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Archive for the ‘E-commerce’ Category

E-commerce sector has been in fashion and on boost for a while now. That’s why there are many debates over choosing the right open source solution for it. Let’s try to figure out why nopCommerce could become your choice. If you are an ASP.Net developer, you might want to graciously add and/or argue with something. In any case, welcome aboard :) and let’s get to the point.

“NopCommerce is among the top 5 featured e-commerce apps on Microsoft Web Matrix, downloaded more than 395,000 times from there and witnessed more than 883,142 source code downloads from Codeplex.”

The main feature of this software is that it is very easy to manage and quite user-friendly. This was the reason why nopCommerce created a buzz in the market soon after it was launched. Unlike others, nopCommerce is not written in PHP or Pearl rather, it is completely written in ASP.Net 4.0 and nopCommerce developers have provided the backend of SQL 2005 which even today is considered as very powerful database management platform.

NopCommerce is an open source e-commerce solution that contains both a catalog front-end and an administration tool back-end which is easy to work with for anyone with basic computing and administrative skills.

The various features that have made nopCommerce so popular are notification via sms, live chat, multiple language support, one page checkout procedure which ensures a low bounce rate, billing and shipping detail, mapping the products in the appropriate categories and sub categories. You have control over features such as discounts, coupons, wish lists, tax options, shipping methods and much more.

Speaking about other Nopcommerce features that seems quite prominent to me, they are:

• availability of exchange rate system that is based on the real time prices and multicurrency support (this has greatly helped the shoppers across the globe to shop freely irrespective of their current location);
• multi-store and multi-vendor support (this also allows online store owners to sell their products without the need to stock inventory and ship orders);
• drop shipping (enables the assignment of vendor details to a product).

Additionally NopCommerce is one of those few open source solutions that have been built keeping Search Engine Strategies in consideration with the use of friendly URLs, properly structured content and products to enable potential customers to find your store.

And last but not least nopCommerce is supported by fastest growing user community which has increased the technical as well as informative aspect of the solution.

With so many advantages listed, inadvertently a question arises if there are any pitfalls with this solution. And for sure there should be some. For instance it appears to have heavy server requirements and tends to require more design and development expertise than other shopping carts.

And what are your thoughts about nopCommerce? Please share your experience of using this e-commerce solution. Many thanks in advance!

 

Aliona Kavalevich

Aliona Kavalevich
Aliona.Kavalevich@altabel.com
Skype ID: aliona_kavalevich
Business Development Manager (LI page)
Altabel Group – Professional Software Development

If you follow our blog regularly you probably remember that my last post was dedicated to Sitecore CMS. This time I decided to represent for your review one more powerful at the same time arguable CMS – Magento. Magento as well as Sitecore CMS is meant to build big things but this time in the world of ecommerce: helps to create online stores.

As the field of ecommerce is tending to grow and develop continuously IT solutions try to meet the needs and offer the best solutions to make it extremely innovative, make the managing process easier for holders and of course attract as many customers as it is possible. There are many CMSs for this purpose like PrestaShop, OpenCart, osCommerce, phpShop, Spree, nopCommerce and others. The choice of CMS depends on what kind of eCommerce/business you intend to go on. You need to take into account such aspects as the size of your firm, whether you haveB2B, B2C or you’re retail, what management system you use or you will use ecommerce platform for that, connection of you websites with other sales channels, your programming skills: PHP, .NET, etc.

So as you may see there are many CMS available today, the choice depends on what type of business you have and type of software you use. Nevertheless, beyond the rich variety Magento is considered to be one of the front runners.

Almost all claims that Magento is rather complicated system as it is built on Zend framework; however has a lot positive aspects. Generally it is characterized as big, complicated and powerful CMS/platform that provide excellent and multiply options to grow you website.

Magento is also very serious CMS and there is no doubt that it is not for everybody. It is tool for professional rather than for amateur.

-It rather complicated to use and work on it for its coding style, so be prepared to spend/charge from your development team twice more hours than usual. Also if you’re not experienced in coding or working with this CMS we would offer to hire skillful developer/development team with proven past experience to help you with that. Based on our experience working with Magento you should be prepared that the development process could take much more time as you will need to learn all the curves that CMS has.

- Magento is extremely powerful offering a wide range of customization options. It is easy-editable gives an opportunity to improve the code regularly by making updates and fixing bugs. And what is important here is that code itself doesn’t require any changes!

