NEWS: New Magento 2.3.3 Upgrade to Keep Your Store Secure and Optimized

NEWS: New Magento 2.3.3 Upgrade to Keep Your Store Secure and Optimized

Magento has just announced the release of the latest versions of Magento Open Source 2.3.3, 2.2.10 and their new security-only patch (2.3.2-p2). This latest release of Magento Open Source software includes significant performance improvements as well as numerous security enhancements.

Magento Open Source 2.3.3

In accordance with the latest European directives ( PSD2 Compliance Support) Magento has rolled out Open Source 2.3.3, which incorporates changes to the native payment integration and introduces PHP 7.3 support. It is Magento’s recommendation that all users upgrade to ensure that your online store remains compliant and maintains the highest level of security available.

Highlights of Magento Open Source 2.3.3 include:

-Increased security: More than 100 new security fixes are included in this patch

-Increased performance: Faster loading times and better overall shopping experience by displaying text while webfonts load in the background and moving non-critical CSS items to the end of the loading queue.  

-Additionally, Magento has reduced the number of requests going back to the server, which helps increase throughput and decrease resource consumption. With these and other performance enhancements, this new version improves Google PageSpeed Insights score by up to 5 points in some instances.

-Increased quality: Critical areas of the platform such as Sales, Checkout and Catalogue modules received more than 190 product quality enhancements.

Elasticsearch 6.0+ Warning”

Warning when upgrading to Magento v2.3.3: There is a known issue when using Elasticsearch 6.0+ as search engine.
Product listing pages will not display products beyond the first page when utilizing additional pages from pagination. Luckily, there is an official patch released.

The only downfall of this is that product listing pages will no longer display the current page range on the navigation bar, it will only display the total count of the products found, for example, before patch: “Items 1-9 of 13” after patch “13 Items”.

Since Elasticsearch < 6.5 is EOL and MySQL is being deprecated (and will be imminently removed), it is highly recommended to apply this patch is you have short term plan of migrating to Elasticsearch.
This issue affects all Magento releases for v2.3.3: Open Source, Commerce and Cloud.

Additional 2.3.3 Product Enhancements

Yotpo

Magento officially welcomes Yotpo to the Magento core code as a vendor bundled extension. The marketing platform helps brands drive growth by integrating your visual marketing, referrals, customer reviews and loyalty programs. With this pre-installed integration, merchants can reduce development costs and implementation time by seamlessly activating Yotpo’s UGC solutions, instantly start collecting and displaying high-converting customer content, and stay on top of key performance metrics from within the Magento Commerce Admin panel.

Admin User Research

As part of efforts to improve product design and better understand the Admin experience, Magento Open Source now allows for the tracking of user actions and events on the Admin panel. After installation, the first user to sign-in will offered the option to accept or decline participation. Read more about it in the updated User Guide.

Google Shopping Ads Channel

The Google Shopping Ads Channel extension is now officially part of the code. With this integration, merchants will now be able to utilize the benefits of this tool without having to go to the Marketplace and download the extension. Learn how Google Shopping ads Channel delivers the power of Google advertising network in one end-to-end solution.

Security and Performance enhancements

Dotdigital, Amazon Pay, Klarna, Vertex and Magento Shipping all see multiple improvements to their security and performance.

Graph QL 

Improved Graph QL API coverage for PayPal payment integration, Gift Cards and Store Credit functionality. Learn more about Graph QL in our Release Notes.

For more information regarding the new enhancements, please review the official Magento release notes or visit the Magento Security Center.

If this all reads as greek to you, you’d like to discuss implementation of this upgrade, or you’re curious about how to make the most out of our your current Magento site, contact us today. In business for over 20 years, our  certified Magento developers know the platform front-to-back and can help you make the absolute most of your eCommerce site.

Top 10 Digital Advertising Tips to Maximize Q4 Revenue

Top 10 Digital Advertising Tips to Maximize Q4 Revenue

Digital advertising during the 4th quarter can provide some of the most rewarding returns of the whole year, especially for eCommerce companies. With rising conversion rates and increased revenue opportunity, the competition within the digital advertising space also heats up. 

