Magento 2.3: What to Expect and When

Magento 2.3: What to Expect and When

Magento 2.3

While this year’s Magento Imagine Conference happened months ago, the buzz surrounding the release of Magento 2.3 has only gotten stronger since. Magento initially introduced version 2.3 at Imagine back in April, where it was promised to come “by the end of the year.”

So, when will the update finally hit? Magento has been mum on giving an exact release date, but we still expect it to come by the end of 2018, especially since it’s been over a year since the last major Magento release (2.2).

Magento 2.3 is anticipated to make an even bigger splash than 2.2, which focused mostly on smaller bug fixes and refinements. 2.3 promises an exciting mix of new core features paired with smaller optimizations and back-end efficiencies.

These are the expected features we’re most excited to see from Magento 2.3.

Progressive Web Application Studio

Progressive Web Applications (PWA’s) utilize the latest technology to combine the best of web and mobile applications. PWA’s essentially load like any other webpage but offer the user the functionality to work offline, receive push notifications, and much more.

Magento 2.3 is expected to capitalize on the many benefits of PWA’s by releasing a ‘studio’ which will contain the tools developers need in order to design their own PWA in Magento’s front-end. Additionally, the Magento PWA Studio will have a demo site feature that will make testing its features much easier for developers. Read more about Magento’s PWA Studio here.

Page Builder (GraphQL)

GraphQL is a query language for API’s, as well as a server-side runtime for executing queries by using a type system defined by a user’s data. Magento 2.3 will introduce the new GraphQL API language, which will make data retrieval possible for PWA’s. By optimizing these queries, developers will see a much speedier front-end experience with Magento 2.3.

Currently, Magento supports only REST and SOAP API requests. In order to also offer support for GraphQL, Magento 2.3 will include an all-new layer that interfaces directly to the query API and could provide even greater functionality in the future by supporting mutations to checkout and payment processes. These mutations would impact storefronts through checkout, order, and my account functionality.

Multi-Source Inventory

The Magento community is helping bring the much-requested Multi-Source Inventory (MSI) functionality to Magento 2.3. This new core feature will allow merchants to natively manage their inventory and tap into separate warehouses for order fulfillment.

Additionally, Magento’s MSI system will feature a reservation system for inventory that will replace the direct decrementing of stock. This will virtually eliminate re-indexing and performance issues during peak order times.

Declarative Database Schema

Currently, altering the schema of a Magento database is done by writing code with InstallSchema and UpgradeSchema. With Magento 2.3, developers will be able to make this change by using a declarative database schema. This will allow developers to define database structures and changes in XML, making it possible to roll back a module or functionality to an earlier version.

Two-Factor Authentication and Google reCAPTCHA

In an effort to enhance the security of the platform, Magento 2.3 will implement two-factor authentication. This will require users to verify their credentials to sign in by sending a security code to their phone or email. Although two-factor authentication is already used by many companies, the feature is surely a welcome extra layer of security for members of the Magento community.

Magento 2.3 will also implement Google reCAPTCHA, a security service that protects websites against spam and harmful bots. In addition to the new two-factor authentication system, reCAPTCHA will help ensure that Magento 2.3 is the most secure version of the platform to date.

Additional Features

In addition to the impactful new core features already mentioned, Magento 2.3 will include many more key refinements and optimizations:

  • Instant Purchase
  • Cache Management ACL
  • Import/Export improvements
  • Package Versioning
  • WYSIWYG Update
  • Message queue moved to Open Source
  • Elasticsearch Updates
  • Upgrade Patches
  • Asynchronous Web API
  • PHP 7.2 Support

Magento 2.3 promises to bring significant changes to the platform that will greatly improve the experience for developers. Although a specific release date has yet to be announced, expect it to arrive before the end of the year. Click here for more information on the update.

InteractOne can help with your Magento site build or upgrade. Contact us for help with getting your site updated. Or, call us to talk with a Magento expert at 513-469-3345.

Our Thoughts on the Evolution of Magento 2

Our Thoughts on the Evolution of Magento 2

It’s no secret that feelings about Magento 2 range from utter delight to hair-pulling frustration. It can be downright confusing. Should you upgrade? Should you get off Magento?

While the answers to those questions are always on a case to case basis, we thought we would share our perspective on the topic.

The first point to make is: each platform has its own issues. While Magento is a powerful platform, it is NOT for every business. Smaller merchants may not be able to take advantage of many of the customizations available and may be frustrated with the investments required to keep their site upgraded and patched. But for merchants with sufficient sales to support the upgrading requirements, there are still many advantages to Magento 2, like the size of the community, the amount of extensions available, and the number of developers.

Complaint #1: The Investment Can Be Substantial

We won’t deny this. What we will say is the cost of building a Magento store can vary greatly depending on what your business requires, who you hire, and the desired results. Designing, building and configuring a Magento website requires time and advanced PHP development knowledge. Don’t believe someone that says they can get it up in a week. It won’t happen. And firms like ours who choose to staff certified developers and solutions strategists will charge more than some guy in his garage who kinda knows PHP.

It’s also worth noting that although it may be costly, if your eCommerce store is on Magento 1 you will need to consider that it will not be around forever. Its end-of-life may not be set in stone, but it will happen eventually. Don’t get caught off guard; even if you aren’t ready to move to M2  now, consider it as an investment in your future eCommerce store.

Complaint #2: The Stability is Questionable

At first, M2 did have some hiccups. But, M2 was released almost 3 years ago (November 2015) and since then much of the technology has been stabilized and continues to get better every day.

Magento addressed these stability concerns at the beginning of the launch and stated that they were “going to continue investing in addressing issues in what is already out there, with a lower priority on new features.”

M2 is continually being updated, actively developed, and improved upon. The bugs have been worked out, the platform has matured, and the question of stability has since been put to rest.

Complaint #3: It Doesn’t Seem Any Different

M1 and M2, although maybe not at first glance, are significantly different. For one, M2 is faster. Faster site speed encourages more sales and encourages better search engine optimization. Full-page caching built into the platform means pages load a lot faster, 1-2 seconds compared to the 5-10 seconds for non-caching pages. M2 can also handle a large product catalog with many multi-variant options per product (ie. apparel like scrubs with 7 size and 30 color options per product) without slowing down which makes it scalable for large stores looking to grow in eCommerce.

