Practical Ecommerce

Magento Shopping Cart And 20,000 Friends

Roy Rubin held the cyber equivalent of a barn raising and had several thousand of his closest friends over for the event. Of course, everyone actually stayed home and did the work from their own little cubicles, kitchen tables, laptops on airplanes and Blackberrys on bar tops. That’s how it goes when you launch a project like developing an open source shopping cart, which is what Rubin and his team at Varien did over the past couple of years. The result is Magento, a shopping the source code of which is yours, free for the download, and which is now loaded on servers around the globe in about 45 languages.

Rubin and his team at Varien, a Southern California web and software development company, were absolutely sure that the marketplace needed a shopping cart that had a great foundation – platform – in the kinds of things that ecommerce merchants thought were important.

ALTRubin: We had been involved in the ecommerce industry for sometime and had experienced and seen many of the issues that econ merchants dealt with. So we thought there was an opportunity for us to develop a platform that had all the necessities that on-line merchants expect, and even more, and I think we have done that with Magneto.

While all similar in basic structure, every on-line store is different and every merchant has his or her own ideas about how things ought to happen. A lot of software users through the years have suffered in relative silence as they bought boxes full of discs that had magic stuff on them, but which the user was powerless to change. The other frustration is in the purchase of software with money up front followed by varying levels of service—some of which you pay for—that attempts to fix bugs and provide scalability. This decades-long frustration gets some relief in the open source market.

Rubin: There are a number of factors that go with the decision to use an on-demand open source product. Up front cost (none) is a factor, but I also think the scalability, flexibility and transparency that an open source platform brings to the table is very attractive to an online merchant.

Open source software platforms are not a new thing; in fact, Varien’s Magento is not the first one in the marketplace. The idea is that an open source system is free for download by anyone who wants to use it. The user is free to twist and tweak and add and subtract. Their tweaks and such often times find their way into the master code as the original platform undergoes constant grassroots evolution, all the time delivering a system that actually works the way the user wants it to. It is a collectivist system that any social progressive would be proud of. Except that, generally, the system is only as good as the enthusiasm of the volunteer force in charge.

Rubin: We are different from other open source projects in that there is a company behind the software. That is as opposed to a scattered volunteer group with a like need that tries to put something together for that need. There is no company behind things like Zen Cart, for example. We are a company and we are aggressively pushing the development of the project. There is every reason to think that it is as solid and reliable as any commercial product.

With Rubin’s platform already developed and functioning, the commercial version of the open cart meets the social version. The platform still benefits from the energy and wisdom of a huge force of contributors, who help keep the cart evolving and offering a broader range of features. All the while, Varien provides a business structure to the project.

Rubin: We have attracted right at 20,000 community members in the nine months since our release. The community contributes in many ways. Translation (into other languages) is a big way they help and they provide extensions to the platform. We get a lot of bug reports, of course. Magento has been translated into 45 languages. We invested a lot in providing a very translation-friendly environment so that translators can work in a very stable setting. As I said, everything is transparent, you can actually go on our community website and see the progress of the translations that are now in development.

And now come the voices, “I’m not a techie, I don’t write code. I wouldn’t have a clue about how to change or fix something.”

Rubin: That’s a challenge, when you consider who really benefits from an open source project. At the same time, I think there are a lot of people who can use Magento right out of the box with little of no modification. There are those who want to run a business a certain way and require extensions or custom development but don’t really know anything about software development. However, they can still feel the flexibility by getting involved in the forums where they can ask questions and get answers from the rest of the community.

So how does Magento stack up against those other commercial, closed source systems? Apparently quite well. Out of the box (or off the server) it competes with the commercial options well, and the community seems to be serving itself with considerable interplay. A look at the forums on the Magento site shows plenty of interaction among the 20,000 members. There are some features that the pay-for-play packages don’t do well.

Rubin: Right out of the box Magento supports multiple stores, which is very rare, even in the high end proprietary packages. There is a strong merchandizing and marketing capability. The cart gives one the ability to run an infinite number of promotions, which, again, is very rare.