- One more aspect is the rich variety of features that makes Magento so flexible. Let’s now review the key features of Magento:

  • International support – multiple languages and currencies, list of allowed countries for registration, purchasing and shipping, localization;
  • Site Management – control of multiple web sites, multiple languages.
  • Catalog Browsing – easy navigation, advanced product filtering system, product comparison.
  • Catalog Management – inventory management, batch import and export of products, different tax rates per location, additional product attributes.
  • Analytics and Reporting – integration with Google Analytics and offers different reports.
  • Payment – different payment methods: credit cards, PayPal, Authorize.net, Google Checkout, ePay, etc.
  • Marketing Promotions and Tools– coupons, discounts and different promotion options.
  • Encryption Key – security storage of the sensitive data in the script’s database.

 

It is also scalable and it grows with your business. That’s the point why it is mostly recommended for mid to large size vendors.

Additionally it should be said that Magento team offers 24/7 live support. Of course it is not super fast but at least it works and you never know when you will need immediate help. Moreover it has video tutorials, good knowledge base, webimars, user guides and support forum. As Magento has three versions the opportunities of each version differs: Community Edition (downloadable version, you will need to find hosting and security for your store), Magento Go (cloud based of hosted Magento CE, preferably for small retailers) and Enterprise one, the last is complete ecommerce solution, fully supported and it is not cheap. Here it should be noted about technical support: Community version has an access only to the forums that are not so active mainly because Magento is relatively new and don’t have yet many followers. So there is no guarantee that you get an advice you need.

And at last as Magento is open source CMS it is free and you don’t spend your money to download it. But you will need to invest if you want to have store live.

At the same time (there is always the other sideJ) there are gaps (that make this platform a bit vulnerable and look unfinished) that need to be improved too. We have a made a short list of them:

  • Slow – Many reports that the software is clunky and suffers from slow load times.
  • Expensive – Even it is open source and free it will end up costing you after you add up hosting, security, and developer fees.
  • No Customer Support – Magento CE users have no access to technical assistance with the exception of a forum.
  • Requires Coding Experience – it requires users to have technical skills and experience in order create and launch stores. It is not for amateurs or hobbyists.

Some more aspects to consider:

  • Confusing and hard to learn.
  • Difficult to implement templates.
  • Not much themes to choose.
  • Software updates don’t work always properly.

To use Magento or not?

In my opinion Magento is proved to take one of the leading positions and has potential to save it. It has many positive aspects and if your business is well developed and you have large list of items to put online, you need to consider Magento and invest money in it. But of course be prepared for serious work with all the curves if you don’t have much knowledge in programming or take care to choose the development team wisely. And certainly don’t forget about tech support, Magento CE don’t have it.

In case you still considering whether adopt Magento for your business or not, feel free to share your personal experience with us leaving your comments below or contact me directly if you need assistance with your ecommerce shop to discuss the details.

Thank you for your attention!

Katerina Bulavskaya

Katerina Bulavskaya
Katerina.Bulavskaya@altabel.com
Skype ID: katy.bulavskaya
Business Development Manager (LI page)
Altabel Group – Professional Software Development

The digital age has changed customer behavior forever. They have no patience with 9 to 5 and they’re shredding the concept of after-hours and weekends. They have a voice, and that voice demands to be heard whenever, wherever.

Working hours, what’s that?

Banks—previously such strict observers of “working hours” all over the globe—have risen to the challenge by embracing technology. Net banking and ATMs have virtually done away with the need to visit those hallowed brick-and-mortar portals. Mobile payments are being made directly from person to person, minimizing the need for even small amounts of cash. While this is great news for all of us as individuals, the risk for the bank is that it becomes a marginal player in the life of the valued customer.

Let’s take a look at E-commerce. This is the case with several consumer-facing industries, such as cloth, books, groceries, appliances, furniture and such—all of which can be ordered online and delivered while you are away at work. No interface or face-to-face conversation with the company required.  Especially when you’re working from home, you meet the shipping company rep rather than someone from the company you ordered the goods from.  This is perfectly okay for the average buyer, except when something goes wrong!

Say you ordered blue curtains, but what you saw is not what you got. Colors on the digital screen often look different than when seen off-screen. Simply returning what’s arrived is not the solution. Speaking to someone and explaining what you had in mind so you get the right product is. This means that online dealers need to have someone customers can have a live discussion with. Beyond a live agent, online dealers more than ever are finding customers who expect to engage in live conversations any time of the day. Research by Social Bakers, an agency that measures how well brands perform in terms of social customer care, found that the number of questions asked on brand pages on Facebook has increased by 85 percent over the last year, and that airlines had the best response rate of answering 79 percent of these promptly. “Working hours” is not a phrase that works anymore.

Engage, not enrage
Companies selling anything at all cannot afford to be out of touch with their customers. So while digitization may keep the consumer from physically visiting you, it has also forged a path for newer ways in which to meet up through social media. Businesses are following their clients where they go, meeting them where they hang out, not in their offices but online.

