developers, we find that the best system for building highly custom, branded stores is the Magento eCommerce platform.
Magento - Our Backstory
Almost 20 years ago in 1997, about 10 years before launching Bear Group, I got my first real taste of building an eCommerce website with a company I cofounded called World2Market.com. Our business plan was to source goods from artisans in developing countries and sell them to the US market via eCommerce (like a more noble version of Etsy). We had all sorts of amazing firsts, like being then President Bill Clinton’s first eCommerce shopping experience for Christmas of ‘98—An amazing story, for another blog post.
It was my first time managing the development of an eCommerce site and my first look into the inner workings of a transaction engine. Back then, organizing products, catalogs, attributes, carts, checkouts, pipelines, merchandising, and promotions was relatively hard.
After many other commerce experiences with other companies, I started Bear Group in 2007 and we immediately started taking eCommerce clients. We were using the Drupal CMS and a module called eCommerce, a well-built module from a guy down in Australia. Unfortunately, it lacked some vital things, like real-time UPS rating methods. However, it was opensource so we just jumped in and started extending it. It was fun for me as a developer, but not as fun to ask clients to pay for one-off development of pretty basic features that were universally needed in a core platform.
So I started researching for a replacement. Being a very Drupal-centered development shop at the time, I researched the up and coming Ubercart and Drupal Commerce, both founded by the same guy. They both had the same fatal flaws: a small development team and were tacked onto the CMS. We also looked closely at osCommerce, ZenCart, and other hosted platforms like Volusion, but none of them matched exactly what we were looking for.
It was while researching platforms that I bumped into the vibrant conversation around Magento, which had just come into its first release candidate. Magento began as a project inside a company called Varien, a development shop not unlike ours. They were working with osCommerce, one of the first open-source eCommerce applications and not happy with the architecture and the missing features. Roy Rubin, the CEO of Varien, made the decisive move for his company to build their own eCommerce platform.
Magento - Why It's Our Choice
We tried it out and built our first client site, Glazer’s Camera, on Magento. We adopted it as our main eCommerce platform the following year.This took quite a bit of convincing for the development team as, compared to Drupal or Wordpress, Magento is significantly more complex to theme and extend. However, there were quite a few major benefits it offered our customers:
Magento is an ideal platform for clients wanting to set up a branded store for their company. It includes all of the key features that most online retailers need.
I like segmenting the eCommerce transaction engine from other applications used by a company. In our experience, this has always made a lot of sense as the marketing team may be more interested in CMS capabilities or CRM capabilities. eCommerce will run the gamut of operations from marketing, customer service, accounting, warehousing, fulfillment, and so on.
Magento is really great at one thing: transactions. It has a rudimentary CMS and reporting, but these are not strengths. It’s a great high-volume transaction engine.
Not unlike Wordpress, the admin panel in Magento is logical, simple to use, and consistent. With the intuitive, standard admin interfaces, building a custom business solution - like a custom dashboard - is quick.
Because most of the time the admin panel is the same installation-to-installation (unlike a totally custom CMS), Magento was able to produce quality print and video materials.
There is both a community edition and enterprise edition available, so it can evolve upward as needed. We particularly value the open source edition, as the full code access allows for fairly easy extension to fit most situations.
It is backed by a vibrant company, with an enormous community of developers working on building and growing the platform. There is also an ecosystem of extension developers, including us, who have created specific enhancements to the platform via extensions.
Today 178 of the top 1,000 online retailers in North America use either the free Community edition or Enterprise versions of the Magento platform, according to Internet Retailer’s Top500Guide.com. That makes it the top e-commerce platform provider to the largest e-retailers. More than 250,000 websites operate on the Magento platform, according to research firm BuiltWith, between Enterprise and Community Edition it runs 22% of the top 100,000 eCommerce sites.
Magento - What are the Drawbacks?
Although Magento offered incredible benefits, transitioning took some time. As we said before, Magento is significantly more complex to theme and extend, and there are some aspects that should be considered before diving in.
There’s a Developer Learning Curve
Magento is not a simple platform from a coder’s perspective. It’s wonderful to work in, and is extremely powerful with its API and MVC framework based on Zend. It can be a steep curve for developers who have not worked in an object-oriented language (say they came into web development via HTML/PHP) to get up to speed on the coding approach. There is a Magento U, but for the most part developers without an object-oriented programming background (think Java, Ruby, or C#) have struggled when they see Magento for the first time.
Magento initially took a large investment from PayPal in 2010, and then in 2012 was fully purchased by eBay. They added it to their enterprise merchant division, and hoping it would help the division grow in order to compete with Amazon’s enterprise services. In November of 2015, eBay decided to invest differently and sold the enterprise portfolio to a private equity group. At this point in time it looks like that group intends to grow and expand on the customer base, although the entire management team and key developers have now changed.
In December of 2015, Magento released the long awaited (a five year wait) 2.0 version of Magento. This is a significant upgrade, but it doesn’t provide an easy migration path from the initial version. So existing 1.x store owners are facing a rebuild - and for highly custom stores, that could mean a big development expense.
Security / PCI Compliance
As the largest single eCommerce platform, Magento is a big target. There have been multiple system vulnerabilities discovered, reported and exploited by global hackers. 2015 was not a good year for Magento in terms of security, although they have been quick to patch weak points once the vulnerabilities are discovered. We have been using Web Application Firewalls (WAF’s) from the company Sucuri to help mitigate some of the risks. We have also been working with merchants on PCI compliance issues.
However, even with these issues to consider Magento is still the most popular eCommerce platform for a reason. Just a brief glance at the list of companies currently using Magento or who have built websites with Magento in the past shows how versatile the system is.
Magento - Who Else Is Running On It?
With 250,000 stores on the internet running Magento, it’s highly likely that you have been shopping on Magento several times. A few of ours include:
- Seattle Chocolates
- Glazer’s Camera
- PopCap Games
- Wally Home
- Barefoot Yoga
- Law School Downloads
- Helm Publishing
- Jones of Washington Wines
- Barnard Griffin Wines
In addition, we have been the lead developer working with Amazon Payments to develop the extension that connects Magento and Amazon Payments.
Here are some of the many other retailers on Magento you may recognize:
Fashion Websites Built with Magento
- Athlete’s Foot:
- North Face EU:
- Warby Parker:
- Rebecca Minkoff:
- Harpers Bazzar
- Stella & Dot
- Nicole Miller
- Christian Louboutin
- Agent Provocateur
- Paul Smith
- DC Shoes
Literary Publications Websites Built with Magento
- New York Times
- Los Angeles Times
- The Guardian
- Men’s Health
Sports Related Websites Built with Magento
Food and Beverages Websites Built with Magento
- Sierra Nevada
- Ghirardelli Chocolates
- Fiji Water
- Nestle Nespresso
Tech Accessories Websites Built with Magento
- Olympus Camera
- Rosetta Stone
Other Shopping Experience Websites Built with Magento
- PBS Kids
- Bed, Bath, and Beyond
- Ford Accessories
- Fox Connect
- The Discovery Store
- The Shopping Channel
- Radio Flyer
As an eCommerce system, Magento offers an elegant and dynamic solution to your brand’s particular needs. Its dual Enterprise and Community editions entail that the best coding work possible is happening constantly. The usage statistics speak for themselves, as a transaction platform, Magento is your best bet.
MVC is a Model View Controller Framework which is a standardized model of programming for PHP and other languages as well.
* Model is basically an object, can be thought of as a content type.
* View is how data is displayed.
* Controller determines how it behaves, what can it do, how does it affect other objects.