E-Commerce Platform: Shopify vs Magento

I’m going to be bold here and say that if you’re a small business with fewer than 100,000 customers and a pretty normal business model, you should be running Shopify as your eCommerce platform. If you’re not on Shopify, and you’re considering Shopify vs. Magento, you should just switch to Shopify.

Now, this may come as a bit of a shock that I would come out on the whole Shopify vs. Magento debate in favor of the underdog, especially considering that Lucid Path Consulting actually sells a number of modules for Magento. Indeed, it would almost seem like I’m shooting myself in the foot, urging people to switch to Shopify in droves. Why would I do such a thing?

After all, isn’t Shopify a smaller Canadian startup competing with the likes of eBay, the new owners of the proudly open-source Magento Platform? Isn’t Shopify built with Ruby on Rails, the relatively new and “unscaleable” web development framework? Well, yes and yes – though you’re dopey if you think Rails can’t scale (Ahem… Fiverr? Twitter?). But there’s so much more to consider in the Shopify vs. Magento debate.

Recently, I helped migrate the website of one of the startups I sit on the board of, KUTOA. We moved them from a Magento site that nobody was really happy with to a clean, slick, and fast Shopify site that our customers love. It took about a week of working on-and-off, was fast to set up, and costs them under a hundred bucks a month, even with all the modules. Moreover, customizing it to their look and feel was incredibly quick and easy… a total pleasure to work on.

1. Magento is a hairy, messy monster, when all you really need is a nimble puppy

Strange analogy, but bear with me. Magento is big. Like, really big. It has a million and one features, most of which you’ll never use, but all of which will slow the damn thing down. There is so much code in Magento, so many features, menus, and options that you simply don’t need.  Moreover, Magento is ugly. Like, really ugly.

2. You think it’ll cost more if you choose Shopify vs. Magento – you’re wrong

When you factor in the hosting, the SSL certificates, the part time IT guy to keep the site running smoothly and upgrade it from time-to-time, I’m pretty sure Magento is costing you more than Shopify at the end of the day. Shopify tops out at $179/mo, which isn’t bad at all for unlimited traffic. Of course, you’ll add on the $20/mo for a module you want, and another $40 for that fancy feature you’re dying to have, but it will still come out relatively cheap. What are you paying your IT guy to patch your site to work with Magento 1.8? Or are you even upgrading to 1.8, because it’s such a hassle… which leads me to my next point… Score another point for Shopify in our Shopify vs. Magento comparison.

3. Upgrades in Magento are the 8th Level of Dante’s Inferno

Keeping up with the important upgrades in Magento is a full time job - and it's costly

Keeping up with the important upgrades in Magento is a full time job – and it’s costlyWho was it at eBay/Magento who thought it would be a good idea to change the database structure between versions of Magento. Are you joking me? I can’t tell you how many clients we have who are still on the highly vulnerable 1.6 and 1.7 versions of Magento (or worse). Now, compare that with Shopify, where updates are done automatically, and you don’t have to worry about hosting anything. Of course, you could say that Magento offers Magento Go, but there are so few modules and themes for Magento Go that I don’t really consider it an alternative for Magento itself.

For that matter, while we’re talking about hosting…

4. The onus of data security is off of you with Shopify vs. Magento

Shopify hosts all your customer data. Let them worry about protecting it from hackers. I once had a competitor who had his server hacked and lost about 15,000 customer emails and credit cards. Why he was storing credit cards against PCI-DSS regulations, I’ll never know. In any case, it cost him a lot of reputation, and his customers were very happy  to migrate to me when I told them we NEVER store customer payment information. With Shopify, however, there’s a whole new level of “not my problem” – they own the entire checkout process on their own servers (your customers will be redirected through their Shopify Payments gateway), meaning that you just receive deposits in your bank account. It’s not your merchant account in case of chargebacks, it’s not your servers in case of security breaches. Sleep easer.

5. The modules! Think of the modules!

My partner Yuriy and I have been building Magento extensions (modules) for years now, and over the course of our journey, we’ve seen some real interesting stuff. People who have 15 modules all conflicting. People who download a theme or design upgrade and disable half their modules inadvertently. We have to bill our poor customers hourly to fix these conflicts, which almost never have anything to do with our module. It’s heartbreaking. The bottom line is that Magento modules are pretty much a free-for-all, with pretty limited API restrictions. Modules can modify almost anything in your store if you let them, and this can wreak havoc when multiple modules try to change the same function, page, or block. It’s nasty. Compare this to Shopify, which is a “walled garden” much like iOS. Developers cannot change any core functionality whatsoever. In fact, even to get order data, they have to import it to their module securely and work with it there, so as to prevent interference or damage to the integrity of the store. This is a pain for us as developers, but it leads to a much better experience; a Shopify module will never screw up your store. Having seen what I’ve seen, I definitely can’t say the same of Magento modules.

There are already a lot of great modules for Shopify, but admittedly it’s very few that are available for Shopify vs. Magento. As time progresses, more and more modules are becoming available for Shopify, catching it up to Magento. We’re working on helping that cause, too, so if you have some ideas for Shopify modules you would like to see, just send them our way!

6. Shopify so damn beautiful, and actually fun to use

Shopify vs. Magento - which one would you rather use?

Shopify vs. Magento – which one would you rather use?
Anyone can figure out how to manage a store in Shopify. Again drawing the Apple analogy, Shopify is an iPhone to Magento’s… Linux? No, think uglier. Shopify is simple and elegant. Not too many options. Clear and intuitive interfaces. Visually appealing user interface both front and back end… It’s just fun to use. Pitting Shopify vs. Magento in terms of interface is like pitting your iPhone against the green-screened computers used in the Matrix movies. Try finding what you want in Magento’s 10,000 menu options. This isn’t even to mention the beautiful front-end themes…

This was the biggest difference that Joey, owner of KUTOA, noticed with Shopify vs. Magento. Whereas he would never make changes to the site himself when we were on Magento, I found him adding content, making tweaks, and really enjoying the process of building out the Shopify site. It’s just fun to use a quality product like Shopify.

7. Design Work and Templating Made Simple

This beautiful site we built for KUTOA was astoundingly easy.

This beautiful site we built for KUTOA was astoundingly easy.
Modifying