What is Magento?
Magento is an e-commerce platform. For those who want to start an online store, Magento is one of the different software options you will have to start your store. It is like WooCommerce (if you are accustomed to WordPress, you will know what it is), but much more advanced and far more technical. However, Magento has proven itself to be a leader. As of today, Magento powers 20% of online shops. It is powerful, flexible, and expandable.
However, because it is extremely difficult, small or, startup stores that prefer setting up their stores themselves without any help from developers usually do not settle for it. Magento is free to use because it has an open-source version or the community version. There is an enterprise version too, but that is too expensive and suitable only for big companies that are not on a shoestring budget.
Magento is a very powerful e-commerce platform. Powering 20% of all e-commerce platforms online, Magento is often the “go-to” choice for big enterprises that require a scalable and flexible solution for their businesses. This platform offers way too many features that allow companies to add custom features to their online shops.
Magento’s competitors include names like Shopify, Volusion, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, etc. Despite the presence of a wide range of competing products, Magento remains the product of choice for those who want granular controls.
Ecommerce solutions usually target three categories of people that include:
- People who have zero-knowledge about programming.
- People who have very little experience with programming.
- People who have immense experience with programming.
Magento targets people with immense knowledge, making it one of the most difficult e-commerce platforms to deal with, especially for rookies starting with their first online shop.
Because of its complexity, the medium and large enterprises usually go for Magento as they have at least a dedicated person (if not an entire department) handling their online presence.
If you think you have the technical know-how to deal with Magento, carry on with this review. I will be starting with the pros and cons of Magento.
The Pros and Cons of Magento
Like every e-commerce site-building tool, Magento has its pros and cons. Yes, it is feature-packed and free to download, but at the same time, it requires a lot of developer skills, and albeit a significant investment.
So, here is a quick list of pros and cons (according to me) of the Magento e-commerce platform:
- It has a feature-rich open-source version available.
- Expansive backend interface giving access to all features.
- Allows expansion and customization of features.
- Very scalable – ideal for high-traffic sites.
- Allows integration of a large number of payment gateways.
- Allows theme and template design adjustments.
- Provides API for web services.
- Built-in SEO features.
- Options for newsletter management.
- 5000+ extensions are available.
- Provides features for inventory management.
- It comes with coupon management features.
- Integrates different marketing tools.
- Magento has a very steep learning curve.
- It has very limited support. If you pay for the expensive enterprise edition, you will get support.
- You will be responsible for hosting, backup, and security if you are going for the community or the open-source edition.
- You will need to get developer support because the free edition misses a few integrated features.
- If a few elements break on your site, finding help will be very difficult.
The open-source version or the community version gets little to no support from Magento. Yes, there are forums, knowledge base articles, etc., but they aren’t very helpful for those who do not have a technical inclination. Unfortunately, hiring a developer for working on Magento can be quite expensive.
Okay, now that you are aware of the advantages and disadvantages of using the Magento e-commerce platform, I will walk you through the most important features you will get if you want to use Magento.
Magento Ecommerce Platform Features
Among all e-commerce software, Magento has one of the most extensive feature lists you will ever find. Because of its numerous features, Magento is one of the most preferred e-commerce solutions for large businesses. Whether you are looking for customer segmentation or marketing tools – Magento has everything integrated.
The open-source Magento comes with some of the most important standard features like search engine optimization using tools such as pretty URLs, Google Content APIs, Google sitemaps, etc.
You will also get tools like product bundles, newsletter management, customer groups, coupon codes, etc., that will become handy for your marketing efforts. There are so many features that it is virtually impossible to list everything here. Still, here is a non-exhaustive list of features grouped under several heads for easy understanding:
Main Admin Features
- It comes with multi-store support. It simply means that you can use a single account for managing multiple websites.
- You can create or edit orders by using your admin panel as a virtual terminal.
- You can print invoices, packing slips, labels, etc. from inside the admin segment.
- You can manage permission and assign different permissions and restrict the access of features for different users.
- You will also get the feature of bulk import and export for simple migration using CSV files.
Main Marketing Features
- It allows you to preserve carts when visitors leave your website [persistent cart].
- It will allow customers to send their wishlists using emails.
