The Complete Guide to Magento
By David Ephraim, ATAK Interactive President, Development + Operations
Table of Contents
- Introduction to Magento
- Understanding eCommerce Platforms
- Magento eCommerce Platform Overview
- 7 Questions to Use as a Guide When Building a Magento B2B eCommerce Store
- How to Pick a Magento Development Agency
- One Last Thing
Introduction to Magento
With the right eCommerce software in place, delivering an omnichannel B2B eCommerce experience is quite straightforward. However, today, more than ever, the platform you choose plays a significant factor as to how quickly and effectively you can flex your unique value propositions.
Magento (an Adobe company) is a giant player in the B2B eCommerce world for small, medium, and enterprise-sized businesses, and if your company sales are higher than $3 million, the software makes it onto most platform shortlists / RFPs due to its out of the box feature set as well as its open-source flexibility.
For those considering Magento against any other eCommerce software as their next platform, there are some important decisions to be made. This guide is designed to give you an understanding of eCommerce platforms, highlight and compare key differentiators between Magento and some of the other software options such as Shopify, and offer 7 crucial questions to use as a guide when choosing and building upon your B2B eCommerce software choice.
Understanding eCommerce Platforms
What Is an eCommerce Platform?
Running a successful online business depends on making many important decisions. Choosing the right eCommerce platform is often one of the most critical choices you have to make for your business. However, before picking the right platform for your business, it’s essential to understand what they are and what they do.
Typically an eCommerce platform is a software application that allows online businesses to manage their website, marketing, sales, and operations. They should also easily integrate with other standard business tools to help centralize and run your business.
eCommerce platforms typically come in three main types:
- Open Source
- SaaS (Software as a Service)
- CaaS (Commerce as a Service)
Because your choice of eCommerce platforms has an enormous bearing on the profitability of your business, there are many questions you need to consider when making your choice. For example, do you want to build your platform from scratch or use a plugin that integrates with your existing site? What kind of hosting works best with your site and store? Do you prefer an open-source, SaaS, or CaaS solution? Other essential features to consider include security, stability, and customization abilities.
While the answers to these questions should dictate and inform your decision when it comes time to choose the right eCommerce platform for your business, we believe Magento offers many of the features and offers business owners want and need for their online web stores.
What Are the Most Popular eCommerce Platforms?
Today, there are endless, eCommerce platform solutions available. Some of the most popular include:
Each of these platforms offers varying degrees of features, flexibility, and customizability.
Shopify and WooCommerce offer robust “all-in-one” platforms that make it incredibly easy to build and launch a web store with little experience. BigCommerce makes it easy to build, customize an online store with no coding experience. Finally, Magento offers incredible flexibility and more advanced features like inventory management, order management, and a thriving developer community. Additionally, Magento allows the most flexibility when it comes to hosting for your eCommerce platform.
How Does Magento Compare to Other eCommerce Platforms?
Most of the popular eCommerce platforms today offer a similar set of features that are common across the board. Some of these features include product inventory management, SEO optimization, promotion and discount code tools, easy-to-use checkout, robust security, cross-platform integration, and compatibility, and the ability to scale as your business grows.
However, let’s look more closely at how Magento compares to other players in the eCommerce space.
Magento vs. Shopify
Shopify has quickly established itself as one of the biggest eCommerce platforms in the past decade, proving itself to be a considerable challenger to Magento.
Shopify has cemented itself as the platform of choice for small businesses that are content with an all-in-one solution that requires a low level of technical expertise. In short, Shopify allows a business to concentrate on growing without having to worry about the technical systems running their web stores.
On the other hand, Magento is primarily the eCommerce platform of choice for large enterprises looking for complete control of the eCommerce experience. Magento’s open-source nature has allowed it to grow a thriving developer community, and it can handle complex transactions and multiple storefronts, languages, and currencies.
To check out out a thorough rundown between Magento and Shopify, make sure to read our complete guide to Magento vs. Shopify.
