Rather Cut to The Chase?
THE REAL DIRT
Before we get to the detailed comparison, we’ll tell you flat out: Shopify is a better solution for most businesses running an ecommerce operation. At P3, we’ve built websites on every major platform for clients in fashion, wellness, banking & beyond. In our experience, whether you’re a single-operator business with big dreams, or an enterprise-level brand focused on maximizing market share, these four facts are etched in stone:
And while all replatforming projects involve careful coordination between businesses and their agency partners, in many cases, migrating from Magento 1.X to Shopify or Shopify Plus is more straightforward than migrating from Magento 1.X to Magento 2. If you’re tech minded, feel free to compare the replatforming guides issued by Magento and Shopify earlier this year to see exactly why. (Be warned: you will need eyedrops.)
So why read the guide?
Shopify V. Magento Market Share
Before we rip the hood off of each platform, let’s explore which the ecommerce marketplace prefers. While market share isn’t a referendum on which platform is better per se, (remember VHS vs. Betamax?), it is a strong indication of which consumers find more convenient and cost friendly (um, remember VHS vs. Betamax?).
Data from builtwith.com, current as of 4/17/20
If you have difficulty parsing the data points above, it helps to read them like this: Within the set of the internet’s top 10,000 websites by traffic, 21% of those currently using ecommerce solutions are on Shopify, while 13% are on Magento.
There’s an ancient industry talking point that goes like this: “Shopify is a great solution for small merchants, but only Magento offers the setup & features that large stores and brands need.” In fact, if you’ve recently Googled the term “Shopify” (maybe to dig up precisely the kind of article you’re reading now), chances are you’ve also read at least one, “Why is Shopify bad?” piece authored way back in 2016 or 2017.
However, as you can see from the chart above, in 2020, ecommerce operations of all sizes overwhelmingly prefer Shopify to power their stores. Does this mean that Shopify is the right platform for your business? Not necessarily. But it does mean that more businesses that look like yours have weighed similar considerations to your own, and have ultimately chosen Shopify over Magento.
Here, for instance, is Peter Georgiou--P3 client and founder of the fashion retailer Grayers--discussing why he decided to migrate his growing business from Magento to Shopify.
“Slick edit, but what about content management?” We see your vexed tweets, impeccably coiffed designers, and it’s a fair question!
Data from W3techs.com
As you can see, Shopify’s CMS is now used more widely than Magento’s, though we’ll add the giant caveat that usage rates for both platforms are much lower than for WordPress and Drupal, which are still the kings of CMS from an adoption standpoint. In fact, many larger sites built on Shopify and Magento's checkout capabilities still use WordPress or Drupal to handle content. This is because neither Shopify nor Magento currently offer the enterprise-level, killer tool for content management that would make a more elegant solution viable. Shopify made progress in 2017 when they introduced the Launchpad scheduling feature to the Plus version of their CMS, and Magento followed suit in 2019 with their Page Builder tool. However, Magento’s tool doesn’t include blog support, and doesn’t support the insertion of dynamic or rich content.
In other words, don’t expect either platform to excel at more than the basics in the near term (though we'll point out that we published this post using the Shopify CMS). If your content management requirements are complex and you have a little extra coin, third party CMS solutions like Shogun will have you building beautiful pages on either platform in minutes.
Hosting & Security
It’s an open secret in the ecommerce world that Magento-powered websites have historically been more vulnerable to cyber-attacks than others. This is largely because Magento 1.X is an open source, self-hosted platform, meaning that:
When your servers aren’t guaranteed and your security updates aren’t automatic, you create doorways for malicious actors to walk through.
And here’s the thing, *dons voice of experience hat* eventually, they always do.
Because Shopify runs on its own servers, Shopify users aren’t subject to the same vulnerabilities as Magento 1.X users. Security and version updates are installed automagically as soon as they’re available, and the stores themselves run on a phalanx of PCI level 1 compliant DSS servers (Think Fort Knox x R2D2), with the cost rolled into each user’s monthly subscription fee. What’s more, Shopify guarantees that their servers will handle up to 10,000 orders a minute with 99.97% uptime during peak traffic periods, like BFCM.
