The Complete Magento Ecommerce Guide
What is Magento Ecommerce?
Magento is an established open source ecommerce platform which offers an unparalleled degree of customisation and flexibility. Designed to be fully scalable, hundreds of thousands of units can be created and amended, making it the perfect setup for any expanding business.
Alongside the standard modules, Magento also comes preinstalled with multi-source inventory functionality, Amazon and eBay marketplace integration, plus over 50 supported gateway payment types. Should you require further optimisation, covering areas such as blogging and analytics, you also have access to thousands of 3rd party extensions.
Yet what makes Magento unique is its online support. Boasting the largest pool of partners and developers in the world, the Magento Community forum has over 267,000 members, while the Magento Stack Exchange lists over 100m+ unique users every month. This means you always a huge knowledge base to draw on, whatever the query.
With high functionality though often comes a steep learning curve. To take advantage of Magento’s rich array of features, it will be necessary to understand them what they do first. Only then can you unlock the platform’s full potential. In this page then, we’ve created a free all-in-one Magento reference. Giving you the option to target key sections of this page with further reading on separate pages, this is a great place to start.
The History of Magneto – from Spin-off to Standalone Software
According to Adobe there are over a quarter of a million Magento merchants worldwide using the Magento Commerce platform, with the UK making up a particularly large share at 27% for its Enterprise Edition.
Its client-list also features some diverse and impressive brands. From Harvey Nichols to the British Museum, Made.com to Fortnum & Mason, it has become the preferred choice for those who demand high functionality and deep integration straight ‘out of the box’.
But this success didn't come from nowhere. Going through many growth spurts, adapting and trail-blazing along the way, Magento has a rich and varied history.
Originally intended as a development of osCommerce, Magento was eventually conceived as a standalone platform in 2007. From there it has grown to become a must for developers.
The Magento Time-line
2007: Official launch-date. Magento becomes a complete open source ecommerce platform.
2008: Magento Enterprise comes out. This version is based on direct user feedback.
2009: A major mile-stone: Magento is acquired by eBay. PayPal integration added.
2012: A new record is reached: Magento is downloaded more than 4 million times.
2015: Magento 2.0 is released. The platform now features new APIs for improved functionality.
2016: Using Amazon AWS’s cloud services, Magento now offers great scalability.
2017: China’s Hillhouse Capital invests $250 million to boost Magento’s growth.
2018: Magento is acquired by Adobe for $1.68 billion. Magento 2.3 is released.
Magento Editions: Knowing the Difference
In any overview of Magento, it is crucial to understand the differences between the various editions. The scale of your business, for the most part, should dictate which package you choose.
The Magento Open Source Edition is available for free download and targets small businesses, or those who simply wish to experiment with the software. This edition of Magento is open source and benefits from community support – the perfect way to get setup at no cost. You can download it here and find out to install it here.
The Magento Commerce Edition is the premium paid version. It includes separate databases for order management, checkout and product data. You also get 24/7 support by phone and e-mail, meaning help is always at hand if you get stuck.
There are more differences to consider though. These include caching speed, organic search rankings and load times. Such differences, however, generally only become apparent after significant periods of use. Save time by reading about the key benefits of both editions in this in-depth article.
Magento Pricing – Understanding How Much You Should Pay
A closely related issue is pricing. The importance of proper budgeting cannot be stressed enough. Pricing for Magento can go all the way from free up to around £23K for the Enterprise Edition.
Pricing will first of all depend on which version you use. While the Community version is free, Magento Enterprise costs around £24K for a license, with support packages costing around £10,000 per year and hosting of Magento on a server usually costing just as much again.
In addition, for those seeking the same functionality with the Community Edition as the paid version, approximately 65 extensions are required which could potentially cost as much as the Enterprise version to install and get running.
But the bulk of the costs will add up after your Magento purchase. This will depend on whether you build an in-house development team or outsource, what sort of host package you go with, and the number of extensions – if any – you decide to use.
Magento Support Services: the Forum and Stack Exchange
Whichever Magento Edition you go with, it’s important to remember you’ll always benefit from a large and responsive Magento Community. With 267,000 members in total, you can always expect a speedy solution to virtually any problem which might arise.
With the Forum you can expect –
a network of dedicated Magento enthusiasts sharing tips, tricks and support. Welcoming queries as well as general discussion, the forum aims to provide a comprehensive knowledge base for all aspects of Magento.
With the Stack Exchange you get –
a reputation-based Q&A format with each part of the site covering a specific topic, where questions, answers. All questions are directly related to coding, with the reputation system ensuring a simple and transparent form of self-moderation.
