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Magento - A Brief History in Time

by  David Dwyer on  21/08/2019

Security, usability and what's important for eCommerce platforms

In 2017, Magento counted nearly 30% of medium and large European companies as clients, including 53 companies within the Internet Retailer Top 500. 

As we approach the end of 2019, this has grown to more than 250,000 companies worldwide, and an estimated $155 billion worth of goods have been sold through Magento-based systems. 

With such a widely used and trusted platform you’d assume it was reliable, stable, secure? Yes? No? Maybe? 

As always though the devil is in the detail.

The first consideration is that not all Magento deployments are equal. 

There are many versions but we can place them really into 4 versions:

  • Magento 1.x Community Edition – the free one
  • Magento Enterprise Edition (EE)1.x – the paid for one
  • Magento Community Edition (CE) 2.x – the free one
  • Magento Enterprise Edition (EE) 2.x – the paid for one

When you consider that the vast majority of Magento deployments are still using Magento 1.x Free Community Edition, with the remainder using Magento Enterprise 1.x, Magento Free Community 2.x. and Magento Enterprise 2.x then there is significant cause for concern.

Why is there cause for concern? 

Well the problem is threefold:

  • Past: “Magento 1.x” (both Free Community and Enterprise) are built upon a programming language that was deprecated (retired) in December 2018. It will still work but again if it breaks, has a new vulnerability detected, or simply falls over don’t look to the open source php community to release an update.
  • Future: Magento themselves will provide no more patch updates from June 2020 for “Magento 1.x” (both Free Community and Enterprise). This means if the website breaks, has a new vulnerability detected, or simply falls over, then you’re on your own, so don’t look to Magento to release an update. 
  • Existing: “Magento 2.x” (both Free Community and Enterprise) have had significant issues resulting in many new patch releases ensuring that the development community are on a pretty never-ending treadmill of updates. The issue here is finding the development resources to cope with Past and Future issues plus the ongoing maintenance. Fortunately Inspire have developer resource able to cope with this if you’re existing partner or staff member cannot handle the workload.

This begs the question why would we choose Magento in the first place?

Typically a platform recommendation comes from either a member of staff or a selected partner be they web developer/designer/IT department. The issue here is that this is not always a truly independent choice as that recommendation might be based on the individuals experience with only one platform. How can you reasonably expect to choose the right platform when you only have one choice? Or in other words when you only trust a one trick pony.

We see this regularly through our Developer SOS service when the client advises “but we just took it for granted that was the right choice!”

That’s a debate though for a different Insight article.

Meantime let’s do a quick recap on why Magento was probably selected in the first place (Ed: you can skim this bit as it’s all really academic)

The Magento open-source eCommerce platform gives you the power to create unique and engaging online stores straight out of the box. They are totally customizable and able to seamlessly integrate with third parties. 

A recent example of the scale of potential it offers is the Amazon Sales Channel extension, which allows any sites on a Magento platform to harness the selling and distribution potential of the world’s largest marketplace.

Magento offers the possibility for multi-store functionality, so retailers can run several store fronts from a single installation – the admin interface allows you to create as many sites or stores as you need to within that. Localised sites, segregated by market, can share customer data or be kept separate. This offers flexibility and, provided it is set up correctly, allows an easily manageable customer experience.

Aspects such as categories, language and design can be decided per store, but it is important to note that some key elements, such as inventory and price, filter down from the top level across all unless overridden through customisation or third-party modules. Promotions are an important e-Commerce tool and this is another area where different rules can be set per store, even if they are all on one installation.

Magento allows multilingual sites, where the same global website can be offered in different language versions with unique country-coded urls. This can be configured so the global site displays a language chooser bar at the top of the homepage for customers to select from. This can also be applied to the admin interface, where there is a default primary version but international employees can switch to and work within their own language.

Search can be also regionalised through the use of attributes, enabling synonyms of the same items to be assigned according to different territories. For example, if someone in the UK searches for ‘trousers’ or ‘handbag’, they will receive the same results as a US customer typing in ‘pants’ or ‘purse’.

Magento offers the flexibility to manage customers either at a global or site level. Depending on the nature of the business, it may be ideal for a global customer to log in once and carry their online basket with them throughout their visit, even if it is across a number of different sites under the global umbrella. Whereas a customer who logs in at the website level would only see their basket contents within that one site.

Offering competitively-priced and well-thought-out shipping options is crucial for online stores. Equally important is a transparent returns policy that serves the customer well, while also maintaining margins. 

Magento Shipping was formed in 2017 through a partnership with Temando. It provides much needed functionality plus clarity on rates, tracking and complex international shipping rules.

Another area where Magento’s international strength can add considerable value is payments. 

Preferred payment options vary between countries, with some choosing to pay by cheque or after delivery rather than via online methods. Magento can support all the main payment gateways from different regions, providing features tailored to each market. (Ed: this wasn’t the case for BarclayCard for Magento 2.x, but is ok now)

Next let’s look at what changed and whether they’ve invested in their platform!

Magento received an investment of circa $250 million from Hillhouse in January 2017, increasing their value to around $700 million according to the Financial Times. 

They used this to finance international expansion, via new product development and investment in sales, marketing and customer support, securing their position as an e-commerce platform market leader. But they also realised that investing in a platform premised on PHP5.6 was a poor investment. (Ed: for the reason given above)

Hence they created a roadmap for Magento 2.x built on PHP7 and set a sunset on support for Magento 1.x of June 2020. 

This was intended to give the development community time to migrate their website builds to the new series of Magento 2.x, but a mix of economic uncertainty, poor choice of platform (Magento is not an easy development platform to work with) and “sweating the asset” has meant many businesses have not invested in this change.

The next step change was when Magento was bought by Adobe in May 2018 for circa $1.68 billion.

Adobe have continued to invest in evolving their new Magento 2.x platform, with major functionality improvements. One of the key separators for Inspire on choice of platform is whether the business needs an enterprise level solution for reporting and integration with other 3rd Party enterprise level entities.

As the e-commerce world moves way beyond a simple data capture driven approach but towards the use of that data whether that be in Robotic Process Automation (RPA), connected-RPA, Intelligent Automation, Software as a Service (SaaS), or Artificial Intelligence, then it’s critical that this effort not be diluted into too many different versions of the same platform. Hence you can see why Adobe do not want to be encumbered by old versions.

To the uninitiated, analysis of data gathered by eCommerce platforms and analytics engines can give real insight into what is working well, what could be improved, and help to anticipate any potential issues. 

A package called Magento BI (Business Insights) is available and can be set up in the form of pre-built dashboards and bespoke reports. These give a clear picture of metrics and performance, and the resulting data trends can be used to adjust and improve functionality. 

If you want to find out more about how Inspire can support your business online then please use the form below.

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