The main portion of the sale season including Black Friday through Cyber Week has become one long sale for many companies. Recent trends have shown that more people are enjoying Thanksgiving again with a decline in Black Friday brick-n-mortar stores, however, they’re more-likely shopping from the couch on a phone. 

Each of the renowned shopping days increased YoY in 2018, with Cyber Monday becoming the biggest revenue eCommerce day in history. Amazon even mentioned, without providing data, that Cyber Monday beat out their Prime Day.

The stakes are rising annually and preparing to earn traffic to your website is just as valuable as converting the visitors.

Winning the 4th quarter takes a complete team effort. Any small competitive advantage over the competition is enhanced during this time of the year. We’ve compiled a list of our Top 10 digital advertising tips for maximizing your revenue in Q4. Let’s get to it!

#1 Synced Holiday-Specific Ad Copy

There are plenty of clicks to be earned simply by having more-relevant ad copy than your competition. At minimum, the Headline 2 and the Description 1 & 2 within Google Ads should echo the messaging of the site. 

For example, during a “Black Friday Starts Now” sale period, your ads should include that in the copy! Matching the messaging that will be placed in site-wide messages and banners will create a seamless transition for searchers.

This is an excellent strategy especially if the advertising budget is smaller than the competition. Focusing on click-through rate (CTR) with hyper-focused and timely ad copy will earn your company more traffic and revenue.

#2 Labels & Automation

Complementing the #1 tip, a labeling system to automate many of the ad copy changes will save the team time. For example, if your marketing team lands on specific days to run messaging for Black Friday Starts Now, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Cyber Week – all of these ads can be built ahead of time and labeled. 

Using labels for each set of ads will make ad copy changes much easier to automate. Rather than ad copy changes at midnight from Black Friday copy to Cyber Monday, use a Google Ads script to do the work for you!

#3 Understand Bid Strategy Weaknesses & Overcome

If your account is taking advantage of some of the machine-learning automation bid strategies, you’ll want to understand how they can be a disadvantage in Q4. Will the AI learn quickly enough to adjust bids with your competition? Processes need to be in-place to adjust campaign bid strategies so that competitors don’t earn your revenue.

#4 Establish Must-Win Campaigns

Some segments of the business contribute more to the bottom line than others. Ensure the digital marketing team understands which categories or products or search terms need to be monitored heavily.

In large accounts, many changes can be made in bulk, however specific attention needs to be spent in a must-win scenario. Account for this extra time when planning out the tasks needed to win Q4.

#5 Evaluate & Increase Bid Mods

Not all traffic is the same and your conversion rates will vary depending on where/who the traffic is coming from. Bid modifiers allow you to pick out the most important visitors and bid on them differently. Conversely, you can bid down on those who have shown a lower propensity to purchase.

Bid modifiers include device, gender, location, time of day, and more. Additionally, you can select specific audiences to place bid modifications on like shoppers who abandon cart, visitors within the last 3 days, or visitors that have spent double the average time on site.

Your competition is preparing for Q4 too, so make sure your most valuable audiences bid mods are increased. Paying attention to the trends can also play a key role here. You can leave a large amount of revenue on the table if your digital team and website aren’t ready for mobile.

Online shopping on mobile devices for the entire five-day period(Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday) showed a significant increase over last year, representing 54.3 percent of site visits (46.6 percent smartphones, 7.7 percent tablets), up 18.9 percent over 2017. Mobile devices collectively accounted for 35.9 percent of revenue, an 18.3 percent year-over-year increase.

Marcia Kaplan

Practical Ecommerce

#6 Countdown Ads

Running countdown ads are a great way to dynamically create urgency for searchers and beat out competitors for clicks. Within Google Ads (and Bing), you’re able to set an end date for ads which fits perfectly into our prior example of the Q4 holiday periods.

The Headline 1 could say “Black Friday Shoe Sale Ends in 8 Hours” or something similar. The countdown ad will dynamically change the ad text from weeks to days to hours to minutes. Imagine someone search for your category at 11:50PM and your ad reads “Black Friday Shoes Sale Ends in 10 Minutes.” That sets an urgent mindset before the user even visits your site, likely increasing conversion rate.

#7 Understand the Enemy

Your competitors have a huge impact on your Q4 earnings, especially when conversion rates are peaking. Monitor your competitor’s strategy and set-up a plan for how your team will react in an emergency scenario.