Full Usability: Getting the Most Out of the Extras
With so many extra features, it's easy to underutilise Magento. The platform can be enhanced with literally thousands of extensions, themes and plug-ins to create exactly the online store you want.
A theme is a Magento component which provides a consistent look and feel for an entire application area (i.e. a storefront or Magento admin) using a combination of custom templates, layouts, styles or images.
Here are some important factors to take into account when choosing a theme: —
- Customer Feedback: this will give you a fair idea of the stability of your chosen theme; an essential factor in any site-build.
- Browser Compatibility: easy to overlook, but essential to remember: your theme should work across multiple browsers.
- Access Speed: this will determine the success rate of your SEO, as well as the overall performance of your Magento website.
Where a theme determines the overall design of a site, extensions enable site-owners to add extra functionality by installing extensions by third-party developers. Magento extensions include: one page checkout, store credit, reward points, store locator, call for price and follow up email.
Beginning with the most recent version, Magento has refined the vetting process for extensions on the Magento Marketplace. Checks are now carried out to make sure it adheres to basic standards of coding and packaging, doesn’t plagiarise other pieces of code and doesn’t contain malware. This means you can install extensions with full confidence.
Despite this added protection however, it’s always a good idea to test each extension on your demo store first. This way you’ll catch issues such as conflicts between extensions, or frontend display problems, before they arise on your live site.
Magento Connect: What is it?
Magento Connect or ‘Magento Marketplace’, under its rebrand, is a platform where you can buy and download extensions. There are thousands of extensions available within categories like shipping & fulfilment, customer support, marketing and site optimisation. The hub also has user reviews to help you make an informed decision.
Themes are also available through Magento Marketplace. The installation process varies for each edition. Some require additional configuration after the installation, with many you will require assistance from your developer to set them up. In either case, you can rest assured of the quality and stability of all available: from themes to extensions, all plug-ins on Magento Marketplace are reviewed and vetted prior to release.
Finding a Magento Developer
Creating a new ecommerce website from the ground up, or even migrating from an old system, can be a huge task. Ideally, you’ll need someone with a broad range of coding skills (PHP), web skills (CSS, HTML), as well as some sort of certification.
Thankfully, there is a Magento Certified program which ensures all these requirements are met. Qualifying developers in direct relation to their level of expertise, you can rest assured your certified developer has all the skills needed to bring your site to life.
Let’s look at each certification level one-by-one:—
Magento Certified Developer: this qualification ensures the developer has a deep understanding of how to customise Magento 2 source code in accordance with Magento best practices. A Magento Certified Developer is capable of using all business processes in Magento, and making design decisions on the code level.
Magento Solution Specialist: drawing on a deep background in business and ecommerce, the Magento 2 Solution Specialist can optimise native features and knows how to make the best use of Magento 2 features and functionality.
For a more detailed breakdown of what to look for when hiring a Magento developer, please see our top 10 requirements for working with a Magento Agency.
The Magento Solution Partner Directory
Another good way of finding the right developer or Magento agency for you is through the Magento Solution Partner Directory. A Magento Solution Partner is a company which specialises in Magento Commerce, or has a primary focus on servicing existing Magento clients. On the directory, you can find companies of these type, specifying by location, partner level, number of Magento certified staff, and so on.
In addition, for exceptional Solution Partners, there is the Partner Award Winners held last year at Imagine in Las Vegas. This adds an extra incentive for partners to perform and add value to their company, while for those looking for the top developers in their sectors, another layer of quality assurance is guaranteed.
Magento Web Design
Even though it is unlikely you will be designing the Magento site yourself, understanding the basic principles of Magento web design will hold you in good stead when it comes to offering criticism or support to your developer.
Although each site will be different, with different needs depending on your products and services, here are a few tips which can be used to quickly enhance your offering.
ix Font Types
In many ways obvious, and for that reason easy to overlook: while using the same font style throughout can bring a sense of cohesion to your site, it can often rob it of drama. Don’t be afraid of experimenting with a variety of fonts. Try combining different styles and variants to achieve a unique and dynamic ecommerce offering.
Optimising for Big Screens
With more and more people accessing the web on large multi-media TV screens, it’s worth optimising your store to perform well on them. In practice, this can be achieved by increasing the number and size of product images, so that any extra space is taken up with your products. If in doubt, ask your developer to optimise your site in all aspect ratios.
Initially a gimmick, infinite scrolling is fast becoming an industry standard. The function allows visitors to scroll through content continuously, without the need for clicking through to other pages – minimising onsite frustration, streamlining the customer experience.
