As an ecommerce platform targeted at the mass market, Magento has been a clear leader since it was launched way back in 2007. The combination of an open-source Community Edition, sitting alongside a more feature-rich Enterprise Edition, and an out of the box offering in both editions that easily surpasses many other ecommerce systems, has established Magento as a solid platform for online retailers of all sizes.

Whilst the out of the box (OOTB) offering from Magento will set many new store owners on the right path, it’s fair to say that both conversion rates and user experience can be improved dramatically with the addition of some third-party extensions and integrations. In this article, we examine six key areas where Magento’s strengths can be built on for improved long-term ROI.

Improving Site Search

The Soccer Store

This image shows how our client The Soccer Store use Klevu on their Magento store.

Magento 1’s default site search is very poor out of the box, particularly on Magento Community Edition. The Enterprise Edition currently uses a Solr-based solution, which is better, but can serve completely irrelevant products unless you spend time optimising it. Very few high-level merchants use the OOTB search on both EE and CE because it provides a terrible user experience. With a large or complex product catalog, a Magento store’s performance can really suffer if they’re using the OOTB search. With Magento 2.1 EE, Magento have moved to use an ElasticSearch based solution, but it’s yet to be seen what impact this will have on the quality of search results.

One key way of improving the site search experience is by using an NLP-based site search solution, such as Klevu. NLP stands for Natural Language Processing and offers a semantics-based approach to search, so that results are based on meaning and relevance rather than simple keyword matching. Klevu in particular also has a number of other advanced features, including self-learning capabilities, advanced merchandising, a reporting dashboard and really fast results.

Introducing a more advanced search solution can have a really big impact on your search function and can lead to significant increases in conversion rates. We’ve implemented Klevu on a number of client stores and have seen dramatic increases in revenue from search, especially when moving from the OOTB Magento search.

Checkout Improvements

Magento comes with a checkout that is certainly competent, but one that can be improved / optimised (as with any platform really). Lots of merchants opt to make changes, from moving to a single step checkout to removing the header and footer, aiming to reduce abandonment.

Here are a few things we’ve done with our Magento clients that have helped to improve conversion and reduce abandonment:

  • Retain the order information on the screen at all times (as can be seen on the example below).
  • Add a postcode lookup – using something like PCA Predict can help to make sure that the customer’s address is inputted correctly and also speed up the checkout process, which can be really valuable. We’ve seen good results from this in the past. Remember to disable Google Chrome’s autofill if using PCA Predict as this can cause issues with the autocompletion.
  • Grab the email address first – if you’re using a multi-step checkout process, we always try to get the email address first so that the merchant can send more abandonment cart emails.
  • We’ve also used Klarna on a few projects, which does take over the checkout, but it can add a lot of value. We’ve seen some really good results from this.

Iconic Watches

We spent a long time working on the checkout process for Iconic Watches, which uses a visually heavily customised version of OneStepCheckout. We generally use OneStepCheckout on our client stores, which we’ve always had great results with, in terms of conversion and ease of use. By concentrating on just producing checkout extensions, the developers of OSC have produced a robust and reliable solution that’s used by over 18,000 merchants.

The OneStepCheckout checkout provides a one step checkout view on a single page, with all fields above the fold (although we often change that). The checkout fields are configurable in terms of what is shown and in what order, and the extension delivers additional functionality in the form of a built-in delivery datepicker, inline support for 3D-Secure and even address field auto-complete using Google Places. Many UK retailers may prefer to integrate a more UK-focused address lookup, such as PCA Predict, and that’s fine as it will work alongside the OneStepCheckout module.

OneStepCheckout has earned itself a well-deserved reputation as one of the most effective and most well-supported extensions within the Magento community. This is one extension that could repay the investment in it within days.