Magento vs. WooCommerce
Like Shopify, WooCommerce is another popular eCommerce platform often compared to Magento. Like Magento, WooCommerce is both versatile and powerful, and while the needs of your particular business should dictate which you choose, Magento once again offers many advantages over WooCommerce that makes it an ideal solution.
While WooCommerce runs as a WordPress plugin, Magento offers businesses a complete eCommerce platform that integrates with several different CMS platforms and offers a truly customizable option.
Both platforms offer free options, but Magento Community Edition much more customizability with both free and paid themes, extensions, and integrations.
There’s no question that Magento wins easily on features against WooCommerce, even in its free option. While WooCommerce offers some impressive features at no cost, Magento is much stronger on store and product management and payment processing out of the box.
Want a full breakdown of Magento vs. WooCommerce? Make sure to check out our post on Magento vs. WooCommerce.
Magento vs. BigCommerce
Like WooCommerce, BigCommerce is another leading eCommerce platform available to B2B businesses. While both platforms can help grow your online business, there are key differences between the two.
While Magento is an open-source platform, BigCommerce is a SaaS (Software as a Service) solution. As such, it is much harder to customize the BigCommerce experience to your business needs.
Another key difference between the two services involves security. Both offer the latest security features, but because BigCommerce hosts and maintains their platform, they ensure your store’s PCI compliance and security features are always up to date. Magento also releases security patches regularly and offer PCI compliance for web payments, but because it is open-source, you’re responsible for staying up to date with and installing security patches and bug fixes.
Each of these platforms will meet more than your basic eCommerce functionality needs. If Magento doesn’t natively have a feature you need, you can build it yourself. On the other hand, with BigCommerce, you are at the mercy of their development team and may find yourself waiting indefinitely for features.
An Overview of the Magento eCommerce Platform
As you can see, Magento is a powerful eCommerce platform that offers powerful tools and customization capabilities.
However, if you’re still not sure whether Magento is right for your business, let’s take a closer look at why you should consider Magento for your B2B eCommerce platform.
Why Should You Consider Magento as Your B2B eCommerce Platform?
Up to now, we’ve broadly compared Magento to other eCommerce platforms and their features, but we haven’t touched on an area where Magento shines: the B2B world!
We have a separate post on why you should consider Magento for your B2B eCommerce platform, but we want to touch on a few key features below.
As we have touched on above, Magento is open-source, making it the ideal platform for B2B businesses. What does this mean? Well, it means that you have the freedom and capabilities to do some killer custom web development. It also means that developers have developed a robust library of extensions, themes, and integrations that link Magento to most other business services.
Magento also supports native features focused on B2B growth right out of the box. These features include custom catalog capabilities, personalized price lists, site management, and mobile commerce capabilities, and more.
Magento also has another trick up its sleeve, the ability to create and manage multiple storefronts from one interface. If your business operates across multiple or different brands, currencies, or languages, the ability to manage multiple storefronts allows your business to provide an excellent customer experience without sky-high admin costs.
Magento Offers 2 Versions of their Platform for Users
While most eCommerce platforms offer various paid subscription tiers, Magento currently offers just two versions of its software: Magento Community Edition and Magento Enterprise Edition.
Magento Community Edition is an open-source, completely free, and, most importantly, full-featured version of Magento. It’s ideal for small to medium-sized businesses looking to build an eCommerce business. Magento’s extensive extensions library makes it easy to customize the software and add any needed features, without sacrificing functionality.
Magento Enterprise Edition is Magento’s paid version, and it provides additional premium features for medium to enterprise-level businesses. Enterprise Edition is ideal for businesses that handle a lot of online transactions and are looking to scale. Enterprise Edition also offers users 24/7 support and more robust security features. Additionally, businesses operating in international markets would also benefit from using Enterprise Edition.
In September 2018, Adobe announced the end of life for Magento 1. They also announced that they would no longer be supporting or providing updates for this version of the software after June 2020, and they encouraged users to begin preparing to update to Magento 2.
As of this writing, Magento is at version 2.3.3.