Parallax scrolling is the latest trend to hit the web. It refers to the implementation of design elements which fade away into the background as you scroll through the content. This creates the sensation of navigating a 3-dimensional environment, pulling the viewer into the content. Although but no means essential, it is something at least worth looking into to gain an edge over your competitors.
In addition to its preinstalled modules, you can harness the capabilities of third-party systems to expand Magento’s features even further. To do this, you will need to integrate Magento via its API (Application Programming Interface) to the third-party software in question. Given this is a fairly complex task, you’ll almost certainly need a developer to help you. Once done, however, your Magento interface will benefit from a far more comprehensive feature set.
Some of the APIs Magento currently supports include: —
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
- Product Information Management (PIM)
- Accounting, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
You can read about Magento integrations in further detail here.
When it comes to SEO, Magento is one of the most comprehensive ecommerce platforms around. With Magento, you can set SEO for meta-descriptions, meta-titles, image names, image alt-texts. This functionality has been improved even further in the latest version.
In Magento 2.3 you can now: —
- Edit the robots file in the back end
- Fine-tune your XML sitemap for all the different page types
- Access canonical tags within layered navigation
- Track your site traffic with Google Analytics
- Track your campaigns with AdWords conversion tracking
- Access canonical tags within pagination pages
- Initiate rich snippets as a fully integrated feature
- Access the Schema.org template as a built-in feature of Magento 2
You can read more about Magento SEO here
With Magento 2.3 now on the market, boasting an almost completely revised architecture with new advanced features, many ecommerce sites have already made the switch. Whatever agency or freelance developer you go with, you will want to ensure you are as up to date as possible to benefit from all its features.
Here are some of the new features available by upgrading to Magento 2:
- Varnish & Full Page Cache
- Table performance & multiple databases
- Content staging & preview
- Guest & Two Step Checkout
- Optimised default themes
- Headless Commerce (PWAs)
- Improved B2B shopping experiences
In addition, it comes with powerful Page Builder features, including:
- A powerful set of content types
- Easy drag & drop positioning of all content elements
- Adjustable column grid system
- In-line text editing and drag-in images
- True storefront content preview
- Reusable Magento blocks targeted to customer segment
- Blended Commerce and Content 9. Content Publishing
You also have access to a Multi-Source Inventory where you can:
- Manage stock in multiple locations to reflect physical inventory
- Real-time sourcing controls how locations are selected for delivery
- Inventory reservations for highly performance checkout and accurate quantity available
- API coverage for integration with 3rd party inventory systems
- Exceeds Shopify features with support for more locations, stock per site, and customisable algorithm
According to the official documentation, migration to the Magento 2 consists of four different stages:
- Theme Migration
- Extension Migration
- Data Migration
Although it should be left to your developer to execute these changes, you can see out how to plan for your Magento 1 to Magento 2 migration here.
While many companies are looking to migrate from one version of Magento to another, just as many businesses are seeking to integrate their existing (non-Magento platforms) into the Magento ecommerce architecture.
Magento enables third-party services to call the web APIs. In practice, this means you can access all your orders, logistics data and customer details, and other types of customer data, from within your new build.
In this way, you benefit from an easy to use, fully integrated system, while your customers benefit from a seamless ecommerce journey, with everything they need all in one place.
- ERP Systems
- CRM Software
- EDI Software
- Courier Services
- Content Management Systems
- Inventory Management Tools
- Email Marketing Tools
- HR Applications
In addition, thanks to the Amazon Product Advertising API, you can now import your Amazon products into Magento, while, via eBay’s API, you can easily integrate all your eBay listing directly into Magento as well.
Magento vs the Rest: How it Compares to the Competition
The last thing to look at is how Magento stacks up against its rivals. We’re confident that, with all its features, its open source flexibility, it’s the best ecommerce platform available on the market. Nevertheless, it’s worth seeing what Magento can do in comparison to other ecommerce platforms out there.
Unlike Magento, Shopify is a template-based platform. This means there are strict limitations on the type of design you can have, and the sort of features you can implement.
Unlike Shopify, Magento has:
- Multiple stores with the ability to transact in multiple countries, languages and currencies.
- Feature rich modules which allow integrations with your other digital tools such as EDI and CRM.
- A huge pool of apps and add-ons (5000+) on its marketplace as compared to a little over 100 on Shopify.
Use this Magento to Shopify migration checklist to weigh up your options.
Unlike Magento, Bigcommerce does not allow you to host with your preferred provider. You will therefore have to use BigCommerce own supplied hosting and comply with all the rules and updates that follow.