Have you noticed that the online store you bought something from recently keeps popping up not only when you google something but also on all kinds of websites that you visit? That’s because The Web knows and tracks your online preferences. Personally, I find pop-ups asking to indulge in a live chat very intrusive—it’s like a store attendant following you everywhere and asking, “Can I help you?”  While it’s good to know there’s someone who can answer your queries, nobody likes to be stalked.

Smart businesses know how to keep track of the customer without being obviously there.

Keeping them engaged is in fact a bigger challenge than ever before since your customer can close that communication window with just a click.

Fly with the experts

Let us take an example of an airline that’s effectively engaging with customers. Lufthansa has its fingers on the pulse of the customer, and potential ones, through an enviable Facebook presence. Contests, events, quizzes all have earned the airline something every self-respecting Facebooker looks for—likes! Over 300,000 likes (on the India page alone), and if even a small percentage decides to fly with it because of the online excitement generated, that’s a big win.

Understandably, retailers and consumer-facing companies have a big Facebook presence. Coca-cola, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Walmart, Levi’s, Target, Nike, Kohl’s are among those that have the highest number of likes. Twitter accounts of many of these companies also have a very, very large number of followers. Clearly, they have managed to reach out effectively to their potential customers using social media.

What to outsource!?

These are still early days for outsourcing social media marketing and engagement, but it makes sense to outsource at least some of your efforts to begin with. Look holistically at your social media marketing plans and start by assessing what skills you have in-house and skills you are lacking. You may decide to start with getting the design and development built by an outsourcer to get your framework up front.

Other areas to consider include:

Savvy social media writers may be a skill your current writing team lacks, so content writing could be a place with clear payback. If you’re content doesn’t attract and maintain customers, you could be doing more harm than good to your brand.

Analytics can easily be done by a third-party and is probably the least vulnerable to subjectivity. That will save precious resources that you can deploy towards strategizing and hiring in-house of local experts to manage the customer community.

Customer experience management or customer care is another area to consider, especially if your customers are global and resident in different time zones. Be cautious to consider outsourcers who understand your business and your customer engagement model.  Since the outsourcer will be “you” during customer interactions, you need to feel confident they can successfully represent your brand.

Needless to say, do monitor what’s going on closely enough so you can step in when necessary. The important thing now is to be open for business all the time. Not just 24/7 but 24/7/365 and even up to 366 in a leap year!  Business process outsourcing companies are gearing up to meet the demand when it arises. That will finally help harried executives to get their well-earned weekend off to do their own personal networking, online or otherwise.

Testing could be outsourced. Minimizing risks and cost either manual testing or automotive one can easily be performed by third party.

Recently we could see the most prospective and fast growing social spheres that potentially need and could outsource a big part of them. There are:

-   Banking /finance

-   Mobile development sectorE-commerce

-   E-commerce

-   Medical/health care

-   Tourism

Has your organization outsourced marketing and customer engagement yet?

Polina Mikhan

Polina Mikhan
Polina.Mikhan@altabel.com 
Skype ID: poly1020
Business Development Manager (LI page)
Altabel Group – Professional Software Development

Responsive web design isn’t the future, it’s the present

In our humble opinion it’s late to debate whether responsive web design is the future because it’s already the present of everybody’s business represented online. Consumer/client behavior has been changing. According to statistics and analysts’ predictions, for instance, for the first time since 2001, PC sales are projected to be lower than they were in 2012; smartphone sales will double PC sales in 2014; tablet sales are expected to exceed 100 million this year and may top notebooks next year. So the shift to mobile is happening at an extraordinary speed, and tablets and smartphones are becoming extremely popular for business and pleasure matters. This means people view your content on thousands of oddly shaped and different sized screens. What’s more, according to Google research, mobile users “expect their mobile experience to be as good as their desktop experience” – this expectation poses a thorny challenge for both, business stakeholders and web designers and developers.

So this is no longer about “How do I make my website available to a smartphone or tablet?” – it’s “How do I make my business available in smartphone and tablet context?”. For some business it’s not important – it’s literally critical, for example: according to the Pew Research Center, 60% of tablet users prefer reading news on the mobile web than via an app; the same percentage is quite common for e-commerce sites according to Google Analytics and that’s why RWD has been listed in E-commerce marketing checklist for 2013. If you wish to identify the percentage of your audience that use mobile devices use the Google Analytics Mobile Overview report feature: if mobile users are more than 5% of your total audience you should consider catering for them too.

In general, there are three main approaches to providing information and interaction to mobile/tablet device users : responsive (and adaptive) web design, mobilized websites, and mobile apps. It’s important to understand that these are different marketing channels and their value proposition is very different. A mobile web site may do something very different from a mobile app – simply said, “if your goal is just to display and show content beautifully create a responsive or mobilized website; if your goal is to show productivity tools, build an app”. Which option is the best for your business will depend on your use case, your users’ habits and your budget.