Another added bonus is the new, streamlined checkout process in M2. It’s sleeker and highly customizable which eliminates steps and reduces rates of abandoned carts.

Those are just two of the many advantages M2 brings to the table. If you want to learn more, we have an entire blog dedicated to the differences here.

Our Final Thoughts

Here at InteractOne, we believe in transparency. We aren’t going to sugarcoat M2 or tell you that any and all circumstances require Magento. The reality is that Magento isn’t for everyone. If you’re unsure, give us a call today and we can help you decide. It’s that simple.

Magento 1 End of Life: When is it? What Does it Mean?

Magento 1 End of Life: When is it? What Does it Mean?

Update September 2018: Magento has announced that support will continue for both Open Souce and Commerce 1 through June 2020. Although the EOL was initially speculated to be at the year’s end, Magento extended the date to ensure their customers have enough time and confidence to upgrade when they feel the need to. Note: Magento software support only applies to Magento software and not any third-party extensions or customizations.

At first, the only emotions surrounding the arrival of Magento 2 were excitement, interest, and curiosity. An upgraded version that promised enhanced performance and scalability was all anyone could talk about.

After that initial enthusiasm wore off, people began to wonder: “What will happen to Magento 1?” The question about Magento 1 end of life is not so much a question of if, but of when. As many can acknowledge, the birth of a newer, more enhanced platform ultimately leads to the retirement of its former edition.

In our search for the answer to this popular question, we first need to define what Magento 1 end of life truly entails.

What Happens After EOL?

Don’t worry Magento Community Edition 1.x will continue to work even after its end of life date. M1 eCommerce stores will continue to function as they do now and businesses don’t need to worry about Magento 1 disappearing altogether.

*This may not be the case for the paid commerce edition since there may be contractual regulations restricting the use of the M1 commerce edition post EOL.

But, it does mean that Magento will not release any more security patches or updates for Magento 1.x once EOL occurs. Essentially, there will no longer be support for the platform and merchants should consider migrating to M2 when this happens.

So when will this occur? Speculations began popping up after a specific Magento Conference in April 2017.

The Start of Speculation: Meet Magento Conference in Prague

On April 27th, 2017, at the Meet Magento Conference in Prague, a screenshot surfaced showing a presentation slide that read: “Magento 1 End of Life: 17 November 2018.”

Articles began popping up left and right, all claiming that this was the official EOL date. Social media was buzzing with chatter about Magento 1 and many businesses feared that they would soon be kicked off the platform they needed to stay in business.

Magento 1 End of life screenshot

Soon enough, even more articles were emerging with a different EOL date: November 18th, 2018, just one day after the “original” EOL date was stated in Prague the month prior.

Much of this theory was backed by information given out prior to Magento 2’s release. Magento executives circulated the idea that Magento 1 would reach its end of life three years after the release of Magento 2. Magento 2 was released on November 17, 2015, which meant Magento 1’s end of life would be November 18, 2018.

People began to support their theories by citing the presentation screenshot from Prague as well as a screenshot of a twitter conversation between two Magento employees:

Magento 1 end of life twitter conversation

It seemed to be decided: 11/18/2018 was its EOL.  

And then Magento spoke up.

When is the “Real” End of Life for Magento 1?

Our honest answer: we aren’t sure.

We aren’t sure because, as of right now, no one is sure. After speculations began circling, Magento addressed the issue head-on in a blog post published on May 30th, 2017. Magento stated: “Magento 1 has been and will continue to be supported for the foreseeable future.” They also promised to give “a minimum 18-month notice” before making any changes to their support levels. The full post can be seen below.

As for now, we will be waiting for an OFFICIAL end of life date for Magento 1 just like the rest of the Magento community. And when it is announced, we will be here to help any businesses that need assistance migrating to the Magento 2.

Contact us if you want to get the ball rolling today or if you have any questions about the transition. We have the experience you need to get your Magento 2 site up and running.

6 Things Merchants Need to Know About Re-Platforming in eCommerce

6 Things Merchants Need to Know About Re-Platforming in eCommerce

re-platforming in eCommerce

There are many reasons why merchants consider re-platforming. Perhaps the business has outgrown the current platform. Maybe it’s a struggle to keep up with the platform financially. Alternatively, the platform is cumbersome to manage from the admin. Regardless of the scenario, making a switch isn’t an easy decision.

Put simply, re-platforming describes the process of moving a website, the online product catalog, shopping cart, and payment system from one eCommerce platform to another. We say simple, but in reality, the process can be complicated.

The word “re-platform” tends to generate very different reactions from eCommerce merchants. Some merchants shutter because of the complexities, budget, and potential problems of the entire process. Other merchants are excited about the opportunity of leveraging a new platform to fuel growth. Whether it’s an exciting opportunity or a necessary evil, when re-platforming in eCommerce, preparation is vital.

Here are six tips merchants need to know about re-platforming in eCommerce.

1. The Strategy Should Guide Your Process

In the early stages of re-platforming, doing preliminary legwork and planning is critical. It’s important to not only think of the here and now issues, but also goals and needs for the future of the website and business.  Consider why the re-platform needs to happen.

Is the product catalog or sales volume outgrowing the current platform?
Is there a need for more flexibility or security?
Is there a need for more out of the box features and functionality?
Does the current platform not have all the tools needed to best serve mobile customers?

Plan out what needs to be accomplished from doing the transition. Rather than going for a catch-all solution, choose a platform that best meets the end goal. For example, a website design refresh will require a very different process than a complete migration to an entirely new system. A failing legacy system may call for a condensed timeline, while a full expansion may require more strategic forethought.

An actual re-platform project will generally involve complexity, time, and monetary resources. Only a carefully crafted migration plan will ensure the project is completed on time and budget. In the early stages of re-platforming, doing preliminary legwork and planning is critical. It’s important to not only think of the here and now issues, but also goals and needs for the future of the website and business. Consider why the re-platform needs to happen. 

