The Reading Lab

3 Challenges of Going International on Magento

Magento International Expansion

When you travel overseas, how do you prepare? Between informing your bank to reading up on local cultural idiosyncrasies to ensuring you understand conversion rates, there’s a lot that goes into a two-week vacation for a family of four.

So don’t expect your online retail business to simply drop a router in England and start selling products.

There are a range of variables that eCommerce companies need to consider before they can meaningfully expand into overseas markets. From technical, cultural and logistical perspectives, online retailers must ensure they are prepared before they embark on a global business journey.

At ExpandLab, we’ve been dealing with several issues with clients who have expanded to overseas markets. Below are our top three potential difficulties eCommerce companies will run into when they venture off into foreign lands, and how Magento can help solve for those issues.

1) Language. Language is as much about culture as it is about the actual words being used. While Google Translate may have gotten you a pass for your college Spanish class, it won’t pass the sniff test for a professional online store. Luckily, Magento has the capability to make this a smooth transition, if the people behind it actually know what they’re doing.

Additionally, within a certain language, there can be many different dialects. If a company uses the same language coding in Spain as they do in Mexico, customers will be confused and unable to understand key messages behind your brand. Plus, it makes anyone look foolish and unprofessional when using the wrong syntax to communicate with a customer base. Although all of this is more time consuming from a technology perspective, it’s vital to ensure customers will actually be able to understand, and then more likely to purchase, your product.

2) Shipping. The logic behind shipping varies from country to country and region to region. Once a company has established a fulfillment center in a certain country, like Germany, they need to determine how that dispersed shipping will work when shipping within Germany, and how that varies when shipping to other locations like Italy and England. Magento helps solve for these issues by having a huge backlog of data with updated price points for shipping costs.

Because these costs can vary so substantially, a robust understanding of these shifting expenses needs to be completely integrated into your product’s final price. According to a study by WorldPay, over 50 percent of consumers will abandon the checkout process when presented with unexpected costs. Even if your shipping prices can’t compete with local retailers, a consumer will often pay more than you think for shipping a unique item.

3) Duty Fees. This is another cost companies need to carefully consider when pricing their goods in different countries. Some regions will have more than ten line items companies need to include when shipping their goods internationally. Is it best to present these to customers as one single fee or would it better to list them individually? Some countries have Value Added Taxes (VATs), creating another unique coding problem.

The other issue is that these fees are not stagnant. Companies need to ensure they have a team that monitors for increases in tariffs and other fees so their technology can be quickly updated to reflect any changes in costs. We’ve found Magento makes these changes simple and easy to implement. ExpandLab also uses a tool called Avalara that monitors for these types of changes and provides real-time updates so there are no surprises in store for clients.

Going global isn’t simply a matter of flicking a switch. But by keeping the above considerations in mind when building an oversea presence, the benefits are clear and powerful. From untapped markets to greater exposure to favorable business climates, international growth can be a real bellwether for eCommerce companies to take their businesses to the next level.

But to be successful, online retailers need a team that understands the nuances of how a platform like Magento can be used to grow their business and keep the ship sailing smoothly. Our team at ExpandLab has the experience and tools to make your international outreach as simple as possible and extremely lucrative.

CPG Companies Have Every Reason to Love Magento


ExpandLab has a crush on Magento. That’s because it’s flexible enough to be applied to many different companies and we know how to push its buttons to make it work for us.

And that’s the genius of the platform: it has the capability to ensure websites are easy to navigate, organized in terms of stock content, and logical in terms of flow to the checkout for just about anyone.

More specifically, Magento is ideal for Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) companies. Why? Because it allows them to cut out the middlemen. Traditionally, CPG companies sell to retailers who sell their products to consumers. But Magento allows CPG companies to build their own eCommerce platforms that are much more cost-effective in the long run. The software is also inexpensive enough that companies can test the service without breaking the bank, making it a low entry point to experiment.

While WordPress is the most popular Content Management System (CMS) with more than one-fifth of websites built on it, Magento is the most popular platform for eCommerce websites. Many big brands including Lenovo, Samsung, Vizio, Nestle and Nike use Magento. It holds the largest piece of the eCommerce market with 26 percent share due to its features.