Okay, Mr. Rubin, the Magento package is good, you have lots of people using it, tweaking it, translating it, but you give it away. What in your business model generates revenues?

Rubin: Our open source model is based on our offering services. We provide full line of consulting and support. It is clear an online merchant who uses Magento in a mission-critical application will want a number to call when they need help with it. It is critical that we provide warranty for the product. On top of that you will see additional products and services coming out over the next few months.

Varien’s revenue stream comes from providing varying levels of support to merchants who use the cart and are not bug hunters or killers. A Silver Support package for example costs about $500 a year and provides telephone and online support for a specific number of incidents. The scale runs to something called a Platinum Support package which provides unlimited 24/7 support for the merchant and which is quoted based on the server application and hosting configuration of the store. A merchant may also request a custom support configuration based on his specific situation.

You could say that Magento, the free software package, isn’t really the product at all. It is the marketing tool. The products are the service and other products offered by Varien. With Magento out there attracting a growing open source community, Rubin and his Varien team used their considerable online resources to get it into more hands.

Rubin: The blog worked well – the Varien Blog – we have used it for a couple of years and it was definitely a key to getting the word out (about Magento).

Of course having the Magento platform in the hands of 20,000 of your best friends keeps the Internet alive with activity and content about Magento, and, of course, about the services offered by Varien. Not only that, Rubin enjoys something else vital to any ecommerce merchants – plenty of instant feedback.

Rubin: The feedback level of is very different from the typical proprietary product. We hear about anything and everything, some good and some bad. It is our job to filter all that information and find the comments that are worthwhile to our mission. Some users are happy with what they have and some aren’t, there is a full gamut of ideas.

The Varien team is working on a new product that will hit the market in late June.

Rubin: We going to be launching a mobile version of Magento. We want every user to have the ability to have his site function on the Blackberry or iPhone. The software will be free to download.

It takes a lot of confidence in what you are doing to make an investment and then give away the product. But Roy Rubin’s ability to see past the blind spot created by the need and desire for quick profits, has allowed him to build an online community that solves both his marketing and future development needs in one smooth move. It’s one of those scenarios that others will admire but few will have the fortitude to follow.

Michael A. Cox

Michael A. Cox

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  1. Legacy User June 19, 2008 Reply

    Magento is a fantastic e-commerce product. I have been running it since the official launch and will never stop! Adding products, customizing the experience, and processing orders is easy and user-friendly. I have never seen an open-source product of such high quality. See it in action on my site: Thanks to Roy and his entire team for such a valuable product – at such a great price. :-) If you're not using Magento for your store – what the heck are you waiting for?!?!?!

    — *Tiffany*

  2. Legacy User June 19, 2008 Reply

    Magento is over hyped. It will go the route of oscommerce.

    — *Aaron Fitzpatrick*

  3. Legacy User June 19, 2008 Reply

    We've been using Yahoo Merchant Services, and there's a lot to be desired. It's not bad, but definitely not great. Like most boxed solutions, there's no room for modifying, and that's been extremely frustrating. Plus, most of their phone support personnel are limited at best in their knowledge of the product and how to fix issues. We've been considering changing to something else for some time, but haven't known to what. Hmmm…open source? Magento? With corporate support? Looks like a lot of our questions are being answered.

    — *Steve*

  4. Legacy User June 19, 2008 Reply

    I have to tell you that I was very excited about Magento. I downloaded it, but found that it was so incredibly slow that I couldn't even test its basic functionality. I submitted a support request and was told that they were working on the problem and in the meantime, to go to my web hosting company and ask them to make some changes in the way things are cached on the server and several other things that the web hosting company can't do for one account on a server. The changes would affect everyone on the server.

    I do appreciate the Open Source solution and a company behind that solution, but until the performance issues are resolved, it isn't a usable production solution at least for me.

    — *Mark Grigsby*

  5. Legacy User June 19, 2008 Reply

    I have been using open-source solutions for over a year now – primarily the Joomla based CMS with VirtueMart shopping cart. When I first heard about Magento and saw the list of features, I was immediatley excited and intrigued. I will say that working with the file structures that Varien has set up leaves a bit to be desired – not the easiest organizational structure to deal with. And you WILL need to understand at least the basics of CSS and basic php web development.