2. The Potential Advantages Are Transformational

Given the complexities involved, many merchants are hesitant to go through with a migration. They recognize the time and budget it takes for success, and look to maximize the legacy system for as long as possible. In reality, it’s important to recognize just how transformational the advantages of a new system can be. A platform suited to the current and future eCommerce needs can quite literally transform a business. The right eCommerce platform will integrate well with marketing efforts, better serve customers, and will increase the efficiency of the team running it and ultimately fuel growth.

The complexity of the process is not always apparent at the beginning of a migration project. Experience, planning, and research will help avoid surprises as much as possible. However, when executed successfully, re-platforming will make the process well worth the effort. If the upside is a positive transformation of current business operations, then pushing through even the most difficult stages will become more palatable.

3. The Disadvantages Can Be Significant

Despite all of the advantages listed with re-platforming, it’s important to balance those with potential drawbacks. Preparedness is especially true if the project goes wrong. When a migration effort goes south, merchants could lose significant revenue, audience trust, and efficiency. Being realistic about possible disadvantages can help to prevent issues and setbacks from happening.

An article from Forbes.com outlines some of the most common re-platforming risks, along with valuable suggestions on how to prepare for and overcome them. 

Detailed below are several common re-platforming risks

Delays and Budget Overruns can kill a project if not careful. Fortunately, careful planning, regular benchmark reports that measure progress and current budget spend can help to avoid this issue.

Incomplete Product Features occur either due to overpromise on behalf of the developer or partner, or a tight timeline that pushes previously in-scope implementations out of scope. Merchants can overcome this risk by carefully vetting individual partners and agencies, while strictly focusing on the minimum viable product (MVP) for phase 1 of development.

Indecision can become fatal if it begins to impede project timelines. A previously streamlined process can get out of whack quick if a lack of decisions halts progress. Assigning defined decision makers within the implementation team and determining communication/decision standards ahead of time can help.

Perfectionism is a valuable business trait. However, taken to the extreme, it can become dangerous. The goal of the initial re-platforming project should be improving the current situation, not getting everything right the first time. Avoid this risk by keeping a list of desired features for the future, and setting expectations on what the first new iteration will provide, again focusing on MVP.

Knowledge Gaps tend to manifest themselves between a legacy platform and the new platform, primarily if the new platform depends on the organizational buy-in. Manage them by training staff on the new platform, and keeping a representative from each affected area of the business involved in the implementation.

4. The Timeline Tends to be Extensive

A complete re-platforming of an eCommerce website will take time. Part of that is evident from the points discussed above; the planning itself should be done carefully, instead of rushed or ignored.

Comprised of six phases, a complete migration or re-platform project will include:

  1. Planning and Strategy
  2. Data Migration
  3. Platform Integrations
  4. User Design and Experience
  5. Launch
  6. Post-Launch Evaluation

These phases are not always linear.  Data migration can occur even as a development team begins to work on the user-facing design of the new platform. Still, each of these steps comes with time commitments that are important to bear in mind.

At the very least, that process can take a few months. In many cases, the entire project (including pre-project planning and post-launch evaluation) can take much longer.  Either way, never go into a project without at least some realistic idea of the timeline required for successful completion.

5. The Budget Can Make or Break the Re-Platforming

Like time constraints, budget tends to be among the most critical variables in the process. Simply put, not being careful could mean exploding the project or seeing it fail to come to fruition. At best, the project goes over budget. At worst, the entire business is at risk of survival.

Consider the case of the U.S. Air Force, which spent more than $1 billion on moving to a new ERP platform before scrapping it because of a lack of progress. This case study has become a cautionary tale for any merchants looking to engage in a similar process, even on a smaller scale.

That doesn’t mean every project is doomed to fail. It does, however, suggest that merchants need to be both careful and strategic in the budgeting process. In the earliest planning stage, determine how much is willing to be spent while still getting a positive return on investment for the migration. Then, stick to that number as an upper limit, even in the face of anything bar exceptional circumstances.

That means evaluating all options according to their price and opportunity cost. Don’t forget that it’s possible to experience some downtime and lost revenue. In the initial budget evaluation, include hidden or continual costs that may incur after the initial migration. The more planning done early, the less likely it will be to break the set budget.

6. The Right Partner Can Make All the Difference

Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of a reliable development partner that can guide the team through the re-platforming process. The platform options will be immense; in addition to individual platforms, merchants will have the choice to go with cloud-based SaaS or on-premise hosted solutions. Each comes with challenges and benefits, all worthy of consideration based on the situation.

The complexity of the project calls for a development partner. Almost by definition, most merchants don’t go through the process of migrating to a new eCommerce platform frequently. As such, recognize the value in a partner with the experience in the individual steps involved and required, along with the best practices outlined above. Even one step in the wrong direction, particularly if it comes early in the planning and direction-setting stage, can go south quick.

For this type of project, it is essential to choose a reliable partner. Not a quick-fix developer with a fundamental goal of getting the business at all costs, but a partner who has your best interests in mind. This partner can help guide throughout the process, and help educate why re-platforming is necessary in the first place. The result will be a more goal-driven, strategic process with a significantly higher chance of success.

Finding that partner, of course, can be tough. Merchants need professionals who are certified and experienced in this area, while also being willing and able to accommodate every unique situation. After all, no two eCommerce merchants are alike.

InteractOne has significant experience in eCommerce migrations, re-platforming and data migrations, and we can apply that experience. Contact us to get to learn more about migrating or re-platforming to Magento, and to discuss potential first steps in a future partnership.

An Introduction to Magento Commerce (Cloud)

An Introduction to Magento Commerce (Cloud)

Magento Commerce Cloud

Magento Commerce (Cloud), formerly known as Magento Enterprise Cloud Edition, was introduced in early 2016 as Magento’s third platform option, alongside Magento Commerce and Magento OpenSource. For more information on the differences between Magento Open Source and Magento Commerce, reference this comparison. Magento Commerce (Cloud) is a managed, and automated hosting platform for Magento specifically created for Cloud infrastructures. Magento Commerce (Cloud) combines the power of Magento Commerce, Cloud infrastructure hosting, along with a few differences and added features.

Magento Commerce (Cloud) offers several features and advantages that set it apart from Magento Commerce and Magento Open Source.