If your team doesn’t have the advantage of years of experience, you can begin by using existing data. Using last year’s data, start with the Auction Insights tool within Google Ads. At varying levels of depth (search terms, ad groups, campaigns) within the account, you’ll be able to understand how competitors bid up or down during specific times –  assuming your account is structured properly to evaluate and retrieve this good data.

Once you have good notes on the competition, it’s a good idea to divvy out responsibilities to team members for campaigns or search terms to monitor during key days like Black Friday or Cyber Monday.

 

#8 Holiday Extensions

Google and Bing typically offer promotion extensions or holiday-specific extensions.

Extensions are additional information that you’re able to add to a search ad. They’re excellent for communicating specific information that improves your click-through rate and take up more search real estate. Coupon codes can be used as well as specific percentages off of a product or dollar amount.

 

 

#9 Start Late Q3 or Sooner

Account sizes vary greatly, so you’ll want to timeline the tasks out and give yourself ample time to complete the work before Q4 begins. It’s rare that marketing plans aren’t changed on the fly in small-to-medium companies and with the bulk of the work done, it will be easier to adapt to changes.

 

#10 Monitor Progress

The digital marketing team should always be monitoring the business’ progress and how the competition is responding. Eat healthy and take breaks throughout the day on what will likely be late nights for the team.

 

More tactics and tricks can be used depending on the industry data and how your competition executes their plan. Every account is unique! We’ll help tailor a plan to maximize your desires for Q4. Contact us for a free digital advertising audit today!

 

Let Us Help!

We’re passionate about digital advertising and would love the opportunity to help your team dominate Q4! Our years of experience in Google/Bing, search ads, shopping ads, and display will provide a competitive advantage. We also offer free Digital Advertising audits.

Hosting Scalability – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Hosting Scalability – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

These days cloud based elastic scaling is advertised as a standard offering by many eCommerce hosting companies.  The premise behind the offering is that the hosting service will be able to scale out (more servers) or up (more resources – ie. RAM – added to the existing server) to meet high traffic demand and scale back to save money on resources once traffic goes back to normal.  This ensures your site is always stable and fast while minimizing cost of server resources. While elastic scaling may be perceived and marketed as a standard cloud feature, we have found that the mechanics and effectiveness of it can vary vastly from one hosting provider to the next.  In fact, we know of very few truly awesome and seamless elastic scaling solutions for eCommerce.

The Good 

Some hosting services like Webscale can provide truly seamless elastic scaling. Their technology automatically detects surges in traffic and server utilization and delivers additional scaled out resources in real time without any manual intervention or site performance degradation.  Once the demand subsides the resources are automatically scaled back, again with no manual intervention, keeping cloud resource costs at a minimum. And it actually works as advertised delivering great performance and value.

The Bad

Many cloud hosting companies have the ability to scale out/up automatically but scaling back down requires manual work through an admin dashboard or ticketing system.  The issue with having to manually scale back down is that you will spend a lot more on resources, since during peak traffic seasons (ie. holiday) it doesn’t make sense to be manually scaling back resources until the season is over.  So while it’s nice to know you have the assurance of performance and uptime from the ability to autoscale out/up, the cost for resources is much higher during high volume events.

The Ugly

Some cloud hosting companies that advertise elastic scaling are limited to manual scaling out/up and back in a fashion very similar to bare medal where servers can be added to the cluster but only on a planned schedule manually by technicians.  Scaling out/up often times requires planning months in advance to increase the resources for a high traffic season (ie. holidays) and includes signed approvals for increased cost of resources and must be performed in coordination with the hosting company technical team.  There are typically no tools for site administrators to manage resources on their own through a dashboard and if traffic peaks are higher than expected the site can experience slow performance or even worse downtime. Adding resources to immediately address demand (ie. Black Friday peak) is typically not possible since it requires days, if not weeks (depending on how busy the hosting company’s technicians are), to manually add more resources.

Conclusion

If you’re in the market for eCommerce hosting be sure to ask your prospective providers lots of questions about what they are advertising for cloud (elastic) scaling and carefully examine the elastic scaling fine print in the contract.  Also, if you think you are on a service that provides automatic elastic scaling double-check with your provider on the mechanics and details of how it works. You don’t want to wait until a peak traffic event to find out that your servers don’t auto scale the way you thought they would.  To get more details or find out who the “The Ugly” providers are mentioned above (off the record of course:) please contact us.

