On the 19th April I made the long trip from Manchester UK to Las Vegas. My destination was the Magento Imagine Commerce 2015 conference.
Fortunately, I had my iPad with me for entertainment: my view to the inflight movies was a little restricted! To be fair, there was a TV a few rows further in front, but the colour didn’t fully work on that one. I assume the maintenance budget was being spent on the engines and not within the plane itself.
Having made the same trip last year I was aware of the jet lag but it’s still quite hard to adjust when, after a 10 hour flight, the local time is just 3 hours after you left the UK. I think I ended up having 7 meals that day.
The conference this year was taking place at the Wynn Las Vegas, which is a stunning hotel at the north end of the Las Vegas strip. After checking in, getting my bearings (Vegas hotels are huge, my daily step count went through the roof!) and grabbing a bite to eat, I headed back to my room to do a little revision (more about that in a bit…) and get an early night. Back in my room I was greeted with a stunning evening view from the 58th floor.
Waking early the following morning, I headed for breakfast, excited for the next three days. The conference brings together over 2,400 individuals from all across the world, including Retail Merchants, Partner Agencies, Software Vendors, Developers and more.
The first day started with registration, where we obtained our badges and free swag (Magento rucksack and T Shirt). This was followed by a session entitled ‘Innovations in Payments’ hosted by Andy Baker, the director and product manager of Payments and Fraud.
The format was a Q&A session with three industry experts: Matt MacDougal (Rocket Web), Ed Kennedy (Gorilla Group) and Bill Thomas (Optaros). They each gave their insights into the questions posed.
I took away a lot from the session. Even when you already know the facts being discussed it’s really great to revisit them: it’s easy to let the basics slip by the wayside.
Some takeaways from the talk:
I think one of the biggest takeaways for me was a point mentioned by Bill. He said not to focus your choice of payment processor by transaction cost alone. This is so obvious, but I imagine a lot of merchants focus heavily on this, and not the hidden costs of customer drop out due to bad user experience at the checkout, or the cost of fraud caused by this poor-quality fraud prevention baked into the solution offered.
This Magento U course discussed four key areas; General recommendations, Paypal, Braintree and Security. As a Magento U course it was obviously heavily geared towards Paypal and Braintree which are also part of the eBay family.
The general section was about discussing best practises about setting up your store with Paypal and Braintree. This highlighted a number of settings that can be configured to aid conversions. It was interesting to revisit topics that I knew about but have failed to implement or A/B test. These included:
More was covered in the talk itself, and I’m sure Magento would prefer you took their course than read it second hand on a blog post like this. These points should be caveated by saying their use probably differs depending on the products being sold and your customer base. I took away that they would make great A/B tests to try out with some of our merchants.
The second part of the talk revolved around Braintree payments, which look really interesting. I won’t go into too much detail here because as it stands Braintree do not support 3D secure, which is a sticking point for most UK merchants. Hopefully this will be supported shortly so we can evaluate the service.
This session featured short talks, as the title details, from a number of growing startups. Each talk was around 5 minutes long, with the speaker giving a back story and insights into their journey so far.
Some key messages that stuck with me:
The Marketplace consisted of a large ballroom filled with over 100 vendors of software and services associated with the development and enhancement of Magento. It’s the perfect place to wander around and put myself in the shoes of our customers. If I think the product on offer would be of use to them then I’ll stop and find out more details, with a view to coming back to the office armed with new knowledge to share.
It also gives you the opportunity to network with the great Magento community!
— Sherrie Rohde (@sherrierohde) April 22, 2015
Day one rounded off with a pool party which took place just outside of the Marketplace. I met up with the team from @ for a beer or two.
Following this was a party within a club inside the hotel. I’d love to share the details, but I bailed and went to bed shortly after 10pm. It was the equivalent of 6AM at home, the jet lag was taking hold and I wanted to be up early to do some last minute revision. Again, more about this shortly!