The Difference Between Commerce (Cloud) and Magento Commerce

Although much of Magento Commerce (Cloud) and Magento Commerce are the same, there are a few fundamental differences. For one, Magento Commerce (Cloud) offers all the benefits of modern cloud computing: scalability, high resilience, PCI compliance, availability, automated patching – but also with the advantage of Magento’s successful and established architecture.  

Cloud computing is possible because Magento Commerce (Cloud) runs on Amazon Web Services (AWS), which is known for its reliability, scalability, and low cost. Notably, with AWS powering Magento Commerce (Cloud), merchants can eliminate the need for self-hosting. Further, 30% of Magento Commerce merchants already utilize AWS for hosting. Therefore, Magento Commerce (Cloud) offers a natural hosting option for Magento Commerce merchants.

Also, Magento Commerce (Cloud) offers B2B features designed to boost B2B market capabilities. These capabilities help reduce the high implementation costs that can occur with multi-tenant Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions, such as Magento Commerce.  Specifically, there is generally less customization required with the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) cloud system. The Cloud flexibility allows merchants to tailor their technology quickly to what works best for their eCommerce business.

Magento Commerce (Cloud) Features

Magento Commerce (Cloud) comes with a variety of additional features that help set it apart from the other Magento platforms. A significant advantage for merchants using Magento Commerce (Cloud) is that it features fully customizable, secure and scalable Web storefronts. Scalable storefronts give merchants an opportunity to develop highly differentiated customer experiences.

Mark Lavelle, CEO of Magento, explained the importance of the scalability Magento Commerce (Cloud). Lavelle states, “With Magento Commerce (Cloud) merchants have the agility to respond to a rapidly changing environment, can continuously deploy innovations, easily scale to meet unexpected demand and don’t have to worry about the day-to-day management of infrastructure.”

Magento Commerce (Cloud) Features Overview

  • Plans include an integration environment for development, testing, and integrating services
  • All environments run with active Git branches of code
  • Unlimited number of inactive Git branches available
  • Add fully managed services like MySQL, Elasticsearch, Redis, RabbitMQ, without requiring external add-ons
  • Increase the amount of memory and CPU as needed

Cloud Hosting with Magento Commerce (Cloud)

With cloud hosting, websites are lightning fast and optimized 24/7 for customers. Magento Commerce (Cloud) combines all of the functionality that Magento Commerce offers plus bonuses such as Git integration and key environments for development, staging, and live production. Specifically, merchants can code, test, and deploy across Integration, Staging, and Production environment for continuous integration in stores.

Magento Commerce (Cloud) hosting plans bring support and cloud-based hosting on a subscription basis. Currently, Magento offers the Magento Commerce Starter plan or Magento Commerce Pro plan. Merchants can choose the subscription that best fits their business while also enjoying the benefits of Magento Commerce.

Want to get started on Cloud or learn more? Contact us for more information on Magento Commerce (Cloud) and what sets it apart from other eCommerce platforms.

The Challenge of Magento Customization for Automotive eCommerce Websites

The Challenge of Magento Customization for Automotive eCommerce Websites

Automotive eCommerce

By Joe Williams, Magento Solutions Specialist for InteractOne

The automotive eCommerce market is flooded with competition, primarily due to the availability of dropship suppliers and endless niche opportunities for retailers to focus on. With MAP pricing and relatively standard product offerings, the best way to differentiate your automotive aftermarket site is a stellar customer experience and content.

Let’s face it – it’s difficult to create a different customer experience, let alone a superior one when using one of the several automotive-specific eCommerce platforms on the market today. Magento is the best platform to create an enterprise-level auto parts website, but don’t expect a small monthly payment to cover everything. If you want cookie-cutter prices, you’re going to get a cookie-cutter website.

The two biggest challenges we help automotive eCommerce merchants resolve include data and functionality, both on the frontend and in the admin.

Fitment Data

Manufacturers, distributors, and retailers all feel the challenges of automotive product and fitment data. ACES and PIES have become the standard, but strict data standards often leave a lot to be desired when it comes to flexibility to create a superior customer experience. Automotive eCommerce

Also, data is available from a wide array of sources in the automotive aftermarket, such as (but not limited to) DCI, SDC, ASAP Network, and direct from manufacturers. Your data drives your customer experience, and none of the data sources available are plug-and-play to work well with each other. eCommerce retailers need to be able to update fitment data and add new products quickly, so ease of maintenance is important. They also need to display the data in a customer-friendly manner to help drive a better experience than the competition.

Vehicle lookup tools are the default go-to for finder functionality, but multiple challenges can arise through the process. Such as when creating a search engine friendly structure to have dynamic vehicle landing pages with custom content.

Another challenge for fitment data is maintenance. Price updates, superseding part numbers, new part numbers, new product lines, new fitment and changes to fitment are all easier with a strong import/export utility. But nothing exists out of the box, and basic parts finder extensions create their own fitment tables. Therefore, many merchants are stuck having to run multiple imports to update product data (PIES) separate from fitment data (ACES). This can be a huge time suck, and add technical overhead to your servers when processing imports and reindexing.

Retaining Default Functionality

The challenge with vehicle lookup functionality is that no mainstream eCommerce platform has attributes that function sequentially the way a Year/Make/Model/Submodel filter needs to work. There are several parts finder extensions available on the Magento Marketplace, and some of them are good. But, what if you want to use configurable products or some other native functionality the module doesn’t allow out of the box? For example, a new Magento 2 automotive eCommerce website for lighting and truck accessories manufacturer, Putco, needed the ability to utilize configurable products for distributors to reference features and benefits content. We created a custom vehicle fitment module with the ability to use all product types within Magento 2, as well as an import routine that maps fitment data to the parent configurable products based on simple product mappings.

Many merchants then decide to hire an offshore extension developer to add functionality. Often times, offshore developers do not fully understand the needs of the merchant. Sadly, an endless trail of feature development begins. Before you know it, you can’t upgrade your Magento website and you have to follow a convoluted process to even try. Oh, and the Custom Options functionality was hijacked for something else, so you can’t use those. (Ooops.)

