How to Choose a Magento Agency or Magento Developer – Part 2

Posted by: Ashley Friday, March 27th, 2015

Gentian is the CEO at Shero (@sherodesigns). He is dedicated to making their Magento blog an important resource for Magento store owners and retailers researching Magento’s capabilities. He is also a firm believer of inbound marketing. In this blog, Gentian shares his expertise on  finding the right Magento agency and Magento developer.

In our previous post, How to Choose a Magneto Agency or Magento Developer – Part 1, Gentian explains the process of deciding what you want out of your Magento provider.

The next step is to choose a provider that best fits your needs. In order to make the best choice, it is important to know about the different types of providers that are available.

There are three main types of Magento providers:

1) Big Magento Agencies

These agencies have a minimum of 50 employees and are an official Magento partner. Usually they are a Gold Magento Partner. Some of the most popular agencies that fall in this category are Gorilla Group, Blue Acorn, Corra, etc.

The main characteristic of these agencies is that they have huge teams with a wide array of backgrounds and experiences. They usually have a pretty complex structure and systems in place, and work primarily with the Magento Enterprise platform. Their staff is comprised of a large sales teams, Magento certified developers, designers, account managers, project managers, front and back end developers, QA and A/B testing teams, marketing and analytics specialists, etc.

Having such a huge team in place means that your website will be coded with the latest standards, be thoroughly tested before launch, and will most probably be a great success. The downside of working with one of these big Magento agencies is that the price they usually charge per project is pretty high due to their overhead. They will have contractual obligations in place in order to maintain the level of their Solution Partner status with Magento (either Silver or Gold). Their minimum project price starts at around 120K and up. A common characteristic of the big agencies is that part of their team is located off-shore. Because of the size, the hierarchical nature of the organization, and location of the team members (e.g. different time-zone, cultural differences etc) it might take longer to get something done, and your vision might not be communicated exactly as you intended.

2) Medium-Sized Magento Agencies

These are agencies that have roughly between 5-50 people on staff. Most of the time, such agencies are a Magento Silver Partners or Magento Associates, but not always. Their teams are smaller than the teams of bigger agencies. They will have a mix of Magento certified and noncertified developers on staff, smaller sales teams (or individual salesperson), designers, account managers, and project managers. When working with a smaller agency, you should be able to get a quick turn around on support issues, and know specifically who you’re working with at any given time. Generally speaking, the whole team will be located in the same location or time-zone and you’ll receive more personalized service as the team becomes familiar with working with you. Usually their prices will be lower than those of big agencies.

The downside of working with a smaller agency is that their capabilities are more limited. Smaller agencies can become overrun if they take on too many projects, and that can slow down productivity. There is only so much that they can get accomplished in any given time frame, and the length of time it takes them to complete a project may be longer than an agency with more staff that can handle the workload.

3) Individual Magento Developers

Individual developers are people who are usually very skilled and talented programmers. Most of the time they work by themselves who usually work alone. A relationship like this is beneficial in certain ways because they usually have less clients so they focus on the ones they have and help you develop on a more personal level. This can also be less expensive because one person will not have the overhead of a full agency and the multi layers of management. All requests will go through that one individual.

They usually specialize in one aspect of Magento. It is rare to find an individual who has strength in design implementation, shipping configuration, and back end development. They usually have a focus, or major strength but can get by in other areas. Being versatile is critical for this person because they will be wearing many hats.

The downside is that you’ll have one person you will be relying on so if they are sick or go away while something major happens, you’ll get stuck. Note, this sole person will not have the capability and specialized skills of a full team of experts but they are pros in their own right and if you find a good individual who is reliable you should treat them as gold since it is rare.

Once you’ve decided to choose to go with, small/big agency or an individual developer, the discussions start. You’ll want to give your Magento provider as much information as possible from the get-go. Do your homework, and give them time to truly understand what your project is. They’ll be able to give you an accurate estimate based on the information you’ve provided.

One Magento agency may charge more because they have more experience, more qualified staff, and do a better job. Another agency may come lower because they have more experience with the theme you’ve chosen or have built a website similar to your industry in the past. Price shouldn’t always be the final determining factor. Instead, look at their past work and ask for references. Talk to their existing customers at length. This my seem blunt, but make sure they are in the same time zone as you. Do they ship all of their work overseas? What is their workload? How do they handle post-launch support? Learn more about their team.

When it comes down to that final decision, it should be one you’re comfortable with. If their vision for your brand doesn’t match what you want, if their experience isn’t what you’re looking for, and if they’re not professional enough for you – don’t choose the smaller price tag.

You’re going to spend more in the long run trying to make up for past mistakes. Choose the agency or developer that expresses themselves clearly, concisely, and reasonably. Most importantly, choose the one that can see your vision and help you achieve it.

Read more from Gentian and the Shero Designs team on their Magento Blog.

