Magento was the golden child of the eCommerce platform world for the last five years taking a massive percentage of the market share. However, over the last year and a half, with leadership changes to Magento stunting its ability to launch Magento 2 quickly, and the jerkiness of the Magento 2 launch, Shopify has quickly taken the market by storm. Shopify now claims to have more users than Magento at over 300,000 stores and is also rapidly growing in the upper segments of the market.
However, simply having a large number of stores does not really mean anything. For comparison. WooCommerce has almost 2 million stores! The real question is how many top stores making significant revenue does each platform have. Magento is still clearly winning the battle of the top eCommerce stores, and it will be interesting to see if that continues.
Despite Shopify’s amazing growth, I am however a little skeptical of Shopify’s ability to handle larger more complex stores, and I believe many larger businesses that have gone to Shopify Plus could be disappointed by its inability to handle true enterprise level requirements as they try and scale & customize their store. Yes, it may be cheaper and easier to use, but you get what you pay for. However, with that being said, there are certainly businesses over paying for platforms like Demandware that could simply use Shopify Plus for a much lower cost.
Before I ramble on for too long, here are the major differences I see between the platforms, Magento and Shopify Plus:
– Lower Cost of Ownership (on avg.): It is typically easier to develop and configure a Shopify website because the backend is handled by Shopify and you are not required to do as much heavy lifting backend development which can get very expensive due to the high cost of software development services. This is probably the biggest reason a merchant would choose Shopify over Magento because they need a more cost effective eCommerce solution.
– Hosting Costs Included: Shopify is hosted via Shopify so you are only paying the subscription fee and everything else is up and running for you.
– Requires Far Less Development Operations Work: With Magento, you will need to set up a fairly sophisticated system for testing changes, deploying code to development or staging environments, and then deploying to production. There will be fewer development operations overhead with Shopify.
– Third Party Apps Work More Readily: The third party apps of Shopify rarely require additional development efforts and can be used fairly easily.
Constantly Improving Via SaaS Updates: The software is constantly improving and you simply have to use it to reap the benefits of the hard work of the Shopify team.
– Easy to use: The Shopify interface is easy to use and is very user-friendly for novices. This is a major benefit to smaller retailers and merchants who do not have a lot of time to learn a complex enterprise software like Magento.
– PCI Compliance & Security: Shopify comes readily available with PCI compliance level 1 so it will most likely be easier to get through that hurdle than with an open source system like Magento.
– Site Speed: Shopify is much stronger when it comes to site speed by default. Magento 2 can run very fast if you put the right operations in place via Amazon Web Services and other methodologies but this takes significantly more work than what Shopify can do for site speed out of the box.
– Flexibility: Shopify has recently launched improvements to their API’s, checkout customization, and created a scripts feature to improve flexibility. However, it still pales in comparison to having complete control over the code which you do with Magento, so it still falls short in this category.
– Scalability: There are limitations to product variations within Shopify and it is difficult to scale a SaaS solution indefinitely as you run into customization roadblocks. Shopify still lacks the scalability that Magento has to offer in terms of Magento’s out of the box feature packed solution and open source flexibility to customize it as you grow indefinitely. Magento still boasts the most top eCommerce sites of any eCommerce platform because of its scalability and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
– Development Talent: There are some incredibly talented Magento developers because there are a large plethora of high commerce sites willing to pay for that level of development talent. Shopify takes a lot of the development burden out of eCommerce and therefore there are less talented developers well versed in Shopify’s development processes because there simply isn’t as much business for developers. Many of the Shopify agencies I see are mostly focused on design and basic frontend development.
– No Multistore Capabilities: Shopify cannot handle complex multi-store capabilities for internationalization or multi-brand site roll outs. For larger site implementations this is a major drawback.
Lack of B2B eCommerce: There is very little B2B functionality and companies with B2B eCommerce requirements are most likely going to struggle with Shopify.
– Ability to handle complex catalogs: Shopify has catalog limitations and cannot handle extremely complex product types or massive catalogs that have millions of SKU’s readily.
– Integration Hurdles: Integrating with Shopify is going to be a bit more difficult because you do not have full access to the code so will have to work with their API’s and other integration limitations. This can be problematic if you have unique or specific integration requirements that may be difficult to execute via Shopify’s platform parameters.
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– B2B eCommerce: At this point, I think the most obvious benefit to Magento over Shopify is its B2B eCommerce capabilities. Shopify is weak when it comes to B2B eCommerce and cannot offer flexible pricing per customer or customer groups the way Magento can. Magento is much stronger from a B2B eCommerce standpoint and is especially strong for merchants looking to do both B2B and B2C eCommerce online.
