Loyal readers of Ecommerce Income already know that I am a long-time user of Magento. I built up my online stores on the platform years ago, kept on developing them, expanded my business abroad and now operate a modest “ecommerce empire” spanning half of Europe and multiple stores. I love Magento for how customizable it is. We can make it to exactly fit our needs.
But still: I’ve been saying that if I would start anew, I would perhaps not use Magento but instead opt for one of the SaaS providers. Because with Magento you need a lot of work “constructing” your store, while a provider like Shopify literally allows you to set up a store in as little as an afternoon – as I found out during my test.For the benefit of the starting ecommerce entrepreneur, I will today outline a few reasons why I would choose Shopify – or indeed stick with Magento. But to start this comparison, first something on how they are both really different in essence.
The Main Difference Between Magento and Shopify
Magento is so-called open-source software. This means that the code is public and everyone can work on it. Magento has a very lively and active community of developers and users. This means that everything can be made and customized, exactly according to your needs. It also means that if you choose for Magento, that you have to download it and install it yourself. You also have to take care of the hosting.
Shopify, on the other hand, is a Software as a Service (SaaS) provider. This means that you can never download the software and that it never becomes your property, not even in the form of a licence. Shopify’s code is not public, although there are a lot of developers who work for them to create third-party apps and extensions. This means that your online store is, once you have selected a plan, ready-to-use. You only have to adapt the design to your taste and needs and enter your products. It also means that it is less flexible than Magento.
To learn more about the difference between open source and SaaS, read this article.
I didn’t compare Magento and Shopify before for a reason. To a certain extent, comparing Magento and Shopify is similar to comparing oranges and apples. A lot of readers, however, have indicated that they are doubting which one to choose from exactly these two. Moreover, by comparing these two, it will also become clearer what the “apple” and the “orange” are like by contrasting them to each other.
Magento may look cheaper than Magento. After all, you can download it for free, while you need to pay a monthly subscription fee from 29 USD per month up to 179 USD per month for Shopify. You shouldn’t forget, however, that Magento needs to be installed and configured before you can accepting sales. With Shopify that is way easier – and cheaper. Unless you are a Magento specialist yourself, you will easily spend what amounts to 2000 USD per year, with the first investment quickly amounting to 5000 USD. See our detailed article here on Magento costs. These numbers are based on the costs of hosting and setting up your online store, as well as a biannual update.
I will discuss the customizability of Magento and Shopify below as well, but don’t forget that with Shopify, to make a store that suits your needs, you will likely need to add a lot of apps and extensions, many of which have high montly fees as well. So make sure to include all those costs in your personal comparison. Check out this article to see what is included in Shopify out of the box – and what not.
Setting up and Design
As already shortly outlined above, with Magento you need either a lot of in-house knowledge of Magento, or you have to hire a specialist to do the job for you. You will also need quite some time.
With Shopify, you will be up and running in a matter of days instead of weeks, and you don’t necessarily need to hire a specialist – that is, if you don’t have any particular needs that Shopify doesn’t offer.
The product page of the Shopify store I made in an afternoon. Checkout this page for more info
Shopify looks pretty good in terms of design, which even goes for some of the free templates. It is really possible to have a good looking Shopify store online within a week. This is not the case with Magento.
Customizability and documentation
Magento is king when it comes to customizability. This is because of the fact that the software is open source. There is a solution for pretty much any possible issue with Magento. There is a huge community and chances are big that your issue has come up before – so when you search the forums you will often find your question along with the solution to it in the same discussion thread.
Shopify is not as customizable but it does lead the way in the accessibility of the documentation. Shopify is really user friendly and it is pretty easy to navigate around the tons of documentation and education (“Shopify Ecommerce University”) material they have for you online.
Ready for Future Expansion? Some remarks on Magento vs. Shopify
Shopify has over the last two or so years argued that their ecommerce software solution is as scalable as Magento is. They have an enterprise solution called Shopify Plus. They claim it is cheaper than other solutions and as scalable, letting you focus on your business instead of on your software. I doubt it is as scalable as Magento is. I don’t have experience with Shopify Plus though, but I can still give one major reason why I don’t explore it as an alternative:
At the moment I am migrating my online stores from Magento 1 to Magento 2, which is such an extensive update that I couldn’t just update my stores, I had to migrate them. This could have been the moment that I migrated to a SaaS solution instead.
For me SEOshop would be the more logical choice over Shopify in this case, because of the geography where I work (see here for a comparison of SEOshop and Shopify, and see here why I consider SEOshop as the best solution for Europe). But for the issues I’d have with SEOshop, Shopify is very similar. It boils down to this: I have more than a dozen online stores in six countries. In Magento, I can easily share the product and stock data across stores. It is not possible to do this natively in any of the SaaS solutions yet. Perhaps it is possible to come up with a solution with all kinds of plug-ins and extensions, but for the sake of speed and reliability I stick with Magento for the forseeable future.