The following three points explain our crush further and make clear why a range of businesses choose to use Magento, rather than industry “leaders” such as Oracle, IBM and SAP Hybris. Depending on your business needs, you can use Magento’s Free Community edition or a feature-reach Enterprise edition for an annual fee; both of which are open source. As our Director of Software Development, Eddie Spradley, says: “Open Source has become not only an acceptable answer to the world’s commercial marketing challenges, but its also become the strategic paradigm. In other words, open source is the new “black.”

1. The total cost of ownership of a website on Magento is cheaper than competitors. Depending on what level of customization you need in an eCommerce store, Magento can cost anywhere between $20,000 and $100,000 to build your eCommerce capability, in addition to maintenance down the line. This may sound like a lot, but the competitors mentioned above are much more expensive. SAP Hybris starts at $54,000 for the basic model. Oracle is over $500,000 for the first year with $110,000 for each following year, and IBM WebSphere runs into seven figures when you factor in design and implementation.

2. Magento has a faster deployment time than competitors. Building a house and making it home are two different things. It’s the same way building an eCommerce website. Beyond the initial setup, companies need to focus on areas to improve the user experience and interface to make it a revenue-generating website. That said, an eCommerce website can be completed in 8-12 weeks using Magento, while the other competitors mentioned can take many months.

3. Magento makes a website highly flexible to adapt to ongoing business needs. Since Magento is an open-source platform, it’s easy for website owners and developers to make changes in source code. Additionally, its powerful structure and user-friendly nature help improve store accessibility. Magento also provides good marketing, a participative community, as well as a genuine and innovative outlook. Beyond these features, the software has the ability to integrate with robust ERPs, has integrated Google Analytics, built-in SEO functionality, and integrated sales and store tracking.

One big CPG brand is already moving into this space: Nestlé. The world’s largest packaged food company has a new focus on direct-to-consumer, with eCommerce sales now accounting for 5 percent of total sales, up from 2.9 percent in 2012. The company has gotten the message that the consumer market is ripe for disruption and the vehicle to get yourself in the middle of it is eCommerce. Other entrants include Unilver, which recently bought Dollar Shave Club for $760 million, and Proctor & Gamble, which launched its own online subscription service.

Whatever size company you have, we believe Magento is the right choice for building and maintaining a successful eCommerce platform. It allows for the integration of additional functionality into its software by giving seasoned professional coders the ability to craft something more bespoke and tailored for the future.

Magento 2 SSO Solution Using JWT? Wow, That Was Easy

By Edwin Spradley


“The two systems need to be integrated.” As a merchant in the e-commerce space, this can be a very unsettling realization. You think back to your last systems integration when your e-commerce agency far exceeded both the agreed upon timeline and budget. You start evaluating all of the disappointing experiences you’ve had with your current agency and sweat begins to stream down your forehead as you think “they can’t even get my site to load fast and now they have to integrate with another system?”

Systems integrations can be very challenging, but fortunately there are many ways to minimize, if not completely eliminate, the pain associated with such a venture. At ExpandLab, we were recently asked to complete a single, single sign-on feature for a customer who had a marketing system completely separate from their e-commerce site. Further complications arose when we realized we needed to find a way to automatically log a user in to the opposing system so that they didn’t have to log in twice. 

We aren’t going to go too far into the details of the systems at play here for proprietary reasons. But below I’ve listed a basic step-by-step process explaining how we went about the challenge of the Single Sign On (SSO) feature and how we built it from scratch in just over a week’s time.

Step 1: Research, research, research.

The first step in any project is the drawing board. We needed to determine which software would be the best fit for this particular customer and looked into Magento2, Secure SSO solutions, etc. Although this project had a quick turnaround and tight deadline, we had to be sure we were starting with the right foundation or the whole thing would have fallen apart.

Step 2: The pitch, take one.

It seemed the best option was a SAML based SSO option. The customer already had an active directory server for their corporate accounts and there were alternative providers, such as One Login, Okta, Ping Identity that could be used.  We even found a module built by Sixto Martin who boasts of having considerable experience building SAML plugins and toolkits. But there was one big problem. The pricing for a cloud based provider was astronomical. We are talking an average of $2 – $6 per user. This is a site that had several million customers and clearly that pricing wasn’t going to work.