Day two kicked off with Pitchfest, which took place on stage within the market place hall. It consisted of 60 second pitches from various vendors who had stalls within the market place. It was each vendor’s opportunity to pitch why we (the audience) should be interested in what they had to offer.
It was fun and entertaining, with pretty much all the vendors pitching within a few seconds of their allocated time. They were obviously well-versed with their product!
This years general session was kicked off by our host Jamie Clarke, CEO and co-founder of www.liveoutthere.com – I had first seen Jamie at last years event and was really pleased to see him back on stage. His energy and enthusiasm for life really comes across and, although I’m sure it’s well scripted, Jamie makes every second on stage feel spontaneous.
He recalled a story about a climbing adventure where he had managed to crack his ribs due to heavy breathing in the icy conditions (maybe my jet lag wasn’t that bad after all). He had been given a roll of duct tape to wrap around his body to secure his ribs, and as the story unfolded he was able to release himself and become UNBOUND – nicely leading to the theme of this years conference!
Next on stage was the President of eBay Enteprise, Craig Hayman.
Craig revealed statistics as to how their position within the marketplace was stronger than ever, with 67 of the top 500 internet retailers using eBay Enterprise platforms, including Magento. This makes them the number one platform provider in the 2015 Internet Retailer Top 500. Magento itself , with 47 merchants is position two on the same list, showing year on year market share growth within the industry.
Craig discussed how eCommerce is changing and adapting, and while being a huge challenge it is an opportunity for B2B and B2C merchants to optimise all the touch points across the path to purchase. Craig brought onstage three merchants to discuss and explore this concept: merchants who had each pushed the boundaries within traditional bricks and mortar operations to bridge the gap between themselves and an ever more demanding and high tech customer base.
The merchants were:
Emily Culp, SVP, eCommerce & Omni-Channel Marketing discussed how Rebecca Minkoff had implemented the traditional best practice of eCommerce (responsive website and mobile application), and how they were bridging this with new in-store technology.
Emily referred to their approach as a perpetual beta, constantly improving the experience based on data points collected.
Customers in-store can interact with touch screens built into mirrors. This allowed customers to identify products that they might like to try on, and also gives recommendations in regards to upsells and cross sells.
Traditionally this would be the role of the sales person within the store, but they have learnt that not all customers wish to shop in-store in this manner. Customers instead can choose the following customer service levels:
For those that like to self service, the interactive displays empowers the shopper to make choices without contact with in-store staff. Through the use of technology, the customer can quickly switch to an assisted approach: for example, within the changing room the customer can request a different sized garment via the touchscreen mirror. This request is sent to a member of staff who will locate the garment and bring this back to the customer. During the experience the customer is made aware of who will be assisting them, and how long the wait is going to be.
By making the experience so similar to an online experience (browsing, swiping, touching) it is bridging the gap between traditional retail and the high tech consumer of today.
This is the first time I’d seen this technology used within a store and it blew me away. Being able to ‘save’ your basket within store to your phone seems like a really clever concept. It’s taking the current method of recovering abandoned baskets from online to the physical world.
It will be interesting to see how this technology is used and adopted by the shoppers. I imagine we will see more adoption of this ‘bridge’ by other retailers in the coming years. Exciting times for the high street.
Fred Argir, SVP, Chief Digital Officer discussed Digital Warfare. 80% of mums coming in to Babies’R’Us are using mobile devices to assist their purchase. Toys’R’Us needed to embrace this digital revolution and not fight against change. Or as Fred put it: “run to a problem”.
Kent Zimmerman, VP of eCommerce discussed how the implementation of eBay Enterprise has revolutionised their eCommerce offering. Local fulfilment has been implemented within individual Shoe Carnival stores, which means they have been able to expand their online product range from the contents of a single warehouse to that of multiple stores across the US, massively increasing the product availability and range to customers online.
Products ordered by shoppers are picked and dispatched by the local branch. With 99.7% of orders being received by customers within 2 days.
As the initial test was so successful this is now being rolled out across more stores, further increasing product availability online.
