E-Commerce

Coherent becomes an Authorised Sage Developer

Authorised Sage Developer

We are proud to announce that we are now an Authorised Sage Developer!

Sage is one of the most established providers of accounting software, offering on-premise accounting packages for small (Sage 50) and medium-sized (Sage 200) businesses as we as payroll and CRM systems.

As one of the earliest Xero Developers in the UK, we have long helped businesses throughout the world to keep data in sync across their systems, to run specialised reports and to develop bespoke systems with an accounting integration. Our Sage Developer status enables us to bring the same benefits to businesses that use Sage products.

It also demonstrates our commitment to flexibility in terms of the integrations that we can offer and strengthens our position as a business-focused software development company.

If you are interested in finding out how we can build on top of Sage to save your business time and money, or want to explore the possibility of developing a bespoke system, such as a CRM, with a Sage connector, please call us on 0800 292 6474, or hello@coherent.net, to arrange a free consultation.

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Reaching Xero’s limits? It’s not the end of the world.

Are you reaching Xero’s limits?


Xero is a popular small business cloud accounting solution. This idea is further reinforced by the 200 employee limit as well as other lesser known “soft” limits on invoices, expenses and transactions. You may wonder whether or not is is a viable option for when your small business grows. With some creativity, you can avoid moving to a more expensive, enterprise resource planning system.
 
Accounting systems like Xero are not affected as much by the amounts recorded in transactions compared to the sheer number of them. Small businesses tend to make a plethora of small, low value transactions which can quickly add up to hundreds or even thousands of entries on Xero. The issue for Xero is that the more entries you use, the more it costs them in terms of processing power.
 
As a result, many small business accounting systems place limits on the number of transactions that can be used in a given period (e.g a month).
 
However, Xero does not actually have any hard limits on the amount of sales or purchase invoices that you process nor does it have any limits on the number of bank transactions that you record. Note that there are limitations to Xero though, and if you push through too many records, it will slow down and will eventually resemble the drawer on the left, where completing even the smallest changes will take significant periods of time. In the worst cases, the software simply stops working and freezes.
 
Now, do you need to plan your migration out of Xero then? Do you need to avoid it completely? Well, despite what was just said, the answer is probably no. With some clever thinking, some rearranging might be all you need to stick with the popular cloud accounting option.
 
The following 4 tips represent some solutions for common issues that businesses experience as they grow with Xero. They might not apply to you, though, so you may need to consider hiring a consultancy to assist you.

 

Tip #1: Putting transactions in batches


Usually, if you’re taking advantage of a POS system or inventory management software, your vendor will likely support transaction batching. Ask your vendor, you never know if they might have it.
 
For example, if you run a small business that processes large invoices that contain many invoice items, you may encounter the limits of Xero. It will likely slow down to the point of timing out!
 
Issues can become so severe that you may even struggle to generate financial statements from Xero.
 
Fortunately, transaction batching can be used to limit this. Instead of processing the individual invoice items, we can take the final invoice amount and use that. This can cut the number of “invoices” listed on Xero from tens of thousands to mere hundreds.

 

Tip #2: Consolidate


Many businesses run a variety of different systems to manage inventory, their online stores, etc.
 
As sales begin to pick up, naturally Xero begins to get bogged down by the number of transactions you make. Just like the previous tip — you guessed it — you’ll eventually reach the point where Xero will fail to generate business activity statements and other important documents.
 
Certainly, to keep efficiency, you wouldn’t consolidate transactions by hand as that wouldn’t be beneficial to your business. In this case, it may be worth speaking with a developer to create a bespoke integration so that your business can keep using Xero efficiently.
 
Once you begin consolidating transactions, not only can you keep everything automated, the system will likely speed up significantly if the reason for the slowdown was due to a excessive number of records.

 

Tip #3: Use a billing engine


When businesses first use Xero, many times they choose to use it as a billing solution as well. However, this can cause problems as more and more transactions are processed.
 
Instead of bogging down Xero with billing, you might consider using a billing engine such as Chargify or Chargebee. Taking the heavy lifting of billing from Xero can significantly increase the speed that it works at.
 
