DIY Magento: Getting Started

Welcome!  This guide is intended to help merchants successfully launch a Magento store quickly and with limited or no support from a designer/developer.


Categories and Products (Catalog)
Layered Navigation
Payment Setup
Sales Tax
Go-Live Checklist
PCI Compliance


To get started, let’s take a look at what Magento Community Edition (CE) is and how it is supported.

  • Magento is a full featured shopping cart with robust content management features.  Also, it is highly extensible via a library of third party extensions.
  • Magento is freely distributed.  Merchants do not pay a fee to lease or purchase the Magento CE software.
  • Magento is open-source, meaning the source code is not compiled or encrypted in any way and can be modified and/or extended as needed to meet new requirements.

The link below includes a great “Beginners” guide for getting to know Magento:

Also, for references purposes, the official Magento CE user guide is available at:

In the traditional sense, there is not a single vendor responsible for supporting Magento CE.  Rather, it is supported by the community, extension developers and internal technology experts.  If you are lucky enough to have a Magento expert at your disposal, they would be the first point of contact when questions or issues arise.

For those who do not have a Magento expert on-staff (or have not found the answer to a lingering issue), below are a couple of popular Magento Community resources with lots of support related Q&A:

In addition, provides an informative Magento blog covering a wide variety of topics:

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Retail Packaged Themes & Templates

For DIY merchants, this is the one area of Magento where flexibility is key.  In order to get up and running quickly, merchants will likely need to rely on the built-in theme (with minimal color/style/graphic modifications), install a community theme via Magento Connect or purchase a premium theme.  Free and paid themes are available from a number of developers/vendors.

In addition to themes available on Magento Connect, there are also many premium themes available which typically include support (sometimes subscription based) and a host of popular Magento extensions already installed (i.e. packaged with the theme).

Below are some resources for popular ready-made designs/templates:


help-buttonIf you are in need of a Magento designer/developer, let us know and we can provide you with a list of contacts who have worked successfully with LexiConn clients.


Custom Themes & Templates

Merchants with a strong technical background and experience in template-based software, may be able to perform more extensive theme modifications.  Prior to taking on this level of design effort, it is important that merchants/developers have a solid understanding of the Magento template structure and fall-back hierarchy.

This pdf is a good starting point:

Also, the articles below illustrates the Magento theme hierarchy.  Understanding how Magento uses templates is critical and this would be required reading for anyone looking to customize a template or build a custom theme:–cms-20644

Assigning Package/Themes

Once a Package/Template has been installed, it can be assigned under ‘System > Configuration > Design‘.

The first setting is the Package, followed by Theme (template) settings.  If no Theme values are entered, Magento will first look to apply a theme matching the name of the Package.  If none exists, Magento will use the default theme associated with the assigned package.

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Temporary Theme Changes

Magento allows temporary/seasonal themes to be assigned under ‘System > Design‘.  These can be used to automatically change the appearance of the site for a specified period of time (e.g. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Holidays, etc…)

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magento-icon-smCategories and Products (Catalog)


Magento uses categories to organize products.  Categories hierarchies are supported.  A category can be set up to display static content, products or both.  It can also be included in layered navigation (is_anchor = Yes).

This tutorial will help you gain a solid understanding of how to create and manage categories in Magento:

Importing Categories

Categories can be imported using the Magmi utility.  Magmi uses a plugin to generate categories on-the-fly, provided they are identified when importing products.

This tutorial explains how to use Magmi with a product import to create categories on-the-fly:

Product Types

There are 6 product types in Magento Community Edition:

Simple – basic products. can have options (no inventory tracking on options)

Grouped – two or more existing products sold together.  no special group pricing here unless you use shopping cart price rules.  also, no custom options.

Configurable – product with variants that require inventory tracking

Virtual – products that are neither shippable nor downloaded (think of services, subscriptions, warranties, etc…)

Bundle – aka “build your own”.  two or more simple/virtual products sold together with options. special pricing is supported.

Downloadable – self-explanatory.

Details and examples for each type of product can be found at:

Importing Products

There are several methods for importing products to Magento (using CSV format).  A basic Import/Export feature and Data Flow Profiles are included in Magento (System > Import/Export).

The basic Import/Export feature is fairly simple to use, but is strict and limited in some ways.  For example, if your upload CSV does not have headers which match expected columns in Magento, the upload will fail at the ‘Check Data’ step.  It’s all or nothing with the basic Import/Export utility.  If the file is not completely valid, no records are loaded.  You will instead need to use Data Flow profiles (or address the errors in the CSV).

A quick method for obtaining the CSV import specification is to first download products from Magento.  If none currently exist, set up some test products manually, choosing the same product types you will importing and setting values for the all fields included in your catalog import.  Once you have the exported file, you can being adding/updating product records (or manipulate an existing data source to conform accordingly).  

Data flow profiles provide more robust options, including saving import/export specifications (delimiters, file format, field maps, etc…).  When not using Magmi (below), this is the recommended import method (preferred over basic Import/Export).

These tutorials provide instructions for importing products using Data Flow Profiles:

An external utility, Magmi is also commonly used (and quite popular) for importing products.  The interface is slightly more complicated, however the flexibility and options it offers are second to none. If you or your developer are interested in using Magmi, let us know and we will install (and *secure*) this program.