Tighter security, snappier performance, and guaranteed uptime are all major reasons that Shopify has eaten into Magento’s market share over the past few years, but Magento 2 has promised to right the ship with its own cloud-based hosting via Amazon Web Services. Magento 2 stores using cloud hosting now enjoy their own automatic security updates, and (theoretically, at any rate) faster site performance. However, as god-level consultant Paul Rogers detailed in his excellent piece comparing Shopify Plus with Magento 2, Magento’s cloud service rollout has been plagued with publicly reported issues. Plus, as the wider internet has reported, Magento 2 v Shopify has turned out to be a little less Ford v Ferrari, and a little more Ford Taurus v Ferrari.
Magento will no doubt close the gap on these issues in time, but for now, Shopify Plus offers the speediest, most secure, most reliable hosted solution available. And because all Shopify stores are running the same code, Shopify users are also automatically PCI compliant. A nice perk, considering that in order to accept credit card payments, Magento users will still need to handle their own compliance on a regular basis for the foreseeable future.
Hosting and security are major reasons that Shopify is the #1 hosted ecommerce solution in the English-speaking world by usage. #2? Shopify Plus.
Total Cost of Ownership
Base prices for owning each platform at different tiers are widely available on the internet, but while Magento and Shopify used to offer more competitive pricing to businesses of all sizes (albeit via different models), since Magento’s acquisition by Adobe, their prices have gone up across the board. That’s good news for you as a reader, because it means that we don’t have to go over all of the associated costs of owning each platform in depth, nor talk about the difference between buying apps on a one-time basis and buying them via subscription model.
Instead, we can just tell you that if you’re spending money on the platform (as opposed to using Magento Open Source), Shopify has lower TCO’s than Magento, when comparing equivalent products.
How much lower? It’s impossible to do a cut-and-dried price comparison without a comprehensive understanding of how you’re going to use your ecommerce platform. Plus, replatforming itself will cost you more or less depending on how much data you need to migrate, where it’s coming from, where it’s going, whether you use an agency, and which agency you use.
(Incidentally, if you decide to go the agency rout, DesignRush can help you find highly-rated agencies in your area, and has a handy price comparison feature we like.)
However, if you already have a replatforming budget and want to perform additional TCO calculations yourself, these are some of the major associated costs that are likely to factor into your total cost of ownership:
Ease of Use
There are two ways to think about ease of use: from the developer’s perspective, and from the owner/operator’s perspective.
Want to feel great about your day? Wander over to stackoverflow.com, search “Magento,” and scroll through the endless parade of developers venting their frustrations about building out, migrating, maintaining, and securing websites that run on Magento. Today’s first result? a thread called, “Why is Magento So Slow?” with over 150 votes.
While Magento 2 has been “declared stable” (though in the same tones that a suspect in a crime might be “declared sane”), that doesn’t mean it’s suddenly become easier for your hardworking devs to bend the system to your purposes. Here’s a Reddit comment thread started on the r/PHP group in 2019 called “Is it just me, or is Magento 2 not getting any better?” No, Redditers aren’t famous for their restraint, but you only need to read a few to get the gist: Developing in Magento 2 is tricky, even and especially for the sainted folks who do it all the time.
You may be willing to put your devs through some stress to get the product you want (hey, nothing worth doing is easy… right?). But consider that the more time and iteration your developers need to complete any discrete task, the more time and money that task will end up costing you. Compound this extra spending over the course of a storefront’s lifetime, and you’re looking at a serious bump to your total cost of ownership, not to mention the additional opportunity costs that may arise from stalled projects and delayed implementations.
Shopify brands its core product as a “turnkey ecommerce solution.” That means they have robust API’s to transfer data from your old store to your new store quickly and easily, but it also means that the platform’s advanced functions were conceived to be accessible to the kinds of folks who hear “full stack,” and start floating down the street on the vapors of imaginary IHOP smells.
Need a concrete example? Let’s use Shopify Flow—a tool that allows Shopify Plus customers to automate tasks related to order management, inventory, customer experience and more. Here’s our 90-second tutorial on Flow:
Seriously, *Very Chandler Bing Voice* could automating store logic BE any simpler?
Our clients use Flow all the time for a variety of inventory management functions, with and without P3’s input. Plus, as more and more Shopify partners have integrated with Flow, we’ve seen users begin to write rules that regulate the way their apps behave, as well as their core store.