Responsive web design vs mobile web development: advantages and challenges

To talk about advantages of responsive web design, let’s start from its definition. RWD is a front-end development approach aimed at crafting device agnostic sites. It uses “media queries” to figure out what resolution of device it’s being served on. Flexible images and fluid grids then size correctly to fit the screen. So responsive design provides easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling, and eliminates the need for separate sites for different devices. Adaptive web design is either a subset of responsive design, or a related approach. “Responsive design will show more stuff or less, optimized for a mobile layout, but is likely to still provide access to the full desktop-view’s content. Adaptive design, by contrast, might show very different content, and also present a different UI, reflecting touchscreen’s tap/swipe/scroll versus desktop’s keyboard/mouse interaction.” In either case, responsive (and adaptive) web design will be based on the same code as a desktop site, and will locate on the same URL.

- In the definition above a couple of advantages of RWD are pointed out. Indeed, it improves user web browsing experience since a website adapts to the browser or device compatibility automatically and makes the content look good. For customers it shows that your business is receptive to changing technology and understanding of consumers’ needs.

- From business perspective, “one website – multiple devices” concept means that it’s easy to manage and focus on developing good content for your website. The same applies to analytics and strategy development and deployment since there is only one set of analytics to examine and a single strategy to develop and deploy. From maintenance standpoint, the technique is great too as one update affects all of your platforms.

- Additionally, responsive websites are easier for consumers to find than traditional or mobile web sites because they come up higher in search engines’ rankings. “In fact, Google recommends responsive web design because having a single URL for desktop and mobile sites makes it easier for Google to discover content and for Google’s algorithms to assign indexing properties to content.”

- One more advantage from the future perspective, as Resnick predicts, is: “As the internet transforms further into a platform of services and user interfaces that tie those services together, leveraging RWD technology in the future will allow companies to integrate a plethora of back-end services, such as Facebook, Twitter, Salesforce.com, and Amazon Web Services, and then present the integrated data back out the front-end iad layer on a responsive design so the application looks great on all devices without custom coding needed for each device or screen size. No longer are expensive back-end solutions needed to integrate legacy systems with business partners.”

Actually responsive web design is quite immature so it faces many challenges too.

- Even though we might view a responsive website on a smaller screen and it displays less visible content or smaller-sized images, this does not mean that the site will load faster. The thing is that from one side responsive websites are not much smaller in download size when viewed on smaller devices or screen resolutions compared to when being viewed on a desktop browser jacked into a broadband internet service provider, on the other hand mobile internet speeds still lag much behind broadband internet ones. Thus responsive web sites need advanced optimization, such as serving smaller images and conditionally loading scripts, and much more. An alternative may be found in dedicated mobile web development solutions since they specifically address mobile devices.

- The related issue concerns complexity. Responsive web designs are inherently complex because they are trying to support many viewing experiences without necessarily optimizing the experience for one particular device (or genre of devices). Mobile browsers will have to deal with a big HTML file, and the site would need to carefully avoid running specific scripts, loading certain CSS and download large images. Perfect implementation is possible, still avoiding over-resourcing requires scripts or code and therefore additional complexity. Typical “m dot” site wins in this case and is simple. It usually has a small amount of HTML, limited scripts, CSS, and images (if at all) as it is built specifically for its intended small-screen, touchscreen mobile devices viewing experience.

- As for UI and UX, responsive websites have limitations here. Not only in screen size, they are also limited for utilizing or recognizing key mobile features such as user location, connectivity, device limitations, software potential, and user needs. Mobilized sites and mobile apps will provide broader opportunities and advantages here.

- Information architecture can be an issue. It needs to be carefully considered and should be hierarchically structured before the design implementation.

- Advertising is an issue. Ads will have to shift with the sites, something that will wreak havoc with advertisers who want guaranteed placements on sites.

So, which approach will or do you use to present your business online?

HTML5’s momentum and Best tools for responsive web design

Responsive web design is not a specific technology but a whole design approach. However, responsive design is enabled primarily by CSS3 and JavaScript, which fall under the banner of HTML5. HTML5 is really maturing in terms of its functionality and, more importantly, its speed. So now HTML5 is the backbone of the new and interactive features of responsive web design.

To achieve a smooth flow from a large screen to a small one it takes a lot of patience and perseverance. To reach a seamless result there are a number of tools that help you with it. Below you will find a list of best responsive design tools broadly recommended in the web as well as by Altabel’s dev team:

1. Gridset
A tool that helps you design, prototype and build any type of grid layout required – columnar grids, asymmetrical, fixed, fluid or responsive grids. It even lets you create a library of your own grids, with a variety of presets available. It will allow you to build responsive prototypes (without all the calculations) very quickly and easily, providing all the measurements and tools to integrate with your existing markup.
Alternatives: Frameless, Tiny Fluid Grid, Gridpak, SimpleGrid, Responsify, Responsive.gs, Golden Grid System and Photoshop Grid for Responsive Design.

