Another year comes to a close, and another busy year for Magento development. While we are anxiously awaiting more news on Magento version 2, we look back at the discoveries we’ve made along that way that have helped us and our clients get more from the world’s most popular e-commerce open source platform.
2013 certainly saw the emergence of the responsive design as a the pre-eminent choice for Magento themes. And with good reason: as more and more shoppers turn to mobile devices, Magento stores need to provide their wares in a format conducive to smartphones and tablets. A responsive theme adjusts automatically to screen size, repositioning elements for maximum usability. With the right theme, a store developer no longer has to create designs for each viewing medium.
Our favorite responsive themes for 2013 come from a diligent and able-bodied theme designer, Infortis Themes. They have created two responsive themes we use many times for our projects: Ultimo and Fortis. What we like about these themes is that they come with many extra static blocks in the most logical places. The themes can be styled in the Magento backend, and they include features like sliders and “mega-menus” that otherwise would require additional extensions. Their support is quick and their updates respond in a timely fashion to changes and bug discoveries.
Of the two, we tend to skew toward Ultimo. It’s a very clean theme that allows us to do as much or as little customization as required for the job at hand.
There are many, many other responsive themes on the market now for Magento. Our theory is: if it ain’t broke, why fix it? And with Infortis themes, we find nothing broken for the time being.
Over the years, we’ve tried often to integrate MailChimp with Magento. We really love MailChimp for newsletters. Of all the e-mail providers we’re tried or tested, MailChimp remains our favorite. However, until recently, it’s been a real hit-or-miss proposition to integrate MailChimp with Magento. There have been a few extensions built in the past that attempted this feat, but they have not been solid integrations or only provide some of the integration we needed.
Then we find that ebizmarts is offering a fully-supported, official MailChimp extension that really works! It’s easy to install and fully integrates Magento newsletter subscribers with MailChimp. So far in our tests, it works very, very well.
It’s gets better. This extension also include Mandrill integration. Mandrill is MailChimp’s new SMTP email service that allows you to send transactional emails for free up to 12,000 emails/month. With Mandrill — and through this extension — you can easily configure to send emails for abandoned shopping carts or for transactional events, such as a trickle campaign after someone purchases a product from your Magento store.
We’ve tested this for the past few months, and it is really cool! More and more of our clients are jumping on board, and we’re sure they’ll see even more conversions and sales using MailChimp and Mandrill.
One of the most encouraging aspects of working with Magento is that we feel, as developers, consultants and authors, that Magento is gaining more steam. When eBay purchased Magento in 2011, we just weren’t sure how it was going to fit into the eBay eco-sphere of x.com. Fortunately, I think it’s safe to say that Magento is going to be around for a long time. Not only is eBay investing in the development of Magento 2, but Magento 1 continues to be improved. Magento 1.7 went a long way to solving many issues; Magento 1.8 makes it even better.
And while I contend that much is still possible in terms of core improvements, I can safely recommend Magento as a solid, dependable platform on which a great e-commerce store can be built.
It Was a Very Good Year
The year that was 2013 was, all-in-all, a very positive year for Magento, in terms of how well it works for our clients. I never recommend a platform in which I don’t believe. And, by now, you know I don’t recommend Magento for every situation; we also use WooCommerce and OpenCart for various client purposes. However, we are noticing that more and more of our client needs can be met appropriately with Magento.
One reason is that we’ve worked to make it easier for store owners to manage their Magento stores. My book, Mastering Magento, has certainly helped our clients get more from their Magento stores by giving them more explanations and situational examples of how to leverage the abundant features of Magento. The second is that store owners expect more from their stores. They know how competitive the e-commerce landscape is, and today’s e-tailers are investing more in solutions that will truly give them a competitive edge.
As we look to 2014, I’m expecting even more from Magento and the entire e-commerce industry. Online stores will become much more advanced and competitive. And with Magento — and knowing how to truly leverage its power — our clients and those who truly understand Magento will have the tools to aggressively compete for the online consumer.