    Nevertheless, no other open-source ecommerce cart offers the number of out-of-the-box functionality that Magento does. Further, there is an update release slated for late June or July that claims to feature a "Bundled Package" feature (i.e. build a product) that you simply will not find anywhere FOR FREE.

    My only hope/wish is that the Magento Team make the decision to work on an integration of their cart with the most popular CMS systems out there (Joomla, WordPress, Drupal). The user base and market share would increase exponentially.

    — *TomC*

  6. Legacy User June 19, 2008 Reply

    To address some of the concerns, I run a fairly customized Magento website for one of our businesses and although were a few blips here and there overall the experience has been a good one. I will say about the performance that as of 1.0 it does require a heavier server than your typical shared-hosting. I run on Crucial Web Hosting and even their cheaper split-shared hosting runs Magento very well at only 25 a month. Also in version 1.1 there will be a supposed 40% increase so that will be a huge plus. In addition, a user just released a WordPress integration extension so that might be a feature for you Mark.


    — *Adam*

  7. Legacy User June 19, 2008 Reply

    Frankly, i am never convinced by companies who say they are open source from a marketing perspective, but are actually a commercial entity trying to make money.

    I have oscommerce shop, and the REASON i chose open source is because i need to know that no matter what happens, it will always be open source, and there is no company in the background who might go belly up and leave me in the lurch years down the track after having spent all this money and time on my ebusiness.

    Although magento does look good apart from being very slow, what happens if Varien is not making a profit after year 3 or 4? Company invests in somethign else, and we are left if a product, which has not been setup as a true open source community, support dies, and you have to start from the beginning.

    Now, please correct me if i am wrong because i do want to find the best open source solution out there for my ebusiness…


    — *ray Baaron*

  8. Legacy User June 23, 2008 Reply

    Slow? The commentors here are complaining about running Magento in a $3/month hosting provider. Magento is powerful and a decent hosting provider should be able to run it very fast.

    TomC – you should really do your reading about open source. You are very wrong in your assumption. osCommerce is esentially dead and if that's the protection that you feel comfortable than you should be good.

    — *james*

  9. Legacy User June 21, 2008 Reply

    I must say, I loved Magento from the start. The out of the box functionality is great! However, after a few hours of installation and use, I made the tough decision to pass on Magento.
    Right now Magento is far too slow. If this thing is this slow and I haven't even loaded any products in it, can you imagine? The requirement of a custom or dedicated server setup goes against the reasoning why most of us look for a free/open source solution. A lot of us are start-ups and do not have deep pockets to start. I hope Magento delivers on it's promise of more speed, but I can't wait. I need to implement my online store ASAP. I am still shocked at how slow Magento was – amazingly slow!
    Anyway, I wish them well. If they can deliver, this will be an awesome solution and I just may come back and try it again.

    — *Jay Holdstrom*

  10. Legacy User June 24, 2008 Reply

    I think a lot of people here at throwing out wild acusations without truly looking at the costs, or actually reading the latest news on the Magento site. Magento is for people who actually HAVE A CLUE about what they are doing. It's not for some average user who throws up a mom and pop shop and expects it to perform like a superstar.
    Its like anything good, you need to learn something properly before you see the true benefits. Anyone who actually knows what they are doing and downloads Magento, customises it and really uses it will see hands down that it's a winner.
    This is a ferrari not a mini people.

    — *Kyle*

  11. Legacy User June 24, 2008 Reply

    Far too slow – And even if it is running on shared hosting so do all other opensource Carts I have used and none have the slow performance issues of Magento.

    That said… Once they sort this out I will come back and use it as the interface is great and the usability is excellent.

    — *Jimmy*

  12. Legacy User June 24, 2008 Reply

    This Magento is interesting case but there is an other free ecommerce platform to use altough it´s not a OS-soft:

    — *Wosbee-user*

  13. Legacy User June 24, 2008 Reply

    I agree James, i also think Magento is by far the best ecommerce store out there. The layered navigation is perfect for ecommerce and at every stage of the site there's a call for action. You only see this on top end products, not opensource.
    Speed is not an issue, with an advanced program lime magento you need a fast server thats been configured to fit the package. Trial it at based in London

    — **

  14. Legacy User June 24, 2008 Reply

    Magento is open source. Open source is mostly used on low income setups. Low income setups are used on shared hosting. Shared hosting should support the slow Magento.