Step 3: A lightbulb moment.

While we were down we weren’t defeated. We continued to reach out SAML providers as we started evaluating other options. We had run across a few ideas during research, but nothing that we thought was a robust solution or could solve all of our problems on a tight budget and timeline. That’s when a new idea popped up from, who else, the new guy in our office. He suggested using JWT and, voila, a solution was found.

JWT worked because it would allow us to tokenize claims securely between the two systems using the industry standard RFC 7519 method (to paraphrase their tagline). This meant that we could pass sensitive data back and forth without someone being able to hijack the data. The question was then, could we build this type of integration in under two weeks?

Step 4: The build. 

So we went to work. No existing plugins were available for Magento 2 and JWT, so we had to build it from scratch. We settled on using JWT’s firebase library for PHP because it had everything we wanted including the broadly support HS256 encryption type. The whole process ended up taking just over a week from start to finish and the solution is now processing thousands of secure transmissions daily. That’s what happens when you think outside the box and dedicate the right amount manpower and resources to an intensive web project.


Want to learn more or share your experiences? Reach out to Edwin Spradley, Director of Software Development at ExpandLab and author of this article.

Tips for Surviving the E-Commerce Boom this Holiday Season

By Julie Martins

In the 2015 holiday season, e-commerce sales grew by nearly four percent and online sales are expected to boom again this year. But before companies get too excited about the prospect of increased revenue streams, they should prepare themselves for increased web traffic and the issues that come with it.

That’s because many consumers see a huge disparity between websites that offer user-friendly experiences and those that are more trouble than they’re worth. Common e-commerce challenges like shopping cart abandonment, increased cost of transportation, and stock outages can make or break a retailer’s success during this frenzied final quarter of the calendar year.

But it’s not too late for e-commerce websites to make big strides towards a better management system for holiday traffic. Below is a list of the top tips your e-commerce website should implement this holiday season.

1) Ensure your website is optimized for speed and prepared for increased website traffic

2) Provide a streamlined one-page checkout

3) Ramp up your website’s responsiveness

4) Provide landing pages for gifts and best sellers for the holidays

5) Offer virtual gift cards for easy gifting options

6) Offer products on Google Product Listings Ads (PLA), shopping engines and price comparison websites

7) Offer free shipping and expedited shipping – this is the new normal

8) Create holiday sales pages

9) Provide gift wrapping and gift messaging options in checkout

10) Have a wishlist that can be shared with friends and family

While these tips are helpful for managing increased web traffic during the holidays, they’re also substantive steps e-commerce websites should work on year-round in order to create the kind of engaging, user-friendly online experience that is now expected in the digital age.

Armed with the right technology systems and processes, businesses can feel confident in their prospects and look back on this season with a smile.

ExpandLab Client Notice: Significant Changes to USPS Shipping Options inside Magento

Starting on Sunday, July 28, the United States Postal Service will roll out changes to their API that will impact your ability to offer Priority and Express mail shipping options. USPS is changing the name of those two shipping methods and their Webtools API is being updated to match those changes.

To continue utilizing USPS Priority AND Express mail methods, merchants on Magento Enterprise Edition must install the patch we¹ve created to address the issue.

If your merchants are on Magento Enterprise Edition 1.12 or 1.13, download the patch here and use the installation instructions at the bottom of this email.

If your merchants are on earlier versions, patches and instructions will be available on Monday, July 29, and we will send out an email with download information.

Please note that you will need to wait to install this patch until July 28, after the USPS has made the change to their API.

For more information, here is the official statement from USPS:

Sunfood on Magento

Sunfood on Magento

Unlike many of the simplistic modern designs created with Magento, Sunfood shows how versatile the software truly is.  Sunfood maximizes the use of text and verbiage to enhance their sales strategy, while still maintaining an aesthetically-pleasing webpage.  Sunfood provides organic superfoods, super fruits, herbs, teas, supplements, and raw food lifestyle products.  With this wide inventory–and inclusion of links to appropriate news articles, pages of recipes, and an abundance of available information on the company–there seems no way to not include a plenitude of text on the site!

A stationary background image of succulent strawberries provides a pop of color to the otherwise natural-colored palette.  A drop-down menu organizes the various items by category and product pages have convenient “Add to Wishlist” or “Add to Cart” buttons that can be accessed before completely viewing a product.  Finally, the check-out process (pictured below) is safe, secure, and simple!

