Is Shopify the answer to all of your enterprise e-commerce needs?
As more and more traditional retailers are going out of business (take Toys “R” Us , for example) after failing to revamp their online sales, the consumer focus is steadily shifting towards those outlets who have been more successful in selling online with lower margins. It has been a major trend of the past decade, give or take a few years, but it was only relatively recently that it became dead obvious that e-commerce had the hearts and minds of the public. Meanwhile, the software development industry has been on top of the game by providing businesses with the tools and products to facilitate this migration, and some vendors have managed to secure leading positions on the e-commerce market.
Table of content:
- Out-of-the-box functionality
- Visual customization potential
- Third-party integrations and extensions
- Business model and cost structure
- Ease of maintenance
- Magento support
- Defining the migration path: full switchover or Magento Shopify integration
- Exploring the new opportunities
Magento has been following its own evolution trajectory, both in terms of technology and the business model. Once created as a free, open-source e-commerce product, it offered users an unparalleled degree of flexibility and customization potential, which quickly brought it to the stardom and resulted in two successful acquisitions, the latest one by Adobe itself.
Originally developed in 2008 by Varien, a California software development company, Magento was supposed to become a fork of osCommerce, a then popular ecommerce platform. The developers were striving to make it more than just a script for selling products online, but a much more powerful and functional platform. Unfortunately, osCommerce lacked the flexibility they sought, so they eventually decided to build their own solution and offer it to customers. What was meant to be a refined version of osCommerce and a medley of the best bits and pieces of other ecommerce products eventually evolved into one of the world’s leading ecommerce platforms boasting an unrivaled marketing toolkit and a wealth of power features. The emphasis was made on the automation of the majority of business-critical workflows, customer retention, increased conversion, and other aspects of the sales funnel, as opposed to providing basic functionality with a polished storefront. This approach was received with great acclaim among potential customers and quickly set Varien on the track to success.
Created in 2004 in Ottawa, Canada, Shopify is the offspring of a small online shop built by three friends who were then looking for a way to sell snowboarding equipment online. Disappointed by the lack of affordable and easy-to-use e-commerce products, they opted for a custom solution that was written from scratch in just two months. Years later, Shopify is a public company operating one of the most popular SaaS e-commerce platforms in the world: the company has recently reported over 600,000 merchants using their product and over $0.5 bln in revenue. Despite the grand scale of its success, Shopify still seems to target the SMB segment, even in spite of having some high-profile companies on the customer list.
The product was built with simplicity in mind: little to no set-up efforts, ease of layout configuration, a selection of themes to choose from – all in a highly intuitive, drag-n-drop fashion. Since the early days, Shopify has grown to be something much bigger and more complex, but the overall focus seems to remain the same. It’s still about giving small businesses an opportunity to set up shop in no time, apply a theme, upload their inventory, connect a payment gateway and start selling without further ado.
However, what may be an advantage for one category of users may also turn out to be a serious shortcoming for others. In the article below, we will take a look at the top 10 reasons why larger enterprises may want to switch to Magento, Shopify’s closest rival, and what such a migration may entail.
Let’s take a look at the key differences between the products and identify the major reasons for abandoning Shopify in favor of its famous counterpart.
Although both products come with a complete set of basic ecommerce features that help get the ball rolling, Magento looks considerably more functional even in its base form. Here are a few examples of the things that Magento has and Shopify doesn’t:
- Unlimited inventory size
- Coupons and discount codes
- Multi-language support
Both systems can be considerably easily improved by adding the necessary extensions from corresponding stores, and that’s where Magento wins again with 5000+ free and paid extensions vs. a couple of hundred available for Shopify.
Shopify and Magento boast rich customization possibilities to address the needs of their diverse audiences. This applies both to their functionality and appearance. However, since Shopify is a SaaS product, it does not offer users as much leeway in modifying the look and feel of their online stores as does Magento. With the number of available Shopify themes pivoting around 100, you are limited to some fairly basic alterations through theme settings or slightly more advanced customization through the theme editor tool. Note, however, that you will first need to wrap your head around Liquid, Shopify’s own templating language.
Magento, on the other hand, is an open source product written in PHP/JS/HTML that offers full freedom of tweaking it to your needs or even rewriting some of its parts altogether if you know what you are doing. In most cases, you will need a professional coder/developer to work on your customization, but the result may be worth every cent you invested. The Magento store also comes loaded with hundreds of pre-made themes that can be used as-is or further modified to better fit your store’s functionality or corporate style.
Being a self-hosted, open-source product, Magento is the clear winner here. A proprietary solution wrapped in a SaaS packaging simply cannot be as flexible and customizable as something hosted on its own with all of its source code at the user’s fingertips.
Extensions provide a convenient way of improving the functionality of an online store. Developed by the authors of the underlying e-commerce engine, but most often by third parties, these little patches of code can potentially enhance the entire user experience and add features that the original team didn’t have the time or intention to implement. Both Shopify and Magento support extensions (or “apps” in Shopify’s lingo), but Magento unquestionably wins this race with more extensions (over 5000 in total – as opposed to around 200 available for Shopify) that are more complex and offer the kind of functionality that adds entire workflows to the store, not just small decorative elements or a few fields to the checkout form. Note that a huge fraction of extensions for both of these platforms is free to use.