In fact, you’ll get benefits such as prorated billing, automatic cancellation handling and service provisioning with Chargify that Xero doesn’t normally provide. This means that Xero can do what it does best — bank reconciliations, the plethora of accounting statements, etc.
 
Not only does it provide plenty of additional benefits, many billing engines tend to have integrations with Xero. Many of these billing engines submit hordes of transactions though, so you may need to consider the first and second tips while using a billing engine with Xero.

 

Tip #4: Build your own integration

The default integration between your trading and accounting system may suffice for now, but may need to be replaced later on.

Most popular systems come with well documented APIs (interfaces usable to connect software that perform tasks automatically). As a result, it is generally possible to create a system that pulls data from your trading system automatically, puts it all into a single batch and posts it to your accounting system.

This would require you to turn off the default integration to some degree (in some cases, completely.)

There’s a huge benefit to having a customized integration. It can be modified to suit your business’s continued growth and leaves you much more control over your systems, which allows for better software solutions that work for your business.

 

Is Xero still slow?

If you can’t build your own integration for Xero, or you’ve followed all the tips and Xero is still slow, it may be time to hire a developer that can create a bespoke solution for you. It’ll save you time and resources to have professionals examine your system and assist you with its issues.
 

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Bringing Worldpay’s payment pages into the 21st century

We know that, to put it nicely, Worldpay’s hosted gateway payment pages (“pay by link”) are a little dated. We manage because:

  1. They are the UK’s largest payment processor and one of the most cost effective,
  2. There are other options, such as “direct XML”, if you really need it to match your brand.

Recently, we found ourselves addressing a separate problem – the lack of integration between Worldpay’s core products and the Xero accounting system. There has been huge demand for this, for years. Worldpay ended up responding to this by bringing out Worldpay Online. Worldpay Online is their modern, easy to integrate payments platform that unfortunately is much more expensive than their core products. Despite a finally seeing a direct Xero-Worldpay integration, the community responded exactly as you’d expect.

Software development is what we do and, as active users and developers of both systems, we decided to take on the challenge of integrating the two systems as the community wants. The result is our second app, Coherent Pay.

Coherent Pay works well (we’re biased!) but the weak point is the part of the process where customers are redirected to a payment page that was probably built in the early ’90s and changed little since. With this in mind, we got our design hat on and created a new look for both pages (click to enlarge):

Worldpay modified payment page 1Worldpay modified payment page 2

We’re releasing these, free of charge, to Worldpay users everywhere, whether or not you use our Xero integration!

How to install the new pages

  1. Log in to the Worldpay Business Manager and click on “setup”
    Step 1
  2. Click on “Edit Payment Pages”
    Step 2
  3. Choose your installation ID (probably called Pay by Link) and click Edit Payment Pages
    Step 3
  4. Click “Header and Footer”:
    Step 4
  5. Click “Edit Header” and then repeat the following steps for “Edit Footer” as well
    Step 5
  6. Paste the header (footer) code into the box and click “Save File”
    Step 6

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Preparing your store for Black Friday and Christmas shopping

First and foremost, Christmas is not here yet. We have two more months before we have to sit down with our most annoying relatives. Phew.

But, if you’re in retail, you’ll know how important the next two months are. The next two months pay for the rest of the year. If they go well, you’ll be in great stead for 2018. If they go badly, you might get your P45 in your Christmas card.

If you have physical stores, you might be advertising temporary vacancies to help cope with the rush. Good thinking, Batman.

Your online store might not have the capacity it needs.

There are four factors that influence the capacity of your online store:

  1. The number of people who visit your website
  2. How they interact with your website
  3. Your online store’s coding
  4. The servers that host your online store

If you use Google Analytics, (1) and (2) are really easy to find so you should definitely do this now.

Log in and select your store and go to Audience > Overview.

 

 

 

Drop down under Overview. You’ll probably see Sessions selected. Choose Pageviews.

On the right hand side, choose Hourly.

Then, hover over the graph and you’ll see the number of pageviews per hour.

Select your busiest period. This might be your Black Friday or Christmas sale from last year. Find the busiest hour or the busiest day.