The Customization Trap

Custom development often seems like a good starting point to implement an extension that gives you most of the functionality you need. However, it can often be a bad decision in the long run. It’s what we refer to as the “Magento Customization Trap.” Over-customization adds unnecessary technical debt, and often a lot of frustration throughout the lifespan of your website.

After many customization headaches, some merchants end up thinking they need to re-platform to get away from Magento. They often go to a cookie cutter platform that doesn’t solve the original problem. Thus, creating an endless cycle.

The Magento and Automotive Experience

For automotive eCommerce merchants, it’s important to choose a developer that fully understands Magento and the automotive industry to prevent over-customization from the beginning.  

Automotive eCommerce merchants generally require more complex functionality and often choose Magento because of its scalability and reputation. Choose a partner that understands the data and needs of your business to create a thoroughly scoped project. Avoid that frustration and miscommunication that comes from a developer that doesn’t fully understand the automotive industry.

Contact us to learn more about Magento customization for automotive eCommerce websites. We’ve helped many automotive eCommerce merchants with their eCommerce websites over the years including a merchant that migrated from Volusion to Magento and another we helped to remedy Magento performance issues.

Magento 2 Commerce vs Magento 2 Open Source

Magento 2 Commerce vs Magento 2 Open Source

It’s important to note that in 2017 Magento rebranded and updated product names. Specifically, Magento Community Edition is now known as Magento Open Source. Magento Enterprise is now known as Magento Commerce.

Questions we often hear from merchants:

  • What’s the difference between Magento Commerce and Open Source?
  • What does Magento 2 have to do with it?
  • Which one do I need?

Once we talk through the first set of questions, the next set goes something like:

  • How much does it cost to create a Magento 2 site using Open Source vs. Commerce
  • Why should I choose the paid version over the free version?
  • Can I create the same advantages of Open Source on Commerce if I use extensions?

It’s tough to thoroughly answer the questions listed above in summary without an in-depth understanding of business needs. Every eCommerce merchant is unique, and every merchant has a unique set of needs, but we can detail some of the key differences between Magento Commerce and Open Source so that merchants have a better understanding of where to start before they have those in-depth calls with us or another developer.

Features Included for Both Commerce and Open Source

In previous posts, we have covered the differences of Magento 1 vs. Magento 2 in detail as well as why Magento 2 is so powerful and worth upgrading. However, below is a chart comparing the benefits of what Magento 2 offers over Magento 1 for both Commerce and Open Source editions.

Magento 2 Features included for both Commerce and Open Source

  • Advanced Reporting powered by Magento Business Intelligence
  • Analytics and Reporting
  • Bundled Social Extensions
  • Catalog Browsing
  • Catalog Management
  • Checkout, Payment. and Shipping
  • Customer Accounts
  • Customer Service
  • Indexing, cart, and cache operations Improvements
  • Integrated dotmailer marketing automation software
  • International Support
  • Magento Functional Testing Framework
  • Magento Shipping
  • Marketing, Promotions and Conversion Tools
  • Mobile Commerce
  • Native Device Applications
  • Order Management
  • Pipeline Deployment
  • Platform security and developer experience Enhancements
  • Product Browsing
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Site Management
  • A streamlined Instant Purchase checkout
  • Upgraded Technology Stack – PHP 7.1 Varnish 5, and MySQL 5.7.

Extension Processes for Magento 2

When Magento 2 launched, Magento revamped how merchants access extensions via the Magento Marketplace for access to hundreds of extensions. Extensions are grouped into the following categories: Customer Support, Payments & Security, Marketing, Accounting & Finance, Shipping & Fulfillment, and Site Optimization.  

Many of the extensions are free, but some can cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars. The important things to consider are the quality, reliability, and available support for any extension. Notably, a substantial benefit of the Magento Marketplace is that all the extensions have been reviewed and tested through the Extension Quality Program.

What Does Magento Commerce Offer Over Magento Open Source?

To the right merchants, we would recommend Magento Commerce over Magento Open Source.

However, in previous years, this would not have always been our viewpoint. In Magento 1, there was little incentive for merchants to purchase Magento Commerce (formerly known as Enterprise Edition). There weren’t enough additional features over Open Source (formerly known as Community Edition) to make the paid version worth the investment. Notably, we saw many merchants on Open Source utilizing extensions to get the power of Commerce without the price tag. That plan worked for some, but it made it tricky to manage and maintain healthy websites. Now, we refer to those websites as Magento 1.x Frankenapp sites – they can create some seriously expensive headaches.

Magento packed many exciting out-of-the-box features into Magento 2 Commerce Edition. Below is a chart comparing features available in Commerce that are not included in Open Source.

Magento 2 Commerce Features
Feature Open Source Commerce
Add to Cart by SKU No Yes
Administrator Permission Roles on Website and Store Levels No Yes
Automated Email Marketing Reminder No Yes
B2B Commerce functionality No Yes
Backup and Rollback No Yes
Cloud deployment process Improvements No Yes
Configurable Order Tracking Widget No Yes
Content Management System No Yes
Customer Attribute Management No Yes
Customer Segmentation, Targeted Promotions & Merchandising No Yes
Dynamic Rule-Based Product Relations No Yes
Full Page Caching No Yes
Gift Registry No Yes
Gifting Options No Yes
Integrated Signifyd fraud protection No Yes
Limited Catalog Access No Yes
Logging of Administrator Actions No Yes
Magento Commerce Starter (Cloud) No Yes
Multiple Wish Lists No Yes
Optimized Indexing No Yes
Order Archiving No Yes
PA-DSS Certification/Payment Bridge No Yes
Persistent Shopping No Yes
Price and Promotion Permission No Yes
Private Sales No Yes
Return Management Authorization (RMA) No Yes
Rewards Points No Yes
Scheduled Import/Export Functionality No Yes
Solr Search No Yes
Staging, Merging and Rollback of Content No Yes
Store Credits No Yes
Strong Data Encryption, Hashing, and Key Management No Yes
Support for Alternate Media Storage – CDN and Database No Yes

 

In addition to the extensive features detailed above for Magento 2 Commerce, merchants receive 24/7 technical support. The support includes a dedicated Account Manager that is focused on helping to get the best results from your Magento store.

