Magento vs. Shopify – Which should you choose? Here’s some help.
Shopify has managed to significantly increase its market share during the past year, already holding over 10% of the market (within Alexa Top 1 million). Magento vs. Shopify: both platforms are good, but there are considerable differences which you need to take into account before making up your mind.
Regarding global popularity, let us take a look at what Google Trends show.
Interest towards Magento started soaring in 2009 and it has brought constantly high search numbers since 2011.
On the other hand, Shopify, as a Software as a Service (SaaS) ecommerce platform, has been growing remarkably over the past year or so, now (mid 2017) serving over 500,000 merchants globally.
Shopify’s curve started to more considerably increase only in 2013 and it became half as strong in terms of the searches by 2015.
In February 2017 Shopify managed to surpass Magento, and since then it has been gaining better results in terms of search volume.
Taking a look at the regions of the world, Shopify (red) now seems to be more popular in the English speaking countries (except for the UK) and Magento (blue) is preferred by the rest of the world.
However, popularity by itself does not mean anything, it does not show anything about which system is better for you personally. Therefore, it is worth taking a close look at which platform is the more optimal choice for different user groups.
Next, we will go through the following aspects, talking over everything thoroughly, so that by the time you finish reading this article, you will know which platform is better for you:
- Functions & Features
- Managing your store
- Marketing your store
- Design & Branding
- Extensions & Applications
- Recent Versions
- Multi-vendor Marketplace
- Big Brands
- Magento Commerce vs. Shopify Plus
- Shopify’s aggressive attack against Magento
Let’s get started!
It is difficult to compare the pricing of the two systems as they operate in different schemes.
Magento Open Source (formerly Community Edition, CE) can be freely downloaded and thanks to the open-source code it can even be further developed or modified. This, however, is not to be done by the average user, but by professional developers.
In broad terms, we can say that creating a “normal” Magento store fulfilling the needs of a mid sized ecommerce business costs $10,000-$40,000. Of course, such a development price greatly depends on whether you hire a freelancer or an agency and where, in which country they are based.
For more information on Magento pricing, please read our detailed article in which we describe every aspect of the costs of developing a Magento store.
Magento Enterprise Edition and Magento Enterprise Cloud Edition (hosted using AWS infrastructure), now under the name Magento Commerce, offer greater possibilities and are suitable for building a stronger online store, will cost you money, depending on your annual revenue:
Annual Gross Sales Revenue
Minimum Cost/Year (EE)
Minimum Cost/Year (EE Cloud)
Up to $1M
Please note: according to Magento, the combined hosting and licensing cost is negotiable.
On top of this, you may need to calculate with the costs of installation, extensions and additional developments, support, web design, and hosting (either on premise or cloud).
Extensions can significantly increase functionality, thus pay off even in the short run. Initial installation as well as extension installations need experienced Magento developers, support and hosting need devops capacities.
Still, a major part of the large enterprise market segment regards Magento as the most cost-effective ecommerce system, even including paid extensions.
Magento Open Source (Community Edition) offers for free basically the same thing that Shopify provides for a seemingly unrealistically high price. However, in case of Magento, you have to take into account that you will need a dedicated hosting service.
Also, CE by itself, lacks the unique design, tailor-made for a specific corporate image, and has no pre-set, country-specific individual configuration (e.g. delivery and payment settings, system e-mails, confirmations depending on language, specific functionalities, and so on).
That is because Magento is mainly the solution for the professionals. It may be an excellent system for anyone, however, it is typically the platform of large companies, of those operating several online stores simultaneously, of those supplying a huge audience with thousands or tens of thousands of products.
To be able to use Magento, you have to have a budget that makes it possible for you to continuously finance the subsequent modifications and optimize according to the feedback and the changing market needs.
This, concerning an already operating store that generates regular monthly revenue and is introduced to the market, in case of a company that has been operating for years and is generating stable turnover and is growing, means approximately a monthly development fee of 40-60 hours.
