Analyzing Magento Community Edition
If your new to the ecommerce industry and haven’t heard of Magento, get acquainted! Magento Community Edition (an open source ecommerce platform) burst onto the scene back in 2008, and has earned much respect in the ecommerce industry.
Magento Community Edition is an open source system, which means that it can be downloaded for free, and modified to suit specific programming and/or design requirements. What’s unique and valuable about this model (compared to hosted solutions-where one is locked into a specific company for hosting and support) is that an ecommerce entrepreneur can have complete control over his/her website.
In choosing an ecommerce solution (whether migrating from a current system, or starting anew), it’s important to know what to look for. While there are a plethora of shopping cart systems to choose from, Magento Community Edition is an attractive option due to its; low cost of entry, time to market, scalability, support, flexibility, and portability/ownership benefits.
Low (No) Cost of Entry
Since Magento Community Edition is offered as open source software, the cost to download and use the system is $0! There is no charge to download and operate the shopping cart on one’s own server. Granted, the server/software setup, configuration, design, customization, training, and support required to operate a thriving ecommerce business is going to require capital, the initial “no-cost” download frees up the typical lump sum payment associated with ecommerce solutions.
Time To Market
Magento is one of the easiest shopping carts to install and get up and running quickly. Installation on a server is as simple as uploading the files, creating a database, and configuring various system settings. An experienced developer or server admin should be able to have a site online in less than an hour (depending how long it takes to upload the files!).
Time to design the template layouts for the site, product/content entry, feature configuration, and all the other requirements needed to prep a site for live-production is still required, although, the initial time to get the system up and running is negligible.
With free design templates offered through dozens of online resources, the product import features, and point-and-click plug-in options, a simple ecommerce website can be launched within days (assuming a qualified individual is managing the project).
As with any software system project, deep customization, and/or unique design requirements will require more time and expertise.
One final note; the Magento Community Edition is notorious for its slow response time (in loading webpage’s). Without proper server/software optimization and configuration, the system will run super slow on the customer facing side, as well as the backend admin panel. With the right tweaks, the system can be sped up, reducing sluggishness.
Having a shopping cart system installed on one’s own server allows for much greater control and scalability. With Magento, there are thousands of shrink-wrapped plug-in’s, templates, and customization options to choose from. The ease of installation of these assess is astounding. Many plugin-in’s can be installed with a few clicks, while others require server/database access. With core access to a shopping carts system code-down to the server level-nothing is outside the realm of possibilities.
For example, scaling the site with new features is as easy as using the pre-programmed plug-in’s available, or, hiring one of thousands of developers/companies that develop software features exclusively for Magento. Magento has captured the interest of many third-party developers, helping to excel the feature availability of the platform.
From a server-level perspective, Magento also has many options for scalability. A variety of server environments can be configured for backups, load balancing, database replication, and other such methods to ensure fast loading, secure processing, and redundancy.
Granted, there are some drawbacks to the plug-in scenario. When downloading and installing these features, it becomes time intensive to have to troubleshoot and potentially communicate with the developers of each different plug-in used. Issues will pop up, and trying to pinpoint the issue with a variety of different plug-in’s installed can be challenging. Having to constantly upgrade the base Magento platform, and test to ensure all plug-in’s work is also a tedious process.
The same can be said for server management and configuration. It takes a truly experienced server administrator to setup and install a load-balanced, or database replicating environment. Maintenance will also be required as new server patches need to be installed, or upgraded.
Since Magento has been distributed as open source, it creates a community of online enthusiast who are active in troubleshooting, supporting, and helping others with their problems. Magento has their own community forum on their site where experts respond to questions, and help troubleshoot others issues.
There are also hundreds of websites out there offering tips, tweaks, tutorials, and videos on how to manage, make changes, update, and design the Magento system. These websites are critical in the success of Magento, as it create a huge knowledge base for those looking for answers, reducing the time to resolve problems.
There are also hundreds of companies that offer training, support, and management for Magento, helping to reduce your dependency on in-house resources.
Having a platform that is under one’s own control, allows for the development of custom features and design. These features will help to increase sales and streamline admin productivity. One can get creative in the marketing to develop interactive contests, and revenue producing features that offers differentiation from competitors.
Being able to tweak certain aspects of the shopping cart to meet exclusive needs and demands will work to either increase sales-or productivity-fattening the bottom-line.
Magento is packed with features and configuration options empowering the admin to setup their store they way they need it to be setup. This flexibility is critical for future success.
