Apr01

Magento Mobile – Is there really any point?

If you haven’t seen it already, Magento have released a very snazzy looking mobile app for the iPhone, iPad and Andriod. With the slick looking interface, the relatively competitive price point, and the outward prestige of having your own app, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this an essential add-on for any Magento store. But after downloading some of the apps released by stores who have already signed up for this service, I’m left feeling far less enthused with Magento’s latest offering. I’m left asking myself one crucial question: is there really any point?

I Love Mobile

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not one of those old-school mobile users clinging onto a Nokia 3210 and with the view that the only use for a mobile phone is to make calls and text. I bought the very first iPhone when it was released, and it literally changed my life. I couldn’t live without it. And the advent of the app store has meant that I can do just about everything on my iPhone that I can do on my Macbook Pro (on a smaller scale, of course).  And I genuinely believe that the platform is still in its infancy, and the best is yet to come.

So Why The Negativity?

So if I’m an iPhone advocate, then why I am against Magento’s mobile app? The answer is simple…the app doesn’t really offer anything you couldn’t offer with a well thought-out mobile website. Why would I as a customer go to the trouble of downloading an app and having yet another icon cluttering up my already insane iPhone desktop, when I can get exactly the same experience by firing up Safari and visiting a mobile version of your website? It just doesn’t make any sense!

And then there’s the retailers perspective. The Magento app may seem all glossy and professional, but realistically there isn’t much that can be done in the way of customizing it. Unlike the Magento platform itself, which is highly customisable and can be manipulated and extended in an incredibly powerful way, the app is very much a basic “off the shelf” solution.

If you were to put the money you might spend on the Magento app’s into having a good web designer build a mobile version of your store, the branding and user experience would be far better than the off the shelf app. That mobile website will then have scope to grow and evolve with your business. You can add new features, streamline the design, gather feedback from customers as to what they want from a mobile experience with your company and tailor the mobile website based on that feedback. With the app, you’re always limited to what Magento decide is best for your store. With a mobile website, the possibilities are endless.

An App or a Mobile Website?

There are mixed opinions on whether apps or mobile websites will be the future face of the mobile platform. Adobe conducted some market research that showed that 66% of people would prefer to use a mobile website than an app. Google have echoed this finding too, saying that the Web has the potential to change the face of mobile, in the same way it changed the PC. And Taptu recently released a detailed report concluding that websites will be the dominating force in the future of the Mobile Web.

From a personal point of view, what I find great about developing mobile websites, specifically for the iPhone and Android platforms, is that the browsers on both of these mobile devices have better support for HTML5 and Web Standards than even the current release of Internet Explorer. This puts an incredibly powerful toolset at the hands of web designers and developers without the need to worry about backwards compatibility with outdated, but widely used web browsers. HTML5 and forward thinking browsers such as Chrome and Safari make for a future filled with feature rich, multi-touch ecommerce websites designed for mobile devices. This is what excites me about mobile.

A Place for the App

But there is still a place for the app in the future of mobile ecommerce. I’ve been really impressed with what some of the bigger retailers have been doing with iPhone apps lately. The ability to scan barcodes and add items to your shopping basket is genius, and something that could not be achieved with a mobile website. What these retailers have done is to give customers and experience with an app that they cannot get from the web. There are other areas an app can shine, such as allowing users to add items to their basket offline, for when there is no Wifi or 3G connections available.

So what is the point?

The point is that your ecommerce website probably doesn’t need an app. And if it does need an app, then it probably doesn’t need the Magento app. That is unless you’re just looking for something you can pull out at a party to impress fellow iPhone enthusiasts. If that’s the case then it’s $700 a year well spent. If on the other hand you’d actually like to make some money from mobile ecommerce, you probably want to channel your efforts towards deploying a good mobile website. It will be far more scalable, customisable, accessible, and ultimately, it’s what your customers are going to want from your company’s mobile strategy.

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Mar19

The perils of being a Magento module hound

One of the most attractive things about Magento is the vast range of modules and extensions available to extend and alter its core features and functionality. Given the simplicity of installing a module using Magento Connect, and relative simplicity of installation commercial modules, it’s no surprise that some stores can be seen to be running a large number of modules. In some cases this may not necessarily be a bad thing, however it is important to understand that the more modules you add to your store, the more likely you will encounter problems at some point.

Not all extensions are created equal

The first thing to understand is that while some modules have been created by excellent Magento developers, the vast majority have not. Also keep in mind that any module you install to your website has the potential to cause a problem. This may be a major problem that completely breaks your store, or it may be a minor problem that doesn’t isn’t apparent at first, in which case it may be difficult to track down the cause.

However there are a few simple things you can do to minimize the risk to your store:

Do your homework

Read reviews of the module you want to install (the reviews on the Magento site are more likely to be accurate than on the developers own website). Browse the support forum for that module on the Magento website. Also look at other modules that developer has created. Try to get a picture of the kind of experiences people are having with their modules. If you see a lot of problems, that’s probably not a good sign. However keep in mind the occasional problem does not necessarily mean you should start running. Look at the release archives for the module – are updates being released regularly to solve any problems? If so, this is a good sign.

Test for conflicts

You’ll almost certainly want to install the Extension Conflict module for Magento. It allows you to upload the module GZIP file and will throw up any potential conflicts, without actually installing the extension to your store. If you spot any conflicts, you could either try to resolve them yourself or if you aren’t a developer, you could try contacting the module developers for help.

Install to a dev site first

Seems simple enough but this can be overlooked by even the most experienced developer, especially when you are in a hurry to do something. Install and test the module on an up-to-date development site, and test for any problems. Magento is so vast that this testing is unlikely to throw up any and all issues, however it will certainly give you an idea as to whether or not anything major will go wrong.

Keep records

If you are installing a lot of modules on your site, keep a record of what you install and when. This will make troubleshooting any future issues a little easier, as you can back-track and see which modules were installed around the time the problem arose. Version control will make life a lot easier, but this probably beyond the reach of the average Magento store.

What if things do go wrong?

With Magento Connect it is usually a case of simply removing the module by uninstalling it (although this has been known to go wrong!), however for commercial modules you may need to go through file-by-file and remove any database entries that have been created.

Also keep in mind when contacting developers for help there is likely to be a time-delay. Even some of the commercial module developers (key players) can take up to 2 weeks to respond to an issue. This may be frustrating, but remember when you are paying $70 for something that probably would cost thousands to develop, it’s nice to show a little patience. That said, if a module is so key to your sites operation that waiting 2 weeks to have a problem resolved would never be acceptable, then you should really think long and hard about whether you want to rely on email contact only with developers on the other side of the world.

Wrapping Up

This post isn’t intended to scare anyone away from using modules developer by the Magento community. There are many great modules we rely on for every single project. However 70% of the problems we see with Magento websites have been caused by a module. So this is simply intended to point out what could go wrong, and to ensure that storeowners take some time to think things through before they press the install button…

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Mar10

Can your customers find what they are looking for?

A significant proportion, if not the vast majority of people visiting your site will already know what they are looking for. They may have arrived at your site via a Google search, a newsletter, or referring site, and from your point of view the aim should be to get them to the product they are looking for as quickly and painlessly as possible. This is where we can help!

Improved Store Search

The Better Store Search module features a new search algorithm for your website that will present far more relevant results than Magento’s default search. This means that customers using the search bar on your website to look for products will have a much easier time finding what they are looking for. A good way to gauge if this will help would be to look at the terms people are searching for on your site (go to Catalog > Search Terms). Try searching on your site for some of the more popular search terms. Are the results returned relevant? If you feel the search results could be better, this module will almost certainly help.

Behavioural Targeting

Sites like Amazon have been doing behavioural targeting for years. And now through our partner Predictive Intent we can make this technology available to our Magento customers. Behavioural Targeting uses a system which learns about your customers. Every click, every purchase, every referring site, search term, add to basket is logged and used to build profiles of your customers. This means that when someone visits your site, it can recommend products that it thinks will be relevant to them.

This has some very powerful uses when it comes to helping people find what they are looking for. For example, if someone visits your site by clicking a Google link where they searched for “Star Trek” (just an example), and you sell Star Trek DVD’s, we can show Star Trek DVD’s on the home page when they arrive at your site. So without even a single click we can present the customer with the products we think they are looking for. However, we can take this further. Instead of just presenting them with Star Trek DVD’s, we can present them with the DVD’s that most people who came to the site via that Google search term went on to browse and buy. This makes the suggestions even more accurate. We’re not just suggesting what we think is relevant, we’re suggesting what other customers thought was relevant.

This technology can be used to serve personalised product suggestions on your home page, category page, product page, basket page, search results page, and even in the emails your customers receive when they placed an order.

If you have around 1,000 SKU’s in your store, and are getting around 10,000 visitors per month or more, this technology could benefit you. Feel free to contact us if you’d like to explore this further.

Final Thoughts…

The above items are great ways to maximise the traffic you are already getting to your website. A lot of businesses seem too focused on getting more traffic to their website (which is important), but getting someone who has already visited your website to buy something is just as, if not more important. Increasing your existing customer conversion rate is an incredibly effective way of increasing your turnover. This will be a topic we will be coming back to time and time again over the next few months.

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Feb20

5 (More) Essential Magento Extensions

We thought it was about time we followed up a post from 2009 where we talked about 5 essential Magento extensions. A lot has changed on the Magento landscape in the last 2 years and so have the extensions we couldn’t live without. So, updated for 2011 here is our current list of essential Magento extensions:

One Pica Image CDN

This extension allows you to serve all product images from a content delivery network. It currently works with Amazon S3, Coral, Rackspace Cloud Files and any service that supports FTP, FTPS, or SFTP. This will improve the performance of your store, reduce the load on your server, and probably save you some cash on bandwidth too!

MailChimp Sync by Ebizmarts

Our good friends at Ebizmarts produced this Magento module for us a couple of years ago. It has since been released on Magento connect and has received well over 5,000 downloads. It sync’s your newsletter subscribers in Magento with your Mail Chimp account. This trusty little module has served us well over the years and we’re pleased to see that Ebizmarts have also now released a Pro version, which boasts some very cool features indeed.

