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Hardfacts on Software – Attributes

As we do more and more e-commerce installations, I come to see why everyone is so hyped about the Magento e-commerce platform. So for all of you that are not interested in e-commerce, the concept I am going to discuss today should just as well apply to your other software systems (to some degree or another).
What I want to talk about is attributes – no – not attitudes – although software tends to have a certain attitude as well!, but attributes. Let’s look at attributes as they are used – and useful – in Magento.
An attribute in Magento is defined as any property of a product. (In Magento – a product is something you sell online – whether a physical or a downloadable product, or something like a boat cruise)
This includes product id, product title, sku, images, description… everything!  Although this may seem a bit abstract, it’s also one of the most powerful concepts in Magento and provides an almost limitless ability to control the products. Magento built it like this so that you can add new product attributes without having to write a single line of code.  You also don’t need to add any columns to your database – it’s all done automatically from the attributes manager.  That’s right – you just add the attribute from the admin, and you can start entering data for products using this new attribute.
So why is this good?
I’ll keep it real simple. Your store sells stereo systems.  Let’s say that when you create a product in Magento, you have to enter title, price and description. i.e SO123, $1200,- and High Power Stereo BlueBase 2034.
You decide that customers make important buying decisions based on the manufacturer of the stereo.  No problem – you can add the attribute manufacturer to your store.  After doing so, you’ll see something like this on the product creation page.
i.e SO123, $1200,- and High Power Stereo BlueBase 2034, and SONY.
Note that manufacturer has now been added.
What’s the benefit of this? Well, now your customers can do many things with this manufacturer information. They can search products by manufacturer. They can compare products by manufacturer and so on.
A store owner can add as many additional attributes as desired.  These can be grouped into attribute sets, so similar products can be created with the same attributes.  If you sell TV’s, shoes, books, and power tools you could create four attribute sets: one specific to TV’s, one for shoes, one for books, and one for power tools.  When adding new power tool products to your catalog you simply select the “power tool” attribute set, and the appropriate fields are added for this product.
So this concept might sound simple, but think about the possibilities. Every online store is different, and the best ones use tens of attributes for their products. Just yesterday I was looking for a quiet bag-less vacuum cleaner. I could find quiet, and I could find bag-less, but not a single vendor had added both these qualities as an attribute, so I could not find a quiet and bagless vacuum cleaner. Well perhaps something like this doesn’t exist yet. I will do some more research.
So next when you shop online, have a look at the attributes used for a product. The finer grained this data is, the easier it is to work with the products.
So I hope you have learned a bit about attributes and attribute sets! Very powerful!

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