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.

A young Engineer

Posted by: Karen Thursday, November 20th, 2014

I’ve always been a fan of training up staff. When I used to work at Reuters I’d say this was my favourite secret job. To have a young person come in new to this great profession and be able to watch them grow and spread their wings, well its just a fantastic thing to watch.

But when you run your own company its a lot harder. You have other things going on, you are juggling 200 balls in the air daily, and sometimes as much as you want to be there for everyone, well you just simply can’t.  You have to split yourself amongst many staff, your many customers, your family, and then often lastly yourself. Thats the life of a company founder.

Back in 2012 we decided we needed just some tech savvy people that could help out with the simpler stuff.  Not a degree qualified guy who wanted to develop, but someone who could help customers with their shipping configurations, do testing, and with time create releases, demos, etc.

Adam was one of the guys we interviewed. He felt young enough to be my son (which was a little scary!), and had this enthusiasm about him, this energy.  What he lacked in technical skills he made up for in passion.  So Adam joined us. And to give some stats on him – in the last week he sent 175 mails and assisted 67 customers.  He is a do-er.  When a member of staff tries his best, well really thats all you can ask.

Today Adam leaves WebShopApps, and onto pastures new. It’s time for Adam to go step out into the wider world beyond WebShopApps and make his mark. I just want to thank Adam for everything he has given us, and I hope we have set him on a path of discovery in this great industry we work in.

What’s important to me is that we all too often only acknowledge the people at the top – the company founders, the best developer, the innovator.  But people like Adam really make small business work.  We need to encourage these young engineers, to give them our time, because they are the future.

Shipping Game Changers: Same Day Delivery

Posted by: Daniel Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Ecommerce is a fast-moving world and services which were major differentiators just a few years ago are customer expectations today. A great example is modern Same Day Shipping. Balancing cost and speed for Same Day Shipping can be daunting, but new services are poised to reduce headaches.

Local Milk Delivery in 1920's America


Coming Full Circle

About a century ago, Same Day delivery by the milkman or bakery was the norm. Modern Same Day couriers are the spiritual descendants of early local delivery companies. However, in the mid 1900′s mail order boom, speed took a back seat to logistics network efficiency and national delivery services. Customers expected access to a wide variety of products delivered in a few weeks nationwide.

Modern Options

Grocery delivery services like, now defunct services, Webvan and HomeGrocer.com and current options like AmazonFresh pick up where the milkman and bakery truck left off and give us useful examples of what to do and not do in modern Same Day delivery.

Couriers like Google Express (launched in 2013), Deliv (founded in 2012), or UberRUSH (announced in 2014) show signs of making inroads for non-grocery merchants where others have failed . The key difference between these services and small-package carriers (e.g. UPS or FedEx) is the approach to pickup and delivery logistics.

Same-Day Couriers vs. Small-Package Carriers

Comparison of Hub and Spoke and Point to Point Logistics

Standard carriers use a hub and spoke logistics approach where all packages are shipped into massive hubs, sorted, and shipped out. While this is a cost-effective approach (fewer vehicles, less empty driving), it adds about a day to any delivery since the package makes a stop at the hub before delivery.

Same Day couriers use a fleet of smaller vehicles which are dispatched to merchant locations when a package is ready for pickup, then drive straight to the customer’s location. Since this is a point to point system, it’s inherently more local (service area is determined by distance from the merchant) but slightly less cost-efficient as a delivery vehicle may be making certain parts of its trip with few or no packages on board. This introduces challenges, but modern technology has been quickly mitigating these potential pitfalls.

The Future of Same-Day Delivery

With more fuel-efficient vehicles (electric vehicles, hybrids, even bikes or mopeds), and powered by mobile technology allowing for instantaneous delivery scheduling, Same Day Shipping has taken strides in the past year to become more broadly available to customers and cost-effective for merchants.

Because the service is local, rollouts of these services rarely happen nation-wide. Large or tech-heavy cities like San Francisco, San Jose, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc. have a number of services to choose from, but the service areas are growing quickly as couriers, like the ones mentioned above, start operations outside these primary markets.

