Shopify vs Magento - a comparison of two leading e-commerce tools
Update: Magento have recently announced that they are shutting down Magento Go in early 2015. As such, new Magento Go accounts will no longer be available. As with our Bigcommerce vs Magento Go comparison review, we're going to leave this review up here however, so that anyone who is considering switching from Magento Go to Shopify can view a comparison of each tool. You may also wish to look at our 'Magento Go Shuts Down' article for a more in-depth discussion on Magento's decision to discontinue the 'Go' product and the alternatives now available to Magento Go store owners.
Wait! Which edition of Magento are we comparing to Shopify?
Doing a product comparison between Shopify and Magento is slightly complicated by the fact that there are three separate ‘editions’ of Magento: a free, open source ‘community’ edition; the ‘Go’ version (aimed at SMEs) and the ‘Enterprise’ edition, which is geared towards large businesses with very high volumes of sales. For the purposes of this comparison, I’m going to focus chiefly on the Magento Go edition, as it’s the product that is most comparable to Shopify and aimed at the same sort of user base.
In a Shopify vs Magento Go starter plan shootout, the Magento starter plan looks, on first glance, like the better value option: it provides users with 100 SKUs (product variants) for $15 per month as opposed to Shopify’s rather less generous 25 for $14 per month. But there’s a catch to consider with the Magento starter plan: bandwidth is limited to 4GB per month whereas Shopify provides unlimited bandwidth. This means that if you are selling digital products on Magento or attracting a lot of traffic to your store, then this might not be the solution for you. But if you are planning on selling quite a lot of physical products, Magento arguably offers better value than Shopify with its starter offering.
However, as you move up the pricing plan scale, you may find yourself drawn to Shopify’s plans over Magento’s, as they are far more generous with regard to the number of products you can sell. The Shopify ‘basic’ plan, for example, costs $29 per month and allows you to sell an unlimited number of products and provides unlimited bandwidth; Magento’s similarly priced ‘Go Anywhere’ plan ($25 per month) limits the number of SKUs to 500 and bandwidth to 8GB. Shopify is also much more generous with regard to file storage (the amount of space you have to play with for storing images, digital products and so on) than Magento.
There is one significant issue that you should be aware of with Shopify’s plans though: unless you are on its top-end offering, you are going to be charged a 1 to 2% transaction fee per sale (the amount depends on the plan you are on). This is a transaction fee that’s applied before any payment gateway costs are factored into the equation.
So, to cut a rather long story short, there are quite a lot of variables to play with when it comes to comparing pricing plans for Shopify and Magento Go, and you should proceed carefully: before you plump for one solution over the other, you will need to work out how many products you’re going to sell, how much bandwidth you need, how much file storage you require and whether you can live with the cost of transaction fees. And then of course there’s quite a lot of other things to consider too (like payment gateways, templates and ease of use – more on all those below).
Payment gateways for Shopify and Magento Go
A payment gateway is a service that you ‘plug in’ to your store in order to accept credit card payments. Both Shopify and Magento offer a good range of options here, but the options you get with Shopify are far more extensive – you can integrate a much wider range of payment gateways into your stores. On top of that, Shopify recently launched ‘Shopify Payments’ in certain countries – at time of writing, it is available in the US and Canada – which means that many users won’t have to bother plugging in a payment gateway to a Shopify store at all (note that Shopify Payments still involves a charge however – between 2% and 3% depending on your plan).
Each payment gateway solution involves a variety of plans and pricing options, so it’s advisable to compare a broad range of providers to work out what’s best for your requirements. Simply because Shopify currently allows you to integrate a wider range of payment gateways into your store – and also provides its own in the US and Canada – I feel its offering here is considerably stronger than Magento Go’s.
Templates for Magento Go and Shopify
A lot of the time, which e-commerce solution people plump for tends to boil down to the quality of the templates (or ‘themes’) offered – and their price. Both Shopify and Magento Go offer a few free templates out of the box, with the Shopify ones (to my eyes anyway) definitely being stronger in appearance: they are far more contemporary and slick in terms of look and feel. Of course, both Shopify and Magento Go allow you to customise your templates extensively, so you can always start with a free template that you are not 100% happy with and tweak it until you are satisfied with the results.