- It will allow you to segment your customers based on location, demographics, etc.
- It will allow you to create coupons using flexible codes. There are offline options, as well.
- It allows you to create upsells and cross-sells for inspiring more purchases.
- It will allow you to give targeted recommendations using recently compared or viewed products.
- It also allows customers to share their purchases on social media platforms.
Core SEO Tools
- It will allow creating Google sitemaps for better online ranking.
- You can add metadata for each page of your online shop.
- You can customize the URLs to make them user-friendly [pretty URLs].
Main Checkout, Shipping, and Analytics Features
- You can integrate your shop with Google Analytics.
- The system comes with an integrated feature for abandoned carts, tax, and sales reporting.
- It supports one-page checkout for a quick and simple purchasing experience.
- You can create a custom checkout experience to suit your brand’s needs if that is what you want.
- Magento will give you the ability to track every verified order on your site.
- You can even create guest checkout options if you want to sell to customers who don’t want to sign up and create an account.
- You can provide clear pricing to your customers using the shipping and tax estimate features of the platform.
Primary Inventory and Catalog Management Features
- It will allow you to add multiple images per post.
- You can set different pricing rules. For instance, you can give discounts for bundled products.
- You can set different rules for product sorting so that your customers can quickly narrow down what they need.
- You can add unlimited attributes for each product. You can even use predefined attributes for easy and streamlined attribute management.
- Magento supports different product types like bundled, grouped, virtual, personalized, etc.
Missing Features in Open-Source Magento
The open-source version of Magento or the community version is plagued by several missing features. Some of those features are:
- The reward program is not built-in.
- There is no feature for abandoned card recovery.
If you really want those features, you will have to hire a developer who can create extensions for those functions. The Magento Commerce version or the enterprise version comes with all those features.
Magento Commerce vs. Magento Open-Source
In case you want to know the differences between Magento’s open-source and commerce versions, here is a quick brief that will help you get a fair idea.
Magento open-source is free, while Magento Commerce is a premium version. You can download the open-source version, install it on a server of your choice that supports Magento, and customize it to your heart’s content (if you know how to do that), or get someone to customize it for you.
Hosting for Magento Commerce can be achieved in two ways. You can host it on-premise on the server of your choice. Alternatively, you can opt for the Magento Commerce Cloud – a cloud-hosted solution provided by Adobe.
The open-source version doesn’t have certain features that you need to develop by yourself. The commerce version comes with more features that work out of the box.
Here is a quick comparison of features available on Magento open-source and Magento commerce:
|Feature||Magento Open-source||Magento Commerce|
|Integrated checkout, payment, and shipping||Available||Available|
|Mobile optimized shopping||Available||Available|
|Extended functionality via the app marketplace||Available||Available|
|Customer loyalty tools||Not Available||Available|
|WYSIWYG page builder||Not Available||Available|
|Visual merchandising||Not Available||Available|
|Content staging and preview||Not Available||Available|
|Advanced marketing tools||Not Available||Available|
|B2B functionality||Not Available||Available|
|Business intelligence dashboards||Not Available||Available|
Magento Pricing Structure
Magento open-source (previously known as the community edition) is free to use. You can download it and upload & install it on your server. You don’t have to pay anything for using the open-source version except for the server cost.
However, if you are going for Magento Commerce, you will have to pay the price. It is a fully-featured e-commerce platform. You can sign up for a free demo if you want, but for that, you have to send a message to them and provide your contact details.
Please keep in mind that Magento Commerce is designed for fast-growing or large businesses. You should not start comparing Magento Commerce with options like Shopify and Volusion. Magento is way more feature-rich and much more powerful.
Magento is offering a cloud hosting platform where you don’t have to worry about a damn thing! Adobe will take care of everything. Customizations will happen depending on your business needs, and the pricing structure will differ from what Adobe is charging other businesses.
To get Magento Commerce, you have to call them or email them for a quote. Depending on the size of your business and the nature of your business, you will get a customized quotation, which my guess is pricey!
If I am not wrong, Magento Commerce is the most powerful e-commerce platform in this world. You may feel like you are missing out on many things by not using Magento Commerce, but trust me, Magento powers 20% of the world’s e-commerce platforms. The remaining 80% is powered by the rest.