Plenty of optimization regarding the customer interface and also further functional developments can be carried out within this monthly time frame, all for the satisfaction of the customers – thereby resulting in the realization of extra income.
Hosting Magento will also imply a monthly fee, but a considerably lower one, and in return you will get a stable background infrastructure that can cope with higher traffic.
And if you want to take advantage of the possibilities offered by the system, if you want to grow, to evolve, you will need this. All in all, this is still the cheaper solution. It has to be emphasized though that you will have to choose a company that has enough experience in this field.
When you are looking for a hosting provider for a Magento system, you should make sure that they run already operating stores, that they can present Magento references that continuously operate under increased traffic, which justifies that they are capable of adequate optimization both in terms of development and hosting.
Shopify works in a subscription system.
There are three subscription plans:
Since Shopify is SaaS, these service fees include maintenance, hosting, security, support, and also bandwidth.
You also need to calculate with credit card costs (2.9%–2.4%+30¢, online rates) and transaction fees (2%–0.5%) if you use external payment gateways (other than Shopify Payments).
The enterprise version of Shopify, Shopify Plus, claims to offer an enterprise ecommerce platform for a fraction of traditional enterprise costs.
Shopify Plus’ pricing plans can vary a lot depending on your selected features and resources.
Monthly fees start from around $2,000 and increase as you want to upgrade to more extensive plans having additional features (i.e. specialized apps, API resources).
Comparison of customer support is quite simple: Shopify provides it, Magento does not.
To put it more precisely: in the case of Magento, support is given by the huge, committed community that continuously develops, tests and improves the open-source code system.
If you trust this community with your problem, you may get quite valuable answers that will certainly help to find the solution.
Or, you can turn to such professional development firms that deal specifically with Magento – this, by all means, provides a sounder technical background.
You should also make sure that in case the hosting company is also developing Magento, it is done in-house and is not outsourced to a subcontractor.
If anyone feels that there will not be problems with their online store, or feels their web-developer veins pulsating enough so that they think they can solve the problems themselves, Magento is the right choice for them.
But if one does not have the appropriate person for this job, Shopify means a simpler solution with 24/7 support. (What does enough preparedness mean in the case of Magento? Well, at least senior PHP programmer level with the knowledge of Zend Framework, if you haven’t dealt with Magento previously.)
Functions, features and options that Magento and Shopify have
The two systems are quite close to each other in this field.
Regarding the basic functions of an ecommerce store, the two ecommerce platforms can be considered practically equal, the only difference is that in order to exploit all the possibilities of Shopify, you need to pay a higher monthly fee. You have that access for free in case of Magento CE.
The competition in this category is determined by the type of the software.
Shopify is a commercial edition software that comes with a limited number of extensions to choose from.
These are restricted applications made by the developers, which ensure great features – it is unlikely though that they can properly satisfy your every single need.
Magento is an open-source code software.
This means that anyone can freely modify or develop it – and loads of people do that.
There’s a great number of features, e.g. marketing & SEO tools, responsive design, various payment, checkout, order management, and mobile commerce solutions, which make Magento probably the most sophisticated ecommerce platform in the world.
You can also find an amazing amount of extensions on the internet – both free and paid – developed by a third party.
Errors are continuously being looked for and corrected and you can much more easily find something among the several thousand of tools that will cover exactly what you need.
If you want to operate a simple, start-up ecommerce store, you can try Shopify Lite or Basic Shopify to measure up your market, while having only some restricted features. Advanced Shopify and Shopify Plus is for the bigger players with much more possibilities.
Magento is a significantly more complex system, but its administrative interface is not hard to handle and it ensures loads of possibilities to customize everything.
Shopify, in general, can be more easily installed and then handled on a day to day basis, this is however due to the limited number of possibilities.
Magento CE is free and you can include an unlimited number of products in the system from scratch – provided you have enough background capacity, and in case of a uniquely designed and functioned store it is professionally optimized (for details, see the section on infrastructure).