How to Choose a Magento Agency or Magento Developer – Part 1

Posted by: Ashley Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

Gentian Shero, CEO of Shero Designs

Gentian is the CEO of Shero Designs (@sherodesigns). He is dedicated to making their Magento blog an important resource for Magento store owners and retailers researching Magento’s capabilities and is a firm believer in inbound marketing. In this guest post, Gentian shares his advice for merchants on finding the right Magento agency and Magento developer.

As Magento gains popularity more and more web design companies and individual developers are focusing on Magento as their area of specialty. Magento’s open source nature and active community members have encouraged this gradual transition. With such a wide variety of providers, the question that comes to mind is: How does one go about finding the right Magento provider that will meet and hopefully exceed expectations?

In order to choose the best developer to suit your needs, make sure you spend some time working out exactly what you want out of your website to begin with.

1) Have a project scope

Before contacting somebody, and asking them for a quote, you need to know what you’re asking for. Not all websites are created equal. Some are very simplified, and others are far more complex. It’s not always inherent which side your website may fall on when you look at it. A website that you think shouldn’t take long, may have a great deal of specific custom work that makes it quite massive. Spend the time to write out exactly what you want. You don’t need to have a design already made, and you don’t need to have the website already created in your head. But, by identifying known constraints, explaining assumptions, addressing key success factors, and knowing exactly how much time and resources you have to devote to your project, you’ll be in a better position to negotiate. Setting this groundwork will help you to understand your project, and help your partner identify your desired functionality.

2) Have the right team in place

During the development of your project, whoever you chose to create your website will need to discuss the particulars of your website with either you or one of your staff members. While it may seem obvious, it’s imperative that you choose a project manager who understands how eCommerce works, as well as the systems and procedures that are in place to implement it. If your project manager doesn’t understand how to navigate, operate, or make routine adjustments on your website, a great deal of time will be spent on both sides trying to fix the problem. Unexpected training time can increase your overall project costs, and it can heavily stall or delay your timeline for launch.

Your project manager must be involved in the process early on and have a really good understanding of your goals and aspirations with the eCommerce side of the business. Furthermore, they should be the only one handling communication between your company and the Magento provider. Too many cooks in the kitchen can make end with massive confusion and chaos on both sides. Delegating one person to handle all communication ensures that nothing is lost in translation or overlooked.

The project manager should always be involved with the project early on when crafting the project scope and that time is allocated for them to provide approvals, artwork, content, product information. They should attend any daily/weekly meetings that are set up, and they should have a thorough understanding of your goals for your website. One of the worst things you could do, is to assign the wrong person to this task and realize that in the middle of the project. Choose carefully.

3) Have a rough budget in mind

A Magento website is a large financial commitment. While you’re creating your project scope, keep in mind how the desired functionality will affect your budget. Like buying a car, the more extravagant you make it, the more expensive it will be. Decide which features are imperative, which would be nice, and which can be pushed off to a later date. Early on, you need to choose which type of website you’d like. Do you want the Ferrari, or are you happy with a Lincoln? How much money are you willing, and able, to spend? Can you afford a monthly payment for maintenance, hosting, and licensing fees? Once you’ve done your research, have an idea of how much money you are able to spend in order to bring your idea to life, you’ll be in a good place to contact a Magento agency.

Many new customers don’t disclose their budget right away because they are concerned that they will be locked into that amount. While that concern is reasonable, it can also cause a lot of trouble with creating your estimate. If you have a budget of $10,000.00 and you’d like a Magento Enterprise website built for you, by not explaining that to your developer early on, they can’t tell you Enterprise has a minimum licensing fee of $17,900.00/year. Extensions can easily cost between $100.00-$2,000.00 depending on what you’re choosing. If you have a plan for your website, you may not know how feasible it is to build that website for a specific cost.

As a general rule of thumb: You should spend around 5% of your annual revenue to build the website initially and then spend 2-4% of your annual revenue in ongoing support and maintenance.

Once you’ve determined your project scope, arranged for a project manager to take control of the project on your end, and have a budget in mind, you are ready to start looking for your Magento provider.

In the part two of this post, Gentian will explain the different types of Magento providers and what to expect once you start working with your provider. Read more from Gentian and the Shero Designs team on their Magento blog.

 

Under the Hood of Alexander Galtsow

Posted by: Ashley Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

WebShopApps values each and every person involved in making Magento what it is today. The Magento community is made up of many significant people; we interviewed these individuals to show off who they really are. These interviews helped us get a feel for what their place is within the community and who they are outside of work.

Alexander is the VP Communications and Partnerships at aheadWorks (@aheadWorks), a web development company that supplies software solutions for the eCommerce sector. aheadWorks is a leading provider of Magento extensions, Magento themes and templates, and custom Magento development services. aheadWorks strives to provide innovative technologies to web store owners, so their customers can enhance their online stores and heighten sales.