This simply is the testimony of the fact that the remaining platforms are not just functional but also caters to the needs of millions. You can trust them when you are starting your online shop. When you experience growth with a steady income flow, you can make a switch to Magento Commerce. Else, sticking with Magento open-source or other platforms like Woo-Commerces, PrestaShop, Volusion, Shopify, etc. makes more sense.
Extra Costs You Should Not Forget
Even if you are using Magento open-source, there is absolutely no reason to think that your costs will come down. There will be several other costs that include hosting charges, themes, extensions, and possibly developer charges for integrating new functions into the open-source version of Magento.
You shouldn’t ever forget the costs for your domain name, an SSL certificate (which is a must for any e-commerce store), and the charges of a payment processing partner. Some of these costs will be recurring costs.
Essentially, there is no way you can create an e-commerce store for free! Especially with the open-source version of Magento, it is highly likely that there will be development charges.
Working With Magento
Finding the Right Theme
I cannot stress more! Working with Magento is not easy, especially if you are looking for a beautiful design! The core Magento platform doesn’t ship with any theme or template. You will have access to pretty extraordinary design tools. However, you need to have proper knowledge of what you are doing.
Magento Commerce comes with a WYSIWYG page builder, but the community version doesn’t have that. So the best bet is to buy a theme or a template. A nice place to start will be the Magento Marketplace, where you can get a few templates for free.
Unfortunately, the collection is too small. If you want a bigger marketplace, there is Envato, where you can find well over 500 Magento themes and templates. Many of these themes come with simple drag-and-drop functionality that will allow DIY experimentation with the overall site design.
Unfortunately, you will not get free themes on Envato. You will have to purchase whichever you like.
There is another problem. Just finding the right theme will not do wonders for you. You need to know how to implement the theme. You will need experience with PHP as well as other programming languages.
You will need to know how to customize the theme that suits your overall brand statement. If you are scared of doing it yourself, you can always ask the theme developers to install the theme for you. They will do so for an additional charge.
The good thing is that buying an advanced theme will also provide you access to some interesting extensions that you will find handy.
So, when you are looking for design options for your Magento-powered store, you will have the following options:
- Finding a plugin or an extension that will provide new customization tools that you can work with easily.
- Purchase a third-party theme tool or theme generator which comes with a built-in dashboard to allow easy customization. If you are settling for this option, you may need some experience with coding.
- Avoid making a purchase altogether and hire a frontend developer to build a theme from scratch.
No matter what you choose, there will be additional expenses. You cannot avoid those expenses. Yes, it is true that in recent times, Magento included a lot of improvements in the customization and design elements of the page builder extension that it offers. The extension now comes with a drag-and-drop function that takes out the coding aspect, making life a lot simpler. Despite this, getting the right design will be a daunting task.
The extension will also provide you with a live preview of the pages you build on different screen sizes. While this may sound very interesting, you need to keep in mind that adding an extension means adding an extra layer of codes to your website, which in turn, will make your website heavy. Page builders are notorious for adding enormous amounts of codes.
If someday you decide to remove the page builder and get a custom theme or buy a nice theme, the redundant code will stay, throwing errors and weird codes on different pages. If you don’t know how to remove those codes, you will have to hire a developer.
Magento offers a built-in inventory management option. You need to keep track of the items that are coming in and going out. For instance, you may have to keep an eye on backorders and adjust the minimum and maximum quantities.
If you sell downloadable products on your store, the inventory management option will also allow adding unlimited attributes, edit the product tags, and control the reviews. This will allow you to get full control of your website.
Additionally, you can also link your website with other sales channels such as Amazon and eBay. These integrations will allow you to keep your inventory in complete sync with your e-commerce site. With such sync, your customers will not end up buying products that are not in stock.
The inventory management feature of Magento also uses advanced algorithms to calculate tax and shipping charges. Additionally, your customers can also enjoy some unique options like instant purchase, inventory search, etc. There is global selling as well! It will help you to show product prices in different currencies. You can also add different languages!
Inventory management comes with some interesting benefits that include:
- Cost reduction because you get a single place for managing your inventory and orders.
- Handle returns efficiently and automate the refund process.
