I got needlessly excited when I read what I reviewing next. For a brief moment I thought I was pitting the pathos-laden X-Men Villain Magneto against some kind of super capitalist Hero. Of course I misread Magento, but in a way I was right. Magento is probably the most widely used direct competitor to Shopify, though the markets they aim for are slightly different. Where Shopify aims to make their product as simple to use as possible, removing the need for expensive web developers, Magento is open source e-Commerce software that requires a fair amount of set up and knowledge.
There is one major benefit to Magento though. It is completely free. You can have a site that is as well designed as any, all for the upfront cost of nothing. Granted, it isn’t a hosted solution, like Shopify, meaning you’ll need to find a third party site hosting company, but there are hundreds of them. Once you have the software set up the actual day to day managing of Magento is quite easy.
So let’s take a look though these products, first up a comparison of aesthetics.
Shopify Vs Magento – Appearance, Professionalism, & Overall Look
Deciding on the look of your e-commerce platform is usually the first major decision you have to make. The wrong design choice can make or break an online store. You have to strike a balance between beauty and functionality, while still making the core aesthetics reflective of your product, or products. Thankfully both of these solutions offer a wealth of options in that regard.
Seen as Magento is community driven, you will never be hard pressed for finding themes for your site. It’s one of the major selling points. The biggest issue with it is that a lot of them are a little dated. It is harder to find pre-made themes with a more modern aesthetic, like those offered by Squarespace. You will have an awful lot of options, and unlike Shopify, the paid options are usually dirt cheap. Magento is not limited to a few templates though, this is open source software after all, so its true strength lies in its customization.
You can create your own templates, well I say you can, unless you have experience with both programming and graphic design you can’t really do anything with Magento. But if you do shell out the cash for a good designer you can have a bespoke site, that matches your vision precisely. It’s that level of freedom that makes it so attractive. An issue that might not be apparent with this solution is the lack of auto mobile sites. So the reality of it is that you’ll need to design not one, but two sites that scale well to different screen size and browsers.
When you have all the options it can be hard to choose just one. I think the argument can be made that the complexity of Magento makes it less attractive to someone just entering the online market, but if you have the capital to build from scratch, and pay your website designers well, the tools on offer here are top notch.
An all in one solution, meaning every aspect of the site is prefab, with a wealth of opportunities for customizing. I’m no programmer, so a system like Shopify would be perfect for me. The themes are varied, but not needlessly bloated with outdated designs. You have a great blend of couture and more low brow themes to choose from, depending on what kind of products you are selling. I’ve mentioned before that I am a big fan of the more rugged Amazon-like themes, plenty of products on display, prices listed nicely, and the vast majority of the free themes fit that description. There are a few sleek modern themes available for free, and they are all quite pretty, but if you find a design that you have to pay for, you can expect to shell out around $80.
That might sound like a heft enough sum, but it’s peanuts when compared to the cost of hiring a designer, as you would likely have to do if you go for Magento. The biggest selling point here is the speed by which you can go from having no site to being up, running and selling online. I don’t think any other e-commerce solution can boast as fast a turn around time.
I think our options here are very different. On one hand we have literally all the design choices in the world, and on the other we have a more prefab based click the blocks together kinda thing. It really does depend on what you’re going for. Do you want to be up and running as soon as possible with a terrific looking site that is tailored to your needs, or do you want to spend a little time, and a reasonable amount of money, setting up a meticulously designed site, that has all the features and the exact aesthetic you want? If I make this a pure numbers game then Magento wins, if I factor in everything else it is a much closer race.
Winner – Draw
Shopify Vs Magento- Features & Integrations
You’re building an online store, so you’ll at least want to be able to sell things. You’ll also want to control inventory, calculate shipping, taxes, generate discount codes and coupons, social media integration, maybe add a few languages and of course the ever important SEO capabilities. Well you’re in luck all these features and more are included with both of these products.
This is a hard section to write, not because Magento is lacking, but because the whole thing can be explained by simply saying “Yes.” There is nothing that Magento cannot do, but getting it to do anything is the trick. You can have multiple languages, excellent SEO features, more apps than you could possibly imagine, seriously there are over five thousand of them, a mix between paid and unpaid. It’s those apps that give it its social media integration, which really is must these days. The biggest caveat here is that integrating all of these features still requires an in depth knowledge of website creation, which if you don’t personally have will require an outside hire. Now a fair number of my friends are in the business of site design, so I can attest to the quality offered by going down that route, but it is both more time consuming and filled with unexpected exception errors.
In all, if you go down the Magento route you will not be disappointed, but you also won’t be alone. You will need someone who knows their stuff to get anywhere with the software, unless you decide to learn it yourself, which only adds more time between you and your store launch.
Seen as we have an all in one solution, Shopify has all of the functionality of Magento, with fewer options. With Magento there is a variety of solutions to every problem, multiple apps that do the same thing for you to test out and see which works best. With Shopify there is generally one solution to your issues, and they are all handled in house. Your SEO capabilities are some of the best on the market though. If you want all of the features that you can get with Magento though, you will have top pay out. Only the most expensive version of Shopify can compete in this field with Magento. Not a terrible thing, as it’s cheaper than hiring someone to build the site for you, but it is still an up front cost that not everyone is prepared to pay. I do like that your social media is integrated into the package, and you can have as many plugins as you want too. Remember that setting up a Shopify store is a personal thing, that it can be done by someone with zero technical knowledge.
