When it comes to choosing the best eCommerce platform for your online business, it can be challenging to know who to go with in the end. There’s a lot of conflicting information out there and it’s pretty impossible to know what’s fact and what’s fiction.
Two of the biggest contenders – Magento and Shopify – are often caught up in discussion as to which is the better eCommerce platform. The fact is, both of these platforms share a couple of similarities but are mostly the polar opposite of one another.
Instead of looking for the best eCommerce platforms available, you should always keep in mind the needs and requirements of your business. After all, you will be the one using the eCommerce software on a daily basis – it needs to complement your company nicely.
In this article, we review and compare both Magento and Shopify so that you can decide which is the better fit for your online business. We draw several comparisons from the factors listed below:
Ease of use
Types of products you can sell
Time to market
Search engine optimisation
Additional marketing features
Extensions and integrations
Online resources and community
Both Shopify and Magento are two of the most popular eCommerce platforms across the world, rivalling other big players such as BigCommerce and OpenCart.
There is, however, one key difference that separates the two platforms:
Shopify is a hosted all-in-one eCommerce platform. In other words, you don’t need to worry about sorting out your hosting, website security or updating the software – this is all taken care of for you.
Magento is an open source eCommerce platform, meaning that it is free to download and use. However, you are responsible for sorting out your server and web hosting, registering your domain name, fixing errors and maintaining updates and your site’s security.
As you can imagine, this makes Shopify a much easier eCommerce platform to get to grips with. You don’t need vast technical knowledge in order to use it – all you need to do to start setting your online store up is to sign up with an account on Shopify.
Adding products is also very simple for Shopify users.
What’s more, managing your orders has a simple and intuitive feel to it. Every aspect of Shopify’s dashboard has been simplified so that teams of all abilities can use it confidently and competently, and not waste time on things that should be simple to do.
On the other hand:
Setting up Magento so that it is error-free is something only tech-savvy people will be able to complete. If you don’t have sufficient technical knowledge, then you may be better off with a fully managed solution such as Shopify or BigCommerce.
It should be said that Magento can be a steep learning curve even for professional web developers. You’ll need to be able to afford the time for your developer(s) to learn the ins and outs of the platform and provide full training to other staff members.
Even Magento itself does not recommend it as a suitable option for new businesses or those with limited technical expertise.
That said, once Magento is all set up it becomes significantly easier to use and manage.
At the same time, Magento can be pretty overwhelming for a novice user, as there are simply so many features already built into the platform.
While it’s not complicated to use once it has been set up, it will take you far more time to get used to than a more user-friendly solution like Shopify.
With Shopify, you can sell both physical goods and services.
In order to sell services, you can uncheck the shipping checkbox to show that you are selling a digital product or service rather than a physical one.
If you do sell a digital product then you will need to install an add-on from the Shopify Marketplace so that you can provide a downloadable link to your product. You can use the Digital Downloads app (created by Shopify) at no extra cost.
However, if you want to sell items or services through subscription-based selling (i.e. monthly recurring payments) then you will need to purchase a paid add-on from the marketplace to enable this. For example, ReCharge costs $19.99 per month.
In comparison to many hosted solutions such as Shopify, Magento comes out especially well in terms of what it can offer both the B2C and B2B audience. Generally speaking, most hosted eCommerce platforms focus on the needs of the B2C industry.
The beauty of Magento is that you can sell any products and any services through it.
Whether it’s digital downloads, tangible retail products or B2B wholesale, Magento is able to serve almost every type of business need, due to it being such a highly flexible and customisable – but also wonderfully complex – eCommerce platform.
Magento is a great choice if your business has reached enterprise level or has some sort of special use case (i.e. needing a special functionality) as the flexibility of the platform means that your store can be coded exactly how you need it to be.
That said, it may not be the best solution to grow your business through if you have limited time, money and technical or programming knowledge on your team.
In terms of a time to market, both Magento and Shopify come out completely differently.
If you’re looking for an eCommerce platform that you can set up within a day – or even a weekend – then Magento is not going to be the solution for you. At least right now.
