In this post I’ll be sharing with you some of my findings so far after working for the past 3-4 months with multiple Magento sites.
Approximately 18 months ago, I worked deep into Magento for a clients site and I came out of that experience with some distorted impressions, now that Magento has progressed, I must say the second time around a lot more enjoyable.
The past week has been excellent fun and it’s looking likely that we’ll have 3 completed Magento to eSellerPro connectors completed and one live in the next few days. But before they go live, I’d like to share a few of the challenges we’ve had along the way and hopefully you can learn from them too.
By far the biggest challenge we’ve had has not been with the connector between eSellerPro and Magento itself, but the servers that the Magento sites are being hosted on.
In short, Magento is a beast and it needs lots of resources.
And when I say lots, I mean lots. Even 2 dedicated Xeon cores and 4Gb ram is still struggling to cope with ~15,000 products.
Granted a lot of these are variations (footwear), but even still it was being sold as “Magento Ready” VPS (Virtual Private Server from Vidahost) and so far it’s not been performing as well as one would have hoped. On another we got to 29K products on a shared hosting package and it did rather well in comparison, the only troubles we ran into there was that it’s proving slow to load and the other 50K products will have to wait until it’s moved on to a full dedicated server in the next day or two.
I’m now doubling my suggestion “that if you’re not paying £50 a month hosting fees then it’s not enough” to £100.
That means you can have a decent dedicated server to power the beast with plenty of room to grow and don’t have to worry about the number of connections and the amount of time a process is taking to run.
Oh and if you’re reading this thinking oh my goodness £100 for web hosting alone for a website… Then your right, it is expensive, but when you need flexible options and have large amounts of inventory, then Magento makes sense.
Common & Cool Magento Extensions
A couple of extensions have come to my attention and I think you should be aware of them too.
Magento Shipping Extension
Magento has some basic shipping options and also matrix rates that you can import via CSV, however these are not that flexible if you have complex rules and one extension that is being used by 4 sites so far is the “Product Matrix shipping extension“.
This extension is sick and if you want to see how configurable it is, see their Google document here which has exactly 1 squllion well documented examples included.
Image Switching for Variations
I was surprised that this didn’t work out of the box with Magento, it’s got every other feature you’d want, but image swapping when a variation such as a colour is selected from the drop-down box, nope.
Hidden in the depths of Google I found a really old article that showed you how to set up images to swap on Magento’s configurable products using a £45 extension called “Magic Zoom Plus“. This extension adds the zoom window that we see on eBay listings, but it also opens the main image up into a lightbox too so the customer can see the full sized image.
Anyway… the core reason for wanting this extension is because if you set the variation products up to have images too (which the connector from eSellerPro Magento now does), you can select a colour option and the main image changes.
If you’d like to see this in action, have a look at this demo product on my Magento testing site (change one of the colour options in the drop-down box).
One of my old nightmares was with PayPal Website Payments Pro and Magento, back at something like version 1.5.1 PayPal was in there but not actually working for the UK version. Two minor updates later and multiple calls to PayPal it was finally working, so when it came to SagePay and Magento, I was kinda hoping for a more pleasant experience.
To integrate SagePay is a piece of pie. I’ve now set this up several times and we’ve had it running in an hour, the extension you want is this one, it makes it easy and the SagePay Tech support team are ace.
M2ePro – Listing to eBay & Amazon from Magento
This is a topic for a different article really, but it’s of worthy mention. M2ePro has come on leaps and bounds from what it used to be (“cranky” was one word for it) and it’s exceptionally flexible now.
While not the most well documented product out there, their support is amazing! We’ve had 2 minute replies continuously for any questions we had and there are so many options to fill your boots with.
The setup wizards are OK, but some of the options are not well explained and we’ve found a few things that need to be setup just right for them to work. But it’s promising and I’m hoping to release a full step-by-step guide to getting up and running with M2ePro in the next few weeks, plus I’d like to get the business up and running on it first and can use that as a reference point.
eSellerPro to Magento Connector Updates
We’re so close to having our first Magento site that is powered by the connector I’ve built between eSellerPro live, literally 2-3 days and I can’t wait to share!