 

Do I Need to Load Test?

Do I Need to Load Test?

It’s that time of year again, the holidays are soon approaching and you – the online merchant – are preparing promotions and marketing for the unofficial kick off to the Holiday Season – Black Friday Week. One of the concerns you likely have leading up to the holidays is how your site will perform when handling large volumes of traffic. Will your site experience slow load performance or downtime on Black Friday or during the week of Cyber Monday?  This is indeed a valid concern since slow performance, or even worse yet, site down time, can be very costly, both literally in terms of lost sales and, as importantly, from an overall brand perspective. Many times users abandon their shopping activities on sites that are running slow or timing out.  As well, performance issues or site downtime cause major damage to brand reputation as many users never return to sites that have failed during their shopping experience – and may tell their friends about the poor experience.

While you may have prepared your site for traffic peaks with auto scaling and other enhancements, there is no way to tell how much traffic and order volume your site can take without performance load testing.

Website performance load testing is a process that utilizes technology tools (bots) to simulate traffic, usage and orders on your site so you can measure the performance page speed and response of your site under different volumes of traffic.  Performance testing should be setup and performed on a site-by-site basis because every website has different usage patterns and behavior. So the first step in successful load testing is to review Google Analytics data and see how users are engaging with the site to make a purchase.  Then the load testing bots can be programmed to simulate the site usage of the actual site users. Once all the simulations have been created, the testing bot is sent to browse a replica of the production site like an actual user, browsing products, adding items to the cart, applying coupons, using the wishlist and checking out, etc.  (A replica site is used because you wouldn’t want to sack your production site with thousands of fake transactions.) The bot is set to mimic as many usage patterns as needed and programmed to maintain certain levels of activity that replicate different volumes of user traffic.

When we run load tests for our clients, we are able to measure the site page speed and errors at various simulated levels of traffic and ultimately ascertain the level of traffic a site can serve before breaking down. After successfully load testing a site we are able to – with a high degree of confidence – tell exactly how much traffic a website can safely serve at any given time.

That’s all well and good you might say, but is it really worth the investment?  For sites expecting high traffic volume promotions or for sites with deals that go viral on social media, we absolutely see the payoff.  Knowing how much traffic your site can handle before performance starts to degrade is critical for promotion planning. If you know the peak number of shoppers per hour your site can handle without performance degradation then you can be very strategic about how you schedule email promotions and social announcements so that you avoid pushing to many users to the site with a marketing blast.  For example, we’ve had merchant clients go through the performance testing process and develop an understanding of their safety threshold for max traffic. This allows them to change their marketing strategy to promote discounts and sales days ahead of time, or days after Black Friday, to reduce the risk of getting too much traffic at one time.

While load testing does require some investment in time and money it can prove a very wise method for maximizing revenue by avoiding performance related issues that negatively affect conversion and site reputation.  For more information on how we can help you determine your peak traffic threshold, optimize performance and help you better prepare for the biggest retail time of the year, please contact us.

 

Best Magento 2 Site Search Modules

Best Magento 2 Site Search Modules

The Search module for your eCommerce site can be a powerful tool that can significantly contribute to  your long-term success. The Search module has a unique ability to directly connect customers with their desired product while also giving you the information needed to improve multiple aspects of your business.

In this week’s blog we’re going to be discussing the best Magento 2 Site Search modules and how they can impact your eCommerce business.

(To learn more about how your Magento search function can help to go even further towards improve your SEO and inventory management, don’t miss last week’s blog, “4 Ways to Improve Your SEO with Magento’s Search Terms Report”.)

Elasticsearch

Elasticsearch is native to Magento 2 and it is used on such high-volume sites as eBay, Wikipedia, and GitHub. All big names, but none of these sites are eCommerce sites. Elasticsearch requires a the use of a number of additional extensions to expand its capabilities and make it truly useful  for smaller businesses.