Visual merchandising is an integral part of bricks-and-mortar retailing, that we often take for granted. It’s a sophisticated business, with real-world stores, both large and small, investing considerable sums in their merchandising strategies. Since visual merchandising can have such a big impact on retail sales, it’s not difficult to see why larger retailers are happy to spend in this area. What is a surprise however, is how many online retailers fail to see that visual merchandising is just as important in online stores as it is in offline stores.

Out of the box, merchandising has historically been one of Magento’s weaker areas, but they recently added OnTap’s Visual Merchandiser into the OOTB Magento Enterprise stack, which is a big improvement. All too often, store owners and trading teams allow their categories to display products in the order they were added to the store or by price, rather than in any structured way that reflects sales volumes or any other meaningful criteria. For users who manage category merchandising in a default Magento store, the process is labour-intensive and often gets neglected.

There are a number of merchandising solutions available to drop into a Magento store, which can greatly reduce the effort required to successfully merchandise a store, and in some cases, can even fully automate the process. The most popular option is Visual Merchandiser, from onTap – which, as mentioned above, is now included in Magento Enterprise. This extension replaces Magento’s arduous task of manually trying to control sort order by using sort numbers with a much friendlier drag and drop approach within the Magento admin area. Additionally, ‘Smart Rules’ can be set up to automatically order a category and populate it. These Smart Rules could be used to great effect by creating brand-specific categories, for example, where every new product from a certain band is automatically included. Similarly, a ‘Latest Products’ category could be dynamically created using ‘date added’ attribute data.

For larger Magento retailers, Attraqt provides more of an enterprise-level visual merchandising system that can integrate seamlessly with Magento, to offer intelligent merchandising techniques. Attraqt also provides search capabilities and product recommendations. Another enterprise-level option is Fredhopper, which is used by lots of the biggest brands that use Magento.

It’s really important to test different products and attributes when you’re merchandising your categories and ideally you’d be able to automate this process.

Product Recommendations

With the rise of ever-more sophisticated selling tools, the days of the ‘one size fits all’ approach to presenting a product catalog are over. Today’s customer responds to a more personalised approach, and that’s where product recommendation tools, such as NOSTO. Nosto works by analysing customer behaviour as they move through your store and then making personalised recommendations to them, based on that behaviour. By analysing customer journeys in detail, NOSTO ‘learns’ what a customer likes and dislikes, and what they may be interested in. By bringing those products to the customer’s attention, rather than leaving it to the customer to find them, the chances of a sale are increased dramatically.

The Green Reaper

NOSTO can be used across all page templates, to present the customer with additional, relevant products that they might wish to purchase. Raising both the basket quantity per completed checkout and the average order value should be key goals for any ecommerce store, and Nosto can help retailers achieve this with minimal effort.

NOSTO is our preferred solution for personalisation, but there are a number of other options available, such as RichRelevance and Peerius, as well as improved product recommendations modules, such as this one from Aheadworks. We tend to use NOSTO because it’s easy to integrate with Magento, we like the pricing model (based on revenue through the product recommendations) and they have a number of other great solutions (such as behaviour popups, Facebook and Instagram remarketing and abandoned cart emails).


Nothing speaks louder than reviews when it comes to encouraging customers to commit to a purchasing decision. Product reviews have been a part of the ecommerce landscape from the start, but have often been poorly executed. Whilst Magento comes with product review functionality, it is another area where bringing in a third-party solution could offer a better experience, as well as better conversion results.

With standard Magento functionality, the onus is on the customer to decide to return to the store and leave a product review. Some retailers customise their order confirmation emails to request a review, but that is often as far as they go. Unsurprisingly, the conversion rates are nowhere near as high if you don’t invest time and resource in optimising the process, the emails etc.

By using a third-party reviews system, however, retailers can take a more structured approach to obtaining reviews, and can benefit from more advanced features. Companies such as Yotpo, Revoo and BazaarVoice offer comprehensive reviews products, where they take care of inviting your customers to submit reviews and also allow for things like using images and videos, embedding the form in the email, moderation and they provide lots of freedom around the emails. We really like Yotpo because it’s very easy to integrate with Magento very cost-effective. That said, for larger Magento stores, BazaarVoice offers a lot more than just reviews, including Q&A options, advertising and social content integration, as well as reviews and ratings. BazaarVoice is definitely the market leader at the enterprise-level, but it comes with a considerably higher price tag than something like Yotpo.

