It doesn’t seem fair to compare Shopify with Magento: they’re two very different products, aimed at two different types of users. Yes, they are both e-commerce platforms, but as with other e-commerce platforms, they’re able to coexist by positioning themselves for different markets. There will always be areas where the markets overlap, but this isn’t enough to unequivocally say that one platform is superior to another.
When choosing an e-commerce platform, it helps to know exactly what you want from the platform – what features you need – and to only then look at the various platforms, eliminating any that don’t meet your requirements. Naturally, it is unlikely that any one platform will have everything you need or want, but a few will come close, and you can then consider factors such as cost, ease of use, support, and more.
This guide is not intended to favour one platform over another, but rather to present a balanced look at both Shopify and Magento, making it easier for you to compare the two and decide which is better suited to your specific needs.
The Basics of Shopify and Magento
This isn’t meant to be a popularity contest, but looking at some basic numbers relating to both Shopify and Magento is a good way to start this guide, with monthly cost perhaps the most important consideration here.
Apps & Add-Ons – The figures listed above only include apps and add-ons available from the official Magento and Shopify app marketplaces. You can find more apps on 3rd-party marketplaces, such as CodeCanyon. Some apps and add-ons are free, while others incur once-off or recurring monthly costs.
Themes – As with apps and add-ons, the figures above only represent what is available directly from Magento and Shopify. Themeforest and other 3rd-party marketplaces offer many more, and you are also able to have a bespoke theme designed for you.
Monthly Cost – Magento is available as both free, open source software, and as a cloud-based Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). Pricing for the PaaS version of Magento starts at $1,988 /mo, but it is also necessary to point out that the free version of Magento depends on you arranging your own hosting. Shopify has four regular plans priced at $9 /mo (Lite), $29 /mo (Basic), $79 /mo (Standard), and $299 /mo (Advanced). In addition to the regular plans there is also an enterprise plan – Shopify Plus – with pricing dependent on the size of your operation, but generally from around $2,000 /mo.
Advantages & Disadvantages
Any software solution will have advantages and disadvantages, areas where it excels, and areas where it falls short. In labeling certain features as a strength or weakness, there is also a certain amount of subjectivity, so it is again up to you to fully assess what you would see as an advantage, and whether or not any disadvantages are severe enough to eliminate the platform or software from consideration.
Advantages of Shopify
- 24/7 Support – Live chat and email support are available 24/7 for all plans, including Shopify Lite. There is also an easy-to-use help centre and a very active community forum available, offering you a well-rounded support system. And you won’t have any difficulty finding a Shopify expert to help you build the perfect online store.
- Complete e-commerce solution – Shopify is a complete e-commerce solution that takes care of hosting, traffic, security, and more, all at an affordable monthly cost. Through the use of apps, you are able to extend functionality, moulding Shopify into a solution that delivers what you need.
- Mobile ready – Shopify is designed to work exceptionally well on mobile devices. The Shopify team understand how important mobile commerce is, so the platform is optimised for speed and mobile-friendliness. All themes available via the Shopify website are also optimised for mobile devices, leaving you with one less thing to worry about when launching your store.
Disadvantages of Shopify
- Theme customisation can be tricky – Shopify uses a proprietary templating language (Liquid), which is slightly different to standard HTML. This can make customisation or development of a theme a little more difficult. However, the Shopify help centre has excellent guides on editing themes, developing themes, and the Liquid language. In addition to this, most themes come with some form of support from the developer.
- Each sale can incur additional fees – Transaction fees and credit card rates are not included in the monthly cost, and vary according to which plan you are on. Using Shopify Payments instead of 3rd-party payment gateways eliminates the transaction fee, but can only be used in some countries, and certain types of business.
- Limited features – A major drawback is that Shopify is not HTTP/2 enabled. This means a slower site against many other e-commerce platforms. Additionally, some important features, such as reports, abandoned cart recovery, and 3rd-party shipping rates are only available on more expensive plans. Switching to different plans is fairly simple, but if you need these features from the beginning, you have no choice but to select a more expensive plan.
Advantages of Magento
- Large user community – Magento claims to have one of the largest communities of developers and merchants, and for many users this serves as their first stop for support and help. What it lacks in immediacy, it makes up for in that the advice you receive is often based on first-hand experience. You’re never alone when navigating the complexities of Magento.