Magento is a highly complex eCommerce platform and it needs to be treated as such. Even for a developer or programmer with experience and knowledge, it can still be a pretty steep learning curve to get the most out of the solution for your business.
It’s difficult to say how long a Magento project is likely to take, as it completely depends on the size and scope of your online store, the level of customisation you’re seeking and the number of extensions you want.
You’re probably looking at a turnaround time of one to three months, depending on how big your online store is and the complexity of the project at hand.
On the other hand, Shopify is an incredibly easy and user-intuitive eCommerce platform that enables you to sell online quickly. For this reason, you could easily be set up with an online store in a day or over a weekend.
The turnaround time does depend on the size and scope of your online business (e.g. how many products do you have to add?) and the level of customisation you want, but generally speaking a lot of their customers do choose Shopify for its simplicity and efficiency.
Shopify simplifies as much of the online selling process as possible for its users and optimising your online shop for search engines is one aspect of this.
The eCommerce platform comes with the main SEO options that most other hosted solutions also offer. For example, customisable title tags, 301 redirects, some meta information and automatic sitemap generation.
If you want to fix more of your SEO functionality for your website, then you can look towards the Shopify App store. There’s an SEO Manager app which gives you more control with a friendly user interface but does cost $20.00 per month, which will add up quickly.
A disadvantage to Shopify is that it takes care of so much for you.
There are lots of search engine optimisation elements that are desirable for any online business, but as Shopify users do not control the software or hosting environment you can’t control these aspects either.
As you scale your online business, you may find that this gets tedious.
For example, you don’t get access to the Robots.txt file and sitemaps are generated automatically, so they are not normally editable. When your business reaches a certain size, you may find that you want to control these elements to boost your rankings.
In comparison to the likes of Magento, Shopify doesn’t give you as much control over SEO elements for your online store.
In fact, Magento is often held up as a shining example of one of the best eCommerce platforms for search engine optimisation. This is because you have full control over everything within the system, which means you can set things as you like.
However, it’s important to understand that unless you’re an SEO wizard and you have a decent amount of programming knowledge, you’re probably not going to have an online shop that is well-optimised for search engines if you use Magento.
Magento gives you the ability to change default settings and customise the site fully, but it doesn’t come with in-built SEO features, so you’re going to need to either have the right resources and knowledge on your team, or you’ll need to look beyond Magento.
As a Magento user, you’re able to fully customise your online shop’s SEO functionality. For example, you can change default meta tags and restrict search engines from indexing pages you don’t want to rank for.
If you have limited knowledge of programming and SEO functionalities, be aware you’ll need to change the robots .txt file and meta robot directives so that site indexing from search engines is switched on. If you don’t, your site won’t get indexed and it won’t rank in Google.
Sorting out SEO functionalities can become a big hassle to those without the right resources and it may be better to go with an all-in-one solution that can address these needs for you, such as Shopify.
If you can wrap your head around how to set up Magento for your business, then you will benefit from a number of marketing features to help you sell more products. Several of these are already built-in and so are fairly simple to start using for your business.
For example, in Magento you have the ability to offer discounts or free shipping on your own terms. You can choose who you give discounts to by segmenting your customers.
You can also offer discounts for customers who want to buy a sizeable quantity of your products, which makes it an ideal platform for B2B or wholesale companies.
What’s more, you’re able to create email newsletters to send to your customers
If you understand HTML then you can create your own custom email templates, or you can integrate Magento with the likes of MailChimp if you’re not a big coding wizard.
But, just as with most eCommerce platforms, there are limitations to what comes as a built-in feature for Magento.
You may be surprised to learn that there’s no blog provided in Magento’s core functionality.
That said, you can make use of a blog extension found in Magento’s marketplace, but most extensions aren’t free, so if you’re looking to keep costs to a minimum, you may want to think beyond this eCommerce platform.
On the other hand, Shopify doesn’t actually offer a whole lot of built-in marketing features.
It must be said that part of this is what makes Shopify so efficient and simple to use, which is great for ensuring factors such as productivity, uptime and site loading speed.