Other product review solutions worth looking at include Feefo, TrustPilot, and Power Reviews. We’d generally recommend something like BazaarVoice or Yotpo for product review and then more for merchant reviews – but they do provide a good product reviews solution as well. Merchant reviews represent a good way to install trust in customers and provide validation around the service you provide.

Performance Improvements

With online shoppers becoming ever more discerning, it’s vital for today’s successful online retailer to have a site that is fast and performs robustly, no matter what traffic spikes hit it. Magento’s resource-hungry nature has long been a source of frustration for many store owners and ecommerce teams, especially those using the open-source Community Edition. As well as procuring a well-specified server, preferably a dedicated server, there are a number of other tools and plugins that can be utilised in order to boost performance.

Implementing a caching solution is one of the biggest performance boosters for Magento. By default, Magento does contain caching functionality, which works perfectly well for smaller websites with low traffic volumes, but it won’t be sufficient for larger stores with increasing volumes of traffic. Larger sites should consider alternative caching solutions such as APC, Memcached or Redis. Alternatively, Varnish, a web accelerator, is a popular choice and there are a number of extensions available to help configure it to work with Magento.

Product images are at the heart of all ecommerce success. A picture paints a thousand words, and in the case of ecommerce, a strong product image sells more products. Images however can have quite large file sizes, which can slow down the rendering of store pages, especially category pages which may have many product images embedded in them. Staff education is one strategy to help with image size issues, as many staff are unaware that they should be resizing images to the store’s standard sizes, before uploading them. As well as uploading images at the correct size, they should also be losslessly compressed, using systems such as TinyJPG or TinyPNG. This can be done manually, or via a Magento third-party extension, which hooks into the TinyPNG API, to compress images as they are uploaded in Magento’s admin area. This could also be handled via a small bash script to help automate this process via a cron job each day automatically. Further performance gains are to be made by hosting images on a CDN, instead of locally.

A key problem with performance issues on Magento is that they tend to creep up over time. As the site gets busier, more and more products are added to the store,  and additional extensions are added to extend default functionality, the Magento store slowly starts to creak. The proactive store owner may consider New Relic as a worthwhile investment. By monitoring server and application performance, as well as analysing database metrics, it’s possible to spot potential issues before they become major headaches. An informed analysis of server performance removes any guesswork, and helps ensure that the server remains optimised and efficient at all times. For more guidance around improving the performance of Magento, you can read our guide to Magento performance optimisation.

Use email to increase lifetime value of customers

Email is often an under-utilised channel for merchants, generally because it doesn’t provide the levels of direct revenue as channels like organic search and paid search. Using a good ESP (we use DotMailer with our clients) to setup automated programs can increase the effectiveness of email / CRM and all of the other channels by increasing revenue per customer metrics.

We’ve done welcome programs and various different behavioural programs with a number of our clients and they’ve helped to drive incremental revenue without having to acquire new customers. We tend to create programs that either encourage repeat purchase or promote products that we think the user would like based on what they’ve viewed or ordered before – which has been really effective in most instances.

DotMailer is a really useful addition to any marketing stack and we recommend it to all of our clients.


As can be seen, there are many ways to improve both the functionality and the performance of default Magento, in order to boost sales conversions. It’s vital for retailers to regularly assess their store’s performance and conversion rates, and to work continuously to improve those rates. All functional changes and third-party extensions should be reviewed carefully and implemented only in response to an identified and fully-qualified business need. With that kind of measured strategy, it’s possible to generate significant conversion improvements over an OOTB Magento installation.

If you want to find out more about how Magento can be optimised to deliver more value, you can read our definitive guide to launching a Magento store.