The breakout sessions are talks that take place simultaneously in the various function rooms. The talks were spread over various topics, which were:
Obviously as there was only myself attending I couldn’t attend every talk on offer (however I believe attendees will have access to the video content at a later date), so I picked the talks which I felt were most relevant for my day to day role – starting with…
This talk was presented by Guillaume Thibaux of Quanta Computing. The talk discussed how performance bottlenecks overlapped many areas within a business. The teams mentioned included:
The point of talk was that each of these teams have an impact of performance and they may not be aware of each other.
For example, a failed hard drive may cause performance issues with getting data on and off the RAID array. This may cause the website to become slower, yet the web team would not be aware of the failure and believe the problem to lie within their code.
Likewise, the brand may trigger an action which flushes a cache within Magento. This then could starve the web server of free processes to be able to handle the visitors. The system team may not be aware of this and believe the server is unable to cope with the traffic levels.
Guillaume demonstrated that by correlating the data it was possible to help identify the bottlenecks. Once identified and removed the potential benefits were huge, Guillaume gave an example of a merchant they had been working with.
A reduction of page load from 1.2 seconds to 500ms resulted in:
This is an impressive lift in conversions, especially when the store in question was receiving 200 million page views each year!
These improvements don’t just lead to an uplift in conversions. It also:
If website speed has peaked an interest with you, have a read of Phil Wylie’s blog post about speed.
Gian Genovesi of Briteskies gave a talk about how B2B eCommerce is thriving online and how, through the use of Magento, additional revenue can be generated.
A lot of the points mentioned applied to both B2C and B2B stores, and I think this was the point that Gian was making: just because you’re not selling directly to the public, that doesn’t mean your users don’t have similar needs.
It is important to define personas and identify the goals for your users. They will all be in a different stage of the buying cycle so it’s important to meet all the needs. Creating an informative, content based experience will assist those yet to make a decision.
Keeping an eye on your analytics is key when driving traffic to your site. Key metrics to always be monitoring:
Gian also mentioned that advanced Magento feaures such as recurring billing can be used within a B2B environment to automatically create repeat orders.
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I was revising at the conference and had been swatting up at home for a few weeks before.
When the agenda for the conference was announced, I saw that it was possible to sit an exam to become a certified Magento Solution Specialist. I had been planning to do the exam for a while but, like many things, everyday life and work got in the way of actually doing it.
This was a great opportunity for me to put a deadline on it, so I thought ‘Why not?’.
I can’t go into too much detail about the exam — you sign a big disclaimer to that effect — but what I can reveal is: I passed! I am now a certified Magento Solution Specialist. According to Magento:
A Magento Solution Specialist is an expert user of the Magento ecommerce platform. Drawing on a deep background in business and ecommerce, the Magento Solution Specialist can efficiently align business objectives with Magento functionality, optimize use of native features, and avoid unnecessary customization. Whether as a merchant, a manager, a consultant, or an analyst, the Magento Solution Specialist knows how to make the best use of Magento technology.
Passing the exam was a real buzz, and I’m glad I put the effort in with the revision. It paid off on the day, and I learned new things along the way (you’re always learning with Magento!).
Ronald Dod, founder & owner of Grey Umbrella gave a talk about some best practises for Magento SEO.
Ronald then discussed using online tools such as SEMrush or the Google Adwords keyword tool to perform research on each page for your website. Enter the headline subject “red dresses” and see which other phrases are returned. Nothing more complicated than an Excel spreadsheet can then be produced to keep a log of each of your pages and the phrases that it should be optimised for.
Optimisation of the page then consisted of careful consideration of the meta elements. Title, descriptions, H1 and body content are all important, and the right balance of phrase vs copy has to be found. There is no magic figure for this, but ensuring that over optimisation doesn’t happen is important.
More from Ronald can be found on his website.
As I spend a lot of my time project managing Magento builds for our clients I was particularly interested to hear Brent Peterson from Wagento talking about their experiences.
