Following on from our interview with Heliguy.com’s Joel Ross, we asked Kyle Gross, who is the owner of apsltd.com to do an interview around his experience of replatforming to Magento Enterprise. I’ve worked with Kyle for around a year and have various conversations around how APS are using Magento and I thought he’d be a great candidate for one of our merchant interviews.
Tell us a bit about your business and your background as a retailer.
APS is a 25 year old company that began as a storefront retailer of small sailboat racing gear (technical apparel, line, hardware and accessories). In our third year of business a mail order catalog was launched, and successively grew with the company, such that the majority of business was generated through it. After ten years of being in business, our first retail website was launched. In its first year it became a significant revenue channel. Over the last fifteen years, and after two replatforming projects, online sales have become the majority of all sales. The company has grown to 30 employees and the product offering has expanded to both racing and cruising sailboats up to 50’. Our tagline is ‘The World Leader in Outfitting Sailors’ and APS remains an internet, catalog and storefront retailer.
What platform were your stores on before you moved to Magento EE?
Before we moved to Magento Enterprise, the site was previously built on a heavily modified version of ASPdot Storefont.
Why did you want to move away from your old platform?
The previous version of the website did not support many of the core features that we required – for example things like layered navigation, more advanced search, brand management and a host of other things.
When you were selecting a new ecommerce platform, which other ones did you look at?
We looked at lots of platforms, but the main ones were:
- Magento – Community and Enterprise
- Able Commerce
- Miva Merchant
- OS Commerce
- Shop Site
- Commerce V3
- X Cart
- Yahoo Merchant Solutions
What were your main reasons for selecting Magento?
When we reviewed Magento, it was clear that it is more widely supported, which was a bit plus for us. Magento Enterprise also met pretty much all of our requirements and seemed like a platform our growing company would not outgrow.
Did you use external development partners or did you manage the build in-house?
We used a Magento development partner.
How important do you think having the right Magento partner is for a build project?
This is extremely important! This is the key to the door. Even after all of our research and interviews, our experience was very poor. I would strongly advise anyone looking at agencies to get three references of customers with similar sites and make sure you ask them what their experience was during development, launch and for the following six months. There are good Magento developers out there, but it’s really important that you select one of them, as there are also lots of bad ones. It’s vitally important that you select one of the good agencies as this can have a huge impact on your business.
What would you say the main strengths of the platform are for you?
The Magento platform is stable. I think the main thing we like, other than its native abilities, is the amount of third party extensions and developers there are in the world to help us (not to mention all of the informative content and videos on YouTube).
Do you think Magento has any big issues / weaknesses?
We are currently on v1.13 of Magento, which does seem to have a few core issues with URL rewrites/301s – which has been pretty frustrating for us. We also really wish color swatches and layered navigation were native and not extension driven – Magento v2.0 will address this though and we know that these issues can be countered.
What were some of the initial problems / overheads with Magento that you had to overcome?
Duplicate content caused by pagination and other types of dynamic pages, among many others. We moved from a simple and stable site to Magento, which is much more complex. We should have sought outside help to create a much better plan to optimize for SEO prior to going live. We thought we had done what needed to be done, but upon launch our organic traffic fell off the charts and nine months later we are still trying to get it all back. It is critical that you work with a Magento expert. There are many SEO issues that are Magento specific and they are not difficult to address, but if missed will hurt your organic traffic.
This is another key thing I’d recommend people look out for.
What would you say merchants should look for in a Magento partner?
Experience in developing your type of website specifically – retail, size of product offering, navigational experience required, product information requirements etc. Also, if their mantra is not UX and SEO, move on. You want a team that approaches the project from the user side and has knowledge around SEO best practices.
Finally – what advice would you give to merchants like you who are just selecting a new ecommerce platform?
Do not skimp on the budget when it comes to UX and SEO. There are many things we decided on looking at, but considered out of the budget in the short-term. The money we ‘saved’ was lost many times over by launching a site that was not properly SEO-optimized and had design shortcuts that hurt our UX. You are building a house and will live in it for years. Build it correctly the first time as changes after the fact are painful.