Alexander enjoys his line of work and cherishes the time he spends with his new daughter. To provide more insight on his personal and professional life, Alexander answered a few questions for us.

Can you describe what you really do at work?

The main areas of my responsibilities are to Nurture existing aheadWorks partnerships and search for new ways of cooperation within the ecosystem and beyond. This mostly involves email correspondence, phone talks, personal meetings and a good amount of strategic planning.

If money was no object, what would you spend your days doing?

Sounds dull, but I’d be happy to do the same set of things I do now.

In your spare time what do you get upto, and how do you balance this with your workload?

For the last 8 months my baby daughter took over almost every aspect of my life, and I’m happy to spend my leisure time with her. I also love cycling. I’m trying to start running on a regular basis, and I do my best to reserve some time for reading (non-fiction mostly).

How do you see the future evolving for Magento and the eCommerce space in general?

Although eCommerce progressed greatly in the last couple of decades, it’s still somewhat inefficient and clumsy in many aspects. However, things are moving forward incredibly fast, and in next 20 years we might as well find ourselves in a world with no physical stores at all (at least not as we know them now). As for Magento, with all the recent big news, 2015 promises to be quite interesting and I’m really looking forward to the upcoming release of version 2.0’s Developer RC. Magento is the one and only truly open-source eCommerce platform; the community around it is stronger than one can imagine, and I believe it’s got what it takes to overcome any challenge and keep progressing.

What is usually your last thought before falling asleep?

Should’ve gone to bed two hours ago.”

Who is your role model, and why?

Not quite a role model, but Sir Isaac Newton is a man I truly admire. He significantly improved our understanding of the Universe, providing foundation for the bigger part of today’s science. If I were to choose from my contemporaries, it would probably be Elon Musk, who is also pretty good at thinking big, as well as at bringing elements of the future from sci-fi books and movies to reality.

Whats the worst thing you have to do as part of your job role?

Can’t think of anything that could be considered as a downside of what I do.

What motivates you?

Getting things done. It always inspires to take on new, bigger challenges.

What is the most played song on your MP3 player or phone?

Didn’t really do any extensive studies here, but according to iTunes it’s “Tell Them” by Seconds (aka Markus Enochson and Luciano Leiva).

Would you like to plug anything?

Imagine 2015 is just around the corner and I can’t wait to get there and meet with all the friends. See you soon, guys!

 

eBay to Sell/IPO eBay Enterprise & Magento

Posted by: Karen Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

This is big news. Back in 2011 Magento was acquired by eBay for over $180 million. Now, after pretty much floundering around with it for 3 years eBay is going to cast it out for either full/partial acquisition or listing on the stock exchange (IPO). Not just that, but eBay Enterprise (formerly GSI) is also cast aside in the same division so that eBay can focus on it’s flailing Marketplaces Division.

Well, well, well.

eBay has stated in their quarterly results they are ‘Redeploying resources to top priorities. Scaling back/stopping other initiatives‘.  Reading between the lines here it sounds like they need more money to refocus on Marketplaces, which they admit is struggling, and they have given up the ‘Amazon fight’ around providing a full end-2-end solution for merchants small, large and giant, including on the potentially lucrative fulfillment side. Amazon won.

Having worked in large companies before my experience is that those at the top are always worrying about the financial markets, the share price, shorter term goals (1-3 years max), their investors, their bonuses ultimately. By separating eBay into three there are some easy wins, they get cash, the share price will rise just on the imminent change of the CEO, the share buy back, and the simplification of the company.

On top of this eBay are laying off 2400 staff (7% of workforce) including across eBay Enterprise (which seems already stretched to me).

Listening to the Earnings call and the subsequent questions one thing that strikes you is that there is very little talk of eBay Enterprise. Which really indicates that the financial markets care about Paypal and they care about eBay Marketplaces.

And Magento?

The downside is that for us in ‘Magento Land’ we are now at the whim of what happens next, and it is totally out of our control.  eBay Enterprise is the part of the division making the money, have no doubt that the Magento side is only really making money around the PayPal revenue it generates, nothing more. And with PayPal going then that relationship totally changes. You would hope (or maybe not) that Magento and eBay Enterprise will stay together, but there is clearly a risk someone acquiring will not see the value of Magento.

What I suppose is most disappointing is that from my perspective I see a team that pretty much is getting itself sorted, the cogs running smoothly and is clearly deeply passionate about Magento 2.  This uncertainty around what will happen to the staff and the division really could not have come at a worse time. We are in the middle of major investment in updating this platform so it will serve merchants for the next 4-5 years, and who knows what the purchaser or next CEO will want to do.  Let’s hope that eBay stick to what they have stated and provide the ‘stability and continuity‘ during this change period.

It sounds like eBay Enterprise will be cast off before Paypal, so really as soon as someone is interested. I personally don’t see an IPO, I think a company like Accenture, IBM, Oracle even will step in here and make an offer.

