Magento is a very feature rich and flexible platform that is ideal for businesses ranging from SME right up to Enterprise level. Magento comes in two main versions. The first and vastly most commonly used is the free open source Community Edition. This is the version we recommend for the vast majority of our clients as the features are all there and the price is free. You will not have any ongoing direct costs using this version.
Headline Magento Features
The big draw for Magento for most people is the huge list of features that come with it out of the box. You can see the full feature list here however here are some of the main ones we think you should be aware of.
Discounts, Promotions, Price Rules
If you have ever had the misfortune to have to manage a time limited special offer on a wide range of products in a standard ecommerce package you will know there can be a lot of manual work involved and the potential for human error can be quite large.
Magento solves this problem with something called Shopping Cart Price Rules. These are logical rules that can apply a discount to a large number of products in one move. For example if you wanted to apply a 10% discount for 10 days to all products that are over £100 and are manufactured by Sony you can create a single rule to do this and it will handle the whole thing for you.
The logical element of the rules system is really quite powerful and allows you to build a set of conditions as complex as your requirements demand. The rule can have a time limit applied. Furthermore you can use customer groupings to only offer the promotion to certain customers which opens up all kinds of possiblities.
If you want to do a promotion based on buying certain quantities or combinations of products, perhaps with free shipping and maybe requiring a voucher code, then you would use Shopping Cart Price Rules. These apply discounts to the shopping cart when the customer adds the requisite quantity and combination of items. One classic example of this is the buy one get one free type deal. You can also offer free shipping if the order value is over a set amount for example.
With these two systems combined you can handle almost any promotional idea that you can think of.
Magento has been built from the ground up to handle multiple store fronts. This is a core architectural concept and that means that in practice it works very well and is incredibly powerful. Other carts some times have multi store functionality bolted on as an extension or other after thought and this invariably leads to a less well implemented finished product.
Multi store means that a single Magento installation and administration area can operate multiple separate websites or stores. These could range from localised versions of the same site to completely different websites selling completely separate products and looking to a visitor like completely separate entities. This opens up all kinds of possibilities though the most common use cases are for localisation for internationally trading organisations and for operating many niche sites via a single admin.
If you have read anything about SEO then you have no doubt heard of the long tail. In a nutshell the long tail refers to the very large number of search queries that individually represent very small numbers of hits compared to more common terms but viewed as a whole the long tail adds up to a lot of traffic. If you want to target the long tail then you need to create many niche focussed sites that individually are likely to do a low turnover however by operating many of these you can build up large total turnover. Furthermore these small niche sites are often more profitable and generally easier to get ranking well for their specific target phrases.
Magento comes in two main versions. The first and vastly most commonly used is the free open source Community Edition. This is the version we recommend for the vast majority of our clients as the features are all there and the price is free. You will not have any ongoing direct costs using this version.
The Enterprise edition is a much more expensive proposition however for high turnover businesses that need the reassurance of a commercial relationship with the platform creators along with support and a few more enterprise focussed features then it is definitely a good option.
For the very large enterprise there is the Magento Enterprise Premium Edition. This is much more expensive again however it features a very high level of support, additional licences for the platform allowing you to set up server clusters and also some training. The premium edition is
History of Magento
Magento version one was launched on the 31st of March 2008. You can read their celebratory blog post here. At the time of launch the open source e-commerce landscape was ripe for a new injection of energy and innovation. The only real open source solution for e-commerce had been the wildly successful platform osCommerce. From the seeds of osCommerce sprang a few “loaded” versions that took the stock osCommerce platform and built in as standard a range of community developed extensions. The end result though was starting to look fragmented with a wide range of style and quality in terms of the features.
Magento was built by a company called Varien (now changed its name to Magento) and the CEO is called Roy Rubin. Before launching Magento they were an e-commerce focused web development agency very much like Edmonds Commerce. Their platform of choice was osCommerce and they gained a lot of experience working on modifying osCommerce to meet the requirements of their clients.
Eventually they realised that the time was right to leave osCommerce behind and build something from the ground up that utilised more modern and professional architecture and techniques such as an MVC code structure and a (perhaps controversial) EAV database structure.
There is actually a rumour that Magento was originally intended to be another of the many forks of osCommerce however Roy debunked this in his interview with SitePoint in September 2009 where he clearly states:
“we never really thought to use the OScommerce code base. I think when we started to really put together the vision for the project, we knew that the architecture was just going to be completely different. There is just no way that we could have worked with what OScommerce offered, and still offers, today. So really from the get go, we knew that we were going to have to put together something different.”
Magento launched with a feature set that completely blew away anything else that was out there. For me the most exciting features were the multi store functionality. I had previously built multi store implementations of osCommerce and it was not easy to say the least. The Magento implementation of this idea was so much cleaner due to the fact that it had been built in as a concept from the ground up so it all worked nicely and intuitively.
You can see the full list of feature’s that Magento version 1 launched with on this PDF