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Spree Commerce vs. Magento

Posted on May 20, 2015 by Fareed Dudhia

About the Author

Fareed Dudhia is a developer for Spree Commerce Certified Partner, Made. Made is a leading UK software services provider. The team works with businesses to craft software that delivers results; from ecommerce stores and CMS-driven websites, to enterprise karaoke platforms.

There has been so much written about how Spree stacks up against Magento over the last few years that it’d be easy to dismiss another article out of hand.

They’re great to contrast, as they’re both open-source ecommerce platforms. I’ve worked professionally with both, and I can identify with both sides of the argument. The Spree folks say that Spree can do everything Magento can, and do it in 1/200th the amount of code (their cores are 45k vs 8.2m lines of code respectively). The Magento folks say that Spree is new and relatively untested and, as such, is only really good for smaller businesses that won’t be hurt too much if their site is somewhat lacking in the reliability department.

Well, Spree’s come of age now, and perhaps it’s time to contrast Spree against Magento again, in 2015.

Maturity & Reliability

The main argument levelled against Spree has mostly been that it’s a newcomer; immature technologies are generally less reliable than their better-established competitors. Magento beats Spree in maturity, that’s for sure. We’ve been hearing this for quite a few years now, and you’ll still see arguments levelled against Spree on the basis that it’s an immature technology.

These arguments, of course, neglect the fact that larger codebases tend to be much less reliable than smaller ones (Magento is several hundred times larger, codebase-wise) and the fact that Spree is built upon the rock-solid Ruby on Rails framework. Rails powers some of the largest and most robust websites on the internet, including Airbnb, Square, Github, Hulu, and many others.

So, for how many more years is Spree going to be considered a newcomer? At some point, “it came first” stops being a reason that one product can be considered better than another. Spree already powers a whole bunch of successful, high-revenue online storefronts: Dulux, Bonobos, Fortnum & Mason, Finery and On Running all spring to mind (in fact, Bonobos switched from Magento to Spree). Spree has been around going on eight years now, and in the tech world, that’s actually a pretty long time. Again, Spree has come of age.

Speed of Development

No one’s arguing that Magento is quicker to develop features for than Spree; Ruby on Rails is renowned for being the most productive web framework out there, and adding new features to a gargantuan codebase like Magento takes considerable time. Where Magento does score points, however, is concerning plugins.

The Magento store has integrations for pretty much everything under the sun, and you might find that you can buy all the integrations you need without having to pay anyone to write any code. There’s also a ton of themes that work well out of the box. Magento also scores points here in that it’s written in PHP. PHP is a very popular language, and finding PHP programmers is considerably easier than finding Ruby programmers.

Having said that, Magento sites often suffer from the codebase becoming large and unwieldy. Hiring more developers does not fix this problem, as those developers then have to be trained on the project. If the codebase becomes difficult enough to understand, hiring new developers does not guarantee that work will be done any quicker. These projects may grind to a halt, as new work requires understanding of the old work. Project managers on these projects become very well acquainted with terms like “bus factor” and “development hell.”

Features

Back when Spree was relatively new, it was missing all kinds of features that online shoppers have come to expect. Proper product searching, sales, wishlists, BOGOF promotions, and multiple currencies were either not fully polished or missing entirely.

Spree has come a long way since then, and now really can do everything that Magento can. I’d be happy to settle for a draw in this department, were it not for one thing that Magento stores can really struggle with: loading a page quickly. It’s well known that page load speed can severely effect conversion rates, and this is an area that Magento will always struggle with, especially given the size of the codebase.

Pricing

If we disregard Magento Enterprise (the pricing of which would make Donald Trump’s wig fly off), the pricing of Magento and how that compares with Spree’s pricing is really more about the company that you get to do the work.

It’s well known that quotes in this business can vary wildly, and finding the right company for you is a quest that you must embark upon yourself, as a business (although we might know of one company that can help). This is assuming the quote is, of course, for getting an initial site up. If your business then decides to add a bunch of features and remove a bunch of different features, the manpower required is significantly less for Spree, and as such should be reflected in the cost of getting the work done.