And the Conclusion

Will this affect us?  Maybe not, maybe slowly, maybe sooner.  What’s clear to me as a technology provider is that relying on one platform for your source of revenue could be a dangerous game. What I also know is that this community has tremendous momentum. If the right company can get behind Magento it has the ability to truly fly (it’s doing pretty well right now even with eBay around). And I believe the true revenue model is in the affiliate side of an App Shop (kickback fees), not in the Magento Enterprise sales.  I’m ignoring eBay Enterprise here, thats a whole separate discussion.

What’s also clear is that Magento 2 could have issues with timelines. It’s going to be very hard for the division to focus when you basically have a carve up going on. I’d expect to see some key faces in Magento walk away by the summer.

If the right company doesn’t get behind it then you will see a fork, because there are just so many companies now where Magento is the core of their business, and this community has some very intelligent people within it. It would require organisation but you would be surprised what a motivated community can do. I personally don’t see that happening anytime soon.

Maybe I’m naive, maybe I’m way off the ball, but what’s clear is that eBay wasn’t able to keep up with eCommerce, security or SEO, and now they are paying the price.

What’s the saying “The King is dead, long live the King“.

Bring on the next chapter of Magento. Microsoft, please don’t buy it ;)

 

January 2015 USPS API Update

Posted by: Daniel Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

USPS Logo

USPS Logo

Another update to the USPS APIs will roll out at 12:01 AM US Central time on Sunday, January 25th. As we always do, we’ve reviewed these updates and analyzed their potential impact on merchants running various versions of Magento.

What’s Changing

There are only a few changes included in this update. Here’s a summary:

  • New content type for perishable goods
  • Restrictions around packaging which can be used for content type of “LIVES” which is live animals
  • Changes around the USPS Electronic Verification System (e-VS) which is used by some high-volume USPS clients. Magento does not currently offer integration with this service so no change here.
  • New event for tracking “Held at Customer Request” used when customers request a shipment be held at a Post Office location instead of being delivered.

What Should You Do?

Thankfully, there’s nothing you need to do. According to our investigation, the Magento USPS integration and all WebShopApps extensions require no changes. If you’re shipping perishable goods, or live animals it’s best to contact USPS directly and work out how these changes may effect you.

A positive note is that Magento’s built-in USPS tracking will support the “Held at Customer Request” tracking event with no action required on your part! Previously, if a customer requested a package to be held at a Post Office location the tracking may have been misreported. This update corrects those issues.

Further Information

If you need more details on this update, you can download PDFs of the January 2015 Release Notes and Transition Guide at USPS.com. If you need any other help with your shipping in Magento, you’re always welcome to contact us.

Magento 2 – The Roadmap in Merchant Language

Posted by: Karen Friday, January 16th, 2015

We have been getting a lot of calls from Merchants who are confused by the timings around Magento 2, so I’ve decided to put together this blog. To be clear, this is the WebShopApps perspective and is not the official source of information.  If you want greater detail then go take a look at Magento’s Chief Architect’s Alan Kent’s blog on this, where he looks at it from more of a technical perspective. I’m not aware of any official Magento marketing on Magento 2 with such information, but if anyone has please feel free to add to the comments.

What is Magento 2?

Magento 2 is the much talked about follow up product to Magento 1 (which was initially released back in 2007/8).  Magento 1.x has been an highly successful product, and continues to be so, we see clients daily moving to the Magento platform or upgrading their sites.

Magento 2 is intended to be a product that will serve the eCommerce space for the next few years (4-5 I would expect). Since 2008 lots of technologies have improved or changed. Merchants themselves are demanding more and more functionality as they too evolve and grow.

So it’s necessary sometimes to do a major product upgrade to bring those new capabilities in.

Magento 2 is what you could call a product refresh, though its fair to say it will still have many of the great features and underlying architecture that Magento 1.x has. You would hope improving on some of the areas where there are problems, in particular, extension conflicts, performance, code quality, etc. And of course updating to the current technologies where possible (and where it is not possible to do without a complete refresh).

So Where are we Now?

In December 2014 the Developer Beta was released. This is an incomplete release (payment has been removed) so even if you wanted to deploy it you couldn’t. In my opinion Magento have released this to achieve the following:

  1. Get it in the hands of the developers within the Magento ecosystem so they can get familiar with it
  2. Get feedback on the implementation from the ecosystem
  3. Allow early access and visibility as its taken so long to get this far (hey its now a reality!!), this allows the ecosystem to start their own planning
  4. Breakdown and Solidify their own planning – now they have released a timeline and we can see they are hitting it they have more of a push to continue to deliver

What’s the Upcoming Roadmap

At end of Q1 2015 we go into a Developer Release Candidate. What this means is that the architecture and general code should be stable by then, so really the changes after would be new features, stability/bug fixing.  A merchant is not affected by this.