Another major downside to relying on Elasticsearch for your site’s search functionality is that the module is server intensive, so you need to be on a dedicated server or have upgraded to a cloud hosting platform. Because of these server constraints we do not recommend Elasticsearch for merchants whose sites are doing less than $3 million in total revenue, see less than 150,000 visitors per month or feature less than 10,000 SKUs. If your site  meet any of these criteria then we recommend using a 3rd party search engine because of the additional features they offer as well as the server assistance they provide, as any 3rd party search provider is going to handle all of the search activity on their servers, leaving yours to be dedicated to page itself.

Klevu

Klevu is an easy to implement, low maintenance on-site search tool that is incorporates machine learning to accomplish a lot of the optimization and maintenance that is normally done manually on Elasticsearch.

Klevu’s machine learning abilities develops an ongoing understanding of how your customers are engaging with the search features, expanding its knowledge as it accumulates more information. The result of this process  optimizes search results to get customers’ better search results.. The autocomplete feature offers helpful suggestions and creates a more convenient and pleasant shopping experience for your customers. This all leads to more sales which benefits of your business.

Klevu is extremely scalable and prices start at just $499 per month. The platform offers a great, self managed dashboard that is easy to understand and navigate. While the lower tiered Klevu offerings do not come with a dedicated account manager or onboarding technician, there are more Enterprise-level plans that come with a dedicated account manager and technical support if that is something that you and your company desire.

Nextopia

Magento is known for its customizable abilities and Nextopia’s site search module was created in that same vein. Nextopia was built to cater to the unique needs of B2B merchants, and is a fully customizable search solution designed to be coded to match the HTML of your eCommerce site.

In addition to the B2B focus and superior customization capabilities, Nextopia offers exceptional North American customer support (based in Canada) with a dedicated account manager, no matter what level of customer you are. Nextopia’s support extends beyond the initial set-up and launch of your search module, throughout the life of your contract. This includes monthly status meetings designed to recap your search results and teach first-time users how to better understand the search reports and integrate them into an eCommerce strategy. After Nextopia clients feel comfortable with the module, these monthly recaps change to quarterly status meetings and can be booked as needed.

Conclusion

While there are other 3rd party site search options available for Magento, we recommend ElasticSearch to someone that’s on a dedicated server or higher level hosting that can support that service, and has a team capable of ongoing management. Klevu is our favorite ‘plug and play’ option with awesome capabilities, while Nextopia is very scalable for B2B businesses or sites with more complex catalogs, such as automotive sites with vehicle fitment data. Many other site search options have a more expensive, more drawn out on-boarding process that we find to be overkill.

We could talk about Magneto extensions all day. If you have questions about what Search Module is right for you, need assistance with Magneto 1’s upcoming end-of-life or anything else eCommerce related, call us at to speak with team member today. Or, submit your request via our Contact page and we’ll get in touch with you ASAP.

 

4 Ways to Improve Your SEO with Magento’s Search Terms Report

4 Ways to Improve Your SEO with Magento’s Search Terms Report

Are you ignoring that little Search bar at the top of your eCommerce page? Because you shouldn’t be. That little application is too powerful to ignore and can do more than just show visitors what’s in your inventory. It can save you money, improve your search ranking and increase your sales – all while making your customers’ shopping experience easier and more convenient. In this blog we’ll cover the four ways to improve your SEO using Magento’s Search Terms report.

What Customers Want

The Magento Search Term Report is a list of search terms and how often they have been used on your site.  The search terms come from when your site visitors directly type keyword phrases in the search box for products on your site. The Magento Search Term Report is thus a very effective and accurate tool when it comes to understanding what customers want from your business and what they likely will search for on the public search engines like Google. The most popular and frequent terms on your search report can become the backbone of your SEO strategy. By building an SEO strategy around the most frequently used terms on your Search Term Report, you can be assured that you’re not wasting resources on keywords aren’t relevant to your business.  Paying attention to the Search Terms Report is also an opportunity to adjust your offerings and inventory. If visitors are continually searching your website for a product or service you do not offer, perhaps it’s time to add it to your product catalog.

Zero Results

If there is a disconnect between ‘what you think your customers want from your business’ and ‘what your customers actually want from your business’ the Search Terms Report will shine a light on it. Compare the results for your Search Terms Report with your SEO keywords. If you’re including keywords in your SEO that no one is searching for on your site, this gives you the opportunity to adjust your keyword strategy and perhaps even your inventory.

