It's time for a round of eCommerce face-offs. In the red corner, with it's slick user interface and pretty themes, is Shopify. In the blue corner, the flexible, strong and easy-to-integrate...Magento!

Choosing the perfect eCommerce platform for your online business can feel like riding a baffling carousel of packages, features and identikit names. XCommerce this, YCommerce that. Fortunately, today we'll be sorting the men from the boys and pitting two huge platforms against each other to clear up your confusion and help you pick the perfect platform...

Magento_vs_Shopify

Introducing Magento

Now the property of eBay, Magento is an eCommerce staple. It's used by 11.91% of online retailers. This may sound like a tiny slice of the pie, but in reality that's a jaw dropping number of websites – within the hundreds of thousands. It's a relatively old kid on the block these days, with 6 years under its open-sourced belt. These “years of experience” have given the platform time to build up a strong community, plus plenty of free and paid extensions have been developed for you to play with.

Introducing Shopify

Pre-dating Magento is Shopify. This platform has been available to the public since 2006. It was developed in 2004 as the brainchild of a frustrated businessman-come-programmer. According to co-creator, Tobias Lütke: “What used to take months in 2004, can now be done in about 20 minutes” ... and that's precisely what Shopify exists to try and do: Make building a great looking online store quick, simple and effective for all comers, especially beginners.

The Playing Field

Magento and Shopify do compete against each other – but the complication is that there are multiple versions of Magento.

Perhaps the most fair comparison might have been Magento Go, intended for small businesses – the same user base that Shopify tends to attract. Magento Go is a hosted solution (you won’t need your own hosting) and comes with various “packages” to buy.

Magento also has a package available for more substantial businesses – Magento Enterprise (usually reserved for major brands), but this robust platform comes with even more features straight out of the gate; it’s unquestionably the more powerful solution.

Lastly, Magento offers a completely free and open source version, Magento Community. It’s a little different than the other comparisons you’ll read, but this is the version we’ll focus on.

Shopify, on the other hand, is a paid solution, with beginner plans at $29/month – and the most popular plan at $79/month. While the ongoing cost is a factor, what you’re really buying is simplicity and ease of use; basic storefronts and beginners will not need the help of a dev to get up and running with Shopify, so the cost of your store is spread out over the length of the time you’re on the platform. What you gain in ease, though, you lose in power; businesses who scale up beyond the capabilities of Shopify will be looking at assuming costs again when they try to transfer to a new platform.

Shopify and Magento both come with a number of identical features out-of-the-box including:

  • All the tools needed for good SEO
  • Good customer support and a strong, helpful community
  • Easy to use interfaces with no deep technical knowledge required
  • Total control over HTML and CSS
  • Discount codes and coupon engines

Round One: Features

It's difficult to draw a direct comparison between the features available from Shopify and Magento. While Shopify certainly comes with a more complete package straight away, Magento is easy and often free or inexpensive to build upon, giving it a level of power flexibility that Shopify just doesn’t have. If there is a drawback, though, you may find you need assistance from a designer and developer to hook up your Magento store with any of the extras you need, which adds the need to find a capable developer. There are many, though, and they’ll save you hours of time spent tinkering with features on your own.

Shopify, on the other hand, has a beautiful user interface which allows anyone to use the tools available with ease. You can get most things going in just a few clicks – even as a beginner. It's just a shame that Shopify’s tools are a little more limited.

Blogging

Both platforms have a few star features which win them popularity. For Shopify, a fully integrated, SEO-ready blog with a good CMS is a big draw. A blog can be added to Magento, but this will need to be done in the form of an extension which is a little more fiddly for beginners, but not a major barrier when working with a dev.

3rd Party Integration

Magento is incredibly easy to integrate with big sites like eBay so you can manage your online store and your eBay account from the same control panel (they are owned by the same company, after all). Magento also has easy integration with Google Analytics, Google Optimizer and other 3rd-party APIs that make it an incredibly diverse and powerful platform.

Shopify can accept over 70 different 3rd party payment gateways, and does have an API available for mashing up and customizing – though for that, you’ll once again need the help of a capable developer.

Products

Both Shopify and Magento come with unlimited products.

Magento is much-loved for its flexible approach to product options and it's advanced navigation filtering. The platform allows you to create bundles, grouped products, configurable products and layered browsing. Your customers can find exactly what they're looking for by sorting and searching as many categories as they choose.