In Q3 2015 we enter Merchant Beta. Its my guess at this time we will get a release that can be deployed to a live site in theory.  It will not be a 2.0 release, more likely still a beta release or a Release Candidate.

At end of 2015 Magento 2 will be fully released (this is what I would call the 2.0 release). So from start of 2016 in theory you will see sites live.

When will it be ready for Merchants?

So to summarise, end of year in theory as a Merchant you could go onto Magento 2.  So when do you do it?

Well I think there are 2 schools of thought here:

1) Go early – So start in Sept/Oct 2015 with a view to first launch from Feb onwards in 2016

2) Wait for the dust to settle – So start in May/June 2016

When I say ‘start’ here I mean starting on development/implementation. Now there will always be people that start very early, and those that leave for 3 years or more, so this is just a general guideline for those considering their options. But this is how I would see it.

I personally think a lot of the extension companies will take 2-3 months to really get their extensions sorted for Magento 2, though some will come out of the gate sooner, I think by Feb 2016 a lot of key extensions will be available (but maybe not that tiny one that you so crucially rely on).

The Web Design Agencies are so busy that I expect them to run a little behind and only start to get involved in understanding Magento 2 when merchants are pounding on the door asking, so the Merchants will really lead there (though at the top end of the market you will see the agencies actively putting resources on learning it, not so much in the mid/bottom).

When Would I move to Magento 2?

Some of you may know my husband was a small merchant, which is how I got involved in Magento in the first place. If I was him then I’d look to switch when I felt like my site was in need of a renewal and it was summer 2016 or later.

If I had an Enterprise site and had some pretty big issues with my current site I might take an early run at it, otherwise Oct/Nov this year I think is a good time to start (assuming a 4-6 month project).

Where does this leave Magento 1?

Well, this is obviously subjective, but it’s my opinion that Magento 1 will continue to run for a couple of years after Magento 2 is released, though I don’t expect agencies offering major new development on it after Summer 2016. So effectively it will go into maintenance.  Many companies, including WebShopApps plan to support Magento 1 into probably around 2018, thats a fair way off.

Should you wait then for Magento 2?

If you have an older Magento 1.x site you are probably wondering if you should wait for Magento 2. This is a difficult question to answer, because really it depends on your circumstances.  Magento 1.x has vastly improved over the past couple of years, especially around the responsive elements which open up the opportunities around mobile/tablet space.

If you are not mobile ready (i.e. have a responsive theme) then moving to 1.9 Magento CE would be no bad thing (or clearly the 1.14 Enterprise Edition if you are in that band).  You will see an immediate upturn, the facts on this are very clear.  Likewise if you are having problems with your current site, or you need a design refresh because this will bring revenue benefits then I would recommend you upgrade.

It is my personal and professional view that Magento 1 is the most flexible, extensible eCommerce platform that is available today. I firmly believe this will also be the defacto commerce platform for the next 4-5 years. By getting on Magento in 1.x you will be putting yourself on the right environment to go forwards with, and the migration to 2.x will be much easier for you as you would have done a lot of the leg work already with integrations into your current processes, etc.

We are seeing demand this January like never before for Magento, it’s clear there is a very healthy ecosystem out there which is growing daily.  On 1.x you probably won’t need to upgrade until 2017/2018 if you develop it correctly.  And developers will be supporting Magento 1 for some time, so you will not be left with an unsupported platform.

Magento is not all things to all men, no platform is, these are the choices you make, and I cannot and do not want to sway that. We have some clients for whom Shopify or BigCommerce is a better choice, but generally my feeling is that right now with some tweaks Magento has the ability to serve clients right from the Mom&Pop stores upto the Enterprise level sites for many years to come.

And in Conclusion

There are no right or wrong answers here, but hopefully this gives you some food for thought.

Dimensional Shipping – Part 2 – The Solution

Posted by: Karen Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Does Dimensional Shipping Affect Me?

Firstly, we would encourage you to read Part 1 on Dimensional Shipping so you have a base understanding of it.

January is looming and it’s clear from our phone calls and enquiries, plus the articles such as that from Internet Retailer this week, that merchants are worried about Dimensional Shipping.

Dimensional Shipping really only comes into effect if you are selling items which are either light in comparison to their dimensions or awkwardly shaped goods. A good example is a golfing site. If you sell golfballs you probably wont need to worry about dimensions, because these are small, relatively heavy, and the weight is the most important factor.  If though you sell golf clubs dimensions come into play.

So lets give some other examples here. Sites that we don’t often see affected:

  1. Apparel
  2. Food
  3. Electronics
  4. Flowers

Sites that we see affected sometimes:

  1. Furniture
  2. B2B
  3. Houseware
  4. Office Supplies (large)
  5. Sporting Goods

It’s worth bearing in mind that currently if you are selling LTL Freight most companies are not looking at volumetrics – right now. But there is a move to it, so in the future it will be a consideration. So start thinking about this and talk to your shipping reps.