Conclusion

Comparisons in 2012 had a fairer pro/con list between these two platforms. In 2015, Magento is very similar to how it was, whereas Spree is a completely different beast. With the release of Spree 3, the main reason I’ve found for a business to build a project with Magento is that their developers are already familiar with PHP.

I’ll fully admit to bias here, as I worked professionally with Magento for several years and consciously made the decision to move away from it for precisely the reasons I’ve described in this article. Things move pretty fast in the technology world, and often the slow-moving maturity that Magento exhibits is but a few short steps from obsolescence.

To read this post in its original format, visit the blog of Made.

Choosing Spree Commerce for Best Online Shopping

Posted on May 19, 2015 by 2beDigital

About the Author

2beDigital is a digital marketing agency based in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia and Barcelona. 2bedigital was formed by a multidisciplinary team whose principles of trust and transparency power their work.

Why do companies choose Spree Commerce for their online stores?

More and more companies are choosing Spree Commerce to be their ecommerce solution. At 2beDigital, we recommend it for its scalability and flexibility, as well as for its wide array of payment solutions. These solutions give it a real advantage over other open source platforms.

Spree Commerce can be adapted to any setting

By choosing Spree, you have access to its wide base of official extensions, as well as countless others developed by the community. Although it may require some work on the development of integrations, this application will enable you to take advantage of any gems available in the wider Ruby ecosystem.

All this ensures that your store can be optimized visually, as well as in its feature set.

Who is using Spree Commerce?

Spree is driving the storefronts for companies in a wide range of sectors. In fashion, major retailers like fine men’s clothing brand Bonobos and the beauty product line Glossier have chosen Spree. In food, Spree powers the likes of Vegan Snack Packs and Club de Quesos. And that’s just a small sample; there are thousands of retailers who are powered by Spree Commerce.

Do all stores look the same?

As we’ve seen in previous websites, there are endless possibilities in terms of the features that software engineers can add to your application. The appearance and usability of any Spree Commerce store can be as flexible and unique as your business.

Since version 3 of Spree, both the user interface and the administration area are implementing Bootsrap. The technology represented by Bootstrap opens the door to a ton of customization options. Users don’t even need to edit in HTML code; simply choose your colors and your store will be up and running in no time.

However, if you want a fully customized storefront, those aspects will take a little more work. There’s no need to worry, though, because Spree has thought of this and uses a Ruby gem called Deface. Deface replaces and easily customizes any Spree template code, so that you can easily work with any given extension. This allows you to truly customize each and every page to the needs of your customers. When combined with a personalized style, you’ll get a truly unique shop.

Spree is a great platform, and through the use of both official extensions and the community, you can create highly-customized stores that are as unique as the requirements of your business. The flexibility of Spree does not end with the possibilities of the application. By using Deface, the storefront is fully customizable so that you can develop a Spree store that is adaptable to any and all of your business requirements.

To view this piece in its original format, visit the blog of 2beDigital.

Staggeringly Smooth—The Fortnum & Mason Spree Commerce Release

Posted on May 14, 2015 by Roise Proven

Roisi Proven is a test lead for Red Badger. Red Badger is a Spree Commerce Certified Partner and creative software workshop. They create beautiful, compelling experiences built around robust technologies. They specialize in user experience, design, project management and testing.

It would be difficult for me to overstate the importance of launching a brand new version of an international ecommerce website. This was no mere reskin; we’ve been rebuilding the Fortnum & Mason website from the ground up. We started with the decision to use Spree Commerce for the storefront, and have been continuing all the way through to building Fortnum’s a bespoke CMS using our very own Colonel.

Because the Fortnum brand values customers above all, they felt it was of the utmost importance that the customers help drive the direction of the site. As a result, we decided it was important not to rush a release. We’ve spoken already about our approach to deployment, allowing us to deliver rapidly and regularly, but in order to get to that stage, we needed to be confident that the core of what we were delivering was sound.