Shopify does, however, give its users the ability to create discounts and offer these coupons to certain groups of customers to reach and engage your customer base more effectively.
You also have the option of a blog, which can act as a portal for your online store and increase sales for your business, unlike Magento.
In addition, you’ll have access to some reporting and analytics to inform your marketing campaigns. As you may have guessed, the more premium your paid plan, then the more detailed insight and data you’ll receive for your online store.
Aside from setting up automatic email notifications to be sent when customers complete certain actions on your website, if you want to make proper use of email marketing then you’ll need to integrate with an email marketing service provider, such as MailChimp.
Similarly, if you want to achieve anything else via marketing for your online store, then it’s off to the Shopify App Marketplace you go, where you’ll find over 400 marketing apps.
Shopify offers 65 free and premium shop templates for its users.
The paid themes – of which there are 55 – range from $140-$180 and most offer up to four different layout styles. The remaining ten are free to use.
These designs are modern and fully responsive across all digital devices.
Whichever Shopify template you may use, you have the option to adjust how the layout looks, and you don’t need to understand code or have any technical knowledge whatsoever.
You can achieve this through Shopify’s visual layout editor:
Here, you can add specific content sections to your homepage, such as a product image slideshow. You can also adjust colours, fonts and add images onto each page as well as your logo.
What’s more, all Shopify templates are checked and verified by the eCommerce platform itself, so you can be sure your layouts will be error-free.
Need some inspiration for your Shopify template? Check out some of the best Shopify store designs to get your creative juices flowing.
However, with Magento, the picture of what’s on offer in terms of design is quite different.
At the risk of sounding like we’re repeating ourselves, one of the main reasons business owners choose Magento is due to its high level of customisation, and front-end website design is one key aspect of this.
As such, there are only around 15 premade themes (free and premium) available for Magento users from the eCommerce platform’s own marketplace. Much of this is because there are so many third-party web developers creating and selling their own themes
For example, you’ll find several solid, modern and responsive Magento storefront themes available on the likes of ThemeForest (as well as for Shopify users).
Alternatively, you can use your own developer to create something completely custom and unique to your business, but you’ll need to factor this into your overall budget.
Keep in mind:
Magento was never designed for small businesses with limited resources and knowledge. It was designed for those that either have the time and drive to learn, plan to scale quickly or those that want to take their established business to the next level.
If you do decide to use a third-party storefront theme for either Magento or Shopify, then remember to check out reviews and do your research on the developer. The last thing you want to happen is for there to be a bug in the code and it affect your ability to sell online.
As Magento is one of the most popular open source eCommerce platforms, there are thousands of integrations available in the Magento marketplace. What’s more, over two thousand extensions are now compatible with Magento 2.
This is great news for new businesses setting up or switching to Magento, as the variety means that you’ll be likely to find the exact custom functionalities you’re looking for. Plus, you won’t need to factor in time or money to create them which can cut down your costs.
Many of these Magento integrations are available free of charge, although you’ll still need to pay to use any software that you do integrate with.
What’s more, you can be sure any extensions you do use will be of assured quality. All extensions and updates go through an Extension Quality Program.
This ensures each add-on has:
- A logical and efficient coding structure
- Acceptable performance and scalability
- Compatible with the Magento core
As an alternative, Shopify is more or less on par with the number of add-ons that each eCommerce platform has available.
The Shopify App Store has add-ons to help with product sourcing, marketing and sales, shipping and inventory management, customer service and accounting and on-site tools. You will be more or less guaranteed to find the add-on you’re looking for with Shopify.
Integrating these apps with your online store is very easy. You don’t need to be a technical wizard in order to get your extensions working. In fact, most just need you to a click a couple of buttons and you’re all set.
While many of these extensions are free, it does have to be made clear that there are many that require monthly recurring payments. For example, the SEO Manager tool is an extra ongoing monthly cost of $20.00, and many shop owners will deem this an essential feature.
If you take the Basic Shopify plan ($29.00 a month), add on an SEO extension ($20.00 a month) and a one-click checkout ($15.95) then it will bring your monthly total up to $64.95.
