It’s Never Too Early To Start Preparing For The Holidays

September is here, fall is on its way, and it’s the time for pumpkin spice everything, but it’s also a great time to spend some time preparing your online store for the holiday season.

1. Mobile & Responsive Design

Online store purchases made with phones or tablets account for over 11% of sales on average, and it’s increasing every year.  If you are working on a new design for your site, or thinking about doing it soon, Responsive Design is the way to go.  If you’re not ready for a new design yet, ShopSite 11SP1 and newer has a mobile feature you can enable.  While not a responsive method, it still provides mobile friendly pages to your customers.

2. Speed: Google & Customers Like It

A fast loading website will not only improve your search engine ranking, but your customers will like it too.  Don’t let your competitors have more sales due to your site loading slowly.  For example, do you have a slide show with 20 images pre-loading?  Cut that down to 5 or work with your developer to have it load 1 first and the load the remaining images after the rest of the pages loads for the user.

3. Target Google Shopping Campaigns

Review your Google Shopping Campaign settings and target your most profitable and popular products.  You want to make sure you’re spending your advertising budget in the best possible way.

4. Your Checkout Page Is Secure, Right?

Place a test order and make sure your checkout and thank you pages display their SSL lock symbols correctly and there are no warnings about insecure items loading.  If there are, review the issue with your developer and they can check the code for insecure images or other items that may be breaking it.  We have a great tool to help find insecure items called Why No Padlock?

5. Sales & Coupons – What Options Are There?

When you set up your sales, coupons, or other discounts – be sure to test everything ahead of time.  Don’t send out a mailing to thousands of customers and find out from a customer that the coupon code doesn’t work!

Here’s a blog post we published last year with a variety of tips and options for promotions you can do in ShopSite:
http://www.lexiconn.com/blog/2013/09/tis-the-season-for-sales/

For Magento stores, this tutorial will show you how to configure coupons:
http://www.pixafy.com/blog/2013/08/how-to-create-coupon-codes-in-magento-beginners-tutorial-1/

6. Saving Shopping Carts Can Save A Sale

A customer may not finish their purchase on their first visit to your site, but if they return to complete it and find their cart empty they may not bother to find the products on the store and buy them again.  Don’t let that happen!

In ShopSite you can set the “Keep unfinished shopping carts” value to 7 days on the Commerce Setup > Order System > Shopping Cart screen and then when the customer returns the products will still be in their cart.

For Magento, this feature is called the “Persistent Shopping Cart” and here are the steps to set it to 7 days (604800 seconds):

In the admin panel, go to:
System -> Customers -> Persistent Shopping Cart

Set the following parameters:
Enable Persistence: Yes
Persistence Lifetime (seconds): 604800
Enable “Remember Me”: No
“Remember Me” Default Value: Yes
Clear Persistence on Log Out: No
Persist Shopping Cart: Yes

7. Shipping API Backup Plans

While real-time shipping APIs allow you to provide multiple and accurate shipping rates to your customers, once in a while a carrier’s API servers go offline or have delays reporting rates.  We have a website at www.shippingapimonitor.com which you can use anytime to check to see if an API is online and returning rates.  If your store is reporting shipping errors you can go there to see if it’s an outage.

If the API you use is offline or having connections problems, and you don’t run any others, you could put an extra shipping option in place temporarily so your customers can still place orders.  Maybe you setup a flat rate Ground Shipping options, or enable another carrier, but it can be very helpful to have a backup plan available in case your carrier’s API is ever offline.

More Suggestions…

Would you like some more ideas and tips for holiday preparation?  Check out the links below for more suggestions:

http://www.lexiconn.com/blog/2012/11/procrastinators-guide-for-holidays/

http://www.lexiconn.com/blog/2010/11/holiday-shopping-checklist/

 

Extending Magento

While Magento CE has a robust built-in feature set, there are times when desired functionality is seemingly non-existent (e.g Full page cache, Google Shopping feeds, Affiliates program, etc…).  In this post, we’ll review some “best practices” for addressing functionality gaps in Magento.

 

Requirements

magento-logoTo get started, we highly recommend outlining known requirements, expectations and assumptions.  This critical first step can mean the difference between success and failure.