2. Bootstrap
An intuitive and powerful front-end framework from Twitter to start a responsive website fast and easy. It addresses the most popular user interface components and interactions, uses a 12-column responsive grid system with simple and flexible HTML, CSS, and Javascript and features dozens of components, styles and JavaScript plug-ins, with basic global display, typography and link styles all set. It also gives the option of customizing components of your website for instance by using the Customizer .
Alternatives: Skeleton, Foundation, Base, InuitCSS, LESS Framework, Gridless, 320 and Upand Gumby.

3. Wirefy
Clients wish to see how wireframes will adapt to different device sizes. Static wireframes aren’t particularly useful to show a client how responsive your design is, or what functionality is being suggested. But rapid prototyping by building flexible wireframes may. Wirefy is a collection of functional responsive HTML snippets and templates that scale as the browser is resized (working across multiple devices). It builds on tools such as the Frameless grid system and Bootstrap, and uses CSS media queries that adapt to different device resolutions. Wirefy focuses on key elements such as typography, tables, images, slideshow, forms, tab panel, paginator, menu, etc., focusing on the users.
Alternatives: Froont, Interactive Style Tiles, Responsive Sketch Sheets, Responsive Wireframe Template, Interface Sketch Templates, Responsive Device Diagrams, Wirify.

4. FlevNav
Navigation strategy is a really critical component of any responsive website design. FlexNav is a jQuery plugin that takes a device-agnostic approach to complex site navigation. It is a mobile-first concept using media queries and JavaScript to create a menu with drop downs. It features multiple nested sub-menus, with support for em units and tap targets to reveal sub-menus for touchscreens.
Alternatives: TinyNav.js, Navigation Patterns for Responsive Design, MeanMenu, Responsive Solutions for Menu Navigation, jPanelMenu.

5. Adaptive Images
Previously, making your website images responsive was tricky and usually meant using a “hack-around”. Now several tools may simplify this task. Using a one htaccess file, one php file and a single line of JavaScript, Adaptive Images detects screen size of browsing devices, cashes and delivers device appropriate re-scaled versions of your web page’s embedded HTML images without any mark-up changes. Also it is entirely non-destructive, and works on existing websites and markups — without the need to edit anything. Adaptive Images works on the premise that you are already using the highest-resolution images on your site, and also offers a ton of customization options.
Alternatives: ReSRC.it, jQuery Picture, ResponsiveImg, Retina.js and Retina Images.

6. FitText
As content scales according to a user’s viewport, the text will naturally wrap as the container is narrowed; and this often causes widows, orphans or your headlines to look rather ugly, and can even break the entire layout. FitText is a jQuery plugin specifically for headlines and big text. It auto-updates the font size according to the width of the element wrapping it, so you can achieve scalable headlines and a non-broken layout that can be caused by font-sizing issues. FitText works perfectly with Lettering.js or any CSS3 property thrown at it. There are options to fine-tune the text, including the ability to set min-max sizes and the level of scaling. Still FitText is only for headlines, and shouldn’t be used with paragraph text.
Alternatives: BigText, Lettering.js, Kerning.js, Kern.js, Type Butter and Slabtext.

7. Responsive Slides
This lightweight plugin allows you to create a responsive slider using elements inside a container. The images have to be the same size and jQuery 1.6 and up should be used. You can keep captions and other non-HTML elements inside the slides, while also using CSS3 transitions with JavaScript fallback. It works in all major desktop and mobile browsers, can support multiple slide shows, have settings for transition and timeout durations, automatic and manual fade, and have options for customization.
Alternatives: Flex Slider, Slides.js, PhotoSwipe, Supersized, Camera, RefineSlide, BlueberrySequence.js and Galleria.

8. Responsive Tables
Data tables in responsive design can be troublesome: you want it to not break responsive layouts, not hide content, let you see entire rows and columns, not be too small to read easily or zoomed in too far requiring scrolling. Here ZURB comes out – a simple JavaScript/CSS combination containing two key files: responsive-tables.js and responsive-tables.css. It works by taking the first column, which is often the unique key for a table, and “pinning” it to the left of the table, allowing you to scroll the other columns under it.
Alternatives: Responsive Data Tables, Stackable.js, Footable, Responsive Tables, Responsive Tables, Responsive SEO Friendly Data Tables.