Over a year, this will cost you $779.40.
With just two add-ons, you can see how quickly the number of extensions you pay for will eat away at a small business budget, especially as you’ll likely use several more.
That said, as Shopify is a very popular eCommerce platform, an advantage to choosing it to host your online store most add-ons have hundreds (if not thousands) of reviews so you can make informed decisions with a lot of confidence.
It's worth mentioning that you sell on multiple selling channels (e.g. webstores or marketplaces) that you'll need to invest in inventory management software so that you can continue to manage your stock effectively and efficiently.
Shopify’s customer support is accessible round the clock 24/7.
Compared to many other hosted eCommerce solutions, Shopify has really hit the nail on the head when it comes to looking after their customers – and this comes from the customers themselves.
In comparison, Magento provides very little in the way of customer support.
Much of this has to do with the eCommerce platform already being open source which means that it is free to download and use, unlike Shopify which is a monthly ongoing cost.
If you do decide to use Magento, then you will need easy access to an experienced programmer or developer to help you resolve any issues or bugs due to the complex nature of Magento in comparison with other eCommerce platforms.
In contrast, Shopify goes above and beyond for its customers in terms of support; keep in mind that the two platforms are made for two completely different audiences.
The vast majority of online customer reviews mention how helpful and effective the Shopify customer service team is, so if you’re new to online selling and are likely to need help then Shopify may be the best eCommerce platform to support you and your business.
However, if you still want to use Magento and have some programming knowledge and a self-starter attitude, you may find the numerous resources available on Magento’s website helpful.
Do bear in mind is that the language used is extremely technical and the documentation is pretty heavy-going, even for those with sufficient technical knowledge. Magento can be a learning curve even for professional developers.
What Magento lacks in customer support, it makes up for in online community.
The eCommerce platform is well known for its active community forums and they can be a great source of unbiased and helpful information.
What’s more, because Magento is such a popular eCommerce platform, there are plenty of independent blogs and websites maintained by individuals to help you get the most out of the eCommerce platform.
For example, if you’ve come across Practical eCommerce then you’ll know that a large chunk of its content is based on posts about Magento. If you’re new to Magento, then check out Tutorial Magento as it provides a lot of video tutorials for beginners.
You can also read Magento’s own blog which is filled with news, tips and advice to maximise your online business through the platform.
The point is, Magento is so widely used that access to free online resources is pretty abundant – providing you understand tech speak and know how to code or have the resources to hire a professional.
On the other hand:
Shopify is on a mission to simplify the process of growing an online business as much as possible. For this reason, the eCommerce platform creates plenty of content to help you keep growing your business.
If you’re really new to selling online and don’t understand the jargon that you may come across, then it can be useful to refer to Shopify’s encyclopaedia page. Similarly, Shopify Academy gives you the tools and knowledge you need to create a successful online shop.
Shopify also has a very active blog with helpful tips, advice and examples of how to grow an online business, as well as downloadable guides, podcasts and a selection of free tools and stock photos.
As we keep saying, both Magento and Shopify are very popular eCommerce platforms tailored for two different types of businesses, so you can be sure there will always be plenty of freelancers, agencies and individuals discussing how to get the best use out of them.
When it comes to working out the cost of the two eCommerce platforms, both Shopify and Magento have completely different types of pricing available.
Let’s start with Shopify.
Basic Shopify - $29 per month
For $29 a month, the Basic Shopify plan gives you access to two user accounts, with an unlimited number of products and file storage. You’ll also get access to all the basics that you’ll need to start selling online straight away as a new business.
However, you will be charged credit card rates of 2.2% + 20p online and 1.7% + 0p in-person (e.g. over the phone). If you use external payment gateways, which most online businesses will do, then you will also be charged 2.0% transaction fees.
Shopify - $79 per month
For $79 per month, the Shopify plan gives you access to up to five user accounts. You’ll receive all the basic essentials in the previous plan, as well as gift cards and access to professional reporting to help you make more informed decisions to grow your business.
Online credit card rates are charged at 1.9% + 20p and in person transactions (e.g. over the phone) 1.6% + 0p, while transaction fees using external payment gateways are charged at 1.0%.
