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Which eCommerce platform should I use? - Magento vs WooCommerce vs Shopify

Nat Fox

Regardless of whether you want to turn your physical store into an online solution or you have an existing site that you wish to upgrade/update to eCommerce, you’re here for the same reason: What is the best solution to make this a reality? In this ever expanding digital ocean, you have many options available to you, but more options can often complicate matters. Zeta has developed on many eCommerce platforms in its past including: ZenCart, Magento and WooCommerce. But in the interest of price classification, we shall be looking at 3 possible solutions:

  1. Magento - higher cost
  2. WooCommerce - medium cost
  3. Shopify - lowest cost

These platforms are our chosen leviathans for its respective price tiers. According to BuiltWith (2015) WooCommerce is the leading platform with a massive 30% of the total eCommerce usage across the entire internet. Followed by Magento with 8% and finally Shopify at 4%. As you can imagine these platforms are separated by cost because of their features and customisability. But which is right for you?

Magento

magento_logo Welcome to the purpose built, eBay owned, highly complex platform designed from the ground up to be eCommerce. Magento is realistically designed for businesses with a large product base that require complex catalog management. It is also our highest grade eCommerce service because of its sophisticated nature.

Here are a few examples sites that operate Magento:

Out-of-the-box, it offers more features than Shopify and WooCommerce. Features that many businesses would expect from their online store:

  • Simple products, complex products (item with variables such as size, colour etc), grouped products (combination of simple products), virtual products (not touchable items such as insurance, or a reservation), downloadable products (online software items such as MP3) and bundled products (products which are not to be sold separately)
  • Analytics, reports and dashboard
  • Sales and invoices
  • Shipping management
  • Multiple payment gateways
  • Customer management with export functionality for accounts, cashflow etc
  • Search
  • Reviews
  • Tags
  • Product Comparison
  • Wishlist

Plus many deeper features that you makes Magento stand out from the others:

  • Every product offers advanced shipping and tax rules which affects total prices from country to
  • country upon checkout.
  • Every customer has the option to opt-in to a newsletter signup available for custom sendouts.
  • Promotional option for discounts on your entire catalogue or shipping rules
  • Multi-store support: enables multi-lingual sites, as well as many appropriate designs of your store; such as a Christmas theme
  • Features are more expandable technically as Magento is based on an object orientated and model view controller convention.

For a full list of functionality, see here:

Magento_FeatureList.pdf Magento, much like Shopify and WooCommerce, has an expanding community with plenty of plugins, so if any functionality doesn’t exist, you can be sure that someone has created an extension for it. Unlike Shopify and WooCommerce however, Magento extensions are more easily customisable. Magento is open-source, so it’s freely available and may be redistributed and modified. This makes Magento completely free to download the Community Edition, there is a paid Enterprise Edition which gives you more choice around your hosting and server setup. As you can imagine, a magento site doesn’t come cheaply, it is not a do-it-yourself solution, therefore development is necessary. Because of its complexity development time is much longer than for WooCommerce and Shopify. It is also the heaviest platform which ideally requires a dedicated server with caching programs installed in order to make it run as smoothly as possible.

Here is an example of the admin for Magento sites:

magento_edit_img

Wereas Shopify and Woocommerce have relatively simple and attractive admin interfaces, Magento’s complex interface can look less attractive with a steep learning curve. But this is arguably unavoidable considering the complexities of Magento. Ideally, Magento is designed for larger companies looking for a complex, bespoke and extendable architecture. Because of this, it makes integrating your other web-based systems (such as an online accounts software) easier. Powerful unification such as this cuts out mundane business processes, which could save you time and money in the long run.
woo_logo

WooCommerce

WooCommerce is designed for small to large scaled businesses looking to extend their site into an eCommerce solution. Built on the famous Wordpress platform, Wordpress is not designed to be eCommerce out-of-the-box, but WooCommerce is a plugin that transforms your Content Management System (CMS) into a fully fledged eCommerce platform.

Here are a few example sites that operate WooCommerce:

Like Magento, WooCommerce has all the basic eCommerce functionality you may expect with an online store. It is also open-source and completely free. But it has an even bigger community with over 35,000 apps to bolt into your website. Generally, WooCommerce makes it easier to achieve a fully operational site out-of-the-box over Magento. Hosting and domains is still a hurdle, but after this, it could be used as a do-it-yourself solution. To aid this, there are free themes available from the WooCommerce community to provide your site with a skin to get you started. But this wouldn’t fully utilise WooCommerce’s potential. Where WooCommerce really shines is in its simple yet customisable environment. Pre-made themes mean you are stuck for choice, and chances are that somebody uses it as well. With custom development you can achieve a design that matches your branding. Because of Wordpress’ plugin architecture and template system, development is designed to be much more efficient by designing global layouts that structure pages (rather than designing every page individually). Such efficiency is translated directly into WooCommerce which makes development re-usable, and reusability means less cost for you as a client.

