Magento Customization – 3 Main Levels

Magento customization is a very specialized area that requires a solid degree of Magento development experience to accomplish the best possible results. Magento customization consists of various areas of development each of which will generally require a smaller or greater level of website development resources and expertise.

When addressing Magento customization the first and most basic form is what we may often refer to as ‘template tuning’. This is the process of taking an existing and functional Magento template set and customizing it in a small way to achieve the aesthetic modifications that are required to customize the Magento template to suit ones needs. Most often, this will involve changing the logo, images, banners, header, various links, and the like’s in order to mold the Magento template to suit the context of the Magento website being implemented.

Essentially this is the most basic form of Magento customization as it only involves minor, very superficial changes to the Magento template with out actually requiring that the Magento template or system be majorly modified or customized in any way. This form of Magento customization is generally the cheapest as it is both quick and relatively easy to do. In fact most Magento customizations are done this way and can be performed by the end-client themselves, assuming they have some basic website development and/or Magento development experience, or other third party service providers such as ECSSO, providing they have the minimum level of experience required. Though such changes are basic we strongly recommend that they are done by experienced Magento developers to ensure a stable Magento implementation and to guarantee that the website has been modified correctly.

This method of Magento customization is the quickest form of customization and can allow the client to go to market with a fully functional eCommerce store even with in days. This offers clients an excellent opportunity to experience the benefits of eCommerce, giving them access to a very powerful and successful eCommerce application at a very small entry fee. It is a very safe and cost effective way for small, medium and even larger businesses to leverage eCommerce, particularly Magento in their online initiatives and operations at a fraction of the cost and with minimum risk.

Simply taking a fully functional Magento template and customizing it to suit the immediate branding requirments of the business, makes sense for many business especially starts ups or those wanting to test the waters of eCommerce first before committing greater resources. This is also ideal for those businesses with a minimum budget that desire a professional eCommerce presence but lack the resources to implement it. Implementing Magento with basic customizations will indeed suit their needs and allow them to set up a professional and highly functional eCommerce store, from day one none the less.

As we have briefly seen there are obviously various benefits in basic Magento customization but offcourse there may also be some potential disadvantages. The first and foremost one is that sheer fact that the end result of the Magento store front and website presence (ecommerce store) once implemented may have a ‘Cookie cut’ look and feel which is sometimes undesirable. This results because the Magento store template is not based on a custom design, on the exact businesses nature and requirements, but rather a predefined template structure that has been adopted and with some minor changes. Despite this however, we strongly feel that this need not be the case. If the right Magento template is selected form the outset and the template customizations performed are done professionally, following ‘nice’ and tasteful design principles, it is still possible to achieve an excellent end result that looks clean, professional and attractive.

Some other potential disadvantages of template tuning when it comes to Magento customization include

  • If the design customizations are not done professionally and with good design taste ones eCommerce store may end up looking rather bland and you competitors may easily ascertain which platform you have utilized for your eCommerce store. If the template changes are very basic, your website may end up looking ‘a-dime-adozen’, very similar to other websites.
  • Generally companies that are not well experienced in Magento solutions dominate to this end of the Magento design and development market and so there is a higher possibility that you will use the services of a provider who does not meet the standard level of professional development standards. Offcourse this is not always the case, and I am just making a generalization from experience. We simply recommended that you do keep this in mind as although the changes when making simple Magento customizations are not that complex and can be done relatively quickly, Magento is a sophisticated system that requires special attention and treatment to ensure its stability, quality, security and operational integrity.

Some of the advantages of basic ‘template tuning’ when customizing Magento include

  • A business can go to market quickly with their eCommerce website
  • Small up front investment
  • There is generally a great degree of stability in using a pre-developed and established Magento template that has been repeatedly used, tested and implemented, unlike when designing and developing a Magento template from scratch, which needs to get developed first then go through a process of quality assurance. Pre-existing templates are generally stable and efficient. This is a huge advantage.
  • Leveraging a stable standards based Magento template allows you to experiment with eCommerce with out making a significant up front investment. As mentioned above, if this is done in nice and professional way it is a very effective strategy. This can be done without compromising the quality and professionalism. Tuning a Magento template can result in a very attractive and professional website presence if done by the right people.

The other type of Magento customization can be referred to as ‘Custom Magento Template Development and Integration’. This involves the process of taking a custom designed Magento store front template and integrating into the Magento Commerce platform with out making Magento core system file modifications or changes, or developing or modifying custom code or extensions to address the functional requirements of the site. Essentially it is the process of custom ‘skinning’ a Magento store by working with in the given Magento Commerce frontend frame work.

