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I work with a specialty retailer which has a heavily trafficked static html web site but which has never had a fully functional shopping cart - we take orders via e-mail and phone and also have a secure online order form which customers can fill in manually. We are now looking to migrate to an e-commerce platform, most likely Magento.

The products we sell are specialized and often very complex, with multiple attributes and available in multiple configurations. Given this complexity, and as a first step towards sending out proposals to designers and developers, would it make sense to first try and create the product catalog ourselves using Magento Community Edition? Or would creating the product catalog ourselves prior to hiring a design/development team create potential problems?

I’m curious to hear feedback from designers and developers about this. We have adequate but not unlimited funding for this project, and creation of the product catalog (we have over two thousand individual products) would seemingly be the most time-intensive part of the project. Thanks in advance for any guidance...

  • >take orders by email and phone -- oh the inefficiencies! – hownowbrowncow Nov 26 '14 at 16:56
  • If you are going to hire someone - stop what you're doing. Speak with them and let them figure it out. If you start off in a direction, you'll most likely get used to that and any developer coming in will have to adapt - even if it is inefficient because you will want it to keep what you've worked on. Do it right the first time, tell them what you want and go from there. – SR_Magento Jan 30 '15 at 18:21
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Trying it out yourself is always a good idea. There are some cheap options to have Magento up and running for testing like Digital Ocean which has a ready to go Magento image. There are a lot of tutorials and examples out there that will help you.

In designing the architecture of the products (and the rest of the shop) your knowledge of the products will be most valuable. As a developer I would sit down with you and let you do all the talking about your products, only after that start my work on transforming that to Magento functionality.

So try out Magento, see what you can set up yourself and when you run into trouble turn to the community through this site for example or contact an agency that can help you and preferably already has experience in your field.

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You should "design" on your own the catalog structure (category, products, attributes) without touching Magento, having a good brainstorming. Then if you feel you've got time, try and error on your own on a testing Magento CE by setting categories, products type and attributes. However for this last part, I'll advise you to ask to someone who has good knowledge of the Magento environment (a kind of Magento Solution Specialist but not only) to tell you what is possible or not per default without customizing and what could/need to be customized. At your level you have no chance to know what is possible or not. The person can be a developer, a project manager, someone who has several years experience in different part of a project. And when you got all necessaries information, do an other meeting with dev and designer and tell them what you want. You will be armed to discuss with them and define a clear specification of your needs.

my 50cts

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I would absolutely encourage you, the designers, or whoever will be involves in creating the catalog from designing to architecting it to take some time and see how the products are set up and created in Magento.

I've experienced too many instances where uninformed project managers, designers, and even developers (not all Magento developers are familiar with Magento products) created a design or a paradigm that didn't work well with the framework when the developers actually started working according to the specifications, and these instances caused a lot of headaches and wasted resources.

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As a developer I would like to have a catalog of products already finished (at least partially) to work with. It would be difficult to design frameworks without knowing the configuration and scope of products that are being used within the store. Without this knowledge I feel that redundancies are all but inevitable and complete redesigns a forgone conclusion.

At the least i'd want to the full scope of products built (meaning all potential options available for each different type / configuration). This would allow for streamlined testing a debugging because of inclusion of all possible types in test phase.

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I think everyone will agree really here - try the software out yourself in some detail and find out what you can do out of the box, and what you find the limitations to be.

Essentially you want to be as well informed as possible before particularly approaching a developer. If you have a good idea of exactly what you need Magento to do that it doesn't already then the it's a win win, you won't ask for more work than is needed and the developer will get a well specced job to work from which most certainly makes things easier.

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