Dan Davies{ Front-end Developer }

Me, Myself and Magento

18th July 2016

I’ve been working with Magento now for the best part of 11 months or to some, nearly a year. I was under no illusion it would be a tough move from working with WordPress and brochure sites to full on e-commerce websites but even now, I have to admit, the effort required with an e-commerce site surprised me.

Really?

I’d say yes. In my experiences over the years. The process was pretty simple. Designer gave developers the PSDs and the site was built. It was tested to the best of their ability, the client looked at it, fed back their amends, amends were made, site went live. Ok I know that’s a crude way of looking at it but the process was pretty much like that. Once live, the site generally was forgotten about unless the client decided to change their mind or something had been missed.

Now not all sites I know would have been left but the majority of stuff I have worked on was pretty much like that. Either there was limited functionality or the client had control and I never saw the site again.

Now, an e-commerce site is something different entirely. I must stress here, I didn’t walk into the role thinking I’d get a site live and I could sit on my arse and relax. Far from it.

The process is pretty much similar overall I’d say. Design, dev, client, live. Although to be fair, there is a lot more going on, in between and after.

Like what?

Design

Lets start with design. It’s easy to go off at a tangent on a brochure site, breaking grids and trying out new things. It’s pretty much a clean slate whereas with an online shop, you have to really consider the user and how their shopping experience goes from the initial visit to checkout. One change could impact and cost thousands, millions even. Of course that could be the case for any site but a site that is taking orders needs to take orders so it’s crucial to get that stage right.

Development

I think I was spoilt as a developer starting out. Static sites and eventually WordPress. I’ve not really had to think hard about putting a site together.

Until I got working with Magento.

Fuck me. There is a template for everything which pulls in other templates. It’s a minefield. And I’ve not even mentioned the XML side to it.

But don’t be scared off. Once you get the grips of it and know the locations, it’s pretty simple.

By design, it’s not pretty and slow but it’s not impossible to get good page speed scores as I’ve found. I guarantee, you can get close to 90 most times if you do the right things but watch out for images and being unoptimised. You might spend ages optimising your images but clients won’t so be prepared for that chat. Images will hold you back.

Testing

A good developer will test as they build. I can’t stress it enough. Get the basics done right and you’ll save a load of time when it comes to the end. To be honest though, this goes for any dev and any platform. Don’t just do the bare minimum to get it built and then polish later. Get it right first time and save the hassle. They both take the same amount of time in reality.

Testing is also important once the site is built.

Well duh!

No seriously. It really is. Especially with Magento. I’ve seen pages change due to a button being clicked elsewhere earlier down the line. An example was an account page. At first glance the page looked fine. Everything styled.

Then an order was placed

And then that lovely styled page suddenly had a new section in there that looked a bag of shit.

Basically most pages have hidden stuff that suddenly might be showing and if you haven’t thought about it, it won’t be styled.

Test every link. Seriously, you’d be surprised how many pages a Magento site has.

Act dumb, try to break it. Place orders, cancel orders. Try everything.

You might be lucky and have a tester. Something I am keen to see is a typical site journey pencilled out so that devs can test like a tester because lets face it, devs are probably not wired the same way as a tester. I’ve missed loads of things because I’m not like a tester. It’s quite a special skill and vastly important. Do not under estimate the testing.

I was always told to fear the tester. If work is being knocked back, you should see it as slap in the face and a reminder to do better. It’s easy to rely on the tester to test your work and find mistakes rather than do a great job and take pride in the fact that no issues were found.

Again this goes for any site but the consequences could be massive for a site that isn’t tested properly. It could be the difference between someone ordering £3000 worth of products and checking out or not.

After go live

This was the bit I wasn’t prepared for. The sites are potentially 24/7 which means it’s vital that the sites are up and working and error free. Sometimes things just go wrong or something missed becomes apparent. And I can bet it won’t be between the hours of 9 to 5.

Clients also love to tinker and add new things which is not new but again means more thought into how it will work and more testing. Every change could have a massive impact.

Basically these things take time and effort and need to be treated with respect. They make money and cost money and real people are using them hourly. There is nothing worse than going on to a site and not being able to buy something you want. Normally you give a site one chance to do a job or you go elsewhere. So it is important that you do a good job to ensure people buy and come back. I take it very seriously and am always trying find ways to improve my working and the stuff we produce.

I really enjoy working with Magento and e-commerce. It’s exciting, hard work, stressful and at times I want to punch people but the rewards are great. I take pride in seeing stuff I’ve made make money for a client.

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