While not widespread yet, expect to see more large retailers offer Same Day Delivery as they leverage their stores as fulfillment locations. Small or medium-sized multi-channel merchants and online pure-play merchants with fulfillment centers in urban areas should be looking at same-day delivery as a way to compete with large merchants and stay a step ahead of the competition.

Magento – Where are we now?

Posted by: Karen Friday, September 26th, 2014

The Presentation

So a couple of days ago I trounced up on stage and gave a presentation around extensions at Meet Magento NY. I hope it was a balanced presentation where I highlighted issues with the Connect Marketplace, but also aired my strong opinion that Magento is the platform of choice for design agencies, developers and merchants.  Indeed this was one of my statements:

“Magento in 2008 was a far superior platform than either Shopify or BigCommerce are today”.

In my mind this one statement sums up a lot about Magento. You add 6 years onto that and we have built a tremendous offering, both the Magento developers and this fabulous open community we have.

Unfortunately I think some people may have taken my presentation along with Kurt’s presentation about ‘The Center of Gravity’ and made 5 instead of 4.  So I’d like to just set the record straight on how I see things with the Magento ecosystem, and also my recommendations. Much of this extends beyond my presentation.

The Ecosystem

What I’m seeing is a slight fracturing of the ecosystem, we saw this after other Meet Magento events too.  This is good for no-one, we as a community need to stay together, because together we are so much stronger than apart.  I just want to look at some of the parties in the ecosystem and how we can get some resolution here.

Magento Inc

In my mind Magento/eBay need to sort a few things out:

  1. What is their strategy around eBay Enterprise? What is the impact likely on other members of the ecosystem of that strategy
  2. What is their target market?
  3. Who is the leadership team?
  4. How are they going to fix Magento Connect and when?
  5. What is their strategy with regards to SMEs?

I feel that one of the key issues Magento have right now is no revenue model around the SME market.  This is very easily resolvable and I feel essential that Magento do resolve in order to keep the ecosystem working correctly.  The other big issue is we just don’t know where Magento are going, and how that will impact us. They need to make this extremely clear, and now.  Because we need to consider our own futures as companies, and our investment in Magento, if Magento/eBay Inc become our competitor that is cause for great concern IMO.

What’s interesting here is that Magento 2 in my mind does not come into this. Let’s just pull back from everything being about Magento 2. Actually Magento 1.x is a damn good product. Can we please start realising that?  Because I know agencies realise it every day of the week, and so do Technology Partners like WebShopApps. Let’s start rejoicing in what we have instead of always wanting the next big thing.

Community

The problem at present is that there are a select group of individuals who feel they represent the whole community. But they do not, no more than I do.  We are one of hundreds of thousands of people that make up this wonderful community.  What concerns me is that certain people have their own agenda, their own castles to build, their own goals.

Call me what you want but as a decent human being with a respect for all people I would like to state once again that a community should be open, free, inclusive and welcoming.

What I see are people trying to create cliques, to do things for material gain for themselves, or to stroke their own ego. And I’m sorry I have no time for this.  This is business, we are all in business, every single person in the ecosystem, and there is no time for playground antics.  Some of what is happening right now is just chaotic, unprofessional, and frankly childish.  This is not Magento, this is a set of people who are looking to improve their friendship ranking. Go look inside yourselves.

There is also a little bit of stoking of a fire going on, you know everyone likes a drama. But seriously just sit back, is it really that bad?

New Faces

What I saw at Meet Magento NY was a lot of new faces. And some of us took the time to go up to those people and extend a welcoming hand. As a community this is what we should do. We should bring in new members, make them welcome and extend our community as much as we can.  Because, as Ben Marks so precisely pointed out to me, continuity is key here. The ecosystem needs to move forwards, to innovate, to change, to grow, and to make that happen we need new life, fresh life, new ideas.

The Merchants

Merchants using Magento are usually guided by the design agencies or developers they choose to work with. We have a truly fantastic set of people in this space, and luckily 99% of them are seriously nice intelligent people.  So merchants really have good opportunities to build great partnerships and hopefully a great store. I’ve seen this time and time again, and I can count on 1 hand those I’ve seen fail, but its in the thousands those I’ve seen have massive success with Magento.