To make the maths easy, let’s say there were 36,000 pageviews in that hour. There are 3600 second in an hour, so divide that number by 3600 to get your pageviews per second. In our example, we arrived at 100.

We then need to adjust this number for your projections this year. If you’re spending more on advertising this year, you might want to add 20%. If you’re spending less, you might want to subtract 20%. It’s better to overshoot than to undershoot, though, and it’s worth adding a buffer in case your estimate is a bit out.

The number you arrived at is the number of pageviews per second that your store and hosting need to be able to accommodate so your Christmas card contains an awful joke and not a P45 (I’m not selling this well, am I?)

Armed with your pageviews per second, your developer and hosting company (or Coherent… just sayin’) will be able to run tests to determine if you’re already in good stead or if you need to make changes so your online store doesn’t fall flat when you most need it up and running.

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Hosting Magento on AWS: why, how and should you?

We can customize applications to run on Amazon Web Services  +  We manage and develop ecommerce websites built using the Magento platform.
A question that seems to appear strangely often is, “can you host Magento on Amazon Web Services (AWS)?”. The short answer is, “yes”. You absolutely can – but that doesn’t mean that you necessarily should.
Background
AWS provides a range of services for hosting. The best known is EC2, its VPS business. However, there are some 30+ other services that provide IT infrastructure through different channels. For example, Amazon’s Route53 service provides domain registration and DNS services, and CloudFront provides a CDN service (so that visitors further from your server can browse your website more quickly).
The main benefit of AWS, in my opinion, isn’t EC2. EC2 is similar to other good quality VPSs on the market. The main advantage is that you can combine EC2 with the other services and build a very scalable, very reliable and very secure environment for Magento.
Example of a resilient AWS architecture

This is an example of a resilient architecture at AWS. Everything is replicated so that the store is online even if an entire data centre goes offline.

Scalability
The reason that’s often cited for a move to AWS is scalability. It’s attractive because of the seasonal nature of many e-commerce stores, which is understandable. However, the scalability of EC2 needs to be weighed carefully against the cost of simply purchasing a larger server. If scalability is your main concern, do the maths. How much would AWS cost you over a year, including scaling up and down? Could you use the same budget to get a powerful dedicated server that would serve you all year round?
Depending on the number of peaks during the year and the size of the peaks, AWS may be cost effective for scalability alone. If your traffic is such that one server simply won’t do then you absolutely should consider AWS as one possible alternative.
Security
Another key benefit of AWS is its security profile. It’s common for Magento stores to take credit card payments directly. If you accept credit card payments directly on your store (without redirecting your clients to a payment page hosted by another company such as PayPal) then you probably need to be PCI compliant.
PCI compliance is necessary if your e-commerce store accepts credit card payments
Depending on the type of PCI compliance that you need, there is a good chance that AWS will be one of a very small number of virtual hosting providers that can offer the compliance that you need. This is because, typically, hosting is shared between customers and there are technical reasons why it cannot be guaranteed that your customers’ cardholder data wouldn’t be intercepted by the hosting company or another customer with whom you share hosting resources.
Actually, to the best of my knowledge, Amazon is the only commercial hosting provider that has achieved PCI compliance at Level 1 for its virtual hosting services (EC2, RDS and many of its other services). AWS is also certified to ISO27001, HIPAA and other standards that may be relevant in your industry. If you need to be compliant but don’t need a dedicated server, AWS could be one of very few choices.
Resilience
Amazon’s EC2 has an excellent track record for resilience. CloudHarmony, that scores leading cloud hosting providers for resilience and performance, haven’t identified one instance of downtime on Amazon’s EC2 for around five years.
However, by harnessing AWS’s other services, it’s possible to combine EC2 and keep them in sync so that, if one fails, even if the data centre if hit by a meteor, you can continue to trade. Such architectures are relatively complex to maintain so you may need external maintenance and support to facilitate the move to AWS and to keep everything running smoothly.
Conclusion
You absolutely can move to AWS – and we can help! Hosting Magento on AWS would best suit stores with highly volatile traffic, stores that require PCI compliance and stores that cannot afford downtime. Other stores might see their hosting bills increase with little benefit. Scalability is all the rage but scalability for scalability’s sake is a poor choice.

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