WooCommerce comes with a fantastic plugin community as previously discussed, but out-of-the-box it is still packed with great features. To highlight a few:

  • CMS - part of Wordpress
  • Basic customer management
  • Simple, downloadable and complex products
  • Analytics and reporting
  • Shipping management
  • Payment gateways
  • Blog (part of Wordpress)
  • Search
  • Reviews

WooCommerce isn’t shy of features and it’s customisability makes it easy to develop more complex functionality if necessary. With over 4 million downloads (WooCommerce 2014) and the greatest distribution, it appears to be the most successful. The admin (since Wordpress version 3.8 December 2013) also received a fresh look which gives WooCommerce an attractive interface:
woocom_img
Unlike Magento, WooCommerce is a relatively small application, so server load is reasonably low. Yet it is packed with lots of customisable features, but this doesn’t come without shortfalls: since WooCommerce is a plugin, it has to conform to the limits of Wordpress (a product is classed as a glorified post for example). Although the number of products isn’t necessarily an issue, managing large numbers of orders and huge product catalogue can be difficult. Wordpress was never designed to be a shop to handle orders, so the larger and more complex your products are, the more difficult you can find it. In regards to multi-lingual aspects, WooCommerce would require Wordpress plugins to make this possible. Larger companies with eCommerce in mind at the start of development may eventually stretch to the limits of WooCommerce’s capability, so a dedicated platform such as Magento may benefit them instead.
shopify_logo

Shopify

Finally, Shopify. In a nutshell: Shopify is a monthly payment platform designed for a small business with fewer products looking to create their own shop without an agency. It eases them into the world of eCommerce by offering an all-in-one package. This suggests that Shopify is basic, but don’t think it lacks in functionality. Shopify offers a powerful in-house closed platform solution with an attractive interface, here’s an example of Shopify’s Point Of Sale (POS) admin:


shopify_img

Out-of-the-box Shopify gives you a variety of the basic features found in WooCommerce and Magento:

  • Analytics and reports
  • Sales
  • Simple and complex product management
  • Customer management with export functionality for accounts, cashflow etc
  • Basic shipping

Like Magento and WooCommerce, there are plenty of bolt-on apps available from their app store to help. Both paid and free apps are available.

Here are some example sites that run Shopify:

So it appears that this little platform has some mighty features, but it isn’t that simple. As explained before, Shopify is a closed platform (opposite to open-source), this means that Shopify has complete control over your store - they own it. The positives of this approach is a less technical setup, which takes the hassle out of hosting providers and server setup as there is only 1 choice. This approach is also fully managed, so Shopify roll out releases/bug fixes. It is also available for Android, iOS and Windows as a handy app! Negatives of this approach: You have to host your website with Shopify, which isn’t free. A monthly cost is involved which is graded by products - the more products you have, the greater the monthly cost. Entry level starts at 25 products, but there is an emphasis on making you spend more as extra functionality is only available with higher grades (such as promotions). Another negative: It offers less choice - developing becomes tight, customisability of your store is limited to Shopify’s themes (based on the Liquid programming language). If Shopify doesn’t provide a theme which suits your business needs, then you will need to customise it with code (requires technical knowledge), and this really defeats the point of an all-in-one package. Also, Shopify does not offer full multi-lingual capabilities directly without customisation. Shopify is designed to be a bit of a do-it-yourself platform, but we have experienced on many occasions that a one size fits all solution is rarely the best choice. There will often be an element of customisability with your store that will require you to take your chosen theme a little further than its capability. A deeper understanding of the web may be necessary to make Shopify work for you.

Conclusion

Each platform serves different purposes which makes them equally relevant in the wild. But you need to decipher which class your business stands and how you wish to tackle your digital strategy. Depending on your goals, certain platforms may suit your needs better than others.

References BuiltWith (Aug 27th 2015) Statistics for websites using Ecommerce technologies, the entire Internet, [Online], Available: http://trends.builtwith.com/shop [Aug 27th 2015] Shopify (2015) Example of Shopify’s POS admin view, [Online], Available: https://docs.shopify.com/assets/images/manual/customers/customers-new.png?1438979113 [Aug 5th 2015] SmackCoders (2015) Example of WooCommerce admin view [Online], Available: https://www.smackcoders.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/product.jpeg[Aug 12th 2015] WooCommerce (Aug 6th 2014) WooCommerce Growth Revisited: Four Million and Counting [Online], Available: http://www.woothemes.com/2014/08/woocommerce-growth-revisited-four-million-counting/ [Aug 12th 2015] AlanStorm (2011) Example of Magento’s admin view [Online], Available: http://alanstorm.com/2011/img/google-sitemap.png [Aug 12th 2015]