Synonyms

A simple but effective way to improve your catalogue search is to include alternate terms that a customer may use to describe an item in your inventory. You don’t want to lose out on the sale of a ‘dish’ when your item is listed as a ‘plate’. The Search Terms Report will show you any synonyms that customers may be using to search your site for products. This wider range of terms provided by the Search Terms Report will allow you to direct a much broader range of terms to the same landing page. Meaning that your ‘plate’ product page will show up in searches for ‘bowl’, ‘dish’, ‘cup’, ‘platter’ and more.

Misspellings

To err is human and checking the spelling of any Search inquiries will more than confirm that statement. But misspellings can also be used to improve your SEO. Using your Search Terms Report you can easily capture common misspellings that visitors are typing into your Search and use them to redirect visitors to the appropriate page. For example, if you sell silverware and you see that many visitors to your site are misspelling the word ‘knives’ and are instead searching for ‘knifes’ or ‘nives’ you can include theses misspelled terms in your list of synonyms for ‘knives’. This will allow for visitors using misspelled searches to be directed towards the pages and products they were initially searching for.  Better yet, we recommend using a search technology like Elastic Search that automatically factors in most of the common misspellings. But even with a search technology like Elastic Search that auto corrects for typos, it’s a good idea to check for misspellings.

To learn more about how to maximize the knowledge and business that be cultivated through the Magento Search Terms report, reach out to one of our certified Magento developers at 513-469-7042 or fill out our contact page and a team member will be in touch with you shortly.

NEWS: EU Regulation Impacts Magento Payment Extensions Beginning 9/14/2019

NEWS: EU Regulation Impacts Magento Payment Extensions Beginning 9/14/2019

Regulatory Technical Standards (RTS) for the European Union’s Payment Services Directive (PSD2) are scheduled to go into effect on September 14th, 2019.

If you are using Paypal, Braintree, Authorize.net, Cyberforce or eWay there are updates that must be made prior to September 14th to ensure that the launch of PSD2 does not result in your customer payments being declined.

The European Union’s revised Payment Services Directive (PSD), also known as PSD2, contains RTS requirements, some that will begin to go into effect as early as September 14th, 2019. This new directive will have a significant compliance impact on most payment processing services when bank transfers and credit cards are being used in sales transactions with  customers in the EU.

Compliance with PSD2 is mandatory and the responsibility of any Merchant to whom the directive applies. It is the recommendation of InteractOne as well as Magento, that all Merchants review and understand this new directive. More specifically; Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) requirements and updates for 3D Secure 2.0 (3DS).  

To learn more and to speak with one of our certified Magento specialists, please call us at  (513) 469-7042 or fill out our Contact page and a team member will be in touch with you shortly. 

InteractOne Selected as an Exclusive Alexa Integration Partner

InteractOne Selected as an Exclusive Alexa Integration Partner

We are proud to announce that InteractOne has been selected by Amazon as a partner for their new Alexa/Magento integration.

Amazon is now working with Magento merchants to integrate voice into their eCommerce platform’s capabilities. This new integration will allow for Magento merchants to offer their customers a more personalized and streamlined experience the moment they start their Amazon/Alexa shopping journey, including re-orders, wish lists and delivery notifications.

“This is a great opportunity for us,’ said Brian Dwyer, InteractOne Founder and CEO. ‘We’re thrilled that Amazon has the faith in our team of developers to choose InteractOne as an integration partner for this new and exciting Alexa endeavor.”

The InteractOne team has begun working with Magento clients on beta testing for this innovative integration. If you are interested in learning more or being a part of this great opportunity, then contact us on our website, or call us at (513) 469-3355 to speak with a team member directly.

Shipping and Fulfillment That Attracts More Customers: What You Should Know

Shipping and Fulfillment That Attracts More Customers: What You Should Know

Given the advances of Amazon Prime over the past few years, merchants have been forced to innovate and become more competitive in the shipping and fulfillment arena.  Online shoppers now expect low cost or free shipping delivery options within 2 days as well as very short lead times for buying online and picking up in store (BOPIS).  Fortunately, Magento provides many great tools and capabilities to help merchants deliver what customers expect. When leveraged appropriately merchants using Magento are now able to provide delivery and pickup options that better compete with leading market places such as Amazon and Walmart.

