My friend, Suhrid Thacker, decided to leave the corporate world of finance and start Nizanta, an e-commerce company selling high quality hand made Indian jewelry. He researched the various e-commerce platforms that are available and decided that he wanted to run the business on the Magento platform, a content management system for e-commerce web sites. Magento, owned by eBay, is a platform used by hundreds of thousands of retailers, including Nike, Christian Louboutin, Ghirardelli Chocolates, Rosetta Stone, and many more. It’s the king of the medium to large business e-commerce platforms and a reasonable choice if you can afford the price and manage the complexities.
Building a Magento website is not cheap. There are two versions of Magento available. Magento Community is an open-source version which is powerful enough to run most stores, especially one starting out with a smaller product inventory. Magento Enterprise comes packed with many more features and scales better than the Magento Community version but it costs $16,000 per year.
That’s just the software cost. Then you need to get hosting, pay for someone to build the site, and pay for someone to maintain and run the website for you. Hosting costs are cheap enough but to hire a developer to build a reasonable Magento e-commerce site will cost a bunch. Suhrid contacted several developers in the United States and he was quoted between $10,000 and $60,000 for a Magento website, a price that reflects that it will generally take months to properly develop a Magento website. A simple Google search will show that some developers charge $100k-$200k+ to have a Magento website developed. It’s not cheap. Rates for developers from India were around $2,000 to $10,000 for a Magento website, but you have to be able to manage the language, time, cultural, communication, etc. issues that come with outsourcing development to one of the lower labor countries. Both approaches can be justified but that’s a separate conversation.
The critical thing to keep in mind when deciding on the Magento e-commerce platform is that you will have to hire someone to continually change and develop for it or you will have to do all of that programming yourself. You don’t just build the site and never develop for it again. You constantly are tweaking, improving, managing, and scultping the site. So you will have to spend a lot of time programming (time that may better be spent marketing or solving other business problems) or hire a developer (Magento developers can cost $100s/hr). When you agree to using the power of Magento you are agreeing to a development intensive business. However the power and customization of the platform will pay dividends if you can get sales to a reasonable level.
As a new business owner, my buddy would have to spend a huge chunk of money on product inventory (24k gold jewelry tends to be expensive), shipping, marketing, accounting, and million other things that a new business owner has to deal with. He initially decided to develop the site himself to try to save on costs and he got some help from friends but he was happy to hand off the development work to me and let me have at it. It was a pretty good match. I didn’t need any money but I wanted the opportunity to build something cool. I told him I would get him to a point where he had a functioning website that looked good and would turn it over to him before I left for my 45 day trip to Europe, which left me a month and a half or so to learn a new platform and get all of the work done.
My buddy had already looked around and found a Magento theme called Ultimo that he liked for both its looks and responsiveness to adapt to mobile platforms. When he turned over the project to me the website was hosted, Magento installed, and the theme installed. The website was not fully up and running and there was no customization to anything but I had a starting point to get to work.
I got to work breaking down Magento and learning what I had to. The admin panel is an impressive content management system. There are a bunch of headings that lead you to settings to control everything from product inventory, currency, shipping, taxes, payment gateways, emails, even CSS customization. It will take you a couple hours/days just to go through all of the options and see what is available straight out of the box. Since Magento Community is used by so many developers there are often solutions for whatever problem that you have available on Google. Magento also has a bunch of extensions that you can download to add features without writing any code. If you want to change the style of your website you can download one of the many available themes that are available. The community and options for tweaking, downloading, and coding are limitless.
The process of developing for Magento involved a lot of setting up the platform through the admin panel. I generally think that if you can accomplish something through the admin panel in a platform like Magento then you should, as this is more likely to work following an update to the platform or theme versus changing the CSS or PHP and then having to verify that those changes still work on upgrade to a new version. There are best practices that should be taken when developing for Magento and it is recommended that they are followed when developing to avoid wasting time later on.
Once you think you have everything set in the admin panel, the next step is to move on to the CSS customization. At this point in the project I had already made some necessary changes to CSS and PHP to address problems that the admin panel presented. At this point I am willing to make whatever changes that I have to with CSS and PHP code to get the site running exactly as I want it.
Development is moving along smoothly when Magento decides to drop a bomb on the project and release version 1.9 of Magento Community. It’s usually great to get a new version release, but mid-development means that you have to get to a good breaking point, back everything up, install the new version, migrate everything over, and remove the backups. This process usually takes longer than expected and leads to broken websites that give the developer a long list of problems to fix. In actuality, there was some of that, but the migration process was remarkably smooth. When you follow the directions and everything works you feel pretty good and gracious. Programming always (usually) works as it’s supposed to, just not as you think it should.
Eventually, after a few more days of solving other problems and designing the site as perfectly as my buddy and I wanted it, including secure payment integration, email notifications, fixes to mobile design, batch loading products, and everything else, the website was in a reasonably usable form. At this point the goal is to test the website on different browsers and devices and try to break it and note what has to be fixed. Several days of breaking and fixing and adding new features that pop up and before long it’s time for me to head off on my trip to Europe and turn the website back to Suhrid. Most of the work is done. The website looks great, and when all the product information and page content is loaded, it will be ready for primetime.
During the development process my buddy set up to have the rest of the site wrapped up by a company called The Integrated Penguin, or TIP, a digital creative agency that produces quality work. Since my trip they have polished up the website. You can check them out here (The Integrated Penguin – TIP). Suhrid finally decided to go live with the website a couple weeks ago and so finally I am able to make this blog post and show off what I spent many long weeks building during the summer. I hope you enjoy the clean website that showcases the gorgeous hand crafted Indian jewelry as much as I do, and if you like any of it then feel free to buy. The Magento platform will be happy to process your order. The Nizanta website can be accessed via this link (Nizanta Jewelry).
I don’t have any screen captures of what the site looked like before TIP got a hold of it. They did a good job adding some nice design elements to the page. Overall there is a little of tightening up to do, but all of that will be accomplished over time. Here are some captures of what the Nizanta jewelry site looks like.
The site is full of white space. The jewelry and marketing message really stands out. Sliders are popular for many websites these days and I feel they provide a great way to change a pages look and feel with little effort. Great for seasonal items, or posting new inventory.
The theme of whitespace and simplicity continues in the product page. I don’t really want there to be anything in the way of the customer viewing the jewelry. No names. No prices. First look at the jewelry, and then if you like a piece simply mouse over for the price.
Or if the user wants to know more information click on a product for added detail. Product images can be hovered over to show higher definition of the beautiful hand crafted jewelry. Descriptions are short and useful. The necklaces product descriptions have a size sheet that the user can use to see what the necklace would look like when it is on. The descriptions describe what the 24 karat gold foiling means.
After the customer is done shopping, products can be added to a cart for final viewing before checkout. This Salesforce blog puts forth really good points on how the sales can be really customer centric.
Checkout process is simple enough. Both credit cards and PayPal can be accepted. Email notifications are automatically sent out to the buyers throughout the buying process. A login is available for return customers. Newsletters, gift cards, social links, etc. are all taken care of.
The building of nizantajewelry.com was a little painful at times but I learned a whole bunch. The end result was a great website that will scale as the business grows.