Magento Imagine 2011 Conference in Los Angeles: The Lowdown

I got back from Los Angeles last week where I was invited to present on Engineering Magento Stores at the inaugural Magento Imagine conference.

The first thing I would say is that this was a very slick conference, really well put together, well organized and, while still maintaining a sense of culture and personality, everyone was approachable and friendly. As a software developer, the community is always very engaging; I always come away from meeting other Magento developers inspired with technical ideas and lots of new tools to try.

The conference was split into 3 main parts. Each morning and afternoon there were keynote presentations that often covered quite high level ecommerce topics presented by an executive from a large ecommerce company (e.g Nordstrom or GoDaddy) or a Magento executive on Magento specific topics. Then between the morning and afternoon sessions there were two specialist tracks running concurrently; technology and business. I only attended the technology tracks, so cannot really say much about the content in the business tracks. I’ll give a quick overview of some of the highlight presentations for me in the two parts I got to see:

Keynote presentations

Here’s a summary from a couple of the general e-commerce talks I enjoyed. I won’t cover the Magento staff keynotes; the details of those can be found on the Magento blog.

Nordstrom: Blake Nordstrom is a very impressive speaker, great presentation style. He gave us some interesting insights into how he sees Nordstrom’s brick and mortar stores converging with online/mobile by introducing mobile devices for retail staff to access product info and real-time stock statuses. I’d probably be a little worried about the longevity of my business if I sold POS cash registers and tills.

GoDaddy: Warren Adelman gave a fairly broad presentation that at times felt like a big advert for GoDaddy. However there was one really interesting tidbit, GoDaddy is well known in the US for the risque Superbowl commercials:

Warren talked about how he had pushed for a more mainstream marketing campaign based on things like GoDaddy’s customer service being based in the US. These tame ads got less of a result than their censored counterparts, and so GoDaddy continues to this day with the original risque marketing approach.

Another anecdote Warren had was about GoDaddy’s customer follow-up calls. Being in New Zealand, we have never received these, so it was interesting to hear about them. No matter how big a customer order, even a $10 domain, GoDaddy will call them to follow up the sale and check the customer is happy with the purchase (and seek to upsell, obviously). Warren said that this follow-up call has become a big profit source for GoDaddy. In contrast, he said he bought an (expensive) watch for his wife and had expected the jeweler would call him back the next day to see if he was happy with it, and whether he wanted matching earrings. If GoDaddy does it for a $10 domain, why isn’t everyone doing it, he asked?

I think customer follow-up is something we could do better. We already contact customers after scheduled delivery and phoning in person, though a nice touch, doesn’t really fit with our automated sales model – but perhaps identifying repeat or large order customers as VIP’s and treating them specially warrants further testing.

Technology track presentations

Technology was the really interesting part for me. I’ll preface this section by saying, every technology presentation was good, I just wanted to touch on a couple of the talks that I thought most affected what we are doing at World Wide Access.

Unit Testing: Alistair Stead gave an excellent talk about unit testing, integration testing and continuous integration processes for Magento development. Having that level of certainty around a software products stability is something we will be looking to adopt this year as we increase our range of software offerings – currently just one – Cloud Backup for Magento.

Fast Product Import: Vinai Kopp took us through the latest version of Magento and its new product catalogue import capability. It’s lightning-fast and much more extensible now. This really struck me as something that will have a positive effect on what we do internally, and pave the way for us to release as software products some of that functionality for others to use.

We try to automate the day-to-day operations of our stores as much as possible. Inventory management and merchandising is an area that can get tedious very quickly if you manage and edit products one-by-one. We keep the master copy of our inventory in an online spreadsheet where it can be imported into any of our various sales channels or webstores. Allowing that import to be blazing fast means that the feedback loop is much shorter on iterative product page improvements. The extra extensibility means we should be able to bundle up the Google Docs to Magento inventory import functionality we have as a separate extension making the same workflow we use available to other merchants easily.

Networking

The conference wasn’t all a big Magento geekfest either, we were treated to several great networking parties. We all got to mix and mingle, talk about various ecommerce projects and industry news.

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The highlight for me was the In-n-Out and Coolhaus food trucks being present at the Magento HQ. Both were absolute LA must dos for me and by having them both there (and free!), my heart was won.

So, my last word on the conference, I came away with a raft of ideas and tech tips for ecommerce, I had a great time and met loads of interesting software developers and e-commerce industry experts. Now I’m looking forward to the next one!

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