The First Step

The first thing that we had to do before we could make a plan, was to figure out where our weaknesses were. If we knew the elements that were most likely to fail, we could work pre-emptively to fix these areas before going live to the world. What has always been apparent to us is that with so many third parties to rely on, no amount of automated or manual testing was going to truly expose our pain points.

So, as soon as the site was fully transactional, we made the decision to do a highly controlled soft launch prior to Christmas peak. A selection of Fortnum’s trusted customers were contacted, and given a password to our still very much unfinished site. By communicating to these customers, and making them a part of our development, we hoped to not just get a more robust test of our site, we also aimed to gain feedback from these key users that would inform the ongoing development.

The Slow Burn

And so the feedback came. However, it came slowly. Too slowly for our liking. So, further down the line towards the middle of January, we had a meeting with the team over at Fortnum. We came up with a plan to run both the old site and the new site in parallel, directing traffic in ever-increasing quantities to our site. So new.fortnumandmason.com was born.

The need to login to get access to the site was removed, and people started using our site. For the first time, we weren’t just inviting people to use the site, we were allowing them to get there on their own, initially via a marketing email, and later by directing a percentage of traffic from the old site to the new. In doing this, we were making sure that when the time came to release to 100% of the public we wouldn’t see the dip in sales and conversion that so often accompanies site re-launches.

Running two sites at the same time came with its own problems. There were moments when we wondered if we should have held off on introducing users to the new site, despite the fact that we knew releasing to customers early, with the intention of learning from them, was hugely important.

However, the results were undeniable. Major issues were uncovered, but instead of affecting hundreds of customers, it would affect one or two. If a couple of people encounter an issue, you can contact them personally and make sure they still feel of value. If hundreds, or even dozens of people are affected, it becomes a great deal harder. Also, if there were any issues that we needed more time to fix, it was very easy to direct all users back to the old site.

“Release” Day

The 17th of February rolled around. This was the day we’d all been waiting for. For the previous fortnight, around 40% of Fortnum & Mason users were being directed to new.fortnumandmason.com using the Qubit system to redirect them. We had encountered issues, some minor and some not so minor. We’d managed to maintain our development momentum along with fixing these issues. Using Kanban, we had a clear view of work in progress and bugs that needed fixing urgently, all the while maintaining a focus on throughput—getting features shipped into live.

At 8am we made the call to change the DNS records. The old site drifted away, and new.fortnumandmason.com became www.fortnumandmason.com. We pulled up our analytics and collectively held out breath.

It Just Worked

A part of everyone was waiting for the other shoe to drop, for complaints to start flooding in or for orders to start failing. A bigger part of us knew that our gentle filter of customers over the previous weeks and months had prepared us well for this. Of course there were still small issues, a customer struggling to pay here, a missing product there, but overall there were no alarming issues.

Ongoing Positivity

As the website bedded in over the next couple of weeks, we continued to see minimal issues and an increasingly positive impact. We have already seen an overall growth of 89% year on year, with the conversion increase coming in at an impressive 20% up. We have also seen an 18% reduction in customer service calls, with a particular drop in calls related to issues with payment.

As we finish up our first couple of months being fully live, the mood across Red Badger, and across the business at Fortnum, has been hugely positive. We are immensely proud of what we’ve achieved, and we don’t feel that we could have had such a successful release if we hadn’t ramped up slowly in the way that we did.

To view this post in its original format, visit the blog of blog of Red Badger.

Turn one-time buyers into recurring customers

Posted on May 12, 2015 by Alexander Nachaj

Email marketing can be an invaluable tool to the retention of customers. Are you getting the most out of it? How about with your automated emails? A quick little replenishment email fired off from your system at the right time to the right place can make a world of difference when it comes to converting one-time buyers into dedicated, recurring customers.

What are Replenishment Emails?

In a nutshell, replenishment emails are simple, periodic emails that remind a client that now might be a good time to place another order.

