Choosing Magento Extensions

Okay, so you’re a retailer…You have a Magento store or two… Maybe a bricks and mortar store… A large catalogue… And growing management costs – sound familiar?

Your agency/developer sold you the Magento way of life and you haven’t looked back since…Well not until you wanted to start offering reward points to customers and realised Magento didn’t have this out of the box.  I thought it was the most powerful open-source platform available? I want a refund!

It is. You haven’t been miss-sold.

Whilst Magento is the #1 ecommerce platform on the market for SME and enterprise retailers, there are many features that are not available in the core set-up. Instead, the power of this ecommerce solution is in its open-source core. This means developers all over the world can develop extensions to…well… extend Magento’s core functionality.

Let us introduce you to the Magento Marketplace.

Marketplace replaces Magento Connect

In April 2016, shortly after the release of Magento 2.0, Magento launched its new Marketplace. Home to the next generation of extensions for 2.0, the new marketplace boasts a list of only ‘high-quality extensions and themes that expand the reach of your store’s core functionality’.

What happened to Magento connect?

With only 2 more years left of support for Magento 1.x, it was inevitable that any legacy solutions would slowly be discontinued. The good news is that Magento Connect will still be available for the foreseeable future; supporting those on 1.x. We also expect, that whilst Magento themselves will eventually stop supporting stores on 1.x versions, extension vendors will continue to support customers for some time after.

Whilst change is a foot, retailers now at least have some time to settle in with or switch to Magento 2. Afterall, with more out-of-the-box functionality and a trove of powerful features, what more could merchants possibly need from Magento’s latest offering?

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What’s new?

The new marketplace seems to be the answer to Magento Connect problems, primarily issues concerning poor quality extension offerings. After launching 2.0, Magento introduced the Extension Quality Program for all extensions added to the new Markerplace; a rigorous vetting process with multilevel technical and business reviews covering everything from basic code standards to marketing claims. For merchants this means improving the functionality of their stores with quality and safety assurance, and for Magento specialists this means less time re-developing poorly coded extensions and more time delivering quality ecommerce solutions.

With all these promises and guarantees it can be easy to simply start implementing extensions with little thought beyond the amazing benefits promised in the description. While the Magento community can at least be assured that the functionality of the extensions will be sound, the real key is still selecting the right extensions for your needs and choosing a provider you can trust.

How to choose an extension?

Good question. The best way to choose an extension is to first clearly define your needs and expectations. This may well change and evolve over time, but having a clear idea of the ecommerce experience you want to deliver from the get go will stop the extensions piling up as mounting unforeseen requirements arise. It’s important to understand that whilst you may think an extension should function a specific way, it may not have been developed that way or even be possible. Make sure to check these things with the vendor before you purchase.

If you’re still on Magento 1 or about to make the switch you also need to know that Magento 2.0 is a totally different beast. 1.x extensions cannot be upgraded for 2.0 and so you’ll need to confirm if the vendor has developed a new version for their extension.

The switch also gives you a chance to review the extensions you have installed and decide if they still deliver for the business. Figuring out exactly what you want and need for your business, and consequently from your extensions, is the most important step.

Sound simple? Maybe, but a surprising amount of merchants still fall into the trap of choosing extensions that don’t do everything they need because they didn’t clearly define their requirements beforehand.

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The extension checklist

  • Budget –how much will it cost and does this balance out the internal cost savings? For some the initial cost of an extension can seem high, but how much time are you spending internally to manually resolve the issue. In fact, could the extension actually help you make even more money? Extensions such as Mailchimp for Magento and Sweet Tooth Rewards can actually help re-engage and incentivise customers to increase sales online. It’s a no brainer!
  • Internal capabilities – the technical capabilities of your team will dictate the level of support you need for your developer or the extension provider. Both will be at an additional cost to the business and so it’s important to factor this in.
  • Current and future capacity – simply put, the more functionality required to deliver the best ecommerce experience, the greater the demand of the extension. The extension package should reflect the full functionality needed, and should equally consider likely future needs based on realistic expected growth.
  • Current functionality – merchants should consider possible impacts on current performance and functionality when selecting an extension. Will this impact or conflict with an existing extension? Get your developer to install the extension on a staging/demo environment to thoroughly test functionality before you go live.

The bottom line is balance. If you’ll need more support, be honest and be willing to pay a bit more.  Be prepared to make compromises as extensions have been developed to cater for general needs; all store set ups are different and so will function differently.

What provider should you choose?

Even with Magento’s Extension Quality Program it should remain best practice to thoroughly check extension providers. The degree of support and service desired will depend on individual needs, but observing a basic independent vetting process will help ensure your needs are met.

  • Look at customer reviews and feedback – although it may seem obvious and even mundane, looking at past reviews from previous customers can reveal a surprising amount of information about a provider. At the very least reviews can confirm whether a provider is even worth consideration.
  • Talk with the provider – the best way to gauge a personal impression of a provider is to speak with them directly, so pick up the phone and have your questions or concerns ready. How they deal with both should tell you all you need to know.
  • Check update log – observing the update log is a strong indicator of maintenance efforts directly, and indirectly can suggest something about the standards and efforts of the provider as a whole. An extension with a history of regular updates is an assurance that it will be generally maintained, future bugs will be fixed, and the providers are on hand should other support be needed.
  • Terms and conditions – extensions that provide demos, money back guarantees and extensive privacy policies should take priority over those without, even if the price tag is that much bigger. Particularly with money back guarantees, it’s always important to be aware of the length of time provided to rigorously test the extension before the chance to get any money back is gone.

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What should you do when you’re ready to go?

Extensions should be tested immediately and thoroughly. This includes testing the extension itself, ensuring that it fulfils all its functionality claims and doesn’t have any major problems. Additionally the extension should be measured against individual expectations and goals to ensure it has the capabilities and scalability needed to deliver. This is also an opportunity to assess if there are any modifications that could be made to enhance the extension, or to identify other areas that should be enhanced with other extensions that were not previously highlighted.  Ideally, look to demo the extension beforehand to avoid complications later.

The good news that is that with Magento’s Extension Quality Program any problems should be minimal, and those that do arise should be manageable thanks to additional support from Magento and even the community as a whole.

Choosing the right extension is about meeting customer needs as much as it is about meeting merchant needs. While all these best practices are essential for anyone looking to optimise and extend their store, building and delivering the perfect ecommerce experience is made simpler with the right specialist expertise. If you think you could benefit from additional support with Magento, extensions or anything else ecommerce, contact one of our team to chat about how we could help you.

Katy Smith

Katy Smith

Digital Marketing Executive

Katy is a Digital Marketing Executive at Netmatter with a degree in Marketing. She has so far gained experience in various areas of marketing including email, copywriting, social media and SEO.

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