For instance, P3 almost always recommends that our clients install Yotpo to solicit and manage customer reviews. Our clients can now go a step further, and use Flow to have Yotpo issue an alert whenever a customer leaves a bad review. That allows our clients’ customer service teams to fix customer-raised issues with the hand-in-glove responsiveness of much larger companies, quickly turn negative experiences into positive ones, and prevent negative reviews from eroding customer trust.
Magento 2, on the other hand, doesn’t have a feature like Flow—even at the Commerce level. This lack doesn’t make Shopify a better choice on its own, but it does perfectly encapsulate an essential difference in the companies’ core missions and unique selling propositions:
Shopify aims to simplify esoteric yet essential ecommerce tasks, and thereby empower users to implement powerful customizations without a PhD in PHP. Magento wants to put every option on the table, and thereby empower users to build the ‘store of their dreams.’ In our experience, the problem is that all of that extra choice can make the execution of simple tasks more complex, not less.
Still, if you’re the kind of tinkerer who prefers to have a dropdown for every little detail, Magento 2 offers a really robust array of customizations that will allow you to change all of the elements that constitute your PDP, for example, to your liking.
Extensibility & Performance
While Magento 2 doesn’t feature a tool as useful as Flow for automating store logic, it is open source, which means that with the right amount of time, money, expertise, and willpower, you can eventually achieve virtually any functionality you desire. Shopify is not open source, and there was a time when the additional flexibility Magento offered through its core accessibility made it a better choice for businesses with complex ecommerce needs.
But as Shopify’s native capabilities have grown to match enterprise priorities, this gap in practical functionality has become vanishingly small in most use cases. Moreover, both platforms are now supported and extended by a large ecosystem of apps, developers, and agencies. The sole mission of these partners is to fill in the gaps in each platform’s core code, provide useful extensions to platform users, and help businesses use ecommerce technology to grow. In other words, as long as you’re willing and able to pay for it, you can find a marketplace solution to almost any ecommerce issue on either platform.
But! We’re not just thinking about extensibility in a vacuum, we’re thinking about how it relates to your migration. And unfortunately, Magento’s fundamental extensibility is exactly what makes migrating from M1 to M2 so difficult. Magento 2 was not designed to be compatible with previous versions of the platform, and that means:
- Any apps you installed on Magento 1.X will not be compatible with Magento. You will need to find new equivalents, or have new solutions custom-built.
- Any code your developers wrote for your Magento 1.X store will need to be rewritten.
- Any mods you installed in Magento 1.X will need to be translated.
Magento’s extensibility (or more accurately, the way that it was designed to be extensible) is also one reason Shopify stores tend to load faster. Like its predecessors, Magento 2 is slower to load pages than Shopify in its native configuration. That doesn’t just mean serving a page that feels a bit drunk uncle-y from time to time. According to this 2017 meta-case study from Hubspot, a one-second delay in page-load times means an 11% reduction in page views. And while page loading isn’t the be-all end all when it comes to conversion, it’s been an ongoing and visible enough issue for Magento users that hundreds of guides, apps, dev docs, and other resources have been created by the platform’s partners to address it.
Ecosystem & Customer Support
As we briefly mentioned in the previous section, both Shopify and Magento have attracted a large group of third-party developers, apps, and agencies to support their core products. This means that businesses running on either platform can currently find intelligent, competitive solutions to most of their ecommerce issues.
One factor that may affect this balance, both in the long term and the near, is Magento’s recent acquisition by Adobe. While tighter integrations between Magento and the Adobe Experience Manager suite are no doubt in the pipeline (bully for Adobeists!), this also means that the app and developer ecosystem surrounding Magento is set to change as Adobe tools come to dominate the platform. For end users, this movement could spell less choice and innovation in the future, though the effects of this reduction could be mitigated by the rollout of a slicker core product.
Moving away from speculation, we have already seen a price hike across all paid Magento products as Adobe repositions the platform to fit the needs of larger businesses. For small and mid-sized businesses, this means a reduction in comparative value as Magento’s TCO’s rise beyond those of their competitors.