9. Responsive Design Testing
Building a responsive website means constantly testing how it displays across mobile and tablet devices. You could resize the browser yourself, or use a browser extension or tools within your IDE; but there is an extremely simple tool that allows you to see how a page displays on different screen sizes, in a single view. With Matt Kersley’s RWD testing tool you just have to enter your website’s URL into the address bar to test a specific page in different widths and device sizes. Also you can share the results of the test with others by adding any URL to the end of the testing page address. One major benefit of this tool is that it can be self-hosted (available on GitHub) by downloading and installing it on your own site. You can then navigate through the frames that your website appears in, testing the entire site effortlessly.
Alternatives: Screen Queries, Screenfly, Responsivepx, Responsinator, Responsive ViewportResponsive.is, and Resize My Browser.

10. Respond.js
The problem with media queries in responsive web design is that they are a part of CSS3 specifications so they do not work with older browser versions such as IE8 and lower. Respond.js comes to the rescue for browsers that don’t support media queries directly, translating any media queries it finds into equivalent JavaScript.The script itself is incredibly small and lightweight. It works unobtrusively, and doesn’t rely on any other scripts or frameworks to run.
Alternatives: Modernizer, Adapt, Categorizr, CSS3 Media Queries and Enquire.js.

The tools above are ultra useful for any RWD project from the planning and designing phase right through to testing, and what’re your favorites?

Welcome to share your view points.

Helen Boyarchuk

Helen Boyarchuk
Helen.Boyarchuk@altabel.com
Skype ID: helen_boyarchuk
Business Development Manager (LI page)
Altabel Group – Professional Software Development

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Stories are told about the greatness of the free and mighty Magento e-commerce platform. There is much talking about Magento in comparison with other eCommerce platforms but in this article we thought it would be a good time to talk about Magento on its own. Now we’ll talk about the pros of Magento and some great ,positive things to expect while using it. Later on we’ll discuss another side of the medal which of course is there as well :)

The Pros of Magento:

Out of the box features: Magento boasts some of the most impressive features straight out of the box, including:
– Marketing / promotional tools
– Search engine optimization
– Catalog management
– International support
– Shipping (multiple addresses, multiple shipments, free shipping, etc.)
– Analytics and reporting
– Site management
– Catalog browsing
– Mobile commerce
– Payment (multiple payment options, payment extensions available, etc.)
– Customer accounts

Open Source: We think it’s common knowledge how much software developers love open source software. Magento Community is completely free to download, plus every version of Magento is able to be built upon and tailored to the specific needs of developers.

Administrative Interface: As we suppose Magento has the best administrative interface of any open source eCommerce platform. Magento provides a customer-friendly interface that is also a very flexible solution. The out of the box features go hand in hand with the power of the administrative interface, namely the features of order and customer management, catalog management, and analytics and reporting data.
Community and Updates: Magento has continued to thrive as a community with their number of users increasing dramatically over the past few years. Magento likely has the largest and fastest growing community of developers of any eCommerce platform. Magento also has continued to release new updates and versions of all three Magento editions on schedule.

Extensions: The extensions available for Magento help set it apart from all of the other eCommerce platforms. Magento’s core development team set out to create Magento as one of the most extendable eCommerce platforms available. Magento has the architecture necessary to allow its functionality to be extended while still remaining stable and maintaining its elegant looks.

The Cons of Magento:

While there are hundreds of the Magento-lovers, I am also willing to provide an objective view of the eCommerce platform which has some negative sides as well. Now I would love to cover the cons since we discussed the pros of Magento earlier above in the article. Below each con, we also provide the best solution, so don’t get too worried about getting scared off by the information below.

Speed: One of the main complaints people have about Magento is its speed. Magento has been known to be quite slow. Magento was designed to be the most extendable eCommerce system available, which is still the case today. In order for the system to work efficiently despite the extensions added to it, the system was created in such a way that isolates each feature so that changing that feature (via an extension) does not affect any other part of the system. The result of which is an immense number of files in many different folders.
The solution: Get a good host that specializes in Magento eCommerce sites. As would be expected, if you try to use Magento on an incapable server, of course it will be slow. If you have a dedicated server and your site still runs slowly, the problem is likely due to a custom theme, a custom query, or your extensions.

Documentation: Magento, as an open source platform, falls victim to the typical issue of not being well-documented. There are manuals for Magento available for purchase, but may not be of much use because the system is full of unique terminology.
The solution: If you’re having trouble with the administration side of running your site, you should look into Magento-specific training. Find a firm or developer group that has extensive experience with all the versions of Magento that can help you get the most out of Magento.

Updates: We talked about the large community and the timely and on-schedule release of updates earlier. While this can be a definite pro of Magento, it can also be a downfall because of how often updates are released since an update will sometimes cause something that was functioning just fine to have a glitch after installing the update.
The solution: Hire an experienced development team to make sure that your Magento site is always using appropriate extensions and is developed using Magento-suitable practices. Also, if you’re worried, go through your upgrade process in a separate development environment with a Magento expert available to make sure the glitches are fixed before your site goes live.