This involves a greater process of Magento customization and experience and includes the process of taking a custom designed Magento template and developing into a fully functional Magento store template. This is process is much more complicated and thus a greater degree of experience in Magento development is needed from the developer or company commissioned to do the work. Unlike the ‘template tuning’ process of Magento customization were the existing functional template is used and simply ‘tuned’ to suite the clients needs, this type of Magento customization requires integrating the custom design template directly into the Magento frontend system files to create a completely new and fresh look and feel. It is rather involved and requires a complete integration process. The complexity of this process requires professional Magento development and integration services as well as a degree of strong Magento development and template integration experience.

This process is required when a business is setting up eCommerce store that requires a unique store look and feel that is custom designed to meet their requirements. The process is made more complex and involved because one is actually require to code the custom design template into Magneto in HTML and CSS from scratch. This is a more costly process because there is more work involved.

While many 3rd party service providers will both design and develop the custom Magento template, offering a complete service, often at this point there will be a separation of tasks. In many cases a designer will design the custom Magento templates and will then commission the services of a professional integrator to correctly develop the customized Magento template into the Magento Commerce platform as well as configure the eCommerce store.

The main advantage when undertaking Magento customization that involves ‘Custom Magento Template Development and Integration’ is the fact that one will achieve the end result they desire, a custom designed and developed eCommerce presence to suit their exact corporate identity and aesthetic requirements.

Another advantage is that the client can chose both the designer and the developer ensuring that they receive both a highly professional set of templates and also the best in Magento template integration and development services. Further more, the division of these critical tasks can also result in a significant cost saving as the design can be done in house, or even sourced from a designer, and have the developer selected separately.

One of the potential disadvantages stems form the fact that custom development is involved. This could lead to potential bugs and integration quality assurance matters if it is not done correctly. It is for this reason that we strongly recommend that service providers commissioned to perform the development work are selected carefully based on their proven Magento customization and development ability and exeprience. Selecting the right professional to work with will eliminate this potential disadvantage.

In summary this type of Magento customization involves the custom presentation layer of Magento only, involving new ways of presenting the Magento frontend through custom templates designs that are not based on previously designed templates and does not include development that influences the Magento core system itself. This brings us to the more complex, advavnced and intricate level of Magento customization.

The other general type of Magento customization is what can be refereed to as ‘Magento System Services and Development’. A detailed explanation of this process is beyond the scope of this article, but essentially this involves the process of undertaking Magento development that influences the core Magento commerce system. This may include custom extension or module creation, development or modification, systems integration, and other types of Magento core system development. This is the most complex type of Magento customization and requires professional services and Magento expertise.

This type of Magento customization is required when one desires to incorporate, create or modify the existing Magento functionality to achieve the desired end result either in the Magento frontend or backend. For the purposes of this article on Magento Customization I have purposefully generalized this service area. The reason is the fact that all such services do and may require advanced Magento development knowledge, but as mentioned for the sake of this article I have summarized it here. One might state that installing an existing Magento extension is not that difficult and thus it doesn’t technically fall under our general ‘Magento System Services and Development’ classification. But please understand that this is grouped this away for information and also educational purposes so that people can get an idea of the general areas of Magento customization that exist.

For example, installing a Magento community extension is not that complicated and even some one without a high degree of Magento development experience can probably do so with some good and detailed instructions. However, as has been the case in our experience, what if that extension was to cause some serious problems, or cause the website to go down, or even alter the way another process functions? This then becomes a Magento system services and development issue. Hence I have just generally and briefly categorized what I feel are the 3 (three) general types of Magento customization areas and services.

Just to summaries the levels of Magento customization we discussed

  • Is the simple process of taking an existing fully functional Magento template and making some changes, were really no code and/or critical or foundational frontend or backend changes are made.
  • The process of taking a brand new Magento template in the form of a design and completely integrating it into a functional Magento store frontend template with out making any code and/ore significant programming related changes to Magento system or backend, interacting only with the frontend presentation layer of Magento.
  • The process of Magento customization that involves modifying or influencing the nature of the standard and core Magento system in some way or another to achieve ones presentation, functional and presentation objectives either in the frontend or backend.

Lastly, please know that a Magento customization process may often involve different degrees of all three types of Magento customization levels.


Harshal Mazmudar

Harshal is working as a digital marketing manager at Krish Technolabs, uses the web to drive online visibility and generate leads that have resulted in huge ecommerce success. His incessant hunger to outperform is the real drive that keeps him competitive in the online hemisphere.

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