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June 8, 2016

Shopify or Magento: Which e-Commerce Platform is Right for My Business?

E-commerce |Magento |Shopify |Industry

Selecting the most suitable e-Commerce platform for creating, managing and maintaining an online store is of a critical importance. It can be a contributing factor for either the success or failure of your business. This particularly rings true for start-ups and smaller businesses since they can often have limited resources and budgets. In this article we will do our best to give you the information you need to make that all important decision that will facilitate the growth of your online store.


As a full service design agency who are Shopify Experts and have a team of skilled Magento developers we are often asked a number of similar questions at the start of an ecommerce website project:

  • What is the difference between Shopify and Magento?
  • Why should I consider using one over the other?
  • Will Shopify or Magento restrict the visual appearance of my site?
  • Will Shopify be able to grow with my business or should I invest in Magento from the start?

These are all understandable questions to ask but the answers to them can vary and ultimately boils down to the circumstances of the business and the platform that best suits them at the time.
Magento is often perceived as the largest enterprise e-Commerce platform available, used by global brands such as Samsung, Nike and Paul Smith to name but a few. On the other side of the coin you have Shopify, which has established itself as a leading solution for start-ups and small businesses in particular. However, with rapid improvements to the core Shopify offering as well as Shopify Plus, world renowned brands are also getting aboard the Shopify train including Budweiser, Tesla, Red Bull and Herschel, making it a perfectly viable option for any business regardless of size. There are, however, two fundamental differences between the two:

  • Shopify is a hosted solution, whereby your store is hosted by them for a fixed monthly fee.
  • Magento Community Edition (CE) is free but requires you to provide the hosting. You then require the expertise of a Magento Developer to install, setup and configure the Magento platform before being able to create your online shop.

Regardless of the decision you make every online store will have similar functional requirements in order to be a success online, so before getting into how each platform compares, take a look at the key things you need to be aware of before starting any new ecommerce project:

Your Online Store Checklist

  1. SSL certificate for checkout
    The little green padlock you see in your web browser when buying online reassures your customers that your store is safe and secure.
  2. PCI Compliance
    Every online shop must be PCI compliant, this means your store must be secure enough to protect customer data being stored on your server. This process can be subject to security testing to ensure your store is fully compliant. Read this PCI Compliance guide for more information.
  3. Payment Gateway
    This is used to process customer payments and we would recommend popular solutions such as SagePayStripe or Shopify’s own payment gateway. These are subject to transaction fees.
  4. Hosting
    The server you choose to host the online shop on must be of a high enough specification that it can comfortably support the volume of visits and customers you expect even during your busiest periods. You must also ensure that your hosting provider can guarantee 99.99% uptime, offer a backup service and that you can budget for future server upgrades and security patches as and when they are released.

Design: The visual appearance of your online shop

Rightly so the visual appearance of the online shop is a huge priority for our clients but there is really nothing to worry about here. Aesthetically anything is possible with both Shopify and Magento with each as equally flexible as one another. At BAO, we only work with those platforms that give us the greatest flexibility to create the most unique and effective designs for our clients. Such is our attention to detail, we simply wouldn’t work with either Shopify or Magento if this wasn’t the case.

Setup, Hosting & PCI Compliance

Running and setup costs are aspects that cannot be overlooked when budgeting for an online shop and like with any website each platform has a varying degree of upfront and ongoing costs associated with them.

We’ve briefly touched upon Magento’s setup process but lets tackle this, the biggest comparison people make between both Magento and Shopify. Bottom line, Magento places much more responsibility for the operation of your online store on you (the store owner) and/or your development agency. Remember that checklist? Well with Magento you or your development agency will need to ensure each item has been setup correctly so that your store is safe, secure and importantly, PCI compliant. Most development agencies worth their salt, will be able to get this setup on your behalf, however its important to budget for this volume of work from the off and allocate a longer timeline for development.

It’s recommended that you put in place a maintenance agreement with your development agency that stipulates that all store operations such as server management, monitoring and security updates are taken care of as and when they are released, giving you the peace of mind that your customer data is being looked after.