How this differs from other email reminders is that a replenishment email is specifically targeted to customers who recently purchased a product that will eventually run out, expire and need a refill. For example, those of you that are dog/pet owners may recognize this scenario:

You have a dog. Your dog needs food. You buy dog food. Your dog eats the food. The food starts to run out.

It’s inevitable that the bag of food will run out. The problem is that sometimes we don’t realize this until it’s either a day away, or that morning we wake up, go for a scoop and hear the empty scrape of the bottom of the bag.

Fortunately, replenishment emails step in before running out becomes a pain. Let’s pick up where we left off with the above scenario.

The dog food is about to run out. You don’t even notice. Then, an email arrives reminding you to buy dog food. You order more. Dog keeps eating. Dog is happy. Repeat process next month.

Replenishment emails help take some of the burden of responsibility off of the customer, acting as helpful reminders that a purchase is necessary.

Why should we use replenishment emails? Why not just wait for customers to come back on their own accord?

If you’re an online business that ships its products to the customer, even a day of delay and necessity could cause the customer to rush down to their local store to buy from your competitor.

Sure, you might be thinking, “it’s okay to lose a sale from a recurring customer since you just acquired 9 other new customers that same month.” However, those are ten one-time purchases, rather than 10 recurring purchases.

It’s easier to retain a customer than earn a new one. You don’t have to constantly convince your existing (and satisfied) customers that you are the right choice since you’ve already earned their trust.

They have a need that you know you can genuinely, specifically and easily fulfill. Plus, the time it takes to sell to them is nothing compared to the time it takes to make new sales, so don’t let your existing customers slip away!

Okay, I’m sold. How do I start sending replenishment emails?

Well, you could start by keeping track of when each customer makes a purchase and then remember to send them an email some time down the road. However, for most businesses, sending out hundreds to thousands of emails each month by hand isn’t all that viable. Instead, we strongly recommend you sign up with an email marketing solution.

MailChimp is one service that you can integrate with your storefront to help you send out replenishment emails automatically. All you have to do is type up your email beforehand and set the conditions for sending them out to your clients.

How should I phrase my replenishment emails?

Keep it simple, straightforward and on topic. You aren’t trying to sell your customers something they don’t already need and there’s no need to push other products, since you can save those for your other promotion strategies.

Make it a friendly reminder, with a little discount or free shipping if they place their order, nothing more. The urgency and the need enough should make it a fairly reliable conversion.

When is it a good time to send these email?

Timing is key to making more sales and keeping your customers happy.

For instance, you don’t want your car to only let you know you need gas after you run out. While it’s nice to know why the car stopped running, it would be even nicer to know a little earlier and not deal with the pain of walking to the gas station.

It’s all about finding that middle ground between “too late” (when people will be unhappy) and too early (when people would rather wait). Serve them when they are aware of a need, but not after they’ve found other solutions.

From our experience, we found that somewhere two-thirds to three-quarters of the way towards needing that refill would be a pretty prime time to send out a replenishment reminder.

Essentially, you want them to have enough time to take action to avoid any interruptions in the product and service they enjoy. Fido shouldn’t miss a meal, and a road trip’s no fun when you run out of gas.

For services that use a monthly subscription, or whose product will likely run out in a month, sending that email at the start of week three should be spot on.

As well, for those of you who a two-week free trial for their service, you will want to send out an email just before the trial expires expire—so they don’t experience an interruption in the service—and then again when it does expire.

The Bottom Line:

Replenishment emails help you spend less effort chasing down leads and converting your customers into recurring buyers.

As you can tell by now, this sort of email marketing doesn’t exactly work for every type of product (furniture would be a good example of items that do not need to be replenished on a monthly basis… unless of course you live some sort of wild rock star life).

However, even if you aren’t in the dog chow business, you might actually be running a business that offers a product or service that could follow the replenishment process.

Think about the products you sell. Do any of them have a finite quantity (such as cleaning products, food), require refills (coffee machines, water filters) or wear out (razor blades, scrub brushes, and even running shoes only go so far).

If there’s a chance one of your customers will need more, look into getting started with replenishment emails.