- Improve customer experience by either not showing out-of-stock products or not allowing them to purchase such products.
Mobile Optimized Store
The world has gone mobile. Google is giving more importance to mobile. It is needless to say that by 2021, it is expected that of the total global retail e-commerce, mobile e-commerce will account for 72.9%.
So, you shouldn’t be asking whether you need a mobile-optimized e-commerce store or not! That’s the wrong question. You need it!
Magento has complete support for HTML5. The theme templates that you purchase are also designed to be responsive. This means that they will resize the website design according to the screen size used by the customers.
There is a lot of talk happening about Headless Magento, which will decouple the Magento backend with the frontend. This allows a better mobile experience, omnichannel optimization, and more benefits.
Magento has its very own PWA (Progressive Web Apps) studio that you can use for creating an app, a website, and a webshop in a single solution. PWAs will allow you to go headless, but without the right knowledge, you just can’t use it!
Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization is a multi-faceted thing that includes everything from pretty URLs to site speed, from WebP images to LazyLoading images, HTML, JS, CSS minification to CDNs. There is a lot that you need to worry about.
Albeit, a slow site is something that Google hates. Your site needs to be fast on both desktops and mobile devices. If it is fast on one and slow on the other, your e-commerce platform is going to take a hit in terms of search engine rankings.
Yes, Magento has some integrated SEO features like URL customization, metadata, sitemaps, etc. However, you will need more. There are many extensions available for the purpose, and you can find them on the Magento Marketplace.
Some of these extensions are pricey, while others are completely free to use. However, watch out for the poorly coded extensions. They can break your site and lead to security issues. You don’t want that to happen to your online store.
Security threats are a big problem because those threats can compromise customer data. You need to be ultra-careful in selecting the extensions.
Marketing Options with Magento
The interesting thing about Magento is that you get everything you need for marketing. You don’t have to use external tools for that. Whether you are looking for putting up ads on your site or looking for an email marketing solution, Magento has you covered. It even comes preconfigured with certain SEO tools.
This e-commerce platform has some interesting marketing features that include things like promotional price offering, upselling and cross-selling, coupons, multi-tier pricing for quantity discounts, an email marketing platform, and more.
However, you need to remember that there are some marketing tools that are exclusively available only to Magento Commerce users. For instance, the commerce version comes with built-in customer loyalty tools. If you want to integrate a customer loyalty program to the open-source Magento platform, you need to hire a developer who can do that for you.
Payment Options with Magento
Magento has some exceptional payment options that make shopping a pleasant experience for customers. Some of the primary features include guest checkouts, one-click payments, shipping to a different address, etc. It also comes with a ‘bill me later’ program where you can finance the immediate purchases of the customer and charge them later.
It nicely integrates with Authorize.net and PayPal and even displays shipping calculations and taxes. However, do remember that you need to integrate 3rd party payment gateways with Magento before you start. Integration is quick and simple.
The best part is that Magento doesn’t differentiate between the open-source version and the Commerce version when it comes to payment features. All features are exactly the same, and hence, you don’t need to upgrade from open-source to Commerce.
Integrating payment gateways will cost you. If you are using the Adobe platform for building your Magento site, prices can be really high because though some of the extensions and themes are free, most of them are not.
If you want credit or debit card processing on your site, you can add that option too! But again, there will be a charge for doing so. You need to speak with payment gateway providers about the charges that you will incur. Compare all of them and choose the option with the lowest charges but better services than others.
With Magento, you can use Amazon Pay, Stripe, Braintree, WePay, Square, PayPal, Ali Pay, and Sage Pay. You will also get the options of Google checkout, bank transfers, and Cash-on-Delivery.
Security Features of Magento
Hackers are littered everywhere, and they are always on their toes to hack into a website and disrupt its services in one way or the other. They also intend to steal customer information like credit or debit card details.
There are many paths that hackers choose, and one of them is SQL injection. They look for vulnerabilities on websites and exploit them.
Magento has a dedicated Security Center that will take care of such security threats and resolve the issues. However, this service is not free. Magento will charge anywhere between $1,000 and $5,000 for resolving SQL injection issues.
Yes, their services are very pricey, but they also provide solid services that you can count on!