Magento Order Management

The first piece of being able to provide competitive shipping, delivery and pickup options is for the website to have immediate access to product inventory stock and location information. Launched at the beginning of 2019 Magento Order Management makes it possible to orchestrate demand and supply across multiple sales channels and sources of inventory. Merchants are able to:

  • Turn stores into mini-distribution centers
  • Create and expose a single view of orders and inventory across channels
  • Provide customers with flexible omni channel fulfillment options
  • Handle complex order & fulfillment needs such as back-orders and BOPIS.
  • Intelligently automate sourcing across channels

Providing customers with low cost shipping delivery options and BOPIS requires a robust integration between backend fulfillment systems and the website.  The Magento Order Management product integrates to backend systems and adds a layer of logic below the website that allows Magento to track inventory across the entire warehouse and store network.  By knowing where all product inventories are located Magento is able to offer customers shipping, delivery or pickup options from the closest warehouse or store. This lowers the cost of delivery and BOPIS turn around time, resulting in higher customer satisfaction and options that are competitive with Amazon.

Front-end Logic

In addition to tightly tracking inventory location, a robust delivery and BOPIS strategy also requires complex front-end logic.  Many factors such as store hours, lowest cost carrier, package dimensions, hazmat restrictions, product customization lead time, perishable product specifications and international regulations must be factored in when providing shipping options to customers at checkout.

That logic can either be powered by a 3rd party plugin and/or custom developed on Magento.  Two very popular 3rd party plugins that connect to Magento via API are ShipperHQ and Termando (also known as “Magento Shipping”).  These tools allow site administrators to configure rate quotes based on many factors such as:

  • Product and cart weight 
  • Product and cart price
  • Product dimensions
  • Product groups
  • Package dimensions
  • Customer group
  • Shipping zones
  • Location (warehouse and shipping)
  • Freight
  • Major carriers  (Fedex, UPS, USPS and DHL)

Rates can further be filtered via restriction, surcharges, discount and renaming rules to provide customers with highly competitive delivery and pickup options.

If a 3rd party tool does not provide all of the features required, additional customization can be performed.  For instance, a merchant may want to compare rates from the major carriers and pick the lowest cost options for ground, overnight and 2nd day delivery while providing those options to the customer with a discount depending on the total value of the cart or the customer’s life-time value.  For this type of need a custom module can be developed for Magento that works in conjunction with native features or 3rd party plugins. Being flexible enough to accommodate this type of high value customization is one of the things that makes Magento so great.

Conclusions

By leveraging Magento’s great order management and stock tracking technology plus 3rd party tools and customization, merchants are now able to be more competitive with fulfillment giants like Amazon and Walmart.  Smaller merchants might not be able to offer the exact same level of shipping value as the big marketplaces, however by improving their shipping options and relying on other strengths that large marketplaces do not have (ie. brand and customer service) we believe smaller merchants  can win back and gain online market share.

Avoiding Technical Debt on Magento

Avoiding Technical Debt on Magento

According to wikipedia “technical debt (also known as design debt or code debt) is a concept in software development that reflects the implied cost of additional rework caused by choosing an easy (limited) solution now instead of using a better approach that would take longer.”

Many of the merchants we’ve engaged in project discovery discussions in preparation for migrating to Magento 2 have been faced with serious technical debt from Magento 1.  The story usually goes something like this…”we have a lot of Magento 1 extensions and customizations that have built up over time…so much that we don’t actually know what extensions are even still needed…and now every time we need to upgrade, or patch Magento 1 it takes a long time, because stuff breaks and out of date extensions and customizations have to be upgraded or fixed”. 

It’s not uncommon for these merchants to have annual technical debt costs that are 25-50% (or more) of the initial site build.  Over the span of a few years this debt becomes a serious factor in the total cost of ownership and makes Magento a not so economical solution.

So how can merchants now migrating to Magento 2 avoid building all the technical debt that we see with Magento 1?  Below are a few guidelines for steering clear of technical debt on Magento 2.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

The big idea here is to start with the “must haves”, those extensions or customizations that are absolutely necessary in addition to the base Magento product.  We recommend merchants build a new site with the bare necessities and launch that first. Once the site is live we recommend closely monitoring user engagement with tools like Google Analytics, Hotjar (session recording) and techniques like A/B testing.  Following that process makes it possible to then hone in on feature improvements that are truly needed and sure to provide a return on investment.. 