What the merchants are demanding now though, and especially on the SME side is simplicity.  They want more features, more power, but they want it to be simple to use.  And they want to know their costs.  Magento struggles here, it doesn’t have fixed costs and if you are not careful the costs can escalate. Magento is complex and in the wrong hands it can be very expensive.  I believe Magento can better work with Merchants by doing the following:

  1. Having a closed forum for Merchants to talk with other Merchants without fear of advertising, promotion or similar
  2. Having a forum for Merchants to talk freely with ‘trusted experts’ in different areas, who are open and honest about their own self-interest but also give their time freely
  3. Providing details to Merchants on the various options open to them, especially in the SME market – for instance a website where they can go and see the agencies in their price range, the hosted Magento platforms available etc
  4. Improving the marketing output both in frequency and quality. I would suggest look to your partners, I’m sure many would like to write copy for you

The Center of Gravity

In my mind the Center of Gravity is not around one thing, one community, one set of people, Magento. It’s actually around each web design agency, each technology partner, each merchant. We all create our own center of gravity, where we find partners we can work with comfortably, people we trust, companies that fit us. I think a great many companies go on completely oblivious to what’s happening at these conferences, and are actually pretty happy. We need to acknowledge and respect this, and actually realise we aren’t the sum total.

So Where is Magento Now?

Right now Magento the product is running strong.  Because the ecosystem outside of Magento Inc is keeping it afloat.  And because the product is so powerful it is currently unmatched.  But this will change, I fully expect both Shopify and BigCommerce to extend more and more into Magento space, and indeed Hybris to enter the party now they have recovered from their merge with SAP.

It is my full belief that Magento need to embrace the community more.  My proposal is that Magento setup 2 things:

  1. A democratically elected rotating working committee made up of around 3 reps from across the whole of the community in each area (Gold/Silver/Bronze/Non agencies, Tech Partners, Hosting Partners, Large/Medium/Small merchants, Magento, etc)
  2. A quarterly town hall meeting with the whole community where they are transparent about their strategy, allow for questions, and engage 100% with the community

By doing these 2 things Magento will increase trust, transparency and engagement. And they will give the community a place to air their feelings, or representatives that are ready to listen (and you would hope push for action where appropriate).

From a community perspective we need to respect Magento, the constraints under which they are working, and be professional and organised in our approach to them. Its a two-way street.

What do I want?

Let me just get personal here. I have no interest whatsoever in joining any committee.  Why?  Because this is not about me, and actually I’m probably not the best person to have on a committee.  When I helped kick-start the Magento Meetup London as soon as I possibly could I replaced myself, because I have a small company in WebShopApps that actually demands my full and total attention, I’m manically busy all the time.

So this isn’t about me. In fact it’s not even about my company. I’m doing this blog, and I spoke at Meet Magento NY for 3 reasons:

  1. Because I care more than I can possibly quantify about my clients, small, medium and large, and I care about their investment in Magento
  2. Because it annoys the hell out of me when people can’t do the right thing.  This isn’t rocket science, the left arm at eBay needs to talk to the right arm, its as simple as that
  3. Because corruption and greed really pisses me off

The reason I will not join a public forum or a private room is because one is a chaotic mess giving the wrong message to anyone just browsing through and the other is a club. Neither are appropriate.

The Time is Now

I think there is a fair level of frustration around because quite a few of us have been waiting for some changes really since 2011.  That’s a long time. Since eBay took over we have bounced around various people, management teams have changed, and its really become unclear whats going on.

We have seen massive progress with Magento 2 and I commend Magento for that. But I think they need to get a small amount of resources just back on Magento 1 and keep that ball up in the air.  I don’t think what we are asking for is a lot. But some indication they are engaged is definitely required. And I know we have the wonderful Ben Marks, but its about more than Ben, we now need to see some action.

Make a plan, approve it and then do it now.  Cut out the red tape, lets go build the future together. But please let’s not wash our dirty linen in public, let’s be professional and stand strong as a unified group with one common goal, to serve the merchants success. Because in their success we too will have success.

 

USPS API Update September 2014

Posted by: Genevieve Thursday, September 4th, 2014

See update at end of post for additional information from Magento from September 24th or read their blog post.

USPS Logo

USPS Logo

If you use USPS live rates in Magento, you’ve likely received an email from USPS informing you of upcoming changes to their APIs. These changes will take effect on September 7th, 2014.

