Shopify’s Apples to Magento’s Oranges

Aaron Shapland Aaron Shapland

For years, there have been more eCommerce platforms on the market than one could care to remember. From OpenCart to Magento, ZenCart to Shopify, PrestaCart to BigCommerce, the list goes on. However, over years of fast-paced digital evolution, the eCommerce landscape has emerged with clear leaders. Although our team at Vordik works with a multitude of vendors, today we’ll take a look at the two eCommerce platforms we are most often asked about by clients: Magento and Shopify.

It is either sadly funny or funnily sad that these two platforms fall on opposite ends of the spectrum. Indeed, they could hardly be more different, and nobody (in reality) should ever be choosing between only these two. Magento is developer-focused, Shopify is business owner-focused. Magento is robust, Shopify is streamlined. Magento is open-source, Shopify is hosted. Despite the world of differences, it is important to note that Magento 2 (released in late 2015 and updated heavily since) has made great strides in closing the gap on user-friendliness. As such, and for the sake of a fair comparison, we will be referencing Magento 2 in this discussion.

Usage

It is widely known that Shopify was built for small businesses and entrepreneurs. In fact, the platform does an excellent job in bowing to non-technical users. Today, a small business owner with limited web knowledge can easily set up a Shopify store using a premade template and begin selling products by sunrise tomorrow. This is, without a doubt, Shopify’s sweet spot. However, this usability does come at a cost – customization.

Whereas Shopify allows users to easily edit content, add pages, manage products, and integrate with third-parties using thousands of plugins (most of which incur ongoing costs), it can become exponentially more troublesome when deeper customizations are required. As Shopify is a hosted platform, no store owner or developer can actually edit the core of the site – only the template itself. For most store owners, this is not a problem, but for larger and more complex stores, it can prove a make-or-break point.

Magento, on the other hand, was built for the developer. It is an immensely powerful platform that fuels some of the largest eCommerce shops on the internet (think Olympus, Everlast, The North Face, Fiji Water, and more). Naturally, with this power comes a high degree of complexity. Rolling out a Magento-based website requires a development-heavy process, which can often last months. Though more technical and time-intensive, the trade-off is clear: Magento stores can integrate with anything, sell anything, handle any kind of UX, and truly do anything under the sun that is possible online. As the platform is open-source (self-hosted), a development team has access and control over every line of code on the site. Furthermore, the back-end interface for Magento 2 is vastly more usable than its predecessors, and can quite easily be managed by non-technical administrators.

We have established that Magento can run some of the largest, heaviest and most complex eCommerce stores on the internet. However, is that all it is good for? Absolutely not. There are many startups, small businesses and simple shops that prefer Magento for its flexibility, integrations and ultimate power. At the end of the day, a Magento website is truly an asset that is owned and controlled. A Shopify website is, in truth, a rented space.

Costs

The differences between Shopify and Magento don’t stop yet. In fact, the cost differential is quite significant – in both amount and structure.

Shopify, being a hosted service, is a monthly cost. The plans range from $29 to $299 per month, plus 0% to 2% per transaction. Most stores also require a theme, which averages $160, and at least one or two apps, which can easily range from $5 to $300 per month. Depending on a store’s requirements, a Shopify website can cost anywhere from $35 to $500 per month indefinitely, plus any theme customizations required by a developer.

Magento, being an open-source platform, offers a free license to use. That being said, the bulk of its costs are incurred in the initial development, with some ongoing maintenance and updates required afterward. While Magento stores have a much wider and much larger budget window, a typical range could see $30,000 to $100,000 for a full build (strategy, design and development), with a few hours of maintenance and support to be expected on a monthly basis following release. Due to the technical nature of Magento, most companies will often have an eCommerce development team in-house or on retainer to oversee its smooth management.

Ownership

This tenant is often overlooked in the choice of CMS and eCommerce platforms, though it is an important one to consider. Using a hosted platform, such as Shopify or BigCommerce, means the website and server itself are merely rented. While the content (images and copy) are produced and owned by the store owner, the website itself is at the whim of a Service Level Agreement. If Shopify goes out of business (which, admittedly, is not about to happen), so do all of its stores. As a self-hosted platform, Magento is entirely owned – and managed – by the store owner. For those who prefer ultimate control, like myself, a self-hosted choice is the more comfortable one. At the end of the day, greater ownership and control does come with greater responsibility…and costs.

Summary

While there is no single clear choice for every eCommerce proprietor, there is a clear choice for every single eCommerce proprietor. If a company’s operations are small, streamlined and its online needs are quite simple, then Shopify is quite likely the best fit by far. If a company’s operations are more complex, require specific integrations, or its online needs are more tailored, it is definitely worth looking into Magento. Either way, it’s always a good idea to have candid discussions with experienced eCommerce consultants who can help decide what is necessary, what is recommended, and what is overkill.