One of the biggest advantages that Shopify has over Magento is that it takes care of that checklist straight out of the box. This includes hosting, server management, security updates and Level-1 PCI compliance. You won’t need to do anything else. Shopify even offers a free SSL certificate for your store as part of your plan so you don’t even have to buy this either. Their award winning support combined with their daily backup service for your store also means that should the worst happen and your store goes offline then the Shopify 24/7 support team will get it back up and running in no time. Support for Magento stores depends on the support plan you have taken up with your chosen hosting provider.

Costs

Hosting

Shopify offer a range of pricing plans from $29 to $299 that include hosting your store as standard together with a varying range of other features you can take advantage of, from fraud analysis and 24/7 support to abandoned cart and gift cards. With Magento you’ll be required to provide your own hosting, which often carries its own monthly cost of around £500 p/m for a tailored hosting solution for medium sized websites.
Transaction fees

Depending on the payment gateway you choose fees can vary from 0% – 3% regardless of the platform you choose. This is a standard, unavoidable cost that the payment gateways put in place as standard. Shopify, however does offer its very own payment gateway that doesn’t impose any transaction fees.

SSL

Depending on the level of security you require, annual costs for SSL certificates can vary depending on the issuer. You’ll be able to purchase them for as low as £6.99p/y from some providers and £99p/y from others. There are many variants available but always look out for those certificates that will display a green padlock next to your web address. This is a common visual identifier for customers that enforces the key message that your store is safe and secure.

Using Magento and Shopify – What do they look like?

This is often overlooked, but the bottom line is, that you and your team are the folks who will be using your chosen platform on a day to day basis, managing orders, adding new products and talking to your customers. Therefore it should matter what it looks like and how easy it is to use.

Shopify Admin

Shopify Admin

Both platforms will take a degree of getting used to and most design agencies should provide training as standard regardless of the platform. Out of the box the Magento admin panel can look intimidating to the untrained eye and can take a while to get your head around but the good news is that this entire backend can be re-skinned to be much more enjoyable and easier to use.

Magento Admin

Magento Admin

Shopify on the other hand is locked down and you are unable to change its appearance but suffice to say its much more welcoming, user friendly and provides an in-depth overview of your stores performance, something Magento lacks.

So, what platform is right for me?

Historically, the deciding factor here would not only be budget, but, is there anything outside of Shopify’s limitations, i.e. complex external integrations that require consideration with your e-Commerce store. We would point out, contrary to this, that there are now an ever decreasing volume of reasons supporting this argument these days as Shopify continue to add feature sets to its product and third party applications that cover the majority of other possible required features.

The volume of work and budget you have to consider when working with Magento can often scare people away from using it, however its important to point out that it does still provide some flexibility that Shopify simply cannot offer. Complete customisation of the administration panel, and advanced custom integrations with only development acumen as the limiting factor.

Here are some important questions you should ask yourself when choosing the platform that is right for you:

  1. What level of sales do I plan to achieve in the first 24 months of launching my new e-Commerce website?
    – Does my cashflow forecast allow for the larger initial outlay and associated monthly costs of Magento?
  2. Does Shopify allow me to launch my e-Commerce store with all the functionality I require or do I have some very specific requirements that only Magento will be able to serve?
  3. What is my timeline for development of my new e-Commerce website?
    – Typically a completely custom store front with one or two advanced integrations on both platforms will be as follows, from design to launch:

    • – Shopify – 4 – 8 weeks
    • – Magento – 8 – 14 weeks

You can tell immediately by its tone of voice, marketing and jam packed theme & app stores that Shopify’s aim is to encourage small business owners & entrepreneurs to get their stores setup themselves without any technical expertise needed. Thus you might say that Shopify does provide a much quicker route to market. However, with Magento’s rich feature set and ability to be customised in any way imaginable it does allow you to evolve your store into a layered selling channel that offers more leverage for backend extensibility (plugging into internal warehouse, stock and fulfilment systems). If you’re setting out to achieve full enterprise level e-Commerce, Magento will allow you to fully customise every imaginable element of your system. Shopify doesn’t prevent this but you may have to compromise a little when implementing certain back end features.

With the right designers both solutions can look stunning and make your brand truly shine, but deciding the right platform depends on more than just how your store looks. Like with any industry, to set yourself apart from competitors you really need the skills and knowledge of a Shopify Expert or Magento Developer to get the best results, you only need to check out Shopify’s annual design awards to figure that unique and clever design will help increase conversion and make your brand truly sing.

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