USPS has also noted that the end of support for their RateV3 API (in favor of the RateV4 API) will take place on September 28th, 2014 as scheduled. WebShopApps has reviewed these changes against Magento from Community Edition versions 1.4.1 to 1.9 with the following conclusions.

Magento CE 1.5.1 or Later

If you’re running a version of Magento Community Edition 1.5.1 or later, we can confirm that there will be little or no impact on your site (however, see below for a possible configuration changes if you’re using our Shipping Override, Shipping Insurance, or Dimensional Shipping extensions). You can read more about the changes included in this update below.

Versions lower than Magento CE 1.5.1

If you’re running Magento Community Edition below version 1.5.1 you will no longer receive USPS rates from September 28th onward since those versions of Magento used USPS RateV3 API which will be retired. WebShopApps has developed a free patch for sites running versions prior to 1.5.1 which will update the USPS API version to RateV4. Download the patch.

Once you’ve installed the patch, no further action will be required on your part and you will continue receiving USPS rates even after the September 28th update. This patch also includes changes required for full compatibility with the September 7th update. This patch is provided for free but does not come with support. If you require advice or assistance then we encourage you to purchase a support package.

Magento Enterprise Edition users

We recommend that any users of Magento EE contact Magento for information and updates on whether or not this API update will be expected to effect them.

USPS API Update Summary

The September 7th update to the API is relatively minor. You can learn more about these changes at USPS.com. The only significant changes are outlined below:

  • Update of country name for Montenegro and Tokelau (Western Samoa)
  • Method names updated for Media Mail (now Media Mail Parcel) and Library Mail (Library Mail Parcel)

USPS has not yet released full information on updates that are expected to take effect on September 28th except to confirm that it will end support the RateV3 API on that date.

Shipping Override, Shipping Insurance, or Dimensional Shipping Impact

If you are running our Shipping Override, or Shipping Insurance extensions and are offering either Media Mail or Library Mail, you may need to update your configuration to reflect the new shipping methods.

If you’re running our Dimensional Shipping extension it is not necessary to upgrade or update your configuration, you should see no impact with these API changes.

About WebShopApps

WebShopApps are Magento Platinum Industry Partners and the premier providers of shipping solutions for rate management in Magento. Contact us to discuss your needs.


Update September 24th: Magento has released a blog post containing the results of their review of the impact of the September 7th and September 28th USPS API changes. They have produced patches for Magento Enterprise Edition 1.11.x and above and Magento Community Editions above version 1.6. See their blog post for more details.

Please Note: Magento officially advises merchants running CE1.6 and below upgrade to latest Magento version.

The Why and How of In-Store Pickup

Posted by: Daniel Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

In-Store Pickup, BOPIS (Buy Online, Pickup In Store), Click and Collect, call it what you will, if you run a business selling offline as well as online and aren’t yet offering In-Store Pickup to your customers, it’s time to reconsider.

Focus on Convenience

Shopping online has always been driven by convenience. Either customers couldn’t find what they wanted at their local stores, they wanted to comparison-shop and like the ability to browse multiple stores in a few clicks, they may just love the ability to shop in their pajamas, or dozens of other reasons.

As eCommerce has matured, however, these advantages are taken for granted and it’s not enough to just offer your customers the option of buying your products from their couch. You need to find ways to differentiate yourself and add more value to your customer experience.

This is where In-Store Pickup comes in. Whether you have one location or a dozen, a certain percentage of your customers are likely local to your stores. Additionally, if you sell products which are heavy, bulky, or otherwise difficult to ship, in many cases allowing the customer to come pick up the item at your location just makes sense. Add to the mix the possibility of same-day pickup and you’ve got a simple way to get your products in the hands of your customers faster and more conveniently.