Sunfood on Magento

The Sunfood emphasis on customer service is noticeable through the navigability of their website, as well as additional included features such as live chat, opportunities to “Join the Sunfood family,” and an abundance of helpful information regarding healthy eating.  Ultimately, Sunfood’s partnership with Magento makes it more than a typical eCommerce site; it becomes a community!

Visit Sunfood

Graham and Green on Magento

Graham and Green on Magento

Graham and Green serves as yet another UK-based eCommerce company that improved their company’s online efforts by turning to Magento.  Offering leading-edge furniture and home accessories from the nation’s best interior decorators, G&G’s website blends exquisite contemporary design with an SEO-friendly built-in framework.  With an intricate black-and-white background (and splashes of hot pink), the fading slideshow of product images is flawlessly highlighted. A wide range of inventory is systematically organized by category into a colorful drop-down menu on the home screen.  From there, product detail pages (one is pictured below) are exceptionally descriptive, with convenient options to “pin” on Pinterest or “like” on Facebook.  With sustained popularity and an active presence in the press, G&G has even created a blog and their own YouTube channel!

Graham and Green on Magento

Visit Graham and Green

The Grommet on Magento

The Grommet on Magento

The Grommet takes quite a unique approach to eCommerce:  with a motto of “Buy differently,” they launch undiscovered products and feature a video review detailing the personal story of each one’s development.  The crew at The Grommet seek out unrivaled and useful product inventions and carefully test them before launching onto their highly curated online marketplace.

For a company with such an inimitable purpose, The Grommet utilized the flexibility of Magento to design their website and increase their online sales. With hundreds upon hundreds of products offered–ranging from pet water fountains to DIY yogurt makers to toeless yoga socks–their website needed to not only match their one-of-a-kind brand identity but also be extremely functional!

Their homepage drop-down menu organizes inventory according to category, recipient, and personal values, with a separate section of similarly grouped “collections.”  Descriptions for each and every product are rather extensive, with helpful videos to accompany most.  Wishlist capabilities, “related grommets”, and connections to share on various social media outlets only further improve the browsing experience.  Plus, their accompanying blog features even more interesting ideas and pending inventions!  No wonder the company was recently named one of the hottest sites of 2013 by Internet Retailer!

The Grommet on Magento

Visit The Grommet

Ray Stitch on Magento

Ray Stitch on Magento

Throughout the Ray Stitch online store, the craft supply company maintains a subtly-artful theme with a simple, modernistic layout design.  Cute fonts, a unique border, and a colorful menu make the entire site cohesive and memorable.

The company, based out of a quaint shop in London, takes an extremely user-friendly approach to business.  Their UK store incorporates a cafe and sewing classes in the building, and their webpage contains additional features that make it more than a typical eCommerce site: a blog, instructions for sewing patterns, online magazines, gift ideas, and a gallery of photographs submitted by staff and customers alike.  Plus, the browsing process is equally user-friendly.  Products are well-organized in a side menu and checkout is just six simple steps.

Visit Ray-Stitch

Frette on Magento

Homepage of Frette

Frette, the self-proclaimed “leading provider of the finest linens to homes and hotels worldwide”, prides themselves on selling the boldest and brightest patterns, and the design of their website certainly mirrors this.  The background of the homepage features a vivid image of a beautiful bed sitting outdoors, with product detail pages containing more unique photography and state-of-the-art zooming technology.

An extensive drop-down menu organizes an abundance of inventory–everything from bedding to clothing to beach accessories–in a systematized fashion, and product pages offer filters for price, color, and size.  Plus, a wishlist option and a “similar products” tool allow customers to instantly find what they are looking for.  Finally, a 3-step guest checkout procedure (or even quicker checkout efficiency with a registered account) further simplifies the complete shopping experience.

Frette on Magento

For a company that started in 1860, Frette began its online boutique only 7 years ago.  Since they chose to utilize the versatility of the Magento platform, their business has continued its worldwide expansion.  Stretching from Hong Kong to New York to Milan, Frette is now celebrating over 150 years of providing quality style and comfort to a variety of clientele.

Visit Frette

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