If you are unsure about the affect on you of the recent UPS/FedEx announcements we encourage you to talk to your reps here as they will have been briefed about this change.  They should understand your product line and be able to advise on the impact to you in January 2015 when the switch over to charging based on Dim Weight happens.

We mainly see this as a problem for US clients right now. This is not to say that it is not a problem elsewhere. Volumetric charging is an issue in other countries, predominately Australia, UK and Europe. As we find a lot of time currently people use custom defined rates we offer other solutions to this problem via our ProductMatrix and Premium Rates extensions.  I’ll cover this in Part 3. For the rest of this discussion I will be focused on the 3 main carriers used in the US – UPS, FedEx and USPS.

How Does Dimensional Shipping work in Magento?

Well, right now it doesn’t. Worse than that there is no in built support to even split your products into separate packages aside from within bundled products. As of today the only splitting that will happen is if you exceed the maximum package weight (e.g. 150lbs).

So inside Magento you can only set up your products based on weight.  Any requests sent to UPS, FedEx or USPS will use weight, origin, destination as the primary factors in deciding the shipping.

The Mathematical Problem

We have spent significant time investigating the problem, and how it actually affects merchants.  Many companies propose that they offer a solution to the bin-packing algorithm, but in reality this is a NP-Hard problem, which means no-one has found a reasonable solution, and its been diagnosed as not possible to find an algorithmic solution that works 100%.

Any company that says they can solve all your dimensional problems 100% is lying.  Simple solutions unfortunately do not exist to allow packing of a cart so that all the time the best box is picked and its packed correctly.

There are very few solutions in this space for this reason. We have seen other extension providers come and go here, I suspect because customers have become frustrated and made chargebacks, etc. We have also seen open source versions, they do not work.

The reason primarily is that the best-fit algorithm that many propose to use for this is not actually suitable for merchants.

Best Fit works based on placing items in the fullest bin that still has room.  The problem with this is in deciding which box to use first, do you try to go for a large box, or a small box? How do you decide which box to use?  Best Fit does not look at shipping pricing, which is important, for instance it may be better to use 2 * smaller boxes rather than 1 larger in some circumstances.

How Does WebShopApps Help Here?

WebShopApps has spent 3 years building and refining an intelligent Dimensional Shipping solution. For us Dimensional Shipping is a a problem that we will continue to refine and build a solution out for. We are already hard at work building more features for merchants in our ShipperHQ.com offering and actively working with a number of clients that have highly unique requirements on this at present.

We take the approach of looking at how merchants view their products and their packaging boxes. We have an intelligent completely bespoke algorithm in our codebase which looks at the whole cart, the boxes assigned to each product, how you the merchant want to pack them. It is possible for a merchant to specify the following types of rules:

  1. Identify whether a product ships in it’s own box (and if so how many fit in that box)
  2. Enable the shipping of multiple product types in one box
  3. Allow multiple boxes to be assigned to products and allow the algorithm to select the boxes that best work for the cart in question
  4. Give the ability to split a product into multiple boxes in some scenarios (e.g. you can’t split a TV but you can split a bulk purchase of shampoo)
  5. Allow the ability to have multiple boxes for 1 product (e.g. a table and chair bundle set)
  6. Allow you to specify packing via qty that can fit in a box (which a lot of merchants want to do), or just use volumetrics and dimensions (which works well if you have lots of skus)
  7. Allow for USPS Flat box sending when qty’s are under certain numbers, switching to UPS/FedEx when cart is too big
  8. No requirements to set dimensions on all products, just on those that are dimensional large or you feel are an issue

There are many other features, too many to list here.  Unfortunately, as much as we would like to, we are unable to go into major detail due to the problems around protection of IP.  What we would say is come talk to us, we are here in Ohio and our doors are open to you and if you are a web design agency your clients.

We have multiple packing algorithms, because not all merchants are the same.  Our experience with the many thousands of merchants we deal with has taught us they all have different needs, they sell different products and we need to account for that.

Can we Solve Everything?

Probably not. We are realistic, and we are honest. We believe that with our solution you can see a significant improvement in your rating in comparison to your shipment fees. We believe it works very well for specific scenarios, especially if you have clear and defined rules. If you stock millions of SKUs and have hundreds of box sizes its probably not going to work. If you don’t invest some effort yourself in understanding how and where you are affected by Dimensional Rates it will not work.  Any other software company that says this is easy is making light of what is a difficult problem to solve.

WebShopApps have assisted many merchants over the years in setting up their Dimensional Shipping and this I believe is what sets us apart. If you ring us up you as a merchant can have an intelligent conversation with us about your needs and we will advise you based on not just our own experience, but the experience we have had with prior merchants on how best we can assist. And if we can’t we will be truthful on that.