A Host of Other Reasons

While convenience for customers is the primary reason to offer In-Store Pickup, there are many secondary reasons that can be almost as important. Here are a few:

  • Increase Foot Traffic & Add-On Sales
    Every time a customer comes into your store you have an opportunity to convert that visit into a purchase. Studies have shown that, on average, over 30% of customers who come into shops to pick up an online order purchase additional items (Deloitte Consulting, MarketingProfs.com).
  • Lower Shipping Costs
    If you offer free shipping on your website, every customer who chooses In-Store Pickup is putting money back into your pocket. If you charge your customers for shipping, offering free In-Store Pickup can save them money, making your products even more competitive on price.
  • Find Local Customers
    You may have customers who live just down the road who have no idea that you have a retail location in their neck of the woods! Simply showing the option of In-Store Pickup in checkout gives you the chance to grow your local traffic.
  • Reduced Shipment Security Woes
    Especially in urban environments where a carrier may not be able to leave a package on a doorstep, it becomes important to offer an alternative delivery option. If you have locations in these areas you can solve this problem by preparing the order for In-Store Pickup and allowing the customer to pick up their order on their time-table while reducing non-deliverable return shipments or damaged shipments.

How it Works

Single-Location Retailers

If you’re a single-location retailer, offering In-Store Pickup couldn’t be easier. For customers who chose to pickup in store, you simply label and set aside those orders once you’ve picked them. All you need is a shelf or rack large enough to hold the number orders you’re likely to get. When a customer comes in to pick up their items, your checkout or customer service staff should be trained to retrieve and hand over those orders.

Multi-Location Retailers

One of the considerations for multi-location retailers is the fact that the store location the customer may have chosen on checkout may not be your fulfillment center. In that case, you’ll need to train staff at each location to identify, pick, and label in-store pickup orders. These may be pulled from stock on-site or brought in through your regular replenishment system if not all of your items are available at all locations. In either case, it’s simply a matter of informing your customer that their order is ready to be picked up via Magento’s order status email once it’s on-site.

Split-Operations Retailers & Ship-to-Store

If your online order fulfillment is done at one location without an attached retail location and you have one or more retail locations, you should consider offering ship-to-store fulfillment. In this case, your fulfillment center picks, packs, and ships the customer’s order to their chosen retail location. This requires little modification of your fulfillment process and offers all of the benefits of fulfilled-in-store In-Store Pickup, including cost savings on shipping. If required, you can even pass shipping charges on to your customers using live rates from a carrier or custom rates.

WebShopApps In-Store Pickup

The WebShopApps In-Store Pickup extension allows you to set up multiple locations and show them to your customers in a map on checkout. This extension also lets you limit where you offer In-Store Pickup with the option to show it only to customers within a specified distance from your locations. Plus, with the ability to use live carrier rates or custom rates as your pricing and offer your customers the option to choose the date and even a specific time slot for their pickup, you’ll manage your costs while offering customers expanded options. Find a full list of features, a live demo, and documentation on our WebShopApps In-Store Pickup extension page.

Magento Live UK 2014 – The Best Yet?

Posted by: Karen Thursday, July 17th, 2014

And so once again Magento hits London for the annual Magento Live event, this time in the summer, just barely a couple of months after Imagine.  I was talking to one guy and eventually we figured out that it was 3 years back in 2011 when the first Live event happened, with a view of Big Ben from a slightly different but similarily awesome viewpoint.

So did it meet expectations?  There was no Roy Rubin, the startup founders had departed, the eBay crowd had truly arrived, were they going to be able to handle this unique and wonderful UK Magento ecosystem consisting of entrepreneurs, one-man developers, and merchants large and small, or would they fall flat and it be the end of Magento as we know it? All the ‘oldies’ from the ecosystem were looking for the cracks, the corporate tone, the ‘we don’t really care but we will try to kid you otherwise’ approach.

And the Result is In

Actually from the feedback I received and the way I saw it (which is obviously the only view I can state) I think they managed to pull it off. Magento survives, and actually it might even prosper under this new management team.  What was clear to me was that this event was well thought out, organised, and full of clearly intelligent people from the eBay side. I would argue actually this event in terms of the message from the management team was stronger and more consistent than at Imagine – where I personally felt it was a little conflicting.

You can tell some things are still being worked out, but their message was extremely clear:

  • This ecosystem is totally unique within the eCommerce space and we must preserve and nurture it
  • Open source is here to stay
  • Magento is doing great things, there are some amazing customers using it and market share is increasing

We needed to hear this.  But what we wanted more was to feel it. And we did. We felt like we are a part of something that still has a lot of life left in it, and that our participation was understood and appreciated by Magento. Everyone in this ecosystem knows that the role they play, whether it be large or small, involves a heck of a lot of hard work, dedication, and passion. It was nice to know from the very platform that we all rely on and have nurtured ourselves over the years that those at the top haven’t discounted us, they are starting to understand us and realise what we bring to the table.