Marketing Functionality in Magento 2 Commerce

Out of all the many out-of-the-box features included for Magento Commerce, the added marketing functionality components help streamline the planning and management of new campaigns and product rollouts. These capabilities give marketing teams the power tools they need to be successful.

Marketing Features in Magento Commerce

      • New Content Scheduling: Set-up, test, and schedule new content, including product updates, categories, and promos.
      • Customer Loyalty: Reward customers with coupons, rewards points and private sales. Also, includes bulk ordering.
      • Automated eMail: Set up emails to offer special discounts based on cart content. There is also an automated email option for wish lists updates.
      • Analytics: Google Tag Manager (GTM) integration. GTM will transfer data to Google Analytics Enhanced eCommerce, to show well a site, products, and promotions are performing.

B2B Functionality in Magento 2 Commerce

This new functionality allows companies to create and maintain their accounts, each with teams of buyers with various roles and levels of permission. It also includes a flexible API that integrates with a variety of ERP solutions from Magento partners.

B2B Features in Magento Commerce

      • Account management: Manage accounts, create sub-accounts, and set permissions and roles easily.
      • Negotiated Pricing Terms: Associate accounts with specific price lists, payment options, and shipping methods.
      • Mobile Responsive Design: Customers will be able to order on any device or platform.
      • Quick Order: B2B customers will be able to create a re-order, large-scale orders, and even recurring orders.
      • Credit Accounts: Customize businesses to make purchases based on their needs. They can check out now and pay later.
      • Inventory Tracking: Manage your inventory across multiple warehouse locations.

Cloud Hosting Available with Magento Commerce (Cloud)

With cloud hosting, websites are lightning fast and optimized 24/7 for customers. Formerly known as Enterprise Cloud Edition, Magento Commerce (Cloud) is managed hosting for cloud infrastructures. Magento Commerce (Cloud) combines all of the functionality that Magento Commerce offers with a few bonuses such as Git integration and key environments for development, staging, and live production. Specifically, merchants can code, test, and deploy across Integration, Staging, and Production environment for continuous integration in stores.

Magento Commerce (Cloud) hosting plans offer support and cloud-based hosting on a subscription basis. Currently, Magento offers the Magento Commerce Starter plan or Magento Commerce Pro plan. Merchants can choose the subscription that fits their business while enjoying the benefits of Magento Commerce.

Magento Commerce (Cloud) Features

      • Plans include an integration environment for development, testing, and integrating services.
      • All environments run with active Git branches of code.
      • Unlimited number of inactive Git branches available
      • Add fully managed services like MySQL, Elasticsearch, Redis, RabbitMQ, without requiring external add-ons.
      • Increase the amount of memory and CPU as needed

What About Costs?

Magento Open Source is a free option for Magento which means that there are no additional costs to use the platform. Magento Commerce, on the other hand, is a paid option which means total costs vary depending on each merchant’s revenue.

Specifically for Magento Commerce, the higher gross merchandise sales value (GMV) of a store, the higher the annual fees will be. With that in mind, larger merchants usually determine that the benefits of Magento Commerce are worth the investment. Smaller merchants often start by utilizing Open Source, until they can grow their sales to justify the investment of Magento Commerce.

However, when opting for Open Source over Commerce, it is essential also to calculate the costs of extensions into the investment. Consider not just the overall cost of the extension, but also the time it will take to install, set-up, and configure which includes ensuring that all of the extensions work together. There is also ongoing expenses for updating and maintaining extensions over time.

While it might be more economical to start with Open Source and a few extensions, it’s important to think about the long-term plan. If over the next couple of years, dozens of extensions will need to be installed to get the right features needed, then it very well could be worth it to invest in Magento Commerce from the get-go.

Which Magento Version is Best for You?

This overview of Magento 2 Commerce and Open Source is meant to help merchants in the early phases of their research and planning. We like to talk with merchants to get to know their individual needs and goals for the future to help make decisions – particularly when they’re considering a major Magento 2 upgrade or investment like with Magento Commerce. We want to help ensure merchants make decisions they feel confident about and won’t regret down the road.

Contact us for more information on Magento 2 Commerce and Open Source, and we’ll schedule a time to answer all your questions.

Magento PWAs: What Are They?

Magento PWAs: What Are They?

What do Magento PWAs Mean for eCommerce Merchants?

Magento announced back in the summer of 2017 that they were becoming a Progressive Web Application (PWA) platform.  As a way to reimagine mobile eCommerce, and invest in technology that could disrupt mobile, Magento PWAs are an exciting new feature coming to Magento merchants.

What are Magento PWAs?

PWAs are app-like experiences for eCommerce websites. A PWA is a feature that will directly connect customers to an eCommerce store from a shortcut or icon added to their mobile device. PWA features are impressive. Customers can access websites directly without opening Google or a browser first. Displayed full-screen, PWAs create a quicker yet seamless shopping experience. Customers can also browse while offline, and can opt-in to receive push notifications – just like they could with a mobile app.

Highlights of PWAs include:

  • Faster Browsing. PWAs are faster and provide smoother scrolling and browsing of pages thus removing the need for pages to “re-load”.
  • Instant “App” Gratification. PWAs are instantly discoverable and usable via the browser
  • Push Notifications. PWAs support push notifications in the browser
  • Offline Usability. PWAs can detect network status and pre-fetch catalog content to ensure an uninterrupted experience even offline
  • Rapid Re-Engagement. PWAs can be “saved” to the home screen, allowing for rapid repeat access without the need to open a browser and type in a URL.

Below is a video from Magento extension developer Tigren Solutions demo-ing how PWAs work with Magento.

How do Magento PWAs Work?

James Zetlen, frontend architect with Magento, posted a great technical description of how PWAs work and how they’re different from websites and apps.

Below is a summary of a few key points from his article:

  • PWAs minimize network traffic to work on slow connection or offline.
  • They use non-blocking techniques to keep UI responsiveness at 60fps
  • They are applied by installing a ServiceWorker to expand the capabilities of the client-side single-page app.
  • On supported mobile operating systems, PWAs register as an app that could live on your home screen alongside native apps, rather than launching in a browser tab

Zetlen also comments on why PWAs matter. He writes, “In short, PWAs are not some special flavor of Web app; instead, they represent the modern-day best practices for making an interactive website.”

