Why you should use Magento for what Magento does best
When I was young, I was obsessed with the idea that modern design coupled with futuristic technology could simplify everyday tasks. I marveled at inventions like the Universal Remote Control and the TV/VCR combo. Similarly, when I heard about Europeans with washer/dryer combos, I couldn’t fathom why we didn’t have something so fantastic on our side of the Atlantic. Obviously, it would save space, time, and energy. Why weren’t we Americans using such advanced technology? Then I traveled to Europe for the first time and used a washer/dryer combo, and I learned that doing more doesn’t mean doing better. Sure, it washes… and it dries… sort of … if you only have a few light items and plenty of time. The washer/dryer combo was designed to meet the needs of flat dwellers with limited space. It wasn’t designed to be the best choice (or value) for a large, busy family with a spacious home.
I mention my washer/dryer experience because if you are planning to implement an ecommerce solution and you see your company as a lonely flat dweller, you may be in trouble; particularly if you will be using Magento. There are many things that Magento does well (I’d like to think you wouldn’t have chosen it otherwise); but for the tasks in which Magento does not best support, implement the best possible partner/extension.
First, I think it’s important to understand exactly what Magento does well. Here is a list of 6 general areas in which Magento excels:
1. Magento is an all-inclusive ecommerce platform
This means that Magento is designed to house your entire online presence. From the front-end, your website’s user interface blends seamlessly with its shopping UX. From the back-end, Magento can manage sales, inventory and customers.
One “worst” practice I’ve witnessed is a dev teams insistence on ignoring this and choosing to use Magento for only the ecommerce portion of a website and using a different CMS for the more “static” site pages. If this seems counter-intuitive that’s because it is.
2. Magento is responsive
The out-of-box platform has already been designed to offer an optimal mobile experience.
Magento’s fallback system, which was introduced in later versions of 1.x, continues in 2.x. This system allows developers the ability to create a custom theme by adding just the pieces you wish to change. In other words, so that there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. The hierarchical structure of the fallback system base is designed so that you can use as much or as little OOB theming as you wish. This saves a lot of time because you only need to modify your theme for those pieces you wish to change.
Despite this logical approach to theming, I have witnessed developers insist on creating an entirely new standalone theme that does not take advantage of the fallback system.
3. Magento can handle complex product types
Whether your products are simple, configurable or both, Magento has been designed to support your needs. Tiered pricing, customer group pricing, shopping cart rules, multiple currencies and nearly unlimited attributes give Magento the power to present virtually any type of product.
This means that, with a little planning, there should rarely, if ever, be a scenario where you are not able to create the type of product you desire. Still, however, I’ve seen a Magento site where every single product has been configured as a simple product, despite the client’s desire to offer configurable options. In that particular scenario, the client never did their homework to learn about using product types in Magento.
4. Magento is designed for easy setup of multiple storefronts
For businesses that wish to offer more than one shopping experience from their product catalog, Magento is a solid choice. Storefronts can be cloned and then customized for specific audiences/user groups/languages.
In order to take full advantage of this feature, it’s important to differentiate between Websites, Stores, and Store Views.
For example, if your ecommerce goals include having a consumer (B2C) store, as well as a wholesale (B2B) store, you would configure these as separate websites. If you then plan for your B2C store to offer a multi-lingual shopping experience, you would configure each translation as its own store view.
5. Magento is highly scalable
As your business expands, so does Magento’s ability to support your ecommerce needs. Beyond multiple storefronts, Magento also accommodates growth in your product database, increased network traffic, changes in pricing, multiple currencies, etc.
As discussed in my first blog post, infrastructure is a crucial part of scalability.
6. Integration with popular third-party enterprise tools is common practice with Magento
Similarly, custom extensions can provide an even greater level of information sharing between your Magento site and other important e-commerce tools.
This means, if there is an extension / API designed to provide an enterprise tool you want, then use it. Don’t waste time trying to customize Magento to do something it’s not designed to do.
Once you understand Magento’s strengths, its important to know where Magento can fall short. Magento is not a full-on ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) System. Sure, Magento provides a workflow for product and order management, but it’s not designed to manage your order fulfillment process or to replace a robust IMS (Inventory Management System.) I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on ERP Systems. There are many choices out there and your individual business needs will dictate the type of ERP that will be most valuable for you. Just keep in mind that whatever system you choose, it needs to “play well” with Magento. If your ERP cannot be easily customized to communicate with Magento, you may want to reconsider its use.
I have watched companies struggle to “force” Magento to work with ERP Systems through complex API’s and expensive customizations, only to realize they could have saved time, money and headaches by selecting a different system. Do your research!
Whatever your business or online sales strategy, Magento could prove to be a great asset in reaching your ecommerce goals. By understanding what Magento does best, you can make the best decision of how to support the areas in which Magento does not excel.
Use Magento for its strengths. Remember the washer/dryer combo? If Magento is your heavy-duty washer, don’t get in there with wrenches and try to force it to dry as well. A well-made heavy-duty dryer will serve as a reliable partner while saving you time and money.