Design & Development

The PeC Review: Magento Is the Open Source Powerhouse

Magento is an open source ecommerce platform designed to empower online merchants and remove barriers in business process and flow. The platform has been downloaded more than 600,000 times, Magento says, perhaps making it the fastest growing ecommerce solution in the market.

Magento gets four and a half stars
With a full feature set—that now includes support for digital products—and a theme based structure, Magento looks and acts like the best of commercial solutions, yet it is free to download.

While I have certainly not used every shopping cart or ecommerce platform available, I have worked with many of them, and I also have experience with enterprise-level content management systems that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Magento out performed them all. It is an excellent platform worthy of the four and a half out of a possible five stars that I am awarding it in this The PeC Review.

But my excellent rating is not without reservations. In my opinion, Magento requires more design and development expertise than some other platforms or carts. For example, I ran into one development challenge that I have yet to overcome. In spite of these concerns, Magento is the probably the best, most flexible ecommerce platform I am aware of. But because of the level of skill required, it will not be the proper solution for every merchant.

Magento Video Review

Open Source

In some ways, Magento is not a typical open source solution. Yes, Magento’s open source status means that it is free to download. It means that developers can create add-ons and plug-ins to expand its capabilities. In fact, Magento enjoys all of the opportunities for growth and expansion that any popular open source solutions does. But it also has a very committed company backing its growth.

Magento is the product of Varien, an ecommerce design house that seems to benefit from Magento by offering traditional web agency services to companies that want help developing an online business or want custom features or services built on the Magento platform.

Regardless of how Varien benefits from supporting Magento, the company is dedicated to it. In my own Magento implementations, I faced some development challenges. I used Magento’s forums to look for answers and posted a “how to” question. Roy Rubin, Varien’s CEO, responded to my post with a solution in less than 24 hours.

Theme-Based Structure

Magento relies on a theme based structure that separates layouts, templates, and skins (visual presentation). The structure is similar to the popular open source blogging tool, WordPress. Once a developer is familiar with how Magento’s themes work, the act of creating a store or even several stores becomes relative easy. Compared to theme-less carts, ecommerce platforms, and content management systems, this structure alone almost makes Magento worth the effort.

Numerous Features

Magento’s feature list is clearly the result of years of ecommerce experience. The platform includes features like a built-in product image zoom capability, advanced pricing rules to support special promotions, a landing page tool to help with marketing campaigns, inventory management, side-by-side product comparison tools, and more. Here is a list of just some of the Magento features that I really liked.

  • Manage multiple websites and stores from one administration panel and product catalog.
  • Web services API to make it easy to integrate third-party tools.
  • Google Website Optimizer integration for A/B testing.
  • Flexible coupon rules give you the ability to create numerous campaigns and buddy coupons.
  • URL rewrites.
  • An option to up sell during the checkout process.
  • Support for digital/downloadable products.
  • Integration with the United States Postal Service, FedEx, and UPS for real time rate quotes.
  • One-page checkout.
  • RSS feeds for both customers and administration i.e. new order feed and price alert feed.
  • Integration with more than 50 payment gateways.
  • Customer reviews.
  • Extensive analytics and reporting options.
  • Ready to go iPhone theme.
  • Self-generating site map option.
  • Newsletter management.
  • Layered and faceted navigation for filtering.

Design Expertise Required

Ease of use is a common measure for any software tool, platform, or shopping cart. And in some ways Magento is easy to use. Its administration interface is fine, for example. But to take full advantage of Magento, developers need a knowledge of Apache web servers, MySQL, SOAP, PHP, XML, XHTML, and CSS. Arguably these skills are required for most shopping carts or platforms, but Magento is much more hands on and even a standard implementation will have you accessing files and writing code that other platforms might not require.

Summing Up

Magento is an excellent ecommerce platform. Some users may find it too complicated, but I believe it is one of the top solutions for online retailers in the market today. It earns every bit of glitter and sparkle from its four and a half stars in this The PeC Review.

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Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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