– Flexibility: Magento is certainly a more flexible platform offering complete control over the code and a larger out of the box feature set that can be heavily customized to your unique needs.
– Multiple Editions: Magento has three versions now! You can simply use community edition for free and save amazing costs. You can also use the Enterprise Edition with more functionality or even the new cloud edition, which is the Enterprise Edition hosted on the cloud via Amazon Web Services which solves the hassle of hosting the solution yourself.
– Scalability:Magento has proven to scale to amazing heights powering the most top 1000 eCommerce websites in the world of any platform.
– Development Talent: There are a lot of talented Magento developers and agencies that specialize in Magento who can handle massive and complex eCommerce projects. The agencies and community around Magento are very strong because of how large the reach of the platform is.
– Core Functionality: Magento comes with a massive amount of core functionality out of the box for both community and enterprise edition. Both options have much more core functionality than Shopify by far.
– Catalog Management: Magento can handle six different product types as well as very complex and large catalogs with intricate attribute and product structures. Shopify is much more limited in its ability to handle complex catalogs.
– Order Management: Magento has very robust order management capabilities and can be customized to handle a very complex and unique order status flow that may be specific to your internal operations.
– Integrations: Magento is opensource therefore you will have much more control to extend the API’s, core functionality and build highly robust specific integrations. This might not be feasible with Shopify depending on the parameters.
– Community Functionality: Magento has a massive community of developers and extension providers so there is constantly new functionality introduced to the ecosystem built by third parties. There are fairly sizeable companies like Aheadworks, WebShopApps, and other extension providers that are constantly working on and improving third party functionality.
Higher Cost of Ownership (on avg.): Magento can be costly to develop in, and you are responsible for the entire application. Therefore developing in Magento can become far more costly than developing in Shopify because of all the backend development that is required to move the application forward. In most cases, Magento will be a more expensive cost of ownership than Shopify unless you are on the higher end in which it might be cheaper to do more complex work that Shopify is not flexible enough to do easily.
Development Operations Required: You will need to setup a development operations workflow to manage your staging environment and overall deployments which could be a larger burden on your development budget than with a platform like Shopify. Magento does now offer a cloud edition which should reduce this burden significantly.
Hosting Costs Not Included (Except for Cloud Edition): Magento has recently launched cloud edition in which hosting is included. However, for the majority of users on community edition You will have to find a quality hosting partner and now will have another third party involved in the project, whereas Shopify is all hosted for you.
Third Party Apps Might Require Developer Time: Magento apps aren’t quite as easy to install and configure as Shopify apps. Many extensions may require tweaking or conflict with other extensions or your theme so there could be a large development burden associated with third party extensions compared to Shopify. Magento has however, made huge strides improving the extensions to the Magento 2 marketplace.
Themes Might Be Poorly Built: Many of the themes are poorly built and are difficult to scale. Shopify seems to have a better handle on keeping the themes in check so that there is less likely to be major issues with the theme moving forward.
Bad Developer Risks: There are many bad developers out there willing to take on Magento work as well as agencies employing underqualified developers on shore or off shore. This can lead to poor development work being done which can have a very bad impact on the stability of your site because you are entirely responsible for the application. With Shopify there is less risk of poor development because even if it happens they cannot destroy the backend of the application.
Requires Software Updates: You will have to manually patch your software with security updates and major releases which can be a hefty developer cost. This is not the case with Shopify.
High Learning Curve: Magento is a very complex software and will require a much larger learning curve compared to Shopify which is built to be easy to use by merchants.
Site Speed: You will have to invest significantly more time into ensuring your site is competitive from a site speed perspective. It can be done but it will most likely take some expertise with a platform like Amazon Web Services or an expensive hosting package with a company like Nexcess.
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Shopify and Magento are both great eCommerce platforms and are arguably leading the charge forward in eCommerce innovation for small, medium, and even enterprise size merchants. I don’t think the argument for either platform is so simple and the choice to utilize one over the other should be purely a case by case decision with many variables impacting the decision.
I think Shopify is better suited for budget conscious merchants who are less concerned with complete control to customize and integrate with highly complex environments or applications. Less technical merchants may also benefit strongly from Shopify’s ease of use. Shopify certainly wins in the TCO side of things and is great for retailers who do not have B2B eCommerce requirements or major multi-store or Internationalization requirements.
Magento is certainly much stronger for more complex builds, B2B eCommerce, and larger more scalable sites. If you have a very complex catalog or want to implement some innovative functionality, Magento may be the better choice. Additionally, Magento’s multi-store capabilities are ideal for multi-brand companies or sites that need to go international.