Sharing a consistent set of well written requirements with each technical contact you consult (e.g. community boards, developers, web hosts, vendors, etc…), helps ensure recommendations are accurate and their experience and expertise fully leveraged.  Spending quality time on requirements saves time and money, while also reducing frustration (for everyone, including the merchant).  Bottom line – Don’t skip this step :)

 

Perception vs. Reality

The Magento backend is highly configurable and at times quite complex.  Prior to extending core functionality, it’s important to dedicate some time to ruling out the possibility a desired change could be met using existing functionality.  Leveraging a core feature avoids not only the upfront costs associated with extensions and custom development, but also the on-going maintenance third-party code brings to the table (especially during upgrades).

Some built-in features, such as pricing & cart rules, are quite flexible and can be extended beyond their advertised usage.  A little “outside the box” thinking goes along way when evaluating requirements against existing features.

A thorough overview of Magento features and how they are configured can be found at:

http://www.magentocommerce.com/resources/magento-user-guide

Also, specific topics can be researched on the community message boards at: (read-only as of 2014):

http://www.magentocommerce.com/boards

 

Magento Connect

If existing functionality will not satisfy requirements, the next step would be to search for an extension on Magento Connect.

http://www.magentocommerce.com/magento-connect/

magento-connect

An account on Magento Connect (free) is required in order to download/install extensions.

First-time users will want to read this short installation guide:

http://info.magento.com/rs/magentocommerce/images/InstallingMagentoConnectExtensions4%200.pdf

Some things to consider when deciding on an extension (assuming you have multiple options):

  • Does the extension fully meet your requirements?  Documentation can be sparse, so it may be necessary to temporarily install the extension to fully evaluate it (preferably in a test environment).
  • Is the extension actively supported (free or paid support)?  If an extension has been abandoned (i.e. not compatible with the latest stable core release), there is usually good reason – either it didn’t meet expectations or the functionality was incorporated into the core product.
  • Cost (many are free)

 

Customization

magento-codeWhen required functionality isn’t available in the core product or via a community extension, the next option is to hire a developer who can build a custom solution.

Here are some things to consider when going the customization route:

  • Magento uses a configuration based MVC architecture.  If that doesn’t mean anything to you, it may be best to consult with a Magento developer, preferably one that is Magento Certified.
  • Customizations should be built as extensions of core functionality.
  • Modifying core files is bad and should be avoided at all costs.  “Hacking” core files can result in unintended consequences for dependent features (often outside your scope of testing).  If you must edit a core file, be sure to keep a detailed record of your changes.  It’s likely you will need to manually apply them after an upgrade.

 

ShopSite Tip – Add a Contact Us Page

Our customers all need to reach us at some point.  Maybe they need to call, send an email, fill out a contact form, or visit in person – and a Contact Us page allows them to get the information they need to reach you.

In this blog post we’ll show how to easily add a Contact Us page to ShopSite with sample code for a contact form and other details.

contact-us-form

Contact Form

Part 1 – The Contact Form

All LexiConn accounts come with a form processor called formmail.php which is used to parse contact forms and email the results.  Below is some sample code you can paste into the Text 1 field of the page you want to use for the Contact Us page in ShopSite.

Notes:
- Be sure you are not in the “editor” mode when you paste this in, it should be pasted as plain text without the editor active.
- Update all the “your-domain.com” lines to the values appropriate for your site.
- Update the “subject” line to what you want the email subject to be.

<div style="float: left; padding-right: 40px">
<!-- Contact Form -->
<form action="http://www.your-domain.com/scripts/formmail.php" method="post">
    <input type="hidden" name="recipients" value="info@your-domain.com" />
    <input type="hidden" name="email" value="info@your-domain.com" />
    <input type="hidden" name="subject" value="Demo Store Contact Form" />
    <input type="hidden" name="good_url" value="http://www.your-domain.com/thankyou.html" />
    <input type="text" required name="realname" /><br />
    <label for="realname">Name</label><br />
    <br />
    <input type="text" required name="replyto" /><br />
    <label for="replyto">Email</label><br />
    <br />
    <textarea required name="comments" cols="25" rows="7"></textarea><br />
    <label for="comments">Message</label><br />
    <br />
    <input type="submit" name="submit" value="Submit" />
</form>
</div>