Advanced Shopify - $299 per month
If you’re at the tipping point for scaling your online business, then the most appropriate plan for you to be on is Advanced Shopify. This sets you back $299 a month, so you will need to be turning over a substantial profit to make this plan viable.
You will still be charged credit card rates at 1.6% + 20p for online purchases and 1.5% for in-person transactions (e.g. over the phone or in-store), as well as Shopify transaction fees which are charged at 0.5% for using external payment gateways.
As an Advanced Shopify user, you will have access to two more features to help you scale your eCommerce business. These are an advanced report builder and third-party calculated shipping rates.
How much does Magento cost?
The Magento Community Edition is free to download and use for all. But what this doesn’t mean is that it’s not going to cost you anything. In fact, the budget you plan to spend on a Magento store will vary on the following key factors:
- Hosting and support services
- How customised you want your store to be
- If you source an in-house developer, through an agency or choose a freelancer
- The theme you use and the extensions you add
Every project is different.
Depending on the size and scope of your online store, hosting is an ongoing monthly cost and is likely to set you back anywhere between £15 and £100 depending on the size of your site – but your web developer should be able to do this as part of your package.
The biggest cost to factor is in fact the sourcing of a web developer to build and maintain your online store. Although this will change depending on the experience of the developer and the size of the project, set up is likely to cost you within the thousands, if not tens of thousands, while maintenance will be an ongoing cost as and when you need.
Where costs really start adding up with both Shopify and Magento is through the extensions you add to your store to develop its core functionality. These are usually ongoing costs to factor into your budget, rather than one-off costs, and can add up quickly.
The flexibility and scalability of Magento are two of the main reasons why online businesses make the switch to the open source platform after reaching limitations with other solutions.
For example, if your sales increase tenfold from one day to the next, then Magento will be able to handle it comfortably for you without your store running into errors.
This makes it a great choice for businesses that experience heightened traffic or order volume at particular points in the year.
But what is it that makes Magento such a scalable platform?
For starters, Magento is the only open source eCommerce platform that works with a really large number of third-party tools and services. As these services can help you to discover future trends, Magento can provide you with actionable data to help scale your business.
Another key factor that affects scalability is a well-optimised database structure. Luckily, Magento has this one in the bag. As the platform is so flexible, your developer will be able to access and update different parts of your Magento database efficiently and easily.
As Magento is resource-intensive, Magento business owners usually need to host their stores on their own dedicated servers. Although this is an additional cost to factor in, it does mean that your store will run more efficiently and be able to handle more, making it suitable for businesses with a goal to scale quickly.
For Shopify users, the first factor to consider when it comes to working out whether or not a hosted eCommerce platform is scalable is to assess the different monthly plans on offer.
Looking at Shopify, there’s a clear path for growing your online business.
However, the three main Shopify plans vary in price quite a lot, which can make choosing to progress to the next plan a big business decision – especially as the features on offer don’t offer much variation between them.
Shopify is a perfect solution for new online sellers and small-medium online businesses without access to a developer or programmer.
Each plan has benefits from an unlimited number of products and file storage, meaning you can sell as much as you want.
However, you may find the transaction fees that Shopify charges a bit of a barrier if you sell a high volume of products at a low cost.
This may prevent you from being able to scale beyond a certain level.
And, with the introduction of Shopify Plus, it seems that Shopify is well aware of this and has worked towards a solution that caters to businesses with enterprise-level needs.
Shopify vs. Magento: Which is the best eCommerce platform?
When it comes to deciding between Magento and Shopify, your conclusion should be pretty easy to draw. While both eCommerce platforms are popular, there are stark differences between both of them.
For example, if you were a new business without a big budget and didn’t have much technical expertise, the obvious choice would be Shopify.
If you were a sizeable business that was scaling quickly and you had access to a web developer or sufficient technical expertise on your team, Magento would be the best bet.
With such differences in terms of price, technical ability and many other factors to consider, your decision should be made on the premise of capitalising on your strengths as a business and minimising your weaknesses.