Migrating from Magento 1 to Magento 2
If you currently have Magento 1, it’s time to start thinking seriously about upgrading. And if you’re still not sure if making the switch is worth it, these features should help convince you to make the change.
- Faster loading pages: With Magento 2, pages are loading up to 50% faster.
- Responsive mobile pages: Magento 2 pages are responsive by default, providing a better experience for both customers and search engines. Additionally, you can save on the costs of having to develop a separate mobile experience.
- Drag and drop page editing: Creating and editing pages is much easier and requires less coding knowledge than before.
- Better security: Magento 2 contains several security enhancements and eliminates vulnerabilities found in earlier versions.
As you can see, Magento 2 is a significant update to the platform and one every Magento 1 user needs to consider seriously. If you’d like to learn about more of the benefits found in Magento 2, our blog post on the differences between the two versions can help.
What Are the Challenges with Upgrading Magento 1 to Magento 2?
Upgrading from Magento 1 to Magento 2 can be a reasonably straightforward process, but because of the significant changes between the two versions, you do need to keep a few things under consideration.
Before upgrading, you need to make sure that any Magento 1 themes, extensions, and plugins are compatible with Magento 2. If they are not, you and your development team should take time to find comparable replacements to avoid any interruptions or errors.
Planning Your Migration to Magento 2 – a Step-by-Step Guide
When you decide the time is right to move your store from Magento 1 to Magento 2, there are five overarching areas to dig into and plan out.
- Data Migration from Magento 1 to Magento 2
- Design or Theme Migration (migrate existing design or start with a new design)
- Extension Replacements
- Custom Development and Coding
- Hosting, Testing, Retesting, Security, Deployment
Not every migration step is complicated, but many are. To make sure every step is covered, it may be helpful to complement a plan with a visual or flowchart that includes each step, and then what subtasks go into each.
A true Magento 1 to Magento 2 migration action plan should incorporate most if not all of these specific steps (and sometimes more):
- Ensure the current Magento 1 site is healthy and bug-free before beginning to plan for the new project.
- Preparation work: Map out the things you need, such as module replacements from 3rd party extensions, content migration plans, design theme requirements, migration testing as well as final data migration, and more.
- Build the Magento 2 Site
- Start Required Migration, Pause Admin Activity
- Stop Magento 1 Cron
- Copy Magento 1 Settings and Websites Data into Magento 2
- Copy Media/Content
- Copy Other Data
- Run All Indexes
- Test Magento 2 Site
- Stat Incremental Customization Updates
- Test Magento 2 Site Customizations
- Move Magento 2 Site to Live Server, Archive Magento 1 Site to Maintenance Mode as appropriate.
- Run Stock/Inventory Indexer
- Warm Up Cache / Install CDN and SSL
- Start M2 Cron
- Host and DNS Changes Mapping and Execution
- Run Speed Tests via GT Metrix and Google Insights
- Launch and Monitor, Take Action as Needed
Also, any migration director should be working side by side the marketing team, so SEO and tracking get installed the right way.
Migrating to Magento 2 is not the most straightforward process, and the time the move each migration takes depends on the number of customizations, complexity, amount of data to migrate, 3rd party software integration work, and more.
To make the process a bit easier, Magento does provide handy migration tools called the Magento 2 Data Migration Tool. The tool works well, but if you require customizations, your general migration timeline needs to account for it, as well. Additionally, performance testing and optimization can take time, as Magento 2’s structure is very different and has different hosting requirements than Magento 1.
If you are not familiar with Magento, hiring a developer to make the move is an investment that is likely to pay for itself.
7 Questions to Use as a Guide When Building a Magento B2B eCommerce Store
Building an eCommerce store involves asking many questions. You also need to take into account any nuances directly related to your business and the industry. However, these seven questions should help you get started with building your dream store.
What Does an Ideal B2B eCommerce Operations Day Look Like For Your Business?
Before building your eCommerce website, you need to understand what a typical eCommerce day looks like for your company. Once again, keep in mind, that day to day operations are unique to your business, and the more you can dial in the specifics before starting, the smoother the entire process. Several things need to be clear, including:
- What people need to be involved and what roles they need to fill?