There is an investment of effort in testing any solution, you do not want your rates to change adversely and affect your sales. Likewise you do not want to suddenly find you are caught out by large unexpected shipping charges.

At WebShopApps we have the experience to assist, feel free to contact us for a risk-free no pressure assessment. You can ring us on 614-526-9534 on EST time to speak directly to Karen about your  specific needs.

The goal of WebShopApps is to enable it’s merchants, it’s web design agencies, and it’s logistic partners. We believe with Dimensional Shipping we have a solution that does that.

 

Dimensional Shipping – Part 1 Introduction

Posted by: Karen Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

What is Dimensional Weight?

Dimensional Weight is the calculation of the weight of goods in terms of their dimensions.  The length, width, height of a package is used to give a volume, then this is usually increased by a multiplier to give a dimensional weight.

For example we may have an item that is Length 25inches, Height 20in, Width 32in.  If we use UPS as an example then for Domestic US Air shipments the Dimensional Weight is calculated as (25*20*32)/166 = 96. The Dimensional Weight would be 96lbs.

Dimensional Weight Calculation

How does Dimensional Weight affect Shipment Pricing?

Traditionally the calculation of shipment pricing has been done using the origin, the destination and the weight.  I’ve clearly made a generalization in this statement as there are other factors such as the packaging container, account type, etc which affect pricing, but you can think of this as the general rule.

But, with countries such as the US space is of a premium. If you think in terms of an aircraft, let’s say I wanted to send 500lbs of cotton wool. Well this is going to take up much more room than say 500lbs of lead weight. So what logistics companies such as UPS and FedEx have done is created a calculation which takes into account this Dimensional Weight, if its relevant.  They look at what is known as the Billable Weight.

The Billable Weight can be simply viewed as the greater of the Dimensonal Weight and the Actual Weight.  So if we have the 96lb Dimensional Weight example from above the Billable Weight would be 96lb unless the actual weight is greater.  So a 120lb piece of gym equipment would result in a Billable Weight of 120lbs. A 34lb bike would result in a Billable Weight of 96lb. The lower value is ignored.

Billable Weight

Why is this Important?

And the reason this is important?  Because you will be charged based on this Billable Weight, and not the actual weight. So if you were shipping that bike and only using the actual weight you would have charged the customer a much less lower price than its actually costing you to ship.

Why is this even more important in 2014?

The advent of online commerce has resulted in an explosion in shipments. Just a few years ago most goods were purchased via a visit to the local mall or the Home Depot/Warehouse.  Now we are seeing a mass move to getting our goods via the mail.

From a logistics carrier perspective they have been playing catchup with this move to online commerce too, and having to rethink how shipment pricing works as a result of the pressures on them in terms of space, fuel costs and sheer amounts of parcels now being delivered.

What has also happened is that companies like Amazon have realised its more efficient for them to have less box sizes, and use a larger box with more empty space rather than try to pack what we would call efficiently.  The best way to think about this is when you receive goods from Amazon do you notice that often there are ‘packers’ in the box and a big box with not much in it?  This is because this is easier for Amazon.  Its not easier for the carriers as this space is all taking up room in their vans and planes.

This image from Japan sums up the issue perfectly.

amazon-packaging-reality

So, in 2014 Logistics Companies are fighting back. They want to pack more densely, and if they can’t then they want to charge appropriately for this. There have been three key announcements in recent weeks around Dimensional Weight based shipping:

  1. FedEx announced they would be moving to dimensional pricing for Ground and Freight from Jan 1 2015
  2. UPS announces Dimensional Pricing from Dec 2014 on Ground shipments (is already in place on Air/International)
  3. UPS Freight announces a move to Density Based Pricing (aka Dimensional Pricing) in a move away from long held Classification Pricing (NMFC codes)

How does it work in Magento?

Right now in Magento there is no support for Dimensional Based Pricing. And its not easy to implement. Why? Because generally a package is made up of more than 1 item.  So you can’t just enter dimensions on products like you do with weights and solve this issue.  It’s deeper than that.

In Part 2 I’ll go over how we solve this at WebShopApps and in ShipperHQ.  In the meantime feel free to contact us or take a look at our Dimensional Shipping Extension if you are in need of a solution today.

 

 

Magento Connect is a Fraud

Posted by: Karen Thursday, December 4th, 2014

High Level Summary

Let me make this simple. Connect is screwed. There endeth the conversation.

Well I knew this back in 2012 and a great many developers/agencies/merchant know this also. What we probably don’t take into account so much is this:

  1. Merchants still use it
  2. Developers/Companies are manipulating Connect to their own financial advantage

The knock on effect of this is that:

  1. Merchants are getting extensions that break their site (and often these are the merchants that can least afford this to happen to them)
  2. Developers that are trying to make a living out of extensions are getting banged on the head daily by the fraudulent sellers.

Some Facts

I’ve ignored themes for this study.