We’ve seen a lot of extensions installed to Magento 1 because the merchant was trying to copy the user experience of mega brand ecommerce sites.  While it would be nice to have a site with all the features of rei.com, target.com, walmart.com and amazon.com combined, it often is not practical and all those add-on features (extensions) lead to very little or no improvement of site usability and conversion.  Mid-sized merchants are much better off with a minimalist approach (MVP) to add-on features so they can focus their efforts and budgets on better marketing, product catalog content and merchandising.

Template Edits Instead of Installing Extensions

Let’s say a merchant wants to fully expand the filtered navigation (shop by functionality) in Magento 2.  There are several extensions or 3rd party themes out there that could be installed to achieve this design.  However, some simple CSS edits could also be made to the template to achieve the same design. Those CSS edits will be much lower cost to maintain over time and might not need to be updated for 5 or more years.

So for front-end customization, it’s always good to consult with a developer first before using an extension.  The customization might be much more efficiently achieved by simply editing the Magento template files.

 

Don’t Use 3rd Party Theme Template Extensions

While it may be tempting to purchase a theme template extension for your Magento front-end user interface (ie. from Theme Forest), using a theme template can lead to a large amount of technical debt.

These templates are extensive in that they assume complete control of the front-end. They are usually a compilation of 20 to 30 3rd party extensions, plus customization.  Most, if not all, of the code for these extensions is developed by low cost developers and can have some or all of the following issues:

  • Code bloat (loading lots of unnecessary javascript libraries etc…)
  • Doesn’t follow best practices
  • Slows performance speed
  • Javascript conflicts
  • Doesn’t work correctly with Magento or with Varnish cache
  • Disables native Magento features (ie. widgets, click for price, content staging, etc. 

Even though theme extensions seem to contain a lot of value for all the options and features they provide, their technical debt almost always outweighs their advantages. In our experience it is much better to take a less invasive approach to front end theming. This can be accomplished by only making CSS edits and leveraging a minimal amount of customizations and extensions to achieve the right look ,feel and required features.

Purchase Extensions from the Same Company

When possible it’s a good idea to purchase extensions from the same company.  This typically ensures compatibility between all of the extensions that you purchase.  Some of the larger extension providers like Aheadworks have many quality extensions for Magento that are usually compatible with one another.  So if for example, you are looking for a more robust search solution, a homepage hero banner slider, a blog and advanced add to cart, you could buy several of their extensions and avoid compatibility issues that might otherwise exist if you were to purchase all of these extensions from separate companies.

 

Vet Before you Install

    Here at InteractOne we have our senior developers review the architecture and code of extensions before we approve them for install.  It’s easy for a good Magento developer to spot a shody Magento extension by checking its architecture and code. We’ve saved our clients from many low quality extensions through this practice.  If the extension is low quality we send it back to the provider for a refund.

    Housekeeping

    Scheduled, periodic review and cleanup of a Magento site is a best practice that can save a site from becoming bloated or unstable as it matures.  It’s a good idea to review all the extensions in use on a Magento site on an annual or bi-annual basis to ensure old unused or unstable extensions and customizations are being cleaned up, fixed or removed.

    It’s also important to stay up to date with the upgrade releases from Magento and extension providers.  While it’s not necessary to always be on the latest minor release we do recommend never getting more than 2-3 minor releases behind.  Staying up to date ensures security is maintained and extensions are not getting unstable as browser and mobile technology is always advancing.

    Letting a Magento site get a few years behind in releases can end up requiring two to three times the normal effort to upgrade as old upgrade paths are not always well supported by extension providers. Additionally, the launch of a really big upgrade jump can be nearly as complex as a new site golive since there are so many major changes to factor and test for.

    While this list of recommendations for avoiding technical debt with Magento is not all-inclusive it does cover the key points that should help you keep your Magento 2 site running fast, stable and secure for years to come.


    If you’d like to discuss the status of your site or you are ready to migrate to Magento 2, we would be happy to schedule a no-obligation initial consultation. Drop us a note.