- Who is going to be responsible for development?
- Who is going to manage the web store on a day to day basis?
- Who is going to be responsible for customer service?
The earlier you include all stakeholders in the project, the better.
What B2B eCommerce Features Does My Business Need?
Once you know who needs to be involved, it’s time to look at what features your ideal eCommerce experience is going to need.
Questions to consider at this stage include any design features you would like your store to have, features that your customers expect to see, and features your operations and fulfillment teams need to do their job.
A few tips to keep in mind: look at your competitor’s web stores for inspiration and remember that a B2B eCommerce experience is different from the more traditional B2C web store and so the features and experience are different.
What Type of eCommerce Integrations Do I Need to Consider?
Chances are you rely on several different systems to operate your business. It’s not unusual to depend on different pieces of software to run logistics, track inventory, fulfill orders, and ship products.
These integrations all need to be considered when choosing an eCommerce platform. Luckily, because Magento is open-source, it is highly compatible with many of the most popular Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems on the market today.
Additionally, the developer community around Magento is incredibly robust, meaning a plugin or extension for any piece of software your business relies on probably already exists.
What Level of Custom Development Do I Require for My B2B eCommerce Store?
The amount of custom development your eCommerce site needs is going to affect both the cost and launch time of your store. Because of this, it is essential not to fall victim to scope creep as you try to cram as many features as possible into your project.
As you’re starting, it’s important to focus on the essential features you’re web store needs. These features should include the ability to segment your customers, order management rules, and offering different payment options. As your store begins to grow, you can look to add more features as they become necessary.
By focusing on these features, you can avoid skyrocketing development costs and launch delays.
Will a Magento B2B eCommerce Platform Be Easy to Manage for My Team?
Magento is an incredibly powerful platform, but that means you also need an experienced developer’s help to take advantage of everything it has to offer.
Whether your developer is in-house or you partner with a Magento development agency, having experienced Magento and eCommerce developers working on your project maximizes the results you can get out of the software.
What Is the Cost of Building and Operating a Magento eCommerce Site?
One of the most pressing concerns for eCommerce store owners is the cost of building, hosting, operating, and maintaining a Magento store.
The price of a Magento project can vary dramatically, from $10,000 to $125,000, in most cases. The flexibility of Magento 2 means that your costs are ultimately determined by how sophisticated you want to build your site. A basic site can land on the lower end of that estimate, while a highly customized site powered by Magento Enterprise should be expected to cost closer to the upper end.
Again, the more complex your eCommerce project is, the higher the cost you can expect.
How Long Does It Take to Build a Magento eCommerce Store?
As we’ve mentioned a few times, the complexity of your eCommerce site affects not only the cost but also the time it takes to build and launch.
A typical site can usually be expected to take around three to four months to plan, build, and launch.
However, keep in mind that adding features once a project has kicked off can extend the development time needed. The number of third-party integrations also affects the development timeline.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should remove necessary features or integrations to speed up your development time. The more thoughtful and thorough you are in finding the answers to the questions above before handing your project over to your developers, the better positioned they are to give you an accurate timeline and stay on schedule.
How to Pick a Magento Development Agency
As we hope you have noticed, Magento is an incredibly powerful platform. But, as they say, with great power comes great responsibility. Trying to implement Magento with little to no technical expertise can not only be costly, but it can also severely harm your business. Unless you have an experienced in-house development team, the best option is usually to partner with an experienced Magento development agency that can help bring your web store to life.
How an Experienced Development Agency can Help You Navigate the eCommerce Landscape
Developing a successful eCommerce experience your customers love requires more than just a Magento development agency – you need a business partner who understands your unique challenges and can provide the skill, experience, and perspective to help you architect a top-notch system. With a rapidly changing eCommerce landscape, it is vital to look for an agency that can work with you to clarify your business problems and opportunities and then provide you a full scope of solutions that can turn your vision into reality.