The business model is also different. With Magento, you own the extensions you purchased and pay the full price right away. Shopify employs a different approach – you pay a fixed amount per extension per month, so every extension you add to your store increases your monthly store fee. This way, you may potentially find yourself in a situation where you’ll have to pay a hefty monthly fee even if your store isn’t doing very well – for example, due to a seasonal plunge in sales.
Magento comes in two major versions: Open Source and Commerce. The Open Source edition has been free to use right from the start (and was previously known as Community Edition or CE) and has pretty much all the bells and whistles that a typical store owner would want to have “out of the box”. The Commerce edition is tailored for large enterprises with hundreds of thousands of items in their stores and therefore has much more powerful indexing, caching, backup and inventory management tools. On top of that, many features that had to be added to the Open Source edition via extensions are already there in Magento Commerce as part of the standard package. For the purposes of this article, we will be looking at Magento CE only.
This said, the free Open Source edition clearly wins this Magento vs Shopify battle in terms of costs. There may be an initial investment into purchasing a theme and a few extensions, plus a decent hosting option, but other than the hosting, nothing is strictly required to launch your own store. Shopify, on the other hand, makes you purchase a particular subscription and pay for every commercial app or theme that you choose to add to your store – pay indefinitely as long as you keep using them.
Performance is tricky, as it largely depends on your products, their number, your storefront’s layout, and multiple other factors. From this perspective, Shopify, being a cloud solution, should take the lead thanks to the dynamic resource allocation. However, when entrusted into the right hands, Magento can also be tweaked for maximum performance even with a massive inventory and lots of complex extensions creating extra load on the database. Don’t forget that since you have access to all of its code, you or your development team can implement very low-level optimizations and fine-tune the store’s performance to your requirements. Finally, there are multiple extensions on the market that unlock the hidden potential of Magento CE by optimizing caching techniques, JS loading and execution, and fixing a number of bottleneck, which results in a smoother, faster and more enjoyable user experience.
Nothing can beat a cloud solution in terms of the ease of maintenance. As a Shopify shop owner, you don’t need to worry about upgrading your server, applying security patches, restarting services and such – all of the maintenance routines are performed by the operator of the platform. With Shopify, you can forget about server administration and focus on what’s most important for your business: growing your inventory and coming up with better marketing strategies.
Magento Open Source, being a hosted solution, requires you to keep your finger on the pulse of your server infrastructure at all times to ensure just the right level of performance, data security, and stability. Some may consider it a burden, but in reality, this degree of freedom enables you to troubleshoot performance issues with pinpoint accuracy and without having to wait for the support team to get back to you. In addition, you can implement complex database models with data replication, load balancing and other techniques aimed at securing your store’s data and ensuring smooth content delivery to your customers. Those who want to steer clear of round-the-clock store monitoring and concentrate on scaling up their business can opt for the powerful cloud-based Commerce edition that uses the PaaS (Platform as a Service) model and combines unparalleled performance, ease maintenance, and a slew of customization options in a single software package.
Magento is famous for its thriving global community of developers, manufacturers of extensions, and store owners seeking answers and offering recommendations based on their first-hand experience with the product. Magento forums are an exceptional source of Magento-related knowledge and so are multiple Magento events held in a number of countries each year. Unfortunately, Magento technical support is not available for the Open Source edition, but can be provided by competent third parties for a fee.
Shopify, on the contrary, is a SaaS solution that mostly relies on its professional technical support service, which has been praised by many as being nothing short of excellent. It’s hard to call the winner in this category, but if you have a team developing truly hardcode modifications of Magento Open Source, the abundance of valuable information in the community may play a much more important role in your long-term success than even the best technical support service for a proprietary product with no access to the code.
If you are an enterprise customer or a rapidly growing business with an ever-diversifying product portfolio, you are very likely to eventually grow out of Shopify – especially if you decide to implement some unique bits of functionality or customize your store to make it stand out of the crowd. In the right hands, Magento’s customization potential is nearly limitless. If you want to see how we compare against other companies find us DesignRush.
Switching from Shopify to Magento will require a skilled Magento development team that will be able to accurately import the data, map the fields, install missing extensions, convert certain data types and export everything, including content pages and media files, to Magento. This is a complex procedure that should be handled by someone who knows the target system like the palm of their hand and can get the job done as quickly as possible, without compromising the operation of your business. Yet another method of moving some of your sales operations (or part of inventory) from Shopify to Magento is to write a custom connector using a Shopify to Magento API.
Companies that take e-commerce seriously and intend to make it their key source of revenue for the long term can benefit greatly from switching to Magento. Extremely elastic and scalable, this product offers a wealth of tools for attracting, winning, and retaining customers either through bespoke components developed for a particular business/industry or hundreds of readily available extensions. Full code ownership, 24/7 infrastructure monitoring and access to the source code, near-infinite scalability, and full utilization of the e-commerce best practices – all of this makes Magento very special always ahead of the curve among its peers.
For more information about our Magento development and Magento customization services, please contact our sales team.
If you prefer to watch a more visualized comparison, please, enjoy the video.