With the Magento 1 official End of Life date announced, M1 merchants are at a crossroads. Stick with Magento 1 Community Edition using open source, upgrade/migrate to Magento 2, WooCommerce or jump ship to a SaaS eCommerce platform like Shopify or BigCommerce. So it’s a good time to re-evaluate the field of eCommerce platforms and see whether a new platform might be a better fit for your eCommerce company or maybe you should just stick with what you have.
Shopify has a lot of name recognition right now since they’re a fast-growing publicly traded company and they’re investing heavily in aggressive sales tactics. A great thing about Shopify is that it has a very low barrier to entry. Their plans start at just $29/mo and they have a 14-day free trial. They have a friendly user interface so its very easy to set up a basic store in no time at all and they have a great marketplace of apps and integrations. For people who are starting an eCommerce business from scratch, I almost always recommend Shopify because you can start on your own and as your business matures and you want more custom theme development, custom apps, SEO, or integrations we’re able to help. We do a lot of Shopify development, but if you want to also look at alternative agencies, DesignRush has a great directory of other Shopify agencies as well.
For more mature eCommerce businesses that already have an existing site on a platform like Magento 1, it’s not such a clear-cut decision to switch to Shopify. Although Shopify’s theming engine does have a lot of flexibility on the frontend design of the site because Shopify is a Software as a Service (SaaS) product their backend/admin customizations are extremely limited. For some merchants that’s fine and they can work within those limitations so it’s a very affordable option. For other merchants, some of their backend customizations are so core to their business (like a prescription pet medication website) and Shopify just isn’t a viable option because it can’t do what they need it to do.
Shopify Plus is Shopify’s attempt at an enterprise solution and their salespeople will try to convince you that whatever your business size is or will be in the future, you need Shopify Plus. And Shopify gives Shopify Partners a referral commission so they also have a vested interest in selling you the most expensive plan, even when you probably don’t need it. They don’t publish it anywhere on their website, but Shopify Plus starts at an astronomical $2,000/mo. They also don’t do a direct feature comparison, but Shopify Plus is essentially just another tier of the regular Shopify plans. I always recommend businesses start with one of the regular Shopify plans and if in the future, you feel like some of the Shopify Plus features are worth an extra ~$24,000/yr then you can easily upgrade. However, once you’re on Shopify Plus, you’re locked into at least a 1-year contract. I’ve met a few merchants that were sold on Shopify Plus when they started and eventually realized that they weren’t actually using any of the Plus features or the 1 or 2 features they were using didn’t justify the price tag and downgraded as soon as their contract expired.
BigCommerce and Shopify are pretty similar when it comes to SaaS ecommerce platforms. BigCommerce’s regular plans have almost identical pricing to Shopify’s. Where the platforms diverge is that BigCommerce has a few additional features built into the platform and Shopify has a much more extensive App Store. In general, I think since Shopify has had so much success in the past few years it’s a better long term bet than BigCommerce, but if you’re already on BigCommerce I wouldn’t recommend moving to Shopify or Magento right now.
WooCommerce is actually just a plugin for the famous blogging/CMS platform, WordPress. I’ve often referred to WooCommerce derogatorily as an eCommerce platform “bolted onto” a CMS platform. For companies that have an existing WordPress website and want to sell a few products on the same site, WooCommerce is a fine solution. But as you scale and grow your business you might find it lacking in the integrations, apps/plugins arena, and performance. Since it’s built on WordPress you can take advantage of a wide array of WordPress plugins, but the WooCommerce specific plugins and integrations are not extensive as Magento or Shopify.
Magento 2 Open Source
In the Magento 1 days, the naming was pretty simple, there were two versions of Magento 1: Magento 1 Community Edition (CE) (free) and Magento 2 Enterprise Edition (EE) (paid). Now the free version is named Magento 2 Open Source. Magento 2 has been in development for years and it 2.0 was officially released in November 2015. After the initial release of 2.0, the general consensus in the development community was that 2.0 was too unstable and a lot of agencies (Netalico included) postponed migrating or launching new merchants until 2.1 was released in June 2016 that was much improved. The latest version, 2.3.1, is vastly improved both from a feature and bug-fix perspective and has a lot of out of the box cutting edge features like multi-source inventory.
The great thing about Magento, in general, is that it has basically unlimited flexibility because its an open source product where you have complete access to all the code of your site. It also has an extremely active open source development community that is very instrumental in contributing bug fixes and major features, like multi-source inventory, and developing extensions at a pretty reasonable fixed cost (as opposed to monthly fees like Shopify or BigCommerce apps). A lot of merchants and developers on Magento 1 know and love that support from the greater Magento development community.
Magento 2 Commerce (Cloud)
As Adobe recently acquired Magento, Inc, the name of their enterprise product has gotten even more confusing. As of 4/28/2019, I believe the conventional naming is Magento 2 Commerce and it is part of the Adobe Commerce Cloud. A Magento 2 Commerce license starts at around $20,000/yr and goes up depending on your sales volume. Magento has also gotten into the hosting game in the past few years and so they offer a “Cloud” product, where they combine hosting and the yearly license. The value and reliability of their hosting is a hotly debated topic in the community, where publicly Magento partners will sell and praise Magento Cloud, but privately tell horror stories of downtime and issues. One of the great things about Magento is that if you’re not happy with your hosting company, you can just pick a new one, but with Magento 2 Commerce Cloud your Magento license and hosting are locked in.
Magento 2 Commerce is based on the same code as Magento 2 Open Source so its the same product, but with some official features added. The reality is that you can get equivalent extensions to provide these features at a fraction of the cost. The other components of Magento 2 Commerce different from Open Source is that it includes official support from Magento. Unfortunately, the actual support provided has become increasingly slow and generally unhelpful over the past few years where you might wait weeks for a ticket to be answered or a bug to be fixed. Fortunately, if you encounter an issue on the Open Source version, you don’t have to wait for Magento support because some other developer has probably fixed it on GitHub.
With all these issues, one wonders why a lot of merchants, particularly SMB merchants, choose the paid version. Likely the reason for this is that official Magento partners have yearly sales requirements in order to keep their partnership. Being an independent agency and not subject to those requirements, we rarely recommend Magento 2 Commerce over Magento 2 Open Source to merchants, except in rare circumstances (like B2B merchants), and we’ve migrated a few sites off of Magento 2 Commerce onto Magento 2 Open Source.
If you don’t think that Shopify has sufficient customizability or the new features of Magento 2 justify an upgrade right now, I would just recommend you stay on Magento 1 for a few more years. As I’ve discussed in other articles, there’s sufficient independent development support for the platform that it will be maintained by the Magento open source community for years to come and because it’s been out for so long it’s very stable from a performance and bug standpoint.
There’s a smaller number of other players out there like Squarespace, Square, 3dcart, Kibo, and PrestaShop that unless you already use those platforms for something else in your business, I wouldn’t recommend using their eCommerce solutions. The reason being, that because they have limited adoption, the potential for them making drastic changes or even shutting down in the near future is higher than you want to risk. There’s a graveyard of dead eCommerce platforms over the last decade.
If you have any questions about any of these solutions, if you’re interested in getting assistance with a migration, or need help maintaining/developing your Magento 1 site, let us know!
Also published on Medium.