Magento is also the leader in allowing you to freely shape the products, their appearance, to assign any kind of categories and attributes to them thus fitting the framework system itself to your products.
Marketing & Promotion – Magento or Shopify gives you more?
Shopify is again falling behind in this field, as the system does not support coupons or gift cards in the starter pack, while Magento does.
Moreover, even without installing extensions in Magento, you have loads of chances to intervene in the purchasing process, to offer cross-sell and up-sell opportunities to the users, to make product comparisons, and so on.
In Magento you can set various promotional activities in lots of different ways.
You can specify, for example, to give a discount on products having a certain characteristic or being in a given category.
You can also make settings
- to get a discount from the whole purchase amount if a certain product is added to the cart,
- to make shipping cheaper at the first purchase,
- or even to get one product for free if three are bought.
You can play with the settings just as if you were creating promotional boards or signs in your brick-and-mortar shop.
You can give discounts in the form of free products, presents, percentage – the examples could be listed all day long, but nothing compares to personal experience.
It is certain that you will not find a system other than Magento that better supports coupons, sales, and promotions, which can greatly boost sales.
And you can handle that even without the assistance of a developer.
Design & Branding
Both systems can be customized, a plethora of free templates are available so you can create and enhance the image and prestige of your online store quite easily.
It is an important aspect that both platforms are responsive, so they will appear on smartphones just as nicely and user-friendly as on desktop computers.
Aesthetically, the free themes offered by Shopify perform a little better, but their advantage shows rather in their simpler installation.
Furthermore, Shopify themes can be customized only in a very limited way, like changing colors, some design elements, and font types and sizes.
Because of the fundamentally simpler user interface of Shopify, its appearance is easier to shape than that of Magento, even though a lot of free and paid templates are available for Magento as well.
Magento 2 now offers drag&drop layouting and design so that you, without any coding knowledge, can put together a nice looking website quite fast.
Tens of thousands of websites are hacked each day. If your ecommerce store ever falls victim to an attack, you’ll probably suffer grave losses. The risk factor is extremely high here, so there’s no question that security is a very critical aspect of your online business, especially because you handle customer financial data day by day.
For Magento, security patches are issued on a continuous basis which need to be installed as soon as possible to give your website maximum protection.
Shopify, being an SaaS, takes care of security without the need of any action from the clients’ part. That’s quite convenient.
Furthermore, they communicate that they use the latest security measures for customer data protection. Shopify is in full compliance with the PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard), at Level 1, which means it meets the highest security requirements.
Extensions and Apps
There is a good number of add-ons and extensions for both Magento and Shopify.
For your Magento store, the official sites of Magento Connect and Magento Marketplace are recommended for finding secure and checked extensions.
Currently, there are over 2,000 extensions in the Shopify App Store.
On the Magento Connect site there are nearly 10,000 extensions out of which more than 1,500 have been developed for Magento 2.
So you have lots of choices in different categories, such as Marketing, Payments, Sales, or Social Media, and these numbers are rising steeply for both ecommerce platforms.
Shopify offers a simpler installation process, while you’ll probably need an expert to help in adding extensions to your Magento store.
There are no versions associated with the desktop version of Shopify. The Shopify mobile app, however, allowing you to create products, manage inventory, and fulfill orders, does have versions, at the moment (Aug. 2017) it’s 6.2.1.
All recent Magento Community Edition 2.x and 1.x (free) versions and patches are available at the official Magento Tech Resources site.
If you want to try demo versions of Magento 1 and Magento 2 in terms of both frontend and admin features, you can take a look here:
User name: admin
In the case of Magento, there are at least 5 different, quite sophisticated, premium (paid) extensions you can buy with which you can create your own multi-vendor solution for your ecommerce business.
If you want to have a high quality, “general” multi-vendor extension with lots of features and you don’t need any custom developments, we recommend Marketplace Multi Vendor Extension by CreativeMinds.
Dropshipping for Shopify and Magento
Today, the dropshipping business model is more and more popular.