    Back to the drawing board Varien.

    — *Soyouwannaknow*

  15. Legacy User June 24, 2008 Reply

    Yes, Magento is resource intensive but if you partner with competent hosting provider and developer these are not issues. Don't expect to get free software and run it on your $4.00 a month shared hosting package. Invest in a good solid server and realise that $50.00 – $100.00 is a good investment for hosting since you are not paying a monthly licensing fee for Magento. Plan for the future folks and expect your busines to grow with a solid hosting provider. Don't cripple your business with cheap hosting packages. I learned the hard way……

    — *Dan*

  16. Legacy User June 24, 2008 Reply

    I am an osCommerse convert. In fact I have moved 10 individual stores to Magento from OSC and ZenCart. I also have a multi-store set up running 15 stores. Something osc could never handle. I kept running into limitations with the OSC software and when I would mod the software, a release would come our that usually forced me to back my changes all the way out and start over. Zen Cart was a little better, but not much.

    IMO Magento is built correctly on newer technology. Most shared hosts don't have the min requirements it takes to run Magento. I had to move to one of the recommended hosts and have not had a speed problem at all. I pay $14 a month for hosting. That is not a huge price to pay for these kinds of features. So my advice is to shop around. Read the forums of Magento users. See what hosts are most recommended and try them out for a month or two. I pay month to month to keep it flexible. Oh ya, it is easy to move from one host to another with this product, unlike others.

    If you don't like the features in Magento, I have set up a few sites with another open source shop called PrestaShop. It might fit your needs and runs a bit faster. I just don't think it is as mature.

    Peace out and welcome any new MagentoManiacs. You made the right choice.

    — *Iowa Comm*

  17. Legacy User June 24, 2008 Reply

    Are there any high traffic sites presently using Magento or even sites with many thousands of prodcts. The speed seeems to be an issue.

    — *Harry White*

  18. Legacy User June 25, 2008 Reply

    At least the comments put the finger on an issue that is important: the slowness. Dan has a point, most people choose a free commerce site because they have little money when starting, so they choose a low end shared server. But obviously, they work hard to address this issue, improving performances with each new version.
    Now, I don't share the view of TomC. Open source is open, if Varien ever disappear (or choose to close new developments), the source will be still there and given the amount of users and contributers, I am pretty sure the community would take over and continue the work (on a fork if needed).
    As Harry said, it is based on sound programming foundations, I think it will evolve in a nicer way than, say, Zen Cart.

    — *PhiLho*

  19. Azher Memon February 3, 2009 Reply

    As Magento Shopping cart developer i have been working on many project and many clients are really very happy with its functionality.

    The interface and template wonders many time but the thing itching my head is how to do SEO for it.

    As a developer i don’t know much about it but many of clients asking about it.

    any one know about it or have some source of information so I can help out my clients.


  20. Lesya May 29, 2009 Reply

    Not being on the market too long Magento has alredy become quite popular e-commerce platform. More and more people are switching from their shopping carts to Magento.

    To make this transfer easier – there’s a web service cart2cart. This automated shopping cart migration service migrates all data from a certain shopping cart to Magento accurately and automatically.

    Please check for more details.

  21. Armando Roggio May 29, 2009 Reply

    @Lesya, neat. I am going to check it out.

  22. mac1399 June 1, 2010 Reply

    I agree that Magento has some major speed issues until I found these Magento Speed plug-ins.

    They are also developing several other plugins to solve other Magento issues.

  23. makoshark August 1, 2010 Reply

    I am looking for a way to import my Zen cart to magento There is an direct conect osCommerce to magento but it will not install (magento-core/Mage_Oscommerce or magento-community/osCommerce_Migration_Tool). It would be a one time thing. I have tried cart2cart and it failed also