When can Merchants Start Implementing PWAs?

An important detail to note is that PWAs are currently only supported by Android and Windows operating systems. Just recently, it was announced that Apple would be including ServiceWorkers and PWAs in their next beta versions. It was clear from immediate feedback posted online that there was a concern in how iOS and PWAs were going to work together. In an article from mobile website developer, Maximiliano Firtman, he discusses the issues that will need to be worked through in detail. Notably, these releases are only in beta versions and may not be released to the masses for some time.

Can we get excited about Magento PWAs when we know that they’re not currently available on iOS devices?

How many people are even on Apple devices anyway? According to an article from the Verge, numbers suggest that there are at least 1 billion active Apple devices. That is a lot of customers, especially, for merchants with a large Apple-using customer base. As obvious as that sounds, when we break down the numbers, it really creates a clearer picture of just how many customers (and sales) would be eliminated from a PWA strategy this early in the game.

We analyzed the data of a couple Magento merchants to see just how many of their customers are using iOS devices and the potential gain a PWAs strategy would have on current business metrics.

A breakdown of total sales for a Magento client in 2017:

  • 54% of all sales were made on a mobile/tablet device
  • 70% of mobile/tablet sales were made on iOS devices
  • 35% of all total sales were made on iOS devices

Second example. A breakdown of total sales for another Magento client in 2017:

  • 45% of all sales were made on a mobile/tablet device
  • 85% of mobile/tablet sales were made on iOS devices
  • 41% of all total sales were made on iOS devices

35% – 41% of total sales is a large group currently eliminated from PWAs. However, the future opportunity for targeting iOS customers is undeniable. Not to mention, the opportunity to have closer access to mobile customers creating 45%-54% of ALL sales is an opportunity worth investing in.

The data tells us that for now, while PWAs are not available to the full masses, it’s a great time to start testing and planning for the future. Merchants beginning a new build or migration (and even those in the middle of a project) will benefit from a mobile-first UX strategy with PWAs in mind. We coach merchants daily on the importance of the path-to-purchase experience for customers. PWAs will be here full-scale before we know it. Now is a great time to start preparing, planning, and testing.

Why Should We Care About Magento PWAs?

Mobile is just as important now (if not more so), than it was a few years go during “Mobilegeddon.”  Mobile will continue to be the focus of developers and eCommerce businesses for years to come. Or, for as long as customers shop on their phones. PWAs offer an abundance of digital marketing opportunities that were only available to merchants with the budget to build separate apps. Merchants will have a more direct line of communication with this added avenue to engage with customers. Faster browsing and “app-gratification” will keep customers engaged. Push notifications will be an amazing opportunity for digital marketers to run promotions. Push is quicker than eMail and just as effective as SMS or text messaging.

With PWAs, your eCommerce business has the potential to be in the literal pocket of every mobile customer in your CRM.

Let’s Get Started on Your PWA Project

Our developers are researching and testing the new Magento PWA features available via Magento. It’s important (and fun!) to us and our development team that we stay current (or ahead of the game) when it comes to new technology available to merchants. We anticipate PWAs being extremely beneficial for merchants.

Contact us if you would like to learn more about Magento PWAs from our Magento experts and to get started on your next project.

Frequently Asked Questions: Managing the Magento Catalog for SEO

Frequently Asked Questions: Managing the Magento Catalog for SEO

Magento Catalog SEO Questions

Your Magento Catalog SEO Questions Answered

Merchants frequently come to us with questions and concerns about managing the Magento catalog to assist in achieving good SEO rankings. Magento is a powerful and complex platform and can be difficult to navigate for a lot of merchants. We’re happy to help clear things up and check things off your to-do list. In an effort to help other merchants who need help managing their Magento Catalog SEO, we’ve put together a how-to guide on how to handle some of the frequently asked questions.

What to Do with Out of Stock Products in Magento?

If the product is out of inventory but will become available again in the future, set the product to ‘Out of Stock’, leaving it enabled so it is still visible in the catalog. Disabling and re-enabling products in Magento causes the product URL to 404, and then become available again. This can damage your SEO reputation, especially if it happens on a regular basis. We recommend utilizing Magento’s upsell functionality to present alternative options to customers from the product page, or add an extension for customers to receive notifications when a product becomes available again.
You can set up your Magento site to Manage Stock, Display Products Availability in Stock on Storefront and even allow back ordering under Stores > Configuration > Catalog > Inventory.

What to Do with Discontinued/Obsolete Products?

If you have products that need to be removed from your catalog altogether, be sure to “disable” the product. Then create a 301 redirect from that product URL to a relevant replacement product or parent category. Do not delete the product, if you do, the product data will not be referenced in historical data on orders or reporting.

You will need to manually create a 301 redirect in this kind of situation, which can be done under Marketing > URL Rewrites, as shown in the menu below:

What to Do with Products with Little or No Unique Content?

All too often, retailers use the default product descriptions and specs provided by the manufacturer on product pages, without taking the time to include any other unique information about the product. In addition to your own take on descriptions, using your own images and videos is a great way to ensure that your products stand out.

Prioritize your products by popularity or profitability, and have a sales/service rep, or even an intern go through the list and write one paragraph for each product. If you’re selling widgets that do not have anything obvious to write about, or if you are struggling to find a unique feature to write about, write a story about how a customer could use the product. Talk about ways to creatively use the product in a way that could solve a problem. (Think about the Petermann catalog on the Seinfeld series.) Instances like this is where your phone sales staff could really come in handy, as they know the products and how customers use them better than anyone.

Product images and videos should be engaging and show how the products work for your intended audience. Product pictures and videos should further reinforce your brand’s lifestyle. The primary way to stand out from your competitors is with your branding and content. If you have the ability to do better than the images provided by manufacturers, dedicating the resources and allocating the time will help you sell your products. Here is where you have the opportunity to shine!

How to Deal with Product Variations?

