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Magento Product Import Guide Part 1: What’s wrong with the Magento Built In Product Importer?

My company uses the Magento e-commerce platform for many projects. Magento is an open-source, PHP/MYSQL platform; it’s very flexible and powerful, but complex, and requires powerful hardware to achieve acceptable performance. Magento comes in a free community edition, which as of this writing has a current version of 1.4.0.1. There is also a paid Enterprise edition, which comes with many additional features and support. All information here covers community edition (CE) 1.3.2.4, which is our live version at present.

Magento has a nice web GUI for adding products one at a time, but it is impractical for bulk product imports-if your store has a catalog of thousands of products, that’s a lot of clicking! There is a bulk product importer included with Magento, but it doesn’t work as well as you might hope.

What’s wrong with the Standard Magento Importer?

Magento Community Edition includes a bulk product importer out of the box, accessible at System->Import/Export->Profiles. This importer requires a .csv file. The best practice is to set up your categories, attributes, and attribute sets through the GUI, and then create a test product with some values filled in. Use a standard export profile to export your test products to your server in a .csv file, and then you can look at that file, edit/add products as needed, and then import the file with the confidence that you’ve got your import columns named correctly.

However, this method has some serious limitations.

  • No support for multiple product gallery images. Selling shirts that come in more than one color? You’ll have to go into the product through the web GUI and add more images after your import.
  • No link between simple products and configurable products.Suppose you are selling fitness t-shirts that come in S,M,L sizes and Black, Blue, and Red colors. For Magento purposes, you need a simple product for each possible combination of attributes-an “S-Black” simple product, an “S-Blue” simple product, etc. You also need a configurable product, that ‘associates’ each of the simple products together. You can create your simple products and your configurable product through a product import. But you can’t tell the system to associate the simple products with the configurable-you’ll have to manually go into each configurable product, and click a checkbox to assign them: Bummer.
  • No super attribute price modification.Take a look at the above picture. Suppose you want to sell your Blue shirt for $10, your Black shirt for $15, and your Red Shirt for $20, and sell them all under the Fitness T-Shirts configurable product. You’ll be able to import those three simple products with those prices-but that won’t have any effect on the configurable product price. To repeat: the simple products associated with a configurable product will have prices, but those prices will have no effect on the price displayed to or charged to the customer. To get that to change, you’ll have to go set the price difference between the Black/Red and the cheaper Blue option by option through the GUI-there’s no way to do it through an import.
  • No support for custom options. Suppose you sell suits. You want to offer a matching tie as an upsell to a suit purchase, but you don’t want to sell the ties on their own-suppose you can’t buy them competitively enough to make them worthwhile. Magento offers custom options for this purpose:

    But you’ll have to do that through the GUI as well-product by product. There’s no facility for it on a bulk import.

  • Can’t add upsells, or related products, or cross sells. Just like with associating simple products to configurable, you’ll be going into the GUI and clicking chexboxes. Lots. of. checkboxes.

If your store has very simple products, or you don’t care very much about the user experience of your customers, the out-of-the-box import will work fine for you. If your store has products of any complexity, or you want to optimize user experience for your customers, you’ll want to make changes to how the bulk importer works-like many things in Magento, it is designed to be extensible and can be made to do almost anything, but methods will be complex and poorly documented, even for fairly simple tasks. I thought that it might be useful for me to document my bulk import process, including how I get around these limitations, for others in the Magento community and for my own future reference. Stay Tuned for Part Two.

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