If you are using the open-source version of Magento, you will have to ensure that you are taking care of the security. Make sure that you are installing an SSL certificate. It is normal for people to expect Magento sites to be PCI compliant. PCI compliance means that you will not be storing or passing around customer information without their knowledge and consent. You have to ensure that your Magento site is PCI compliant.
If you are using Magento 1 (the older version) and you are yet to migrate to Magento 2, you better do that quickly. That’s because the older version of Magento will not get support and security patches for a very long time.
Magento 2 comes with some security interesting features like Google reCAPTCHA, two-factor authentication, etc.
If you need some additional help, you can always check the Magento site to learn about the best security practices and tips. You may even hire a developer to help you harden the security of your site.
In case you are using Magento Commerce cloud plans, you will get award-winning customer support. All your questions and technical problems will be resolved quickly. However, if you are sticking with open-source Magento, you will not get any phone support, email support, or chat support.
That doesn’t mean there is no help. There is a thriving community of Magento users. You can join chat forums to get help. Also, do not forget the knowledgebase articles where you can get a lot of valuable information, often enough to resolve certain technical issues.
Of course, you have to do your own research if you plan on using the Magento open-source platform.
You are free to contact Magento over an email or a phone call, but that will be only for sales queries. The people answering your calls or replying to your emails will try to convince you to buy Magento Commerce.
The problem with Magento knowledgebase articles is that you have to figure out which guide is for Magento 1 and which one is for Magento 2. Things can get confusing very quickly.
If you don’t have experience with coding languages, it is better that you hire some freelancer or an agency to resolve your site issues. Attempting to resolve technical things on your own may eventually lead to a broken website, and repairing it will cost even more money.
Alternatively, you can sign up for Magento U experience and earn certifications. Basically, it means that you will get trained on Magento and earn certificates. The problem with Magento U is that you need to have prior knowledge of the programming languages used in Magento development.
Another problem with Magento U is that not all courses are free. Some are free, but most of them are premium courses, and you need to pay a high fee for learning those courses.
The thing is that learning Magento to resolve technical issues of your Magento site is not really a wise decision. Instead, hiring a developer will make far more sense.
Magento 2 Is Here
Magento 1 is a 12-year old e-commerce solution. It has reached its end of life, and the company believes that it is time to switch over to a better version – Magento 2. It is essential that you migrate to Magento 2 because sooner or later, the company is going to end support for Magento 1.
Magento 2 is not poles apart from the previous version. In fact, it gives a very similar experience to that of Magento 1. As a matter of fact, Magento 2 comes with multiple new functions that are not available with Magento 1. It has enhanced security features that will make shopping a secure and pleasant experience.
It is essential that you migrate to Magento 2 because Adobe will no longer provide security or support for PCI compliance. This can put your existing Magento 1 site in trouble.
Magento 2, according to the company, is faster than the previous version. According to the company:
- Store pages on Magento 2 have a 50% faster load time.
- Magento 2 can handle 29% more orders.
- It can handle up to 10 million page views every hour.
Now, that’s quite some improvement! Moreover, Magento 2 is far more mobile-friendly. If you are a developer, you will be glad to know that Magento 2 gives access to Composer for dependency management in both Redis and PHP.
Alternative to Magento
Magento is extremely popular, but at the same time, geared towards people with coding skills or people who have a lot of money to spend. If you have none, you can always look for alternatives, and there are quite a few to get started. Here are some of the most insanely popular Magento alternatives to consider:
WooCommerce isn’t a standalone e-commerce solution. It is a plugin for WordPress CMS that converts the CMS into a full-blown e-commerce site.
It is a fairly simple plug-and-play solution that ships with a default theme. However, you can make your WooCommerce-powered look highly professional with thousands of premium themes available on Envato (ThemeForest).
The core WooCommerce plugin has basic functions that you will need for running an online store. If you need extended functionalities, there are paid extensions that can provide you with advanced functions
What’s good about WooCommerce is that it is always under active development and has a dedicate user-base. You can find quick help from support forums from millions of WooCommerce users across the world.
It is, without an iota of doubt, one of the most famous e-commerce solutions available today. There are over a million users across the world who depend on Shopify.
There are different pricing plans for this platform, with the most basic option starting at $29 a month. However, if your business is fast-growing and you need to scale with access to some advanced functionalities akin to that of Magento Commerce, you have to spend big with Shopify.
The plan called Advanced Shopify will cost you $299 a month, which translates to $3,588 a year. The problem with Shopify is that you really cannot customize it the way you can customize Magento.
Also, if you are not using Shopify Payments, there will be some additional costs in terms of transaction fees. What Shopify excels in is its extremely powerful inventory system that will allow you to stay in full control of your online shop.
BigCommerce is another big name in the world of e-commerce solutions. You can depend on it as a low-cost and yet customizable solution with 500+ apps and integrations. To customize BigCommerce, you will need knowledge of HTML and CSS. In case you don’t have that knowledge, you can easily find a developer with HTML and CSS skills.
BigCommerce pricing starts at $29.95 a month, but it can reach $249.95 a month depending on the features you need and the size of your online store.
What’s really bad about BigCommerce is that depending on the plan you choose, your sales amount will be limited. For instance, the Standard Plan that starts at $29.95 a month will allow up to $50,000 in yearly sales. If your sales exceed that, you have to upgrade to a higher plan.
PrestaShop is an open-source e-commerce solution like Magento. You can customize it, and most likely, you will need help from professional developers to build your site. If you want to increase the functionality of your site, you have to purchase modules (equivalent to extension in the case of Magento).
There are nearly 300,000 merchants who use PrestaShop to cater to their customers, and it is needless to say that the platform is gaining momentum pretty quickly. You may try it out, but do remember, there will be extra costs of hiring a developer.
You may have guessed it! OpenCart is an open-source e-commerce platform, and it is a good one. In fact, it is a very good alternative to Magento. It is easy to handle and host.
However, the major problem with OpenCart is that it is not designed for large businesses. It is definitely not an alternative to Magento Commerce. If you are a small or medium merchant, OpenCart will be a great option to consider.
Volusion is one of the most trusted e-commerce platforms you can find. Magento will focus on marketing, but Volusion, on the other hand, is far more focused on streamlining your business operations. It has some incredible and powerful features like customer management, inventory management, etc.
Yes, you will feel the pinch if you are looking for advanced marketing tools. Magento comfortably beats Volusion in this area.
The minimum price you need to pay for using Volusion is $29 per month. That will limit your yearly sales to $50,000. The Business Plan will allow up to $500,000 in yearly sales, and it costs $299 a month. If you are a bigger business with yearly sales crossing $500,000, you can opt for the Prime Plan that offers custom pricing depending on your business needs.
Finally, we have Spree Commerce – a truly open-source e-commerce platform that will not cost you any money for using it. Its extensions are also free. However, if you need something different, you have to hire a professional developer for custom functionalities, and of course, custom themes.
If you are on a minimal budget, and you don’t need any special functions on your website, you can always count on Spree Commerce for a fast store setup experience. You get everything from advanced mega menus to product filters, from payment integrations to upselling – yes, Spree has everything you need.
Should You Use Magento?
Let me be clear about one thing. If you have money, you will never regret going for Magento Commerce. The company is fully aware of its main market, and hence, the pricing for Magento Commerce is high.
If you don’t have the budget to settle for Magento Commerce, I will suggest that you go for Magento’s open-source version and try to build a site with it. Of course, even opting for the open-source version will attract various custom development costs that can escalate very quickly.
But if you don’t need as much flexibility as Magento, options like WooCommerce, Shopify, Spree Commerce, or Volusion should work great for your business.
You need to understand that whatever you are selecting eventually boils down to your needs and business model. You need to make sure that you have narrowed down the features that you need and then compare the different options you have available in hand.
Blindly selecting an option just because it is popular doesn’t always work. Every business has specific needs and caters to specific user segments that have different needs. Your website’s features and functions should depend on those factors and not on what other websites have.
Consider this – Suppose you are selling photography; you will be catering to a very specific segment of people interested in that art form. Why would you ever need an e-commerce site similar to one that gives Black Friday discounts on everyday products? A simple WooCommerce site will be just fine for you. You don’t need Magento for that.
The bottom line is simple! Choose what you suits you the best. Don’t get carried away. That’s the wrong business decision!