Use Custom Options on any product with variations for which you do not need to track inventory. From there, the pricing markup is simple, such as +$2 for XXL t-shirt. If you need to track inventory on individual items or there is no consistent pricing structure between different options, or you have unique images for different options, use Configurable Products.

How to Handle Category Pages?

Category Pages are often one of the most overlooked sections in eCommerce sites – some merchants just treat them like a necessary evil in order to organize products, others go crazy creating categories on a whim with no real thought process. Category Pages are one of the most popular organic landing page types on your site. There needs to be a thought process behind Category Pages with organization and navigation in mind.

Name your categories something that will be familiar to customers. We recommend using categories for any kind of niche or key phrases that customers search for on a regular basis. Be careful to not be so specific that you need multiple categories where customers question which category to select. Anything more specific, or general, that doesn’t justify its own landing page can be referenced as attributes and used in faceted navigation.

Create content for every category, whether it’s written content on your story or favorite products within that category or how-to information – anything your customers will find relevant. If you have a blog or related articles, link to other related topics within your site from your Category Pages, but don’t overdo it. Only link to an article, blog post or featured product if it’s something your customers will actually find useful.

Finally, pay attention to your product sort order in categories, and manually control the sort order, or use an extension to dynamically list the most popular products first.

Leverage User Generated Content

There are plenty of articles out there on the importance of user-generated content, product reviews, and social comments. User-generated content adds value to your site and helps build trust. However, there are still merchants that disable product reviews because their new site doesn’t have any, and they don’t want to display empty reviews on the site. That’s a recipe for never getting reviews on your site. Instead, make notes when talking to customers and write any verbal or in-person reviews you receive to your website – or direct customers to leave a written review by asking them. Setup an email follow up campaign, and actually correspond with your customers on social to help spark interaction between your website and audience.

Mind the Site Search

Your site search is a goldmine of shopper intent – setup Google Analytics to track your site search queries, and use a search utility that delivers a good shopping experience. Review your site search queries at least once a month to see what customers are shopping for and to make sure the correct products appear for those queries. While doing so, take note of phrasing and spelling. Continually update synonyms or optimize your navigation if necessary to deliver what your customers are searching for without making them search. If you don’t have the time and resources to keep up with optimizing your site search, find a tool that can help do it for you.

Continue to build useful and relevant content on your site. Analyze your usage data and search queries to deliver a better shopping experience. Invest in the appropriate resources if you do not have the time or tools to do it manually. SEO is critical for success in eCommerce and is proven to increase sales. As Magento experts, InteractOne has valuable resources and insights specific to Magento merchants. We know SEO and Magento.

Contact us today to learn more about improving SEO and your Magento catalog management.

 

A Go Live Checklist for New Magento 2 Websites

A Go Live Checklist for New Magento 2 Websites

Magento 2 Go Live Checklsit

Magento 2 go live checklist: What you need to know.

Launching your new website is an exciting event. Not planning ahead, though, can make a launch terrifying and frantic; nobody wants that! Every new Magento site launch, migration or upgrade is different, and each project can have its own set of requirements. Over the years, we’ve developed a number of standard practices to make sure the launch of a new Magento site is predictable, successful and drama free.

Your Magento 2 go live checklist may differ, but this should be a good starting point.

1-2 Weeks Prior

  • Stage the site on production server.
    • Test the site using the production URL via localhost.
    • Setup and test SSL.
    • Set up payment gateway and place test orders using real credit cards.
    • Setup and test transactional email from new site/server.
  • Create and test 301 redirects
    • Redirects are one of the most important pieces to a site migration puzzle, and are often rushed or overlooked. After building 301’s, we always test them to ensure our new target URLs are going to functional pages, and fix any broken redirects or redirect chains before go-live.
  • SEO Audit/Review
    • Run a site audit and ensure site infrastructure is setup properly, such as meta tags, alt tags and schema markup.
    • Create a SEO action plan for post go-live, based on any findings during the preliminary audit.
  • Technical Performance Audit/Review on Production environment
    • Have a developer perform an overall site analysis to find any module conflicts, slow queries or anything that could hinder site performance. You always want to do this a couple of weeks before go-live to prevent any urgent last minute tasks.
  • Security
    • Audit server settings, make sure patches and updates are in place and check for exposed directories.
  • Change DNS TTL to lowest available setting so the DNS change processes as quickly as possible.
  • Setup Store Email Addresses under Stores > Configuration > General.
  • Ensure CAPTCHA is working on all forms.
  • Setup CDN subdomain (ie. cdn.domain.com) and test.
  • Setup .htaccess rule for canonical domain (www vs. non-www) and site-wide https:// if applicable.
    • Test URL rewrite on homepage, catalog pages and on 301 redirects.

1 Day Prior

  • Perform dry run of the go-live process.
    • Copy latest version of site and database from dev server to production environment.
    • Test on production domain name using local hosts
    • Create test orders and refunds with a real credit card.
  • Install and configure the Easy Site Maintenance extension for customer friendly site downtime message.
  • Test integrations.
  • Ensure access to production environment and site admin is locked down to authorized users only.

Time to Go Live!

  • Place the live site in Maintenance Mode (Turn on Easy Site Maintenance extension).
  • Transfer files and database to new server.
  • Change the A-record at the domain registrar to point to the new server.
  • Test integrations.
  • Test SSL.
  • Place test orders with a live credit card and ensure payments are processing.
  • Configure CDN for Production.
  • Ensure “no-index/no-follow” has been turned off.
    • Content > Design > Configuration > Edit Site Configuration > Search Engine Robots > Default Robots.
  • Remove maintenance flag.
  • Ensure analytics tracking is working.
  • Test contact forms.
  • Monitor checkout behavior for any issues.

Post Go Live: 1 Day and 1 Week After

  • Check to ensure payments are capturing/settling properly.
  • Review server log files for any errors or potential problems.
  • Verify data exchange between all integrations.
  • Review Google Analytics for any 404 Not Found pages and adjust/add missed redirects.

Feel free to use our Magento 2 go live checklist as a jumping off point for your next project. Launching a new website is an exciting time for your business. Make sure you have what you need to avoid mistakes and launch successfully.

In the middle of a new site launch and need help? Contact us to learn more about how we build and launch Magento 2 websites.