Merchant Interview: Joel Ross from

This is the very first merchant interview on and it’s focused on a re-platforming to and then away from Magento Community. I’ve been working with Joel and his colleague called Andrew for a little while now and last week Andrew mentioned that they were in the process of moving to a new platform, so I asked them if they’d be willing to be my interviewee on, and they kindly agreed.

So, let’s get started.

What platform was Heliguy on before you moved to Magento CE?

The initial version of the Heliguy website was built on a bespoke platform, built using PHP/MySQL. We moved to Magento Community in September 2014.

When you were selecting a new ecommerce platform, which other ones did you look at?

After deciding to move away from our bespoke platform, we looked at BigCommerce, Magento Community and Shopify.

What were your main reasons for selecting Magento Community?

We looked around to see what different well-known retail businesses were using and there were lots of major ecommerce brands using Magento, which gave us confidence in the platform.

Magento was also well-known for scalability and had plenty of extensions, which were able to help us achieve various functionality we required, which was very appealing for us.

Magento Community Edition was also free, which was a positive factor.

Did you use external development partners or did you manage the store in-house?

We developed and managed our Magento store in-house, although we did employ people who had written various extensions to help us install them and get the most out of them.

What would you say the main strengths of the platform are for you?

The main things that we like about Magento is that it’s very scalable, which gives us peace of mind around growth and peaks etc. There is also lots of support available via the community and there are lots of great, very useful extensions available.

What were the key weaknesses / issues?

The main issues we have with Magento were / are:

We found that using good, experienced Magento developers worked out to be very expensive, particularly if they’re managing all of the development taking place on the store.

Magento 1.x is also very slow OOTB and we’ve found that it takes a lot of on-going optimisation to make it as fast as comparative platforms.

Also, with the scalability becomes the problem of over complication and complexity.

What were some of the initial problems / overheads with Magento that you had to overcome?

When we launched on the platform, we found that the learning curve for Magento was quite steep and you need a trained, experienced Magento programmers to conduct work on the platform – we found that with normal PHP programmers the learning curve makes it difficult to have an impact quickly.

Magento has a much a higher cost for good programmers in the UK. We found that freelance developers were costing at least £60 per hour and usually a lot more. There lots and lots of cheaper programmers based in various different countries, but it is difficult to gauge whether they are genuine and they are more difficult to manage remotely. Even if a developer is Magento certified and claims to have lots of domain experience, it doesn’t necessarily validate them.

Another thing that we found is that you need to be aware of potential faults and issues with extensions and bespoke development work – it’s important to test everything thoroughly to ensure that other aspects of Magento aren’t impacted. Testing and code quality validation is very important to keep the platform stable.

What made you want to move away from Magento?

We recently developed a segfault that meant we had to reinstall the entire platform freshly and this, combined with the fact we believed we were too involved in the technical aspect of deployment, lead us to make a strategic decision to move away from Magento and onto the Visualsoft platform.

We also struggled to get the site performing well, which was a major factor, on top of the initial problems and overheads listed above.

What made you choose Visualsoft?

Visualsoft is a self-contained platform that is managed by a third party. This means that they take care of the code, deployment of changes etc and the hosting, so we can focus on managing and optimising the other aspects of ecommerce. Visualsoft are also local to us which was a bonus, but not a factor that would have caused an issue for us.

How have you found Visualsoft through the replatforming stages?

Visualsoft have an online portal that helps with the management the project – this measures the stage that you are at and provides detail on remaining work before you can launch etc. They have provided us with lots of training and have helped us work out a redirect plan, which is a fundamental consideration with any replatforming project.

Finally – what advice would you give to merchants like you who are just selecting a new mid-level ecommerce platform?

I’d say that it’s really important to focus on your business and not the technical issues you’re having, you obviously need to choose a suitable and manageable platform, but more importantly you need a support mechanism for that chosen platform.

It’s very easy to get tied down by and obsessed with a platform, but as a business you need to focus on the myriad of other issues that are involved in being effective online.