It was that time of year again. The nights start drawing in and there’s that familiar, sometimes nauseating realisation that the Christmas period is approaching. On top of that there’s what has become an annual matter of the latest Magento Live conference to look forward to. This year myself (@adampmoss) and @jamesbavington took to the city of London and this is what happened…
Night Before Party
Arriving quite late at about 9pm, James and I were pleased to find that there was still plenty of food going to satisfy two starving travellers. Instantly recognising many of the ‘regulars’ we soon enjoyed a great night – with huge thanks going towards Magento for the free bar!
Developer Session – 9am
In a reversal of the previous two events, the keynotes were put on hold and I got straight into the developer session which promised a varied number of talks from Magento 3rd party developers and product managers.
Apache Solr on Enterprise
Magento’s search functionality can suck. Luckily there’s Solr! I had never heard of Solr before so I needed this explained to me in its entirety. Solr is basically a Lucene-based search server that runs in a Java environment. By implementing the right code into your Magento installation you can interact between Magento’s product catalogue and Solr to produce search results with the many benefits. Take a look at the website to learn more: http://lucene.apache.org/solr/
Magento on HHVM
This was a confident talk delivered by Daniel Sloof, the young European man who decided that Magento should run on HHVM (HipHop Virtual Machine) for major boosts in performance. For those who don’t know (like me), HHVM is a reimplementation of PHP into Bytecode created by the engineers of Facebook.
While interesting, and clearly an overwhelming achievement, I don’t think that this is something that will be used by many developers short-term. We were warned that for production versions of websites this is an absolute no, and it also makes your store ‘un-upgradable’. This was mainly a demonstration of the fact that if you’re a talented-enough developer, you can redefine the workings of a platform like Magento and see major performance increases.
Magento Performance Testing
William Harvey described on a very high-level how Magento’s performance can be measured. The was lot’s of focus on performance this year – clearly it’s something that Magento is aware of as a recurring issue and is looking to improve upon. He admitted that there are no current Magento performance standards and no real testing environment, but Magento 2 ships with a performance testing package.
Selling on eBay from Magento Made Easy
This talk was not only a plug for M2E Pro, but was also a wake-up call about how influential eBay still is as a legitimate sales platform. With 70% of all eBay purchase being for new items rather than auctions, there’s never been a better time to take advantage of this free extension.
Developer Session Summary
Introducing a ‘developer session’ was a good idea, but in my opinion wasn’t the most valuable part of the day. I would like to see Magento introduce developer workshops rather than presentations to give people a taste of the Magento U courses. Some of this stuff was very high-level and some of it requires very in-depth knowledge to carry out. If someone can point out to me 10 Magento sites running on HHVM by the close of 2014, I will happily hold my hands up.
Keynotes – 11am
Following Jamie Clarke’s fantastic and inspiring story of his expeditions to Mount Everest (3 in total), we were ready for the keynote speeches from Roy Rubin and Jimmy Duvall. There was no ‘headline news’ here with regards to Magento business – we’re all aware of Magento’s ever-increasing market share and mountainous sales figures (see what I did there?).
Roy talked of the opportunity in the market presented by mobile commerce. 58% of people use smartphones while shopping and mobile is blurring the line between online and offline commerce. Magento promises to be at the heart of this movement by using its current momentum in the marketplace to integrate new mobile technologies.
That said, there were no new products or concepts announced this time by Magento. The innovation was left to one of Magento’s main partners, PayPal.
Love them or hate them, PayPal have made great strides in the last year to push mobile commerce to new levels. ‘PayPal Here’ is a thumb-sized credit card swipe machine that connects with the tablet POS ‘Bouncepad’, and is also to be available for Magento integration. What this ultimately means is that you’ll soon be able to take payments whenever and wherever you are, and have the orders go through to your Magento admin. This includes credit card payments – not just PayPal transactions.
If you’re like me you’ll have made use of GPS-based apps such as Foursquare on your smartphone, which allows you to ‘check-in’ to places you visit and receive special offers and discounts as a result. PayPal, much like the Apple Store, have taken this to the level where you can pay for items simply by checking in. Additionally, by using the ‘Order-Ahead API’ you will be able to reserve items and services before you arrive – all through your PayPal app.
As for Magento CE… 1.8.1 will arrive before the end of the year, and 1.8.2 will be available Q12014. The newly-packaged responsive theme and tax calculation enhancements will be the key improvements we’re looking out for. Magento 2 still has no official release date.
Breakout Sessions – 1:30 – 5pm
How to Leverage Site Performance to Maximize Sales
Nexcess gave an in-depth consultation on how to get every last millisecond of your site’s performance down to a T. There are drastic financial consequences to having a slow ecommerce website, all of which stem from drops in rankings and abandonment rates. Literally every second counts.
I’ve noticed that the first recommendation that always comes out of these types of talks is to look at your hosting. Server hardware and software seems to be nine-tenths of the law when it comes to Magento performance optimisation. On top of this the main points were:
- Enabling ‘keep-alive’ sessions
- A handful of different types of page caching
- Effective use of a CDN
- Compression of images/CSS/JS
The whitepaper is available here if you’d like to know more.
Mobile and Website Conversion Optimization Strategies
Kestrel Lemen of Bronto gave a good case for intelligent email marketing. Things such as making sure your emails are responsive and say the right things. Of all the (many) email marketing companies that I’ve come across, Bronto do seem to be on the ball with the latest technology and web-psychology trends.
Matt Althauser from Optimizely gave us an introduction to their brand of A/B testing for websites. If you’re looking at conversion-rate optimisation then start by defining quantifiable success metrics, such as:
- Visits per day
- Sign up rate
- Click throughs
The bottom line was to keep it simple ‘Less is More’. Try stripping away during your A/B testing rather than tacking more and more on, and you may see conversion improvements.
Develop a Brand Story that Inspires and Engages Your Audience
I felt slightly out of place being in this talk which was clearly aimed solely at merchants. Nevertheless, Paul Sheehy gave a good talk which reaffirmed the importance of branding in any type of business. Customers will connect more emotionally with a business which engages with its customers on a more personal level. On a much lower level it seems that engaging with social media such as Instagram and Pinterest on your product pages will go a long way in brand building without much effort.
Making the Most Of The Digital & Mobile Disruptions – 5pm
The final talk of the day before the long-awaited cocktail party was basically an elaboration on Forrester’s mobile research data that Roy touched upon during the keynote. The data was much too in-depth for me to summarise here, so here’s a link to the presentation if you’d like to see it.
Cocktails – 6pm
It wouldn’t be a Magento event without it!
As always Magento put on a great event and it was great to meet some old and new faces in the Magento community. I would have liked to have seen a few more new products or concepts to take away from the day. Instead it was pretty much more of the same from last year, but with further investigation into certain areas including:
- The increase in mobile commerce and how your business and website should adapt
- The importance of conversion rate optimisation
- The importance of website performance and load speed
Magento will be back in London on the following dates for next year’s conference:
Magento Live UK 2014 – July 14th-15th
Park Plaza, Westminster Bridge