So who was there?

In the end there were over 700 attendees. I counted the rows in the keynotes and the numbers looked sound to me.  At times it was standing room only.  The web design agencies were in full presence, though only OnTap had a stand.  Jonty from Red Box Digital seemed to crop up a bit on stage, he clearly is running a very professional influential company, great to see such a genuinely nice chap starting to reap the rewards of his total utter dedication to this space.  There were many other quality partners around including The Distance, Limesharp, The Pixel, Creare Group, Healthy Websites, Hunters Design to name just a few.  I spoke with many of these agencies, and they are all growing, all raising the bar, and all finding that Magento is growing in popularity still, which is great to hear.

There were a great many merchants in attendance, obvious from their green badges.  Many were household names, I won’t divulge for competition reasons but from talking with these merchants they all said to me they got a lot out of the event, the content in the breakouts was useful, and the ability to connect with other merchants and indeed speak with agencies, technology partners and Magento gave them a much needed opportunity to re-evaluate and learn.

Our great friends over at SLI Systems had their usual presence, they were professional, courteous and engaging. Their stand was always busy, clearly search is hot in demand at present, and they know how to do the job well.

From the eBay side there were various heads, including those of Small Business, Product Management, Marketing, eBay Enterprise, together with the architectural innovative brilliance of the likes of Brent Peters and John Lunn.

And of course WebShopApps – we hosted the opening party, and the family friendly open atmosphere was exactly what we wanted, no segregation, just everyone hanging out and enjoying the evening free of the stresses of everyday work for once.  It was the perfect start.

The Venue

The move to the Plaza Hotel was needed, the venue near St. Pauls was too small, and having the large exhibition area where food was served worked well for all, we mingled and networked much more than previous years I felt. Having the evening event in the same venue was also appreciated, it just seemed more intimate, even though there was more space. This is the same venue for next year, and I suspect off the back of this year’s event there will be an even bigger crowd, this really is the eCommerce event to attend right now.

So What was Missing?

So all this positive talk, surely something wasn’t right?  Well, I think Magento should have joined the community event on the Tuesday evening and actually taken off their jackets and come mixed in a neutral setting with the masses, that would have been great. Though we did get the pleasure of both Ben Marks and Beth Gomez joining us, and in fine form too!

I think there are still questions around whats going on with Magento, and it would have been nice if they had cleared up some of these. The biggest question that I think a few of us pondered was:

“Where does the platform finish and the ecosystem begin?”

It’s clear that there is a push down from eBay Enterprise into the Magento space. Magento need to clarify how far that push down goes, because let’s face it right now we are all growing up with our customers, and we want to continue to grow up with them. If eBay Enterprise is this large monolith where our best customers depart to never to be seen again I think there will be some questions asked, as we in the community have really been key contributors to their success (and in turn Magento’s), we aren’t going to sit quietly by and let that just happen. I think the same applies around the lower end of the market, with the disappearance of Magento Go (which wasn’t even mentioned) what are Magento’s plans here, and if its still being worked out please be transparant and tell us. Because if the move is to Big Commerce (as the emails and news reports suggest), well that affects a lot of agencies, hosting providers, technology partners and indeed merchants.

Then we had the boxes for suggestions for Magento 2 – what did people most want to see. For pretty much every box there already exists extensions that solve the issue (e.g. Import/Export capabilities around orders).  If Magento is going to build such features that could impact on the ecosystem my feeling is they need to be very transparant so that companies have time to react to that, otherwise they risk de-stabilizing the great work being undertaken by innovative companies.

And Lastly

I think this was the best Magento Live event ever.  It was true, intimate, honest and well executed by a management team less interested in fame, career progression and parties, much more interested in results, stats and diligence.

Well done to the Magento team, and keep up the great work. But remember – in the words of keynote speaker Mariana Mazzucato

- “We should be building mutualistic ecosystems rather than parasitic ones”