For more details about formmail.php:
http://support.lexiconn.com/kb/questions/56/formmail.php
http://www.tectite.com/fmdoc/creating_forms.php

contact-us-details

Contact Details

Part 2 – Address & Contact Details

If you have an office or storefront where customers can visit, don’t forget to include the address on your page.  You could also include your phone number, fax number, and important email addresses.  Here is the code we used for our sample:

<div style="float: left; padding-right: 40px">
<!-- Address & Contact Details -->
<strong>OUR ADDRESS:</strong><br />
My Company Name<br />
123 Main Street<br />
Colchester, CT 06415<br />
<br />
<strong>PHONE NUMBER:</strong><br />
860-555-1212<br />
<br />
<strong>FAX NUMBER:</strong><br />
860-555-1212<br />
<br />
<strong>EMAIL ADDRESSES:</strong><br />
sales@your-domain.com<br />
support@your-domain.com<br />
</div>
<div>

Copy that code and paste it in at the bottom of the Text 1 field, below the code for the contact form.

contact-us-map

Embed a Google Map

Part 3 – Embed a Google Map

Want to make it easier for people to find you?  How about embedding a map from Google Maps on your contact page?  To do this, first go to Google Maps and search for your address.  Once you have that map ready on your screen view (in another browser tab) the instructions Google has here to get to the embed code:

https://support.google.com/maps/answer/3544418?hl=en

Below is sample code for this part of the page, but replace the “<!– Embed Google Map Here –>” line with the embed code from Google:

<div>
<!-- Embed Google Map Here -->
</div>

Copy that code and paste it at the bottom of the Text 1 field, just like we did for the prior code.

A Sample

Now that you’ve seen the 3 pieces of code from our sample, click here to see what they look like when all put together on a page:

http://shopsite-demo.lexiconn.com/contact-us-sample.html

Note: The contact form is just there to show what it looks like and will not submit anything.  When you put it on your store it will send the email and redirect the user to the Thank You page that you configure in the code.

Just a note about the <div> you see we used in our code: The code for the first 2 steps includes some padding and a “float: left” setting.  This tells the browser to display the 3 div blocks in a row across the screen and to insert some padding between them.  If you change the order of the blocks you may need to adjust the float or padding values to get the layout you are looking for.

W3Schools.com is a great site for learning and testing CSS code:
http://www.w3schools.com/cssref/pr_class_float.asp
http://www.w3schools.com/css/css_padding.asp

That’s all there is to it.  In just a few minutes of copying & pasting some code you can have a Contact Us page with not only a contact form, but a map showing your customers how to find you.

Magento Go Shutting Down – Where to Go Next?

magento_go_closing

Back in July 2014, Magento (owned by eBay) announced that it would be shutting down its Software-As-A-Service (SaaS) ecommerce platform known as Magento Go. Merchants on Magento Go have until February 1st, 2015 to move their stores to another application. Magento will be focusing on their standalone products – Magento Community Edition (CE), a free open source software application, and Magento Enterprise Edition (EE), a commercial application geared for large merchants.

This sudden closing of Magento Go came as quite a shock to many ecommerce merchants…

The question many Go store owners have is – which company / application should I choose for my online store?

Don’t make the same mistake twice

Other SaaS ecommerce providers like Big Commerce have announced they can help Go merchants migrate to their platform. It may sound like a good idea at first, but realize that it’s exactly this type of company that decided to shut down thousands of stores.

Merchants on Go cannot simply pick up their store and move it to another provider. SaaS companies like this run proprietary software that can only be used on their system. If they close up shop or change direction, their clients are left stranded with no easy migration path, and no ability to continue using the store software they rely upon.

Using a third-party SaaS provider is risky due to the lack of control you have as a store owner. There are also many other risks to using an ecommerce SaaS solution.

Own your code!

