Stories are told far and yonder about the greatness of the FREE and mighty Magento e-commerce platform. Town criers carry the news across the lands and the folk listen intently, with baited breath, mouths gaping wide, thinking: “I too can haz a MagNEto store!!! It’s FREE and fabulous. My $$$ will have lot’s of children, har – har!” … they grab a FREE copy of Magento from town crier, hands rubbing.
Surely, most seasoned Magento developers have seen it. The Magento promise is fantastic but the reality is another, often frustrating and unforgiving beast. People sometimes realize the implications of using Magneto for their e-commerce platform a tad too late, when they are already knee-deep in implementation or deployment:
- The site on their favorite shared hosting account is too slow
- The shop looks like a gang of school kids had their way with it
- Or, worse, it looks like the Modern/Default theme with a different logo and maybe a color change
- Usability is poor since all the bells and whistles have been enabled and a heap of extensions installed
- The web developer has struggled with customizing Magento and it shows (without changing core files)
- The last upgrade seemed to work but suddenly the store is playing up
- The attempted upgrade fails repeatedly
- The newly installed extension crashes the site; uninstalling doesn’t help
- The site suffers from extension bloat or conflicts
- The default Magento favicon is still showing
- The standard PHP gal/guy can’t help and experienced Magento developers are expensive (and busy)
My favorite analogy to downloading the ‘free’ installation of Magento is like winning a Ferrari! It’s a fabulous car, one you’re proud to own and you love the idea of driving it, however your joy is quickly squashed by the ‘real cost’ of owning it. There’s the insurance, the high fuel costs and regular servicing – it all quickly adds up. Unless you have the financial means to run and maintain your FREE Ferrari, you won’t be going very far!
So, how do you decide whether Magento is the right fit for you and your online business?
Let’s consider the major factors in the decision making process:
- Your Business Plan
- Product Catalog
- Interfacing with Other Systems
Your Business Plan
One of the first things to consider is how seriously are you taking your online business and do you have a business plan?
If you are a large company, what part does the online store play in your overall business strategy? How does it need to integrate with your business systems? Do you have a dedicated online team that can look after and manage the site?
If you are a small entrepreneur, where are you planning on taking your business in terms of growth in the short and long term?
Is this going to be your main source of income or just something you do on the side in the evenings and weekends?
Do you have the necessary skills to run the online store yourself or can you afford to hire someone to help you?
And last but not least, are you prepared to invest seriously and understand that, while the software is FREE the services around it may come at premium cost.
Everyone has a budget and it’s rare that you’ll have an “unlimited” pool of money for your e-commerce site.
Given that the entry cost with Magento is free, you’d think that your money can go far. However, soon it becomes clear that Magento development often carries high(er) costs. Good developers are not easy to find and while you can take your risks with outsourcing your project on various freelancer sites, you may get sidetracked with forever trying to find the best deal or wondering who to trust, or worse, get a half finished site with major issues after you spent your money.
So where does your budget go when the software is free?
Creating an e-commerce site requires meticulous planning and attention to detail. If you are taking your online business seriously, you have to accept that you need to have a budget for analysis of how your ideas about your store tie in with your market, brand and business and how the analysis results can be best expressed online, through your website.
The outcome of the analysis should produce a specification document that will be used to develop the website itself. This also serves as project, feature and especially custom functionality documentation. Later, when you need to take you store to someone else for whatever reason, the new provider will be able to get an immediate idea what they are dealing with. Also, good project documentation makes maintenance much easier.
The next big part of the budget goes to the graphic and usability design. This is an important part and needs to be given time for refinement and preliminary usability testing. Ultimately, the design dictates which default features need to be customized and to what extent, as well as, whether completely new features need to be introduced. It is also a good idea to perform early usability analysis by setting up use cases.
The development phase is generally the most substantial component in terms of time spent on a project particularly if there is a requirement for extensive design and customization to the default functionality.