Complexity / Cost: One of the other complaints we hear about Magento is that it can be too complex for people who don’t have much development experience. In addition, if you’re interested in creating a more extensive online store, you’ll likely need to use Magento Professional (starting at $2,995 per year) or Magento Enterprise (starting at $12,990 per year). If you need a large store and you don’t have any development experience, using Magento would require you to spend money on the yearly costs, as well as on the web development firm you hire to create your store.
The solution: Make Altabel your go-to Magento developers. With our dedicated developers and experienced project managers, we’ll keep your costs as low as possible by giving you exactly what you need and nothing you don’t.

Please don’t misunderstand me here. I am not saying Magento is bad ecommerce platform. What I am saying, is that Magento does not have a place for every level of ecommerce store and that users require training. Our advice to consult a professional with Magento experience, if you’re considering Magento for you platform and take note of the following:

• Don’t get caught up in the sales speak and try to ignore the shiny default template
• Remember you’ll need to set aside a great deal of time to learn the administration area – you may need training here
• Magento is not for every niche/business. The feature set and size of Magento implies you have a high volume of and complicated product variations
• Remember that due to the complexity of Magento, you’ll no doubt pay a premium for updates where a plugin will not suffice

Let us know What are your views on this matter in the comments section below. We are looking forward to a discussion on this important topic.

Polina Mikhan

Polina Mikhan
Polina.Mikhan@altabel.com
Skype ID: poly1020
Business Development Manager (LI page)
Altabel Group – Professional Software Development

Ecommerce is a term used to denote a type of business where purchasing , selling and exchanging goods and services is conducted over electronic systems such as Internet and other computer networks. Since 1991, the year when the Internet became open for commercial use, it has become possible for customers to electronically exchange goods and services with no barriers of time or distance and e-commerce has started to develop.

If you would like to implement an ecommerce website it can be useful to take a look at the following list of open source ecommerce CMS which can help you to select the appropriate ecommerce platform for your project/s.

In my article I’ve tried to perform some investigation and identify what are the advantages and disadvantages of these CMSs. So let’s have a closer look at the list J:

1) Magento takes the first place. The coding is based on the latest PHP 5 object oriented coding standards and Zend framework. Without doubt, the platform is a huge success thanks to its feature-rich administration panel, huge flexibility over the design, layout, control and feel and other qualities allow to handle large inventories, more complex functionality, big number of in-built features and themes and exceptional technical support. Also I`d like to draw your attention to the fact that Varian, the company that backs the cart is very active in updating the code and fixing bugs. All these factors make Magento a truly established leader in ecommerce software that powers some of the most innovative ecommerce stores online. But as you know , there is always a fly in the ointment and this CMS has a couple of disadvantages: it requires a good high end server; has heavily layered and overly complicated coding style; requires a lot of time to learn and do customizations; it`s fairly slow. However all these disadvantages do not prevent Magento of being on the first place in our list.

2) X-Cart. It is one of the most competitively priced and easy to modify e-commerce platforms. X-Cart is commercially supported and has very few bugs (I doubt if there are any indeed), it uses smarty templates system which many programmers like to work with for laying out the web site. Unfortunately the solution has licensing fees for system and some add-on modules and the price can be really high. However the core open source platform can be downloaded for free (either X-Cart Gold or X-Cart Pro).

3) Zen Cart – I may call – the art of e-commerce. Free, user-friendly e-commerce software. The ecommerce web site design program was created by a group of like-minded shop owners, who believed that the projects and design eCommerce-sites could and should be different. Zen Cart has a very nice wide array of features based on Oscommerce but has gone its own path. It has no licensing fees, it is stable, has many Oscommerce contributions already installed, and all these factors certainly please the audience. Still sometimes it`s not possible to use Oscommerce contributions, because they must be converted to Zen Cart, and the admin interface may seem a little messy in certain areas because of contributions installed.

4) OpenCart is an open source PHP-based online shopping cart system. The CMS offers an ‘out of the box’ solution with minimal manual intervention and configuration. OpenCart is an excellent choice for anyone looking to get started with selling online quickly and easily, with a wide array of extensions, both free and paid too, there is plenty of opportunity to customise your store cost effectively to suit your business needs. Their own website is clean, easy to navigate, clear and concise – plus easy to find support, tips or anything else you might be looking for. And as such, you can find similar practice deployed into their ecommerce software.