- Massive feature list – While most e-commerce solutions allow you to extend functionality using apps and add-ons, Magento comes with a huge list of features built in, from basic features, through to more advanced features. This means you have a more complete e-commerce solution straight out of the box, with less need for add-ons to create the perfect online store.
Disadvantages of Magento
- Quite complex – Magento is definitely not suited to very small businesses with few employees, and not a lot of technical skill. This is especially true for the open source version, which requires you to take care of hosting, installation, security, and setting up your store.
- Requires a large investment of time – The complexity of Magento means you will also need a significant amount of time set aside for developing your store, and making sure it looks and operates perfectly. And if time is a luxury you don’t have, then you will need to have a healthy budget in order to hire a Magento professional to do it for you. But even then, your store could take weeks – not days – to prepare for launch.
- Hidden costs – Magento open source is free to use, but it is easy to forget about various other costs that come with hosting your own online store. From hosting and domains, through to security certificates, themes and apps, all these other costs can add up quite quickly, and need to be considered in relation to the potential cost of the Magento PaaS solution. And while some costs are fixed or once-off, others will increase as your store grows, both in size and in traffic.
Other Factors to Consider
Over and above strengths and weaknesses, there are other factors you need to consider too. These are essentially also strengths and weaknesses, but deserve to be explored in a little more detail.
Ease of Use
Ease of use is somewhat related to complexity, and as we’ve already highlighted, Magento’s complexity is a bit of a weakness, especially for those lacking in technical skill.
But ease of use isn’t just about installing the platform and setting up your first store, it also takes into account how easy the platform is to use on a day-to-day basis.
In this regard, Shopify shines, with a backend dashboard that is intuitive and easy to understand. Shopify also benefits from a website builder that incorporates drag and drop features, allowing you to easily move elements around a page and change the layout without the need for any coding.
Magento’s interface isn’t too different – visually – from that of Shopify, but being a feature-rich platform, it does include a lot of options and settings that you can change. This doesn’t necessarily make it less intuitive than that of Shopify, but it does mean it takes a little longer to get used to and to find your way around.
Search Engine Optimisation
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a very important factor to consider. While no platform – e-commerce or other – is able to offer a truly hands-off approach to SEO, the site structure and coding should at least conform to standard SEO practices, making your site search engine friendly.
Both Shopify and Magento are fairly good when it comes to this, though it should be remembered that any theme you use, or customisations you add, could have an impact on your site’s SEO. Both platforms make it quite easy for you to add meta descriptions, page and product titles, set headings, optimise images, and more through the dashboard.
Overall, when all factors are considered a well structured Magento platform is slightly ahead of Shopify on SEO, if only due to the inability for Shopify to enable HTTP/2.
Magento is known to be a bit of a sluggish platform at times, which you will have to account for when it comes to choosing a host and hosting package. Naturally, this shouldn’t be a problem if you’re using the PaaS version of Magento. Even then, you should still pay attention to factors such as the size of your images, and whether or not they have been optimised and compressed. And this applies to both Shopify and Magento, since neither take care of this by default.
Both platforms also offer a number of apps or add-ons for SEO, but always remember that too many apps can impact site performance and speed, so always choose wisely. The need for speed is critical for SEO success.
Checkout and Payments
By default, the standard plans for Shopify give you limited options when it comes to customising the checkout process, but they do give you access to multiple payment options and gateways without the need for apps. In contrast, Magento – being more flexible – allows you to configure the checkout process exactly as you want, but by default gives you limited payment options and gateways, with more available only through apps and add-ons.
Shopify does also have its own payment system – Shopify Payments – which includes the benefit of no transaction fees, but is only available in a few countries at the moment.
Both platforms do offer an omnichannel experience, but Shopify’s is a little bit more robust than that of Magento, with the ability to seamlessly integrate with a physical store, and the ability to sell your products on multiple channels from Facebook, through to Pinterest, Amazon, and others.
A drawback of Shopify on payments is that if Shopify believe what you are selling is untoward or infringes, then they pull the payment platform with 24-hours notice.
The e-commerce landscape is definitely big enough to accommodate more than one e-commerce platform, so there is no need for a virtual winner-takes-all showdown between platforms. Every online store has a somewhat unique set of needs, and each e-commerce platform is better at meeting some needs than others. It is up to you to understand what your needs are before you start comparing platforms, and to understand that not all weaknesses are severe enough to completely eliminate a particular platform.