With there 24/7 support line in place for anyone who has issues, and a back end team adding new features to it ever day, Shopify is the easiest option to pick here. And it has an ace in the hole to push it over the top. The Shopify POS system is a means to link your offline store with your online store, via an iOS device. You can take credit card sales on the fly and control every aspect of both your store fronts wherever you are. It’s perfect for both people with brick and mortar stores and folk who like to follow the festivals and conventions, selling their wares. I sound like a damned advert, but that’s what it does, and it’s an impressively robust system.
If it weren’t for the POS system, Magento would have this won hands down. Here we’re presented with the problem of choice again. If a system offers you unlimited choice, but you cannot use them, are the options really there? Of course they are, you just hire someone. But if short term price bothers you more than long term price then Shopify is the answer. If you have the cash to set up a bespoke site, then Magento is your answer.
Winner – Draw
Shopify Vs Magento – Flexibility, Ease of Use, & Scalability
If I look first at scalability this section is a lot easier. It is very easy to ramp up with both of these solutions. There is a little less back end stuff to do in Shopify, all I can really recommend is to get a more expensive package as you go along, whereas with Magento you may need to change your website host, and hire on your site designer for some extra work. That caveat, being unable to do everything yourself, unless you are a programmer, is going to be the biggest issue with recommending Magento over Shopify.
Magento is technically the more flexible of the two, it has more options overall meaning if you have the know how you can change things on the fly a little easier. Shopify does allow custom code in its back end, but the design focus is the make the tools as high level responsive as possible. You lose a little functionality to make it understandable to as many people as possible. It’s that ease of use point that really differentiates. To the right person Magento is ridiculously easy to use, and when the site is set up it does become a hell of a lot easier to manage, but I think it is pretty hard to argue that it is easier to use than Shopify.
Again, I feel like comparing these two solutions is a bit of a non starter. They aim for very different groups within the market. The people for whom Shopify is perfect would simply be unable to get off the ground with Magento, and for a certain kind of person the relative lack of control offered by Shopify would be infuriating. I think that Shopify here is more than competent in all fields, and edges Magento out of the ease of use race.
Winner – Shopify
Shopify Vs Magento- Cost & Value
This is a tough one to call. One one hand Magento is technically free, and if you work it right you won’t have to pay a penny to anyone, disregarding hosting and transaction fees. It can make your overhead very small, and fro a new business that is a big plus. But that is in a perfect world, and if you do not have the technical skills required to make the most of the wealth of options that Magento offers, you would be better off with an all in one solution, as the cost of hiring someone on to do the work can be a little expensive. Not to mention regular maintenance, scaling the site up to meet demand and all the other little costs involve.
With Shopify you pay an upfront monthly fee and have everything else taken care of. You gain access to a back end that is designed to be lay person friendly, while still having enough options to satisfy those who can code. You have all the features you need to run a successful business, all streamlined and custom coded to work with your software and you have back end tech support at your beck and call. The lowest priced option, that includes a chop, is $29. Ramping up to $79. If you want to take advantage of Shopify POS, their offline integration system, it’ll cost you an extra $40 per month.
I think if we take the long view then it’s possible that Magento is cheaper. It really depends on who you hire to do the designing and the work in general. A poor choice in the beginning can add up to negatives pretty fast. But best case scenario you do save money in the end. I think the set fees offered by Shopify, and the guaranteed service makes it a more valuable service. There is a market for Magento, i.e. those who know how to code, but for the lay person I would say go for Shopify.
Best of all you can currently get a free 14 day trial of shopify by clicking here. If you don’t like it just cancel before the 14 days are up and you won’t be charged anything.
Winner – Shopify
Shopify Vs Magento – Recap & Review
- All in one Solution
- Plethora of modern themes
- Back end support team, tech support
- Shopify POS offline store integration
- Very easy and quick to set up
- Reasonable price
- It’s not free
- Back end tends to favor Shopify liquid over regular css. Custom code integration takes a little more work as a result for those use to the latter.
- Fewer apps, but what they do have are better integrated.
- It’s free!
- Tremendous community support
- Unprecedented amount of personal control
- More apps than I thought possible
- More themes than anyone else
- Requires a high level of programming knowledge to get it off the ground
- Many themes are not horribly outdated looking
- Open source software lacks accountability
- More difficult to have offline integration
Magento is the old guard of e-commerce. The Software has been around for a while because the tools are robust, and comparatively easy to use. The Biggest issue is that a new generation of e-commerce solutions are easier to use, and make stores that are nearly, if not exactly, as versatile. It will be interesting to see the changes in store for Magento in the future, as I have little doubt that they will be offering an all in one solution, including web storage in time. If you’re looking to have more control over your site though, I would still recommend you take a look at Magento.
That said before giving Magento a shot (if you decide to go that route) I would say try out shopify first by a clicking here for a 14 day free trial. If you can’t make it work for your needs than purchase a hosting plan and give magento a whirl.