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Shopify vs Magento: Which Is Better?

  • Written By Andy
  • Posted August 15, 2017
  • 7 minutes Read Time

Shopify vs Magento: which one is for you?

It’s about time we gave you our opinion on Shopify vs Magento and which one you should choose when you’re setting up in sales – it doesn’t matter if you have your eye on a market stall, a multi-floor retail outlet in a prime location, or a basic eCommerce website; you still need to consider many of the same important issues. Getting up and running, staying afloat, and growing in business, all take forethought, business planning and investment of time, effort and money.

However, in terms of eCommerce you’re spoilt for choice as the likes of Shopify and Magento both offer great value and functionality for online trading, even when you’re starting out. They are both tried and tested names with great reviews across the board, so it can be tricky to know which option to go for when you’re launching out into online sales. To help throw some light on Shopify vs Magento, let’s consider the journey you’d face if you were setting up a physical shop.

So here you are, about to storm the market with a new quality range of 6 inch Simon Cowell dolls you’ve imported from Japan. You haven’t yet come up with a definitive brand name for these Simonettes but you have official certification to confirm they’re environmentally friendly, tested by NASA, and a potential cure for the common cold, so you have a great feeling about this unique sales opportunity.

With a stock of 1000 mini-Simons to shift and no time to lose, you decide it makes sense to start selling this coming Saturday morning at 8.30am, from a large store on Oxford Street. You make this bold choice because of the apparent success of the neighbouring stores, the high footfall in the area, the kudos of this famous address – plus your Granny always told you to think big. So you pack the X Factor Action Men in the back of your van and drive off to central London to seek your fortune.

Sadly, it turns out (who knew!) that retail space on Oxford Street is the best part of £200k per year to lease. You’d have to part with around 120 SimCows every 10 seconds, or charge £8000 a throw, to have a chance of breaking even. Tragedy. Perhaps you’re not cut out for sales after all.

Which is better? Shopify vs Magento

However, all is not lost. You spot a friendly sign for a car boot sale just around the corner so you slam your car into reverse and transport your Simogotchis along to the local park instead. Good choice. The set-up time is a breeze – mere minutes – unlike the weeks and months required for a serious move onto Oxford Street. The selling experience is a no-brainer too; stall space is allocated for you, and the friendly organisers are always on hand to help with any queries. You have limited but adequate scope for laying out your stock, and more importantly, there are readymade facilities that mean you can easily handle credit card payments. With all this support in hand, you can concentrate on becoming a heavyweight in the Cowellini industry and leave the techie stuff to the techies. Sorted!

Time passes, and after a few months of successful trading you’re enjoying the buzz of the retail experience, although the limitations of your car boot plot are starting to hit home. You want more options and choice as you move towards business expansion. You don’t want to be tied to this location or to have to stick with the ideas everyone else is using. Pitches here are a set size and there’s only so much frontage to any car boot stall, which means that people walk past the plots fairly quickly without much time spent browsing.

You need to make your mark and stand out from the crowd, but there’s only limited scope. It’s time to move onwards and upwards. Where next?

The Comparison: Shopify or Magento?

In broad terms, Shopify and Magento Go (the entry level of Magento) are what we might think of as the car boot type opportunities, in that they allow small businesses to start online trading pretty much out of the box. There are templates and themes to get you started, some scope for customisation, and help on hand if you’re struggling. Choosing between the two depends on your priorities and preferences: Shopify’s bandwidth is unlimited, while with Magento you’ll have to pay extra if you’re selling digital products or expect high levels of traffic.

Magento allows discount codes as standard, while Shopify only introduces these in higher level plans. Shopify offers more file storage, which is helpful if your site contains lots of graphics. Magento integrates seamlessly with eBay through one single control panel. Some reviewers believe that Shopify pips the post in terms of ease of use and aesthetic design, although the average cost of themes is somewhat higher than Magento’s. If you are looking to add blogging to your eCommerce store, the functionality is built into Shopify without the need for the workarounds that are necessary in Magento Go.

But when comparing these two eCommerce tools, it’s important to remember that Magento Go is only the start of the story. So many comparisons on the web between Shopify and Magento miss the key point that Magento is a brand with a range of products where Shopify is just one. At the point when you need to expand – increase your branding presence or functionality – you’ll discover that Shopify is proprietorial. In other words, upgrading your eStore will mean starting from scratch elsewhere. Now this is where Magento really comes into it’s own because, picking up the story where Shopify finishes, is Magento Community Edition.

To explain the term ‘proprietorial,’ a good analogy would be that a Shopify store is like renting a property. You never actually own it, in fact you could pay more in the long term with bills and commissions whilst never benefiting from its rise in value by selling up and moving on, as you could if you owned it outright. What’s more, you can’t expand it. Yes, you can make a few cosmetic changes and add some minimal enhancements to functionality, but there will always be limitations.

Magento Community Edition is different. It’s like owning your own property complete with all the planning permissions you’ll ever need. It’s called ‘community’ because, although the framework was created by Magento, it has been perfected by a community of thousands of developers around the world who have all pitched in to make it the most robust commerce solution available, with countless tried and tested plugins to take your site to the next level and way beyond. With Community Edition, the sky really is the limit.

So the next time you hear someone comparing Shopify with Magento, double check they’re making a distinction between the basic Magento Go version and the incredibly versatile Community Edition. Here’s a summary of the fundamental differences between all 3 products:

Shopify for eCommerce
Great basic starter package with limited functionality, although you’ll always effectively be renting the store without ever owning it.
Magento eCommerce
Offers a greater list of plugins and functionality than Shopify, but again, you never own the store.
Magento eCommerce Solutions
Owned by you with access to a growing list of 1000s of plugins. Fully scaleable to any business requirements from start up shop to high street store, with multiple departments and outlets.

The basic message for Shopify vs Magento is clear – think wisely about where you set up camp. The phrase ‘location, location, location’ still applies even to virtual online stores. It makes little business sense to have to go through the expensive and time-consuming faff of having to move elsewhere and start over just as things are picking up and you need scalability and to want to take advantage of the latest efficiency-enhancing technology.

We’re the Magento eCommerce experts and our team have nearly a decade of experience building high quality online stores that deliver results, so if you had to push us for an answer, we’d back Magento over Shopify – but we’re obviously just a little biased!