Your budget should also take into account the fact that sometimes you may change your mind and request a modification of functionality since you may have realized that it isn’t working as well as thought in the design phase.
5. Running Costs and Security
Depending on the size of your market, this will vary but be prepared that Magento wants its own little wind-turbine to power it. In other words, your web server will have to offer sufficient processing power for your store and your projected visitor numbers. Then there are bank or online payment gateway charges, security certificate charges, and so on.
Also be prepared to invest in performance tweaking after the site has had a run for a few weeks or months.
6. Ongoing Maintenance and Enhancements
Another important aspect of running your store is ongoing monitoring, tweaking and maintaining, just like anything else. Make sure that your Magento developer is around when you need them or better yet, engage a Magento specialist firm to look after your store on a regular basis and consult with you on the best strategies to improve the overall store performance and ultimately, your sales.
Are you selling thousands of items or just the one piece of software you came up with recently? It certainly makes sense to ascertain whether you really need all the bells and whistles Magento offers given the size of your product catalog. On the other hand, if you have tens of thousands of products, simple, configurable, grouped etc… then another set of issues arises when considering Magento. You’ll need some serious resources and a good scaling strategy.
If you already have a site on another platform and are looking at migrating to Magento, you might want to import your existing catalog, customers and order history.
Finally, you have to maintain your product catalog when the store is up and running. Will you do it yourself or employ someone to assist you? If so, they will need training too.
Again, look for people who have experience with Magento, they should be able to give you sound advice for your specific case on all the mentioned points.
As mentioned above, sometimes you really only need some basic e-commerce functionality so ask yourself or your web developer if Magento would be an overkill. Check through the Magento features carefully and make sure you have good reasons to use them. You may find that you only need a PayPal button to sell your items and there are other, more cost effective solutions to creating an online store such as Shopify or you can sell via other hosted services. There is a nice overview on Mashable of 35+ shopping cart solutions.
Of course, sometimes a business starts very small but manages to offer the right products and then growth happens fast. In that case, you would be able to easily justify re-developing your store with Magento if you haven’t started with it. However, if your business idea doesn’t bear ample fruit, then at least you avoided a lot of the initial cost (and/or headaches) of setting up a Magento store.
Interfacing with Other Systems
If you’re considering this, then you are most likely already in the right Magento customer category since you know that the e-commerce presence is only part of your complete chain of business systems that need to work together with as little manual labor as possible.
Magento offers powerful connectivity to third party systems such as accounting, CRM, warehousing and other ERP systems. Bear in mind, if you need to interface with a third party system that has no existing Magento connector, you will need to budget for custom development. Often, a well designed and robust connector will have a cost on par with the cost of the store itself and requires a Magento specialist with good experience.
So you’ve planted your seeds and the plants have sprouted but now you need to water, feed and maintain the garden, perform pest control, etc… Same goes for your e-commerce store. While there are ongoing maintenance tasks regardless of the software you are using, with Magento, you are most commonly faced with:
- Upgrades – this sounds easy in theory, but even if your Magento store was developed with upgradeability and best coding practice in mind, it can potentially be a very time consuming procedure.
- Additional functionality and customization – sooner or later you will want to add some cool new features or customize existing ones.
- Performance – as your traffic and possibly product catalog grows, you may find that your hosting solution isn’t up to scratch with the demand.
- Expanding into diverse markets – Magento allows you to run multiple stores and websites from the same install. That’s great but you’ll need to know how to leverage this feature.
- Interfacing with other systems – if you haven’t planned it earlier, then this will be part of your maintenance also.
In this article, we discussed the decision making process that needs to be applied when you are considering Magento as your online store solution. We have highlighted where your budget would go since the software is free, assuming you are using the Community Edition.
There are many factors that contribute to making the right choice so our advice is to consult a professional with Magento experience.
Let us know what you think in the comments section below. We are looking forward to a discussion on this important topic.
Originally published on magebase.com. Copyright © 2011 Magebase - All Rights Reserved.