There is a good number of advantages, such as low investment (since you don’t have to keep goods in stock at all), diversity (you can sell a wide range of products) and workload optimization (you don’t necessarily work a lot more if your order numbers get significantly higher).
Shopify solidly supports dropshipping. They provide you with guides and excellent case studies about how to start and run a dropshipping business.
You can also add the Oberlo app to your store which makes it easy to dropship your selected products around the world. You can use it for free with the main features up to 50 orders a month. Unlimited orders and all features come at a monthly price of $79.90.
For Magento you there is a bunch of solutions too, e.g. on Magento Connect.
Before choosing one, it’s worth taking a look at the popularity scores and reviews!
Now let us give you a little help with finding your desired products and dropshipping suppliers.
Here are some sites where you can browse among well-known and reliable dropshipping partners:
Top brands that use Shoplify
Shopify was not designed for large companies at first. However, as market needs were studied more in depth and the software was developed further, the company came out with Shopify Plus in February 2017, their enterprise level ecommerce platform.
Nowadays there are some big names that either use the “normal” platform for their products or one of their sub-divisions, or use Shopify Plus to be able to offer high a quality customer experience and enjoy a wide range of features.
Here are some well-known brands using Shopify:
- Budweiser (beverages)
- The Economist (media)
- Tesla Motors (automotive & energy)
- Red Bull (beverages)
- Kylie Cosmetics
- The New York Stock Exchange (finances)
- Lollapalooza (festival merchandise)
Famous brands that use Magento
Looking at the other side, we find that Ford Motor Co. (accessories), Olympus, Bulgari, and Monin, to name a few, have built their ecommerce sites on Magento.
No matter whether B2C or B2B solutions are needed in different industries, Magento is capable of providing merchants all around the world with custom features, tools, and services to help them achieve their business objectives.
Some other popular brands having Magento ecommerce websites:
- Sana Safinaz (Fashion)
- Loake (Shoes)
- Bauhaus (Home Improvement)
- Devlyn (Eyewear)
- Tom Dixon (Furniture)
- Sass & Bide (Fashion)
- Mr Price (Fashion)
- Liebherr (Machinery)
- Photospecialist (Photo Equipment)
- Heidelberg (Printing)
Magento Commerce vs. Shopify Plus
There is a good number of merchants out there who started small, but now have grown remarkably to become significant players. So it seems that the enterprise segment has an increasingly important role on the market.
Therefore the major ecommerce system developers either focus more on enhancing and fine tuning their existing platforms or creating their dedicated enterprise solutions, if they don’t have one.
Such was the case with Shopify when they launched Shopify Plus in February, 2017. Having a great success with their subscription based plans, they also turned in the direction of offering more customized services to large clients, naturally, for a much higher amount of money.
Shopify Plus is also a SaaS, but you’ll have a lot more power added to it than a standard Shopify plan.
Its main advantage is that you still don’t have to worry about hosting, bugs, updates, security, bandwidth, or file storage. You, as a company, can focus more on your sales and marketing tactics, and also on your product innovation strategy.
Predictable pricing is another advantage. Monthly plans start from approx. $2,000 and increase as you want more “extras”, like customizations (e.g. exclusive APIs), advanced infrastructure, etc. But the costs will stay the same month by month based on your initial plan.
As for support, being a Shopify Plus client, you’ll have a dedicated account manager helping you solve any issue that may arise.
You also need to know that, despite featuring blogging tools, Shopify Plus is not the best platform for content management. Therefore many Shopify stores have their blog pages on a subdomain.
Another disadvantage is backend limitations for customizations. Backend changes and integrations must be in compliance with Shopify’s API, and you do not have FTP or database access either.
On the other hand, it’s worth examining your true need for customization. Maybe it’s enough to customize the most important, rather technical or practical elements of your store? Is a totally unique storefront design that important? This article on Shopify Plus customization raises some interesting points to consider.
Finally, you must take the risk factor into consideration, which is depending on Shopify’s business health. I.e. if, for any reason, Shopify may close down, you’ll need to migrate to a new platform and all your data will have to be exported by Shopify for you. So there is some risk there.