One area where Shopify really outshines Magento is in customer support. Shopify users at every level have access to 24/7 helplines when they get stuck. Because Magento is open source, they can’t offer this kind of support (imagine you set up a hotline for your customers to call with questions about apples. Your first customer calls and says, “I turned my apple into a frog. What do you know about frogs?”). Instead, Magento users have the Magento Forums, where users and developers trade advice. The forums are quite useful and fairly comprehensive, but they won’t provide real time assistance in the event of an ecommerce emergency, and you’ll need to know some code to really use them effectively.
Domain Flexibility & SEO
A big reason some businesses prefer Magento to Shopify is that Magento allows for more flexible domain structuring, which makes it easier for larger businesses to last-mile their SEO. If you don’t know what any of that means, don’t worry! Both platforms bake in enough SEO performance for your store to get found and grow via organic search. In this case, Magento just makes it easier and more intuitive.
See, the domain structure of your website helps to tell Google what searches your site might be relevant for, which geographic audience your site is meant to serve, and how each page of your site is related to the others. Having a clean, well-ordered domain structure is therefore essential to being properly indexed by Google’s tireless army of robot eyes.
Shopify’s domain structure is “locked down,” meaning that Shopify users have only limited ability to customize domains, and therefore have less power to improve their SEO from the URL bar, compared with Magento users. This isn’t a big deal if you’re running a single store selling a small catalog of products. But say you’re running several international storefronts with different inventories under the same brand name. Suddenly, domain consistency and foldering become more important to the successful coordination of your sites.
Explanations like this can make it sound as though SEO is all about domain structuring, and that if your domains aren’t optimized to the keystroke, you’re fated to toil in anonymity forever. But while your domain is certainly an important factor in determining which results you rank for, so are page content, backlinks, page speed, and around 200 other factors, each exerting its own influence on Google’s ranking algorithms.
That’s why if you really want to play the SEO game, success is less about which platform you choose, and more about finding the right partner, like an SEO agency, to help you optimize your site for search across as many indices as possible.
Whether or not you normally think about SEO, you’ll want to carefully plan for SEO as a part of your platform migration. That’s because changing your site without the proper preparation could lead Google to mis-index your new store, resulting in a drastic loss of traffic until the problem is fixed. P3 normally takes care of this process for our clients, as do most ecommerce agencies that perform platform migrations. But if you want to get a jump on what’s involved, you can read Shopify’s handy guide here. (Magento hasn’t issued a guide, but there are lots of third-party resources out there if you want to read about SEO migration from an agency perspective.)
If your business is at the stage where you’re thinking about an expansion into world markets, you’ll need your next ecommerce platform to offer multi-language support, additional currency support for setting prices and accepting payments, and the ability to manage your storefronts collectively.
The great news is that since 2018, both Shopify Plus and Magento 2 Commerce have offered robust multicurrency payment options out of the box, as well as multi-language add-ons that greatly simplify the process of doing business internationally.
However, Magento 2 currently allows for a multi-store setup in which many storefronts are tied to a single backend, which is strong, scalable arrangement for managing inventory, orders, and customers. Shopify multi-stores share a password and user ID, but are fully independent of one another on the backend, at least for now. Not a bad thing if you’re opening a bunch of different stores across the world, but a less elegant setup for taking a single brand global because of the added effort involved in establishing a credible “source of truth” for your logistics. Shopify has announced that they’re working on a solution for folks who need to work from a single backend, but not when and to whom it will be available.
While Shopify’s backend and domain structuring options are less friendly to large international concerns, part of this is to do with the fact that at this point in time, Shopify sees their international products less as a readymade solution for big businesses--which often employ hybrid architectures and multiple technologies to manage international stores anyhow—and more as a giant opportunity for mid-sized and smaller businesses to get into global markets with minimal investment.
To that end, they’ve put together a primer for smaller businesses looking to make the leap into larger waters. Something else to consider is that although Magento 2 Commerce sites are ostensibly easier to take international for the reasons described above, real-world scuttlebutt suggests that the aggregate advantages of using Shopify in international contexts could outweigh the disadvantages for many top retailers.
That’s why regardless of the platform you’re thinking about to take your business global, our advice is to speak with your agency and platform contacts before taking action, in order to fully understand the nuances of your options.
That’s it, you did it! We wrote this article to arm you with the information you need to take to your next agency meeting or sales rep call, but if you have additional questions we didn’t cover here, just drop ‘em in the form below, and we’ll help you find the answers you’re looking for.