The data transformation needed has gone through multiple stages of development now and the process the data goes through has had major revisions. It’s running approximately 14.4 times faster than it was before (I time each transaction and log it) for small batches and for larger batches, the speed increase is almost exponential because of the way the data is now being handled. If I lost you with that lot, basically it runs fast when creating or updating products.
When the connector was first written I only hand a handful of settings, today there are 148 settings that completely change the way the connector works between eSellerPro and Magento for all parts of the integration, inventory creation, stock & price updates, order collection and of course updating orders back in Magento too, allowing for it to be completely customised to each installation and data sets that the business has.
To give you some idea of the flexibility the connector has, here is a glimpse of what the Magento to eSellerPro connector can do right now:
- More Magento Versions Supported
Supports Magento version 1.7.X and confirmed working with Magento 1.5.X as well
- Category Creation
Creates categories on-the-fly and with configurable options as well. Such as making the category active by default, including it in the menu or even setting it as an anchor category
- Category Blocking
Category blocking to block specific categories from being created, which is super handy when someone has old categories that they need to ignore or use elsewhere
- Data Cleansing
Category cleaning, so that moving from an existing website to Magento is much (much) easier and can mean that the category tree can stay the same temporarily while the product data is updated. There are a few amazingly sick things I’m not going to share around the categories, but they make the moving from one site to another a lot easier.
- Up to 5 Variation Styles Supported
Variations or configurable products are supported and now up to 5 different attribute sets can be catered for dynamically and they’re matched to the right visibility. Oh and if they’re all out of stock, guess what the master product is marked as inactive as well.
- Dynamic Attribute Creation
You’ll know these as custom fields from eSellerPro, but in Magento they’re called “Attributes” and these are created dynamically and with what-ever options you like by default too. Want to swap the type to another type such as a dropdown or text area, the connector now checks for attribute type changes so not to slow down the loading process.
- Data Transformation
The value of specific Custom fields can be transformed at the load time, for example one user has a full URL for a YouTube video that they wanted porting to a specific attribute in Magento, we had three options, update eSellerPro, hack the site’s template or just let the connector strip the URL part and load only the YouTube video ID.
- Cross Selling in & Tested
Related, upsell and cross-sell products are now fully supported from being set in eSellerPro in the “Related/Kits” tab and they’re loaded automatically and controlled back in eSellerPro where you can import and export all you like.
- Tiered Pricing & Groups
Customer pricing groups are in and tested and up to 10 groups are supported. These are handy for sites where you have B2C and B2B going on. Oh and tiered pricing (which is price breaks upon quantity) is also in and working.
Payment Processing Warnings
During the setup process for these sites, I’ve noticed that that both PayPal and SagePay have been being set to AUTH and not SALE transactions.
Just in case one of these slips through to a live site environment or is changed at a later date, there are some massive warnings sent on orders to eSellerPro now that make it really clear that the site is set up as AUTH and not SALE (there is an option to block them from being sent and also turn the warning off as well).
If you’re wondering what the differences is, the SALE version means you get paid, the AUTH version means you only authorised the payment but haven’t taken it yet.
Spotted the problem yet? :)
Magento Theme Support
The differences between a well written and a botched theme are now becoming apparent.
Some themes look like they have been written by a blind baboon, but others are so well written they’re amazing.
Some themes look like they have been written by a blind baboon
I mentioned the use of the YouTube video integration earlier, this was dead simple with what one of the designer guys had done, literally pop it in and it worked and if you wanted the extra flexibility of sizing, you could set those via attributes or using a simple syntax for the attribute.
One of the connectors has been set up to manage custom containers and blocks as part of the loading & updating process for products, so that the actual product layout page can be set up and managed eSellerPro and the site changes accordingly, it’s soooo sick, I’m going to have to show you how this works in a later article too.
Anyway we digress.
Magento, second time around has been an enjoyable experience. Not without it’s frustrations though, the entire core of the product appears to be undocumented and not a wiff of a comment anywhere which makes extending it a real challenge at times, but what can be done with it is pretty darn cool.
Am a convert yet from OpenCart? Maybe… but as I dig in deeper, they’re chalk and cheese.
What do you think of Magento?
What’s your thoughts on Magento? Have you used it for your site are you thinking about it or maybe you’ve been looking at something else… Let me know in the comments box below, I’d love to hear from you.