Now let’s talk about Magento Commerce (formerly Magento Enterprise Cloud).
At the beginning of this article, we already mentioned the pricing information for Magento Commerce, one of the most complex and specialized cloud-based ecommerce systems in the world today.
At first, we can see that it’s more expensive. The annual license fee up to $1 million revenue divided by 12 is $3,300 and it goes up as your sales grow.
However, you can still find it beneficial to implement Magento Commerce since it has a good number of advantages and features that your business truly needs.
First, you have predictable prices as well: you pay the annual license fee, which includes cloud hosting, support round the clock and also security and development services. This allows you to have a fully customized store meeting all your expectations both in terms of backend and frontend.
You also have full access to your database and you can also have additional developments and integrations carried out by your chosen and trusted Magento development team – either on an in-house or external agency level.
But what you really get with Magento Commerce is freedom. You are free to go in whatever direction you wish with your ecommerce business.
Speaking about the risk factors, should Magento as a company close down, you still have the possibility to carry on with your chosen development team providing you with the services that are needed to further manage and run your store.
And in case you would like to migrate to another platform, you’ll be easily able to transfer your data which you already have full access to.
Shopify’s aggressive attack against Magento
You may have come across several of Shopify’s ads, case studies and posts talking about the “superiority” of Shopify over Magento.
Shopify launched a frontal attack against Magento. They highlight all the benefits of their own system and all the vulnerabilities of Magento, trying to convince hesitating or “burnt before” merchants to switch to Shopify.
For example, in a series of articles at Shopify Plus, Aaron Orendorff mentions real-life cases in which some merchants got very dissatisfied with Magento and then he offers Shopify Plus as a good option to migrate to.
In addition, employing a more aggressive approach, Shopify sent out cold emails to Magento merchants making them worry about the future of their Magento 1.x store.
Kalen Jordan, a Magento enthusiast, commented on this email campaign on YouTube.
You can see his video here:
All in all, we too feel that Shopify’s marketing campaign is rather manipulative and not entirely fact-based – built on assumptions, exaggerations, and some carefully selected negative client experiences with Magento.
Shopify is a simpler choice in every respect. Simpler, because it offers less possibilities and this is not a problem for many people.
For starters, who want to sell a few products of a small enterprise, it will not be a problem that there are only a few possibilities for customization (with cheaper plans) as they will simply not need that.
Magento is the more complex system.
On one hand, it offers a lot more features: you can set every small detail yourself from the attributes of the products to the details of the appearance. You have more opportunities to enrich the system with extensions, corrections – at the same time, there is no support and no hosting, you are on your own in this regard.
If one needs more than the basic Magento system, they will have to spend on development, too, and hosting is a minuscule expenditure compared to that. On the other hand, Magento is such a system whose possibilities you can totally exploit and you may be able to do everything yourself only if you are a specialist in web programming (both in front-end and back-end development) or if you employ someone who is. In addition, you have to be aware that the operation of Magento requires that you are able to spend on it continuously.
You have to keep up with the needs of the market and the customers and you will always have to optimize your system accordingly. You will have to run A/B tests on your customer interface and adapt the purchasing process, the design, the promotions and so on according to the appropriate lessons learned. This will demand significant developments, even 40-60 hours per month in case of a major ecommerce store.
Of course, this is worth the investment even in the short run as it facilitates effective sales. Magento is a great system for growing medium-sized enterprises wishing to develop and for big companies already in the game, especially because they either have the funds for the infrastructure and the expertise or the conditions are already given. However, for the starters Shopify offers a really simple, out-of-the-box solution for which no deeper knowledge or longer learning process is needed and it is not even necessary that you acquire a hosting service yourself.
As we laid it down at the beginning, it is not the abilities of the two systems that determine which is the better – since they do not play in the same league or at least the overlap is small. It is simply the target audience which is different and the choice depends mainly on you defining which category you belong to.