SEO-Friendliness

Both Shopify and Magento have been built with SEO in mind; though Magento’s taken some iterations to get there. Regardless, you can run an SEO-friendly campaign on either one.

Customer Engagement and Promotions

Discount codes and a coupon engine are immediately available with the majority of Shopify packages. The more expensive Shopify plans then come with customer accounts, gift cards and plenty of other tools for boosting customer engagement.

With Magento you will need to add this functionality yourself, though this is rarely too taxing with the help of the community and wide range of extensions.

One of the big plusses for Magento, however, is the integration of cross-selling and upselling tools, taken from lessons learned by parent company eBay. You can quickly add features like “Other Products You Might Like” to increase your end sale values.

Reporting and Measuring

Shopify comes with home-grown reporting and measurement tools from the start; a nice tool for beginners and a clever means of delivering a more complete solution.

That said, Magento can be linked to your Google Analytics account in a heartbeat, leaving the platforms more or less square when it comes to reporting capabilities. You’ll be left a little to your own devices with Google Analytics (Shopify’s reports are more intuitive), leaving a bit of a learning curve disadvantage – but once you’ve mastered that, the data you can pull is far superior. Notably, any SEO or digital agency you choose to work with is going to want to use Google Analytics – not Shopify’s default reporting.

Round Two: Usability

It may compromise on flexibility and raw power, but Shopify refuses to compromise on usability. The platform is clearly designed to be anyone-accessible. The user interface is light years ahead of Magento's, the latter of which has a steeper learning curve.

This makes working with Shopify a very slick, good-looking and intuitive process - even for eCommerce beginners. Magento can be set up and used with very little knowledge of web design and development, but for more complex, custom work, you are likely to need the skills of a web developer (or a lot of patience). Shopify can get up and running in minutes, but Magento’s open source solution will take a few hours behind a keyboard to get right.

Shopify's checklist approach to website building, on the other hand, makes getting up and running a cinch for the uninitiated. If you want to customise a Shopify theme, but you're not ready to tinker with code, there are lots of alterations and changes you can make yourself without needing a single tag.

That's not to say that Magento's control panel is bad, it's actually very respectable. However, it is less flashy, less attractive and doesn't provide the same level of handholding available from Shopify – mostly because it wasn’t originally designed for a beginner’s audience.

Again, there’s the trade-off: Power for simplicity. If you’re planning to build your own site, Shopify may be the easier tool. But if you’re planning to build a future-proof, feature-rich site, you’d do better to consider Magento, even with its challenges.

Round Three: Pricing

It's time for the big money question. As mentioned, Magento is an open source and free platform.

Shopify's cheapest package starts at $29 per month for a small, starter package. Magento's equivalent At the other end of the scale, Shopify's biggest 'Unlimited' package will set you back $179/month – the cost for features like real-time carrier shipping and advanced report building.

It's important to look at what you'll get for these rates. Shopify offers unlimited bandwidth and unlimited products as part of all packages. However, it also charges transaction fees of 2.5% - 2.9% on all but the most expensive package. Magento has no transaction fees whatsoever – only those absorbed by whatever payment gateway you choose.

Themes are another cost consideration. Shopify premium themes can cost up to $150, for instance, although a number of great-looking free themes are included. You might also want to look into Shopify's small but growing number of paid for apps if you want extra functionality. Magento has a suite of free and paid themes; in both cases, you really tend to get what you pay for.

There are some extras you will need to pay for with Magento, including the cost of setting up alternative payment gateways which could put you back a few hundred dollars – plus the cost of hiring a web developer to make sure everything runs like clockwork.

If you're not ready to commit to a purchase, both Shopify and Magento offer free trials to help you make a more informed decision.

What's right for your business?

We might be eCommerce geniuses, but unfortunately, we're not mind readers. The suitability of each theme really depends on you, your skill set and your business.

For businesses with plenty of technical skill waiting in the wings – or businesses who anticipate wanting to scale up and grow with time, the flexibility of Magento is ideal. The open source platform gives you tonnes of freedom – and it's a favourite with web designers and developers. If you're planning to grow significantly online, Shopify isn't really built for big eCommerce sites, and while simple to use, comes with its own set of restrictions.

However, if your goal is to get your business online as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, Shopify could be your weapon of choice. Perfect for new ventures and those without much experience behind the wheel of an online store, it has everything you need to look the part and get to grips with managing your store behind the scenes.

At the end of a hard match, it's clear that Magento is the winner in terms of just how much is possible – particularly if you're serious about the future growth of your online business.