With Magento being hosted on one’s own server, there are no restrictions on moving the system to another host. With other “hosted” systems, one is locked into a server contract where the software is licensed to use on their server, and their server only-it cannot be migrated elsewhere. This presents quite the quandary if the company provides poor service, doesn’t upgrade its server infrastructure, or has issues with uptime.
In deciding to use Magento Community Edition, one will be responsible for the ongoing security, support, and the updates. Updates should go rather smoothly if the system isn’t customized too aggressively. Think of it in terms of a car-in buying a new car, one get’s a manufacturer’s warranty that supports anything that breaks. However, if after market customized are added, the warranty is void. The reason they do this is twofold; one, it is using the car in a way it was not necessarily designed for, and two, it makes it much more difficult for the manufacturer to fix things that break because they don’t know how the customized features interact with their base package.
This has always been the catch-22 with software development. This is the #1 reason why hosted carts don’t offer advanced software customizations. Their goal is to get mass amounts of people signed up with their cart, and then they push out cookie-cutter features. The problem here is that there are thousands of different businesses using their systems and each have their own unique needs. This means that most of the businesses unique needs are not met with the cookie-cutter features rolled out.
Future Tracy says:
Great article Louis - nicely structured for those looking to take the leap into e commerce and in particular Magento. Future Clients Training (fc-training.co.uk) are one of those companies that provide training for Magento and find that our courses really empower end users - which can only be a good thing!
Richard Stubbings says:
I have to say, that after 14 with a e-commerce web site years and 5 different carts, Magento is the best BUT the most expensive I have ever used. It is expensive because:
- The third party extensions are not cheap;
- It requires a bigger ( and thus more expensive) hosting package;
- It is more complex to change the design etc so anything other than a standard template will cost more in time and/or fees; and
- it is a pig to update to a higher version.
It is however a very worthy investment and I would not hesitate to recommend it to the right e-commerce site. I just would not want people to be mislead by the zero cost statement.
Louis Camassa says:
Richard-this is true, however, as I said in the article, there is no charge for the initial download of the system itself. The server/software setup, configuration, design, customization, training, and support required to operate a thriving ecommerce business is going to require capital.
How much capital depends upon what you are selling, and how customized you need to make the system.
I would have to disagree with you on the cost of the third party extensions, and the hosting.
There is a good deal of free extensions, and the ones that have price tags are under a few hundred dollars. If you were to have a design/development team hand code the extension from scratch it would cost you much more than a few hundred bucks!
Hosting can be had for as little as $20 a month. I am not sure why you say it needs bigger hosting package. For an example see: http://fluidhosting.com/comparison.php
I agree with your overall comment however. Entrepreneurs just getting started with ecommerce should not consider Magento if they don't have the budget to host, and support the system in-house. BUT, for those entrepreneurs who do have the budget to manage in-house, I believe it is a worthy option to maintain control of your business (compared to a hosted cart).
Richard Stubbings says:
If you consider a few hundred dollars just for one extension to be low/no cost, then clearly you have a different idea of costs than I do. Magento somehow misses out on some key core functionality, so you typically need several extensions and the bill can run up into many hundreds of dollars.
Likewise looking at your hosting example, the site will either run like treacle, or it will hit the 30 concurrent calls to MySQL limit quickly.
Magento is a great cart, and highly recommended, but it is NOT LOW COST.
Paul S. Kirk says:
For Proof it must be NO cost !
While looking for Magento reviews, I have came across a topic called “Why Magento is Worth Considering” http://www.shopping-cart-migration.com/useful-articles/42-magento/5237-why-magento-is-worth-considering Here is mentioned ( ectually not only here) that installation process “ is not always smooth”. So I wander, does it really difficult to manage Magento store? Because I like its benefits, features and a wide range of opportunities here, but the only one doubt - is its managing difficulties.
Totally agree with Louis. What core function does Magento still lack? They update annually, and I see that what Community complains is updated in the latter version.
It can cost you a lot more to hire developers to code a function. Here is an example: this full-functioned Affiliate extension (http://www.magestore.com/affiliateplus/features.html) is $99 and it would bring you many affiliates, sales, revenue to make up the initial investment. If you get it coded by a developer, it would cost you thousands of $. And from my experience of using free and paid ones, free extensions actually cost you more time and money, indeed.
Agree with Richard about the number 4: it is a pig to update Magento to a higher version.