5) PrestaShop. It is the most reliable, flexible Open-source e-commerce software and one of the most favoured solutions for businesses when diving into the etail world. It’s highly recommended by the users. Using this CMS you can even manage and edit your products and images with the WYSIWYG editing tool and also customise your online store and send and receive payments to your PayPal or bank account. Still the core Prestashop lacks many of the basic fundamentals of ecommerce, it also provides the core install with a ridiculous amount of modules already plugged into the system (whether you want them or not), some of which have been half integrated into the core rather than relying of the 3rd party developers module CSS or JavaScript. There are also countless bugs and issues with the core.

6) osCommerce – a solution for creating an online store. It is free under the GNU General Public License . The product includes a lot of opportunities “in the box” (has the most available number of contributions and modifications, recent security update brings osCommerce up to date with MySQL 5 and PHP 5), allowing the owners of online stores to install, configure and maintain the service with a minimum of effort for free and without restrictions. Still it can take a lot of time and money to install all the contributions the customer wants (add-ons), and there is no graphic template system that means it is harder to modify the design.

7) Nopcommerce. Nopcommerce is a relatively new script online store and it is ASP.Net solution . I may tell you in confidence J that one of our recent projects was connected with this CMS: we`ve transferred the e-shop to Nopcommerce CMS with the possibility for synchronization of data from the web service (here you may find the description of the project). During the project implementation we noticed such advantages of the system as ease of deployment, integration of live chat, text messages on sales and contacts. Still a couple of little disadvantages were taken into consideration too: Microsoft licensing is required, the platform has some bugs needed to be fixed and support is rather weak.

Hope it will be of interest and helpful to you, in case your experience shows another picture and you have anything to add, I will be happy to read about your comments. :)

Elvira Golyak

Elvira Golyak
Elvira.Golyak@altabel.com
Skype ID: elviragolyak
Business Development Manager (LI page)
Altabel Group – Professional Software Development

Cloud technologies seem to be a modern trend-they are talked over at all the conferences, that are by some means connected with the Internet, are discussed in business press and on TV. It looks like another modern technological gimmick for Twitter, Facebook, various CRM and ERP systems, eAccountancy etc. Meanwhile, does cloud usage bring any benefit to business sites that do not provide hi-tech services?

In this article I will try to determine the benefits from using the cloud for the most popular business in the Internet – eCommerce. We will try to understand, if there is sense for a webstore owner to consider the possibility of transfer into the cloud.

In a classical data center there is possible such a situation, when there are no sufficient resources, which means the project loses the users who were not able to get access to it. It entails losing profit as well. On the other hand, when the load decreases, vacant resources stand idle, thus expenses for infrastructure support turn out to be wasted.

Let’s calculate lost profit for a hypothetic web-store. On the condition of having 10 customers per hour and average basket cost 100 dollars, one hour of down time will cost 1000 dollars. I’m not even talking about reputational risks – a consumer, who went to the rival during the down time, may never be back again. He also may lure his friends and acquaintances to another site.

Windows Azure allows developers to realize automatic addition and cutting off the resources, if necessary, through the special mechanism of resources management. It goes without saying that the owner of the site can add and cut off the resources manually using special portal of Windows Azure management.

Fatal failure, leading to the loss of all data or even a part of them, can entail eBusiness burst-up. Thus, reliability turns out to be even more important than lost profit from possible down times. In the cloud data duplicate automatically and store on different physical resources to secure the site owner from possible losses. Moreover, clouds allow storing the data even on geographically spaced sites. For example, Windows Azure automatically stores up to three data copies, at the same time it allows distributing data in Europe, America or Asia. It secures the data from serious failures.

When is it worth using the cloud?
1. Periodical load
In case the load happens at some definite time (working/off-hours), or definite days of the week (work days/ weekends), a site always faces the situation of resources idleness, when there are no load peaks. Consequently, it leads to extra expenses on unusable infrastructure.
2. Peaking load
Seasonal sales, holidays, promo actions lead to peaking site loads. Such loads are difficult to be predicted, while losses from possible down times or site irresponsiveness may be really huge.
3. Constant load growth
In case of constant load growth it is necessary to add resources. At the same time if load growth can not be precisely predicted, a site often lacks resources (site down time, failures), or there emerge lots of unusable resources (wasted expenses)

Cloud cost
For the most part of simple sites the cloud turns out to be more expensive than a usual hosting. At the same time cloud cost is explained by reliability of storing data, failures security, possibilityof elastic expansion and decrease of usable resources. Actual expenses depend on the site itself, its load characteristics, and can be calculated with the help of TCO Calculator.

Despite being more expensive, cloud hosting turns out to be more reasonable for most web shops, where constant availability and high quality service are really important.

Has anyone already transferred his/her site to the cloud? Please, share your experience and impressions, it would be really interesting to learn!

Thank you,

Nadya Klim

Nadya Klim
Nadya.Klim@altabel.com
Business Development Manager
Altabel Group – Professional Software Development


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