There are 6505 Extensions on Connect (as of Sept 14).  That’s a 33% increase since 2012.  38% of those are Free (or software as a service so free install).

There are 2074 unique extension providers, 1215 of which have appeared since 2012. 533 providers left Magento Connect

Half of all providers only list free extensions.

700 extensions are produced by providers with Mage in their name. My point being that we probably dont register who they are because Mage is so overused.

The download figures are corrupt. There was a tidy up in 2012 when I wrote a report and sent to Magento on just how fiddled the figures were. But nonetheless the review was limited and there remain some glaring errors, indeed some well known extensions are on Connect where IMO they have basically defrauded the system (to the detriment of the rest of us and to merchants).

The Good Guys (we think!)

Here is a list of the Top Downloads once we parsed the list and cleared the fraudulent sellers (we cannot be 100% of this list so I’d suggest may be others that are corrupting stats but its our attempt – open to feedback):

  • AheadWorks
  • ASchroder
  • Black+Cat
  • Condnitive
  • ESSUA
  • FishPig
  • Flagbit
  • Fooman
  • Interakting.com
  • jesteve
  • Mage Psycho
  • Magento(!)
  • MageSpecialist
  • Pheonix
  • Rico Neittzel
  • Sweet Tooth
  • Templates Master
  • Unirgy
  • Vinai
  • WebShopApps
  • zig2004

Here are some of the top downloaded extensions:

  1. German Language Pack
  2. LightBox
  3. Bank Payment
  4. Enhanced Admin Product Grid
  5. eBay Magento Integration
  6. Vertical Navigation
  7. Blog CE
  8. Speedster
  9. Cash on Delivery
  10. MatrixRate
  11. EasyTabs

These are probably also some of the most copied.  If you are a developer and in this list, and you dont see any recognition of what you did then its because you are buried within 6505 listings and a load of corrupt reviews/stats/etc.

Personally I’d like to stand up and applaud Aheadworks.com for standing their ground. They are amongst the most copied extns on Magento, and these guys have kept their integrity, worked hard and attempted to overcome the challenges and barriers put in front of them.  I would ask Magento to step in and help Aheadworks, because you have a great hard-working dedicated and passionate company there, you need to get more behind them.

And Some Important Facts

  • 20% of extensions are listed by the top 3% of providers (>20 extns)
  • 1425 extensions listed on Connect by just 32 providers (as a FYI WebShopApps are not in this list, we gave up with Connect a while back)
  • 1% of extension providers have > 40 extns
  • Thats 6 Providers with 459 extensions (mostly paid)
  • Only 1 of these is innovating
  • The rest are copying

So just to make that clear. It is my belief that you have extensions listed by 6 providers where I believe only 1 of those developers is doing anything original. The rest just copy, not necessarily the code, but the functionality, the ideas, the UI.  They are making a lot of money at other developers expense.

What Merchants Need to do

Stop using Connect.  Ask Magento to fix it.  Tell them you deserve better and you deserve it now.

Work with reputable companies. Support people you trust.

What Magento Need to Do

My request to Magento is simple.  Fix Connect or switch it off. But stop this craziness, because you are harming the ecosystem.

Stop supporting corruption.

Certainly don’t make these providers your partners.

Start working with the people in this community that actually are making a difference, before they disappear and go do something less frustrating.

As I said at the end of my NY presentation – I’m a 40+ year old woman and I managed in 1 weekend to work out all this, to come up with a tremendous amount of stats and really understand Connect. You have had 2 years (and quite seriously a lot more resource) to digest my first report and act. You haven’t done it, you continue not to address the problems, and the impact of you not doing this is massive.  Stop telling me it’s coming, act now and get out of your boadrooms and high level meetings. Because this is hurting us. It has a direct impact on the people that have helped make Magento great.

In 2 years time your Magento Imagine sponsors will be those companies that defrauded the system.  They are already sponsoring Meet Magento events.  Is this what you want?  Is this Magento?  Encourage innovation, make it good for the next generation of developers.

I don’t apologise for my statements here. It’s been 3 months since MM NY when I presented this, 2 years since my first report. I’ve sat quiet long enough.

2014 Holiday Shipping Cut-Off Dates

Posted by: Daniel Thursday, November 20th, 2014

Tree in WinterIf you’re a merchant you’ve almost definitely been gearing up for the holidays already. Checking your inventory and suppliers to make sure you can meet demand, beefing up your fulfillment and customer support staff, and making final changes to your site. Shipping becomes critical as we approach Christmas and it becomes especially important for you and your customers to understand what service they’ll need to choose as that date approaches.

On our ShipperHQ Blog we’ve put together a 2014 Holiday Shipping Cut-Off Dates summary for the most popular UPS, FedEx, and USPS services so you can prepare your team and customers for the holidays.

As always, if you have questions about eCommerce shipping get in touch with us. If you have questions about specific options and restrictions available from your carriers, we encourage you to contact them.