Everything Brent was saying rang true:
I think it’s (bad) human nature at times that we assume other parties are somehow magically aware of information that you possess, but have never discussed. This works in both directions, and if not tackled early in the process it can lead to awkward conversations along the lines of “I expected it to do this” or “we weren’t aware of this process”.
Brent reiterated the importance of having these awkward conversations up front. It’s not fun, especially when the relationship is new and still within the pre-sales process. It’s much easier to gloss over these conversations, but ultimately it hurts both parties further down the line.
Creating a clear statement of work is key. This document is produced with the full participation of both the agency and the client. The discovery process should flesh out the knowledge gaps that both parties require to deliver the project.
Once the statement of work is created, if a feature isn’t in there it won’t be delivered. If additional work is then subsequently added to the project, then the delivery date will also slip.
Brent highlighted that even when a discovery process is performed there may still be surprises along the way.
I really enjoyed this talk and took a few new things away with me.
In the evening, we were treated to a keynote speech by Steve Wynn about how his approach to customer service has revolutionised the Las Vegas Strip. It was good to reflect upon the critical role great customer service plays not only within his businesses, but everyone in the room.
The talk was entertaining from start to finish, Steve came across as a fascinating man – full of passion for what he does. I could have happily listened to his stories all night long! Unfortunately this was not to be. Things had to be wrapped up for the…
This took place within the exclusive XS Nightclub at the Encore. I’d love to recount crazy stories of it being an alcohol fuelled night of pure decadence, but in reality I went to my room for a quick snooze to charge my batteries before the event and woke up at 4AM! Oh well, at least I was fresh and alert for the final day.
The final official day for the conference was kicked off by Jamie recounting events from the party the night before. From the photos, it certainly looked like he’d had a great time.
Mark Lavelle came on stage to present some headlines figures:
As an eCommerce platform, Magento is built to scale. From the portfolio of sites these impressive statistics have been achieved:
This disproves the myth that Magento is slow!
Mark discussed Magento 2 in some detail, explaining that its release is on track as planned, with a merchant release in Q4 of 2015, with a 1.x > 2.0 data migration tool penciled for release in Q3 of 2015. Over 1,000 community members have contributed to its development.
Announced within the talk was a new version of Magento Enterprise (1.14.2) and Community (1.9.2).
Also announced was a new version of Magento Connect that will be released later in the year. This improved extension marketplace is designed to improve quality within the store. Extensions will be hosted by Magento where they will undergo automated code reviews for security. There will be a stricter verification process to ensure modules do not infringe copyright.
From a users point of view the store will include improved search, ratings and reviews, along with a new user interface. Recommendations from staff and key community members will also feature.
Chris Noell from Alert Logic led a talk about the importance of PCI compliance, and some of the changes between 2.0 and 3.0
Chris explained the need for PCI compliance, with the growth of eCommerce online fraud has become widespread and problematic for the card brands (Visa / Mastercard). So PCI compliance was introduced to align merchants who process credit card data with a set of best practises to ensure its security.
PCI compliance is a very complicated subject, and this was made clear by the Q&A session at the end of the presentation. There is a lot of confusion and grey areas around PCI, and the requirements can change between merchants depending on their particular operation set-up and transaction volumes.
All merchants need to take responsibly for their PCI liabilities. A QSA (Qualified Security Assessor) can be an invaluable guide through the process. Burying your head in the sand isn’t going to help if the worst ever happens and a breach of card data occurs within your business.
Imagine Commerce 2015 was as great as I hoped it would be. I left the conference feeling energised and inspired to come back to the office armed with new and revisited knowledge on how to improve our internal processes, and to find solutions for our clients.
If you run your business on Magento, then a trip to Imagine Commerce 2016 (April 11-13, 2016 at the Wynn Hotel Las Vegas) should be at the top of your to-do list. What I’ve written here is just a snapshot of my experience: there is so much to take away from the conference and what sticks will differ for each attendee, but with so much content on offer there is always something to take away.
I will certainly be encouraging our merchants to make the trip next time.
Until next year, Vegas!