Instead, look to solutions where you are in complete control over your store’s software. Make sure you own the code that runs your store. This way, if the web host / service you’re using is not to your liking, or decides to shut down, you can simply take your store and move it to another provider with no downtime, and no re-work needed.

Having been a web host that focuses on ecommerce for over 18 years, we’ve seen SaaS companies come and go. We’ve seen the horror stories of online merchants that were stuck or essentially put out of business by companies that held them hostage, or changed focus suddenly.

The best way to combat this effect is to make sure the ecommerce software solution you choose is something *YOU* control.

Which ecommerce solution to choose?

Magento CE

Just because Magento chose to close down Go does not mean they are out of the running as an option for migration. Magento has created an open source, freely available solution known as Magento Community Edition (CE). Magento CE will look and feel like Go in many respects. It is a full featured solution that you can run on almost any web hosting platform. We have helped a number of Magento Go merchants migrate over to Magento CE hosted with us. The process isn’t 100% seamless, but products, categories, and images can be exported and imported into CE.

If you choose Magento Community Edition as your next platform, you will be in complete control of your destiny. The software will run on any server that supports MySQL and PHP, so you are not limited to just one company. Of course there are certain hosts (like us) that specialize in Magento, that can help you migrate, make sure your store runs fast, and help you get the most out of your ecommerce store.

Magento CE has a very strong community of developers, designers, and lots of add-ons and extensions. If you can think of a feature for ecommerce, the odds are good it has already been developed.

ShopSite

Another option for a migration solution from Go is ShopSite. ShopSite is a standalone ecommerce software package that can run on most web hosts as well. Its strengths are it is blazing fast, very easy to use and set up, and is one of the more reliable and feature-packed solutions out there today.

With ShopSite, you can import your products, upload your images, and convert categories to what ShopSite calls “pages” for an easy migration from Go. We’ve helped a few Go merchants take this route to keep their stores running far into the future.

ShopSite can run on any server that supports cgi scripts (compiled C programs). As with Magento, there are hosts that specialize in ShopSite hosting (we’re one of them). With us, we have developed many add-ons for ShopSite, and know the software quite well. This allows us to help our ShopSite clients when they have questions, or run into a problem.

Whichever solution you choose, make sure it’s an option where you won’t find yourself in the same situation as Magento Go. Avoiding a SaaS service like Go can help you have more control over your store, and give you the freedom to upgrade and grow on your own terms.

Not sure what to choose? Get in touch with us, and we can help you decide.

 

Google Shopping Adds Product Reviews

Last week Google announced plans to begin displaying aggregate product review information within Google Shopping Campaigns (formerly known as Product List Ads).  Meaning Google will display stars and review counts next to each paid product listing.

review-stars

You can read the full announcement at:
http://adwords.blogspot.com/2014/07/helping-shoppers-decide-with-product.html

This is a BIG, long awaited development, that is sure to help merchants increase conversion rates.  If you are currently using the Google Shopping service, or plan to, now is the time to act.

In order to give merchants time to share their review content, we’re offering a grace period from late July through October, 2014. During this grace period, we’ll allow product ratings to be shown across all Product Listing Ads where we have product review data available. After the grace period, we’ll only show ratings for products from merchants who choose to share their reviews with us.

To get started, you will need to complete the merchant opt-in form at:
https://services.google.com/fb/forms/productreviews/

Google does not guarantee product reviews will always be displayed, as they have (or plan to have) additional display extensions that may take precedence in certain scenarios.

Product ratings are one of several extensions we may show with Product Listing Ads, so please note that just because a product has reviews does not mean that we’ll always show ratings.

Note: At present, product review data will only be displayed for merchants targeting the United States.

 

ShopSite

shopingcartAs many ShopSite merchants are already aware, the Product Review module does not natively support exporting of review data.  For LexiConn hosted clients, if you are currently sending a feed to Google Shopping and your merchant opt-in form has been approved by Google, let us know and we will help you obtain the necessary review export.

Magento

Magento merchants should also be aware that Community Edition does not natively support exporting product reviews.  However, several extensions (free and paid) are available from Magento Connect.

Here a couple of popular choices (as rated by users of Magento Connect:

Don’t let the opportunity to get in early slip by! :)

photo credit