Here are the crucial differences: —
Unlike Bigcommerce, Magento processes significantly more orders per hour on the same hardware, offers near-instant service response times for catalogue browsing, and supports significantly more simultaneous administrative users on the backend.
Unlike Bigcommerce, which costs £20.95 per month, the standard Magento platform (Community Edition) is free at the entry level.
The Ability to Customise
Like the previous ecommerce platform mentioned, BigCommerce doesn’t let you design your own store from scratch. Instead, you have to work from a limited set of templates, which may or may not be what you’re looking for.
Use this Magento vs BigCommerce comparison guide to weigh your options.
Like Magento, Woocommerce is an open source platform. It runs on top of WordPress and can be enhanced with design templates and extensions. However, they both have different pros and cons which make them worth comparing to see which is right for you.
Full customisation: in essence, Woocommerce is a plugin that adds ecommerce functionality to WordPress. This makes it hard if not impossible to compete with a fully open architecture like Magento’s.
Security: Even though it is well-known fact that no site can be 100% safe from security attacks, both WooCommerce and Magento let you implement advanced security measures. But in order to ensure advanced security to its clients, Magento offers dedicated security patches.
Support: WooCommerce is a relatively new entrant into the market. It came out in 2011 as opposed to Magento whose first release came out in 2007. With a four years head start, Magento has been able to amass a much richer and densely populated support community, including guidelines, there is a huge user base that is ever-ready to help.
Use this Magento vs Woocommerce comparison guide to weigh your options.
Similar to Woocommerce, Opencart is an open source platform, allowing for a high level of customisation. In comparison to Magento, Opencart is also developed in PHP. It uses templates for product uploads and plug-ins to expand its feature-set.
As you may expect however, there are a number of areas where they differ, and we will look at these one by one.
Total Number of Users
According to builtwith.com, as of 2018, there are 556k Magento stores, with a further 106k sites running Magento 2. By comparison, Opencart runs 456k sites in total. This clear difference in Magento’s popularity means makes Magento much more of a ‘known and tested’ quantity, with its vast support community which has grown up around it adding to the unlikelihood of running into unforeseen challenges.
Another big difference between these two platforms lies in their capacity to integrate other marketplaces. Magento comes pre-installed with eBay and Amazon integrations, whereas with Opencart, these functions can only be activated by installing external modules. Therefore, if you want to cross-sell or are seeking to expand your productline to other, popular sites, Magento can do this much more efficiently.
A further issue with OpenCart is its security. Though the core of its system is fairly well protected against hacks and attacks, its extensions are generally not put through as much scrutiny as those for Magento. Anyone who tries to extend an OpenCart system will be relying solely on the extension developer to have implanted proper security, unlike those on the Magento marketplace which are all individually vetted by Magento’s staff.
Use this Magento vs Opencart comparison guide to weigh your options.
Magento (Commerce Cloud / Enterprise Edition) and Salesforce Commerce Cloud (formerly Demandware) are two of the largest hosted ecommerce packages. Both platforms are aimed at medium to large retailers, and both offer enhanced flexibility compared to similar pieces of software. Here we’ll look at some of the key differences between them: —
Hosting and Maintenance
Demandware offers multi-tenant proprietary hosting. This means all the infrastructure is managed by Demandware. While this may be an attractive prospect on the face of it, there are significant downsides to this setup. Magento allows self-hosting, whether via cloud hosting or a dedicated server. This allows for full customisation and the ability to apply patches and updates without your host's approval. By contrast, Demandware requires any changes made to your site to be passed by their admin first, with restrictions potentially in place even after software changes have been allowed.
Magento and Demandware Developers
While a software package might appeal to you over another in respect of its functions and overall feel, it's also worth looking at how much available expertise there is in each platform. Here, Demandware faces some strong competition: there are hundreds of developers and agencies working within Magento, many of them certified like us, whereas Demandware has so far struggled to achieve the same success. Time will tell whether Demandware will catch up, or simply fizzle out.
Community and Support
Though Demandware offers 24/7 support, this is quite limited when compared to Magento which offers an entire ecosystem of support, including agency support, the Community Forums and the Stack Exchange. The last two support channels mean you can find the appropriate ecommerce solution to your problem through a quick online search rather than waiting in caller queues. Again, Magento’s longevity means that there are few challenges likely to arise which haven’t been met before.
Use this Magento vs Demandware comparison guide to weigh your options.
Click here to access all the Magento software packages via our own download resource: Magento Download