As part of our ongoing series of interviews with online professionals making waves, we had the opportunity to talk to WebShopApps managing director and lead programmer Karen Baker about online retail and the future of Magento.
WebShopApps provide apps (aka extensions) and software consultancy for the Magento e-commerce platform. Karen started writing Magento extensions whilst on a parental sabbatical from her job in London! She realised that there was a real need to bring some of the structured techniques from her corporate career into the world of e-commerce.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in the software/application space?
I’ve been pretty addicted to programming since the age of 9, so I started young! At a time when games took 30 minutes to load it became apparent that writing a program provided more immediate feedback and enjoyment. I always wanted to be a developer and made sure my first job after University was in development; even though it meant spending 6 hours a day travelling and half my salary on train fares. It was a sacrifice I felt worth making.
Did the idea for WebShopApps come from your frustration at Magento shortcomings or a desire to make a good product better?
It was really an accident. My husband has a small (now neglected) Magento store. Magento just didn’t do what I needed it to do, so being a programmer I just wrote my own workaround. Then someone contacted me and asked me to write what became Matrixrate (he paid me 40 GBP). Matrixrate just felt to me like it was obvious; I couldn’t really understand why no-one else (or Magento) had not written it.
What are the must have apps for any UK retailer starting out with Magento?
As a minimum you usually need a payment solution and a shipping solution. After that it’s very much what makes your life easier, if it’s going to cost you 500+GBP for your designer to write something then look for an app as it’s likely to be much cheaper (and often much more stable). But we see sites where they have lots and lots of extensions and sometimes I think too much – the site becomes a mess.
Personally, running Magento ourselves, we are fans of eBizmarts Sage Pay extension, and also run Aheadworks Reporting. Our own Invoice extension and Order Export are essential for our workflow; we wrote these for our own business and now resell as well.
Of all the apps available globally, which app do you wish you had made (and don’t say Angry Birds!)?
A checkout based extension. We have been asked many times since 2008 and should have done this, but really was just a lack of time. We have some ideas though, watch this space!
Where do you think the future is in online retail and do you think Magento is well positioned and ready for it?
Being a mother I see a lot of my female peers using iPads for shopping now, and I think this will move to TV based internet shopping in the near future. I don’t see a PC in every house in the future. Apple is well positioned to make the internet TV revolution happen. Magento isn’t going anywhere, the momentum behind it is absolutely massive. I don’t think Apple Apps will take over the world and I think browser based stores will be popular for some time to come.
It will be interesting to see what Magento do around the eBay space, as I see scope for a Amazon style marketplace which could be interesting if they execute it well. Magento will need some form of marketplace if they want to bring the smaller stores to the mobile.
Having been an online retailer yourself. What do you think is the most difficult obstacle to online business in the UK?
Making a profit! The margins are so tight on tangible goods, that you basically have to go very niche or try to create something big enough to stamp on the competition. Both bring their problems. I think one of the most important things is to ensure your site has identity and soul. People are so much more aware of site design than a few years ago, and a poorly designed site means people won’t trust you enough to shop on your site.
What are your thoughts on Magento Go?
I believe Magento Go gives Magento/X.com that full e-ecommerce ‘stack’ they need. If you are a business trading on eBay or Amazon, and feel you have the potential, then Go provides an easy cost-effective route to an online store. I don’t see it as major competition for Community as it’s aimed at a different target market, if anything it means as stores ‘mature’ on Go they will eventually move up to Community, thus creating a larger eco-system. That can only be a good thing.
What can the Magento community expect from Webshopapps in 2012?
WebShopApps isn’t standing still. We have some fantastic innovative product development in progress and we really believe we can make industry affecting changes in both the Magento and shipping space. Our utmost priority though is serving our customers and we are working to make our solutions ever simpler and ever more powerful.