What Type of Support Do You Need From a Development Agency?
Great technical skill is nothing if it doesn’t come with excellent support – as your online business keeps growing, you’ll need an agency that can grow with you. Exceptional support starts with setting clear timelines and following-through, but it encompasses much more: a dedicated project management team, ongoing support throughout your build, full transparency into the cost of ownership, as well as complimentary services. While most Magento development agencies typically offer only development services, a company that is a true business partner offers a host of other services to help you take your business to the next level. These services range from graphic design, marketing, SEO and SEM, to marketing automation, data migration, as well as custom CRM and ERP integrations.
Security Practices Every Magento Development Agency Needs to Offer
eCommerce sites present attractive opportunities for hackers looking to steal personal information and payment details. Making sure that Magento is up-to-date with the latest security practices and patches should be a top-of-mind concern. Although there is no magic recipe that can shield systems from all possible vulnerabilities, your Magento development agency should have a reliable approach for setting up and maintaining a secure platform, detecting breaches early and acting fast to minimize any possible damage. Some of the standard security measures to look for are:
- Reliable, secure hosting;
- Secure server operating environment;
- Using the latest Magento version at installation;
- Installing all security patches on time;
- Keeping all plugins updated;
- Installing extensions from trusted sources (the Magento Marketplace extensions undergo a strict quality control process);
- Backing up your database regularly;
- Monitoring for any signs of a breach;
- Performing regular security audits.
Quality Control for Your Magento eCommerce Platform
Quality assurance and control are critical components at every step of a Magento project, from development and testing to deployment and maintenance. Our agency’s 15 years of eCommerce experience have taught us that maintaining a testing environment is crucial to the health of any Magento online store. Regardless of QA methodology, there are a few areas of particular concern:
- Performance testing;
- Compatibility testing;
- Regression testing for new features;
- Payment method testing;
- Plugin updates / testing;
- Index and cache maintenance;
- Adaptive design and cross-browser testing.
Because Magento lacks out-of-the-box testing, it is important to choose a development agency that follows a robust Quality Assurance plan, with QA engineers experienced in all areas of eCommerce software testing.
Beyond Development: Finding a Trusted eCommerce B2B Marketing Partner
Let’s go back to the idea of perspective: a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work when it comes to successful eCommerce experiences, and neither does an approach that relies solely on an agency’s development capabilities. An ideal Magento development agency is one that can help you scale your business and create a solid foundation for long-term success and innovation. At ATAK Interactive, we offer full-stack marketing, creative, and development services, as well as integration and workflow optimization for a wide range of software platforms. From developing and implementing impactful marketing strategies, to seamlessly integrating your CRM and ERP systems across all your business operations, you can trust ATAK Interactive with your Magento B2B eCommerce project!
One Last Thing…
According to Research and Market’s “Global B2B E-Commerce Market 2018” report, B2B eCommerce is projected to be two times higher than B2C by 2020. In the US alone, B2B eCommerce sales are expected to hit $1.184 trillion by 2021. This predominance means B2B businesses must improve and simplify their customer and management journey for optimal sales conversion rates.
Before jumping into a new eCommerce project, you need to decide on a platform that’s going to cater to your business needs today, as well as tomorrow. eCommerce, and especially B2B eCommerce is no longer just about browsing for items on a desktop or laptop, adding things to the shopping cart, and checking out with a credit card or PayPal. Not for 2020 and beyond, certainly. Online shoppers expect omnichannel eCommerce experiences, while both B2B and B2C leadership teams alike expect timely and measurable improvements.
Overall, Magento is a great platform that is easily suitable for certain types of SMB merchants, as well as enterprise-level wholesalers and retailers – as long as the general costs of maintaining and developing the Magento platform make sense. Magento is also not the only platform and should be one of several eCommerce software solutions any sizeable merchant should consider.
If you have any questions around eCommerce, the different versions, capabilities, and other challenges you have come across, please feel free to contact ATAK Interactive via email at email@example.com or call us at 310.526.7493.
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