This site provides several video tutorials with step by step instructions for using Magmi:

Importing Product Images

Product images can be imported using any of the above product import methods.

The link below provides instructions for importing images (does not apply to Magmi):

Magmi users can import images using the ‘image-attributes-processor’ plugin.

Here is another great tutorial from with step by step instructions:

Additional Product Import Resources:

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magento-icon-smLayered Navigation

Layered Navigation helps customers more easily filter category listings and search results for specific products.  The layered navigation menu is typically located in the left or right margins of the page (shown below in the left margin).

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By default, layered navigation is enabled for Category and Price.  You can set additional attributes to be used for layered navigation under ‘Catalog > Manage Attributes‘.

Here is a detailed reference explaining how Layered Navigation works:

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magento-icon-smPayment Setup

A popular payment solution built into Magento is PayPal.  It is also a PCI compliant solution

An overview of integrated PayPal solutions are available at:

PayPal options Comparison Chart:

PayPal merchant fees:

All the latest PayPal integrated options are bundled with PayPal Express checkout, which is a highly recommended payment option for all stores.

The payment gateway is another popular choice.  Magento supports both the AIM and Direct Post methods.  The Direct Post method allows for easier PCI compliance, as the transaction is not passed through the Magento software.

In addition to real-time payment processors, the standard install of Magento CE also includes several offline payment options including Saved Credit Cards (not recommended), Check, Money Order, Purchase Order, etc…

Offline Credit Cards:

Checks and Money Orders:

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The first step in configuring shipping options is the origin address and global options.

System > Configuration > Sales > Shipping Settings


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On the above screen, set the address from which your shipments will originate.  Also, choose options for allowing multiple shipping addresses on a single order and maximum quantity allowed when shipping to multiple addresses.

The next step is to configure one or more shipping methods.

System > Configuration > Sales > Shipping Methods

On this screen,  you will have the option of enabling one or more shipping methods, including:

Flat Rate

Flat Rate shipping can be applied at the order level or per item.  Additionally, the amount can be set as a fixed $ amount or a % of the item/order.


Table-based shipping methods allow for the following:

  • Weight versus Destination
  • Price versus Destination
  • # of Items versus Destination

This article provides a detailed overview of the setup process and requirements:

Free Shipping

The Free Shipping option can be used with any of the Real-Time carriers in Magento.  Note that once you have enabled Free Shipping, you must set the appropriate method and minimum amount within each real-time carriers configuration.

This article provides a detailed overview of the setup process and requirements:

Real-Time (UPS, USPS, FedEx or DHL)

Magento has an overview for shipping carriers:




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magento-icon-smSales Tax

For many sole proprietors and small businesses, setting up sales tax should be fairly straight forward (e.g. calculate and charge sales tax, on taxable goods, for shipments within the merchants sales tax zone).

A summary of the tax options in Magento can be found at:

Also, the following articles provide step by step instructions (best practices) for setting up your tax rules and zones:

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Magento natively provides two powerful features for applying promotions.


  • Catalog Price Rules
  • Shopping Cart Price Rules


Catalog Price Rules

Catalog price rules are used to apply discounts (fixed or %) to products and take effect on catalog pages (i.e. before items are even added to a cart).  This is the type of promotion one might use to put one or more categories of items on sale for a fixed period of time.  The applied discount can be configured to use the original price or the sale price of an item.

This KB article explains catalog price rules and how to use them:

Shopping Cart Price Rules

Shopping Cart Price rules are used to apply discounts to specific items, based on the contents of a customer cart.  This is also where coupons, BOGO and free shipping promotions are defined.

The KB article explains shopping cart price rules and how to use them:

Below is a very good article with examples for setting up various “sales” (e.g. % off discounts, BOGO, Free Shipping, etc…) :

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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…).   One of the many benefits of Magento is the extensible  framework upon which it is built.  This framework allows developers to seamlessly integrate new/enhanced functionality on top of the core code.  There are literally thousands of Magento extensions available.

This article covers multiple options for installed 3rd party extensions:

Prior to adding extensions or modifying code in Magento, you should review this blog post:

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magento-icon-smGo-Live Checklist

Prior to going live, be sure to check out our Magento Go-Live Checklist at:

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magento-icon-smPCI Compliance

PCI compliance in Magento CE generally requires that the merchant use a secure hosted payment service (e.g. PayPal, Direct Post, etc…)  or third party payment bridge software (Magento Enterprise Edition includes a PCI compliant payment bridge).

Read more about Magento and PCI at:

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Upgrading Magento to a new version is not a simple task. Besides the steps involved in the upgrade itself, many stores have made changes to core Magento files that get wiped out on an upgrade. Plugins or themes may not be compatible with a newer version of Magento. Functionality may change that your site relies upon to work optimally.

Fortunately, we have a process in place to help a Magento upgrade go as smoothly as possible. For a one time $99 fee, we can upgrade your store to the latest version of Magento. Read more about it on our website:

If you’re in need of a development / staging area to test with, we can provide this service as well. For shared hosting, the cost is $25 per month and a one time $40 setup fee to copy the live store into a dev. account and adjust it to work properly. For VPS and managed server clients, there is no additional monthly fee, just the one time $40 setup fee. We also set the dev. account so it is *NOT* indexed by search engines.

If your upgrade is unsuccessful due to issues with custom or 3rd party code, we can provide you with developer references whom have worked successfully with our clients in the past.

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