Magento Invoice Extension

Anyone who has worked with Magento will agree that the PDF invoice design really, really sucks. Luckily, Webshopapps have produced a great extension that improves the appearance of Magento invoices and also allows for customisation of what information appears on the PDF printouts. The extension costs a mere £50, and is worth every penny in our opinion.

Luxe Bestsellers

We use this one quite a lot – it pulls through a list of best selling products into a block, which can be displayed anywhere on your site.  It’s a great way to pull fresh content onto, say the home page, without really having to do very miuch. We generally use the “enterprise” version of this extension (nothing to do with Magento Enterprise) but there is also a free version on Magento connect.

One Step Checkout

This extension needs little introduction, as these guys have already made quite a name for themselves. While this module isn’t perfect, it vastly improves Magento’s default checkout process and we wouldn’t build a site without it. Some of my favourite features include hiding the shipping method box if only one method is available, auto select your preferred payment and shipping method, and GeoIP lookup.

Your Essential Extensions…

We’d love you to post a comment telling us about the Magento extensions you couldn’t live without…

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Jun08

Marketing Tips for Ecommerce Sites

The internet statistics company Hitwise just released a report detailing that social networking sites are now more popular than search engines in the UK. Here’s the details:

uksocialnetworksandsearchengines-300x2411

May 2010: Social Networks (Facebook, Twitter etc.) = 11.88% of UK internet visits

May 2010 Search Engines (Google, Bing etc.)= 11.33% of UK internet visits

You can see by the graph over the last 3 years there has been remarkable growth among social network sites.

Are You Where Your Customers Are?

If you run an ecommerce site, this data should interest you and make you think about whether you are putting your products where your customers are. The following video sums up how your potential customers are using the internet to research purchases:

There is no one single way that customers are using the internet to research and make purchases. From groups and friends recommendations on Facebook to review websites or Tweets your customers are all over the internet looking for information.

Quick List of Types of Sites To Consider Marketing To

  • Authoritative Blogs in Your Space
  • Facebook Groups
  • Review Websites
  • Forums in Your Niche
  • Using the Search functionality on Twitter for people talking about your brand
  • Flickr Groups
  • Linked In

The list could go on and on.

Are all of those good options for your business? No. Could some of those be great options for your business? Yes! We were saying it in February of 2009 and we are saying it now- there are many avenues open for your business. You don’t have to do them all. If you can do one or two really well it can have significant impact on your bottom line:

In a world that seems to be consumed by SEO, the real value of some good PR seems to be overlooked. Get your site featured on blogs, news sites, take out select ad space with news sites (often taking out advertising space will be more likely to get you featured editorially), and don’t forget about off-line promotion too. Try to build a good rapport with blogs or news sites in your marketplace as these people can be very powerful allies .

Don’t Forget the Power of Search

Search marketing (targeting potential customers who use search engines to get product information) is one of the most powerful forms of marketing in our world today.

All other advertising is based off of common interests. You sell sporting goods and you advertise in a niche magazine that talks about football. Many football fans are interested in sporting goods so there is an affinity of interest there for your product. This is good and how advertising has worked for many years. The problem is the audience you are targeting may have no need or desire for your product.

Search marketing is different because you target people at the exact time they have expressed a need. If someone takes the effort to go their computer and search for “Black Youth Lonsdale boxing gloves” they are expressing an intent to purchase and by marketing to them through the search engines, your business is effectively raising your hand and saying “Yes, I can help you with that!”

So don’t forget about search marketing, but at the same time you should realize there are lots of other possible avenues from which to draw customers as well.

Where Search Marketing is Weak

From a customer’s end, using search engines to find information is relying on a mechanical “recommendation engine” that they don’t know if they trust or not. You know the feeling. Sometimes you search for something and the first few pages are nothing but garbage with no real answers to your question. Sometimes on the other hand you strike gold and find exactly what you are looking for. But the inherent breakdown is that it is impersonal. It’s cold. It’s rigid.

Pop over to Facebook or a great forum that specializes in the area you are interested in, ask a question and get 7 answers from people you know, or are experts in the area, you ask a couple of follow up questions and then are ready to purchase. Its warm. Its relational. Its the way people have done business for years. People like doing business that way.

In fact, I recently got an email about a site that I own where the inquirer said,

“Hi, I am putting together a list of resources on {A certain city in a certain country} to give to friends who holiday in an apartment I own in that city. Do you have a presence on Facebook or Twitter that I can refer them to. You can’t trust anything you get in the search engines like Google, there is just so much noise?”

Personal connection. That is what that potential customer was looking for and looking to refer her friends to me if I offered it. But she didn’t want my phone number or email address (which she had), she wanted to connect with me on Facebook or Twitter. They are a little less personal, a little less direct, but they offer the possibility of direct connection with me in a social setting.

Action Points

Think about where your potential customers are today. What are they doing? What problems are they facing? Where are they going for information? Who is influencing them? How can you connect with the influencers today? How can you raise your hand and say “I can help” when they ask a question or express a need?

Is Google or Bing part of that mix. Probably so.

Are there other points of connection that could be profitable for you and your business? Probably so as well.

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