If customising free templates is not to your liking however, both products allow you to buy and install a wide range of additional templates from third parties. Prices vary by template, with paid-for Shopify templates costing between $80 and $180. Magento Go paid themes can be found for less – from my perusal, I found a few available which cost $49 (and with a more extensive search, you may well find some cheaper, due the open source nature of Magento Go).
When it comes to Shopify vs Magento Go templates, one thing which is definitely better about Shopify is its template store. It’s much easier to use, and you can browse themes by category, price and features; the Magento store only lets you browse by category (and clicking on a particular theme takes you to a third-party developer’s website, which can be a bit confusing).
The core functionality of Magento and Shopify is broadly comparable in that both solutions provide a straightforward way to sell products online, manage your inventory, calculate shipping and optimise your store for search engines. On top of that, various ‘add ons’ or apps can be added to enhance the feature set so that your store matches your exact needs. Because Magento started out as an open-source web application, it’s more flexible when it comes to customisation – so long as you are prepared to get more involved with the technical side of things.
There are three things that I think Magento Go is arguably better at than Shopify: offering your store in multiple languages, providing discount codes and integrating with Ebay. With the more expensive Magento plans, you get the ability to offer your store to users in a several different languages; Shopify does not, at time of writing, currently permit this ‘out of the box’ (although a third party company, Shopify Ninjas, have created a theme, ‘Bilingual’, which allows you to offer a store in two languages). As for discount codes, both Shopify and Magento offer them, but in the case of Shopify, only on the more expensive plans (Magento offers them as standard). Finally, Magento Go integrates extremely well with Ebay (unsurprising, as it’s actually owned by Ebay!) – you can manage both your Ebay store and your Magento Go store using one control panel.
Shopify comes up trumps for me in two key areas: its out-of-the-box blogging functionality and its interface. It offers blogging functionality as standard (and, as mentioned in my recent 'how to make an online store' article, regular blogging is simply one of the best things you can do to attract inbound traffic to – and sales from – your website). Although not as fully featured as say, a Wordpress blog, Shopify’s in-built blogging tool is a perfectly good for adding blog content to your site - it means that you don’t have to worry about using a third party blogging platform and branding it to match your store, creating a subdomain for it and so on. With Magento Go, you will have to resort to these kinds of workarounds if you want to blog on your store (and you definitely should want to!).
The other main area where Shopify has a strong edge over Magento is in its interface / content management system – this is discussed in more depth below but let us just say here that Shopify’s interface / CMS is streaks ahead of Magento Go’s and much easier to use.
Ease of use
For me Shopify is the hands down winner here – its interface is clean, minimal and, generally speaking, intuitive. Shopify can be a bit quirky when it comes to adding subpages to the navigation and adding content to certain pages, but on the whole it is very well suited for those who are new to site building. Its step-by-step / checklist approach to creating a store makes it relatively easy to get from a point where you have no products available online to launching a fully-fledged e-commerce store, and its content management system (CMS) makes maintaining your site very easy. Customising themes is also very easily done in Shopify – you can do a lot from the control panel without having to go near any code (and if you do go near the code, its 'liquid' programming engine is very easy to use).
Magento Go’s interface isn’t bad, but it feels more like a CMS system that more experienced web editors or developers would be comfortable with than a tool for small business owners who want to set up a store but have no experience of building or maintaining websites.
Which is better, Magento Go or Shopify?
As with many of my other side-by-side reviews of online store builders, the answer to this question is a resounding ‘it depends’. If avoiding transaction fees or integrating your store easily with Ebay are deal breakers for you, then Magento Go is probably a better option; if, on the other hand, ease-of-use, unlimited bandwidth and the ability to blog easily are vital features for you, then you’ll probably want to plump for Shopify. This is stating the obvious somewhat, but it’s a case of matching up your individual requirements carefully with the feature sets and pricing plans offered by both products.
Overall I would say that Shopify is best suited for business owners who want to set up an online store, but don’t have the skills or the budget to get bogged down in a web development project. Magento Go, with its open source heritage, is arguably a more flexible tool, but getting your store to where you want it to be will probably involve significantly more effort and time.
Thankfully, both products offer free trials (2 weeks in the case of Shopify and 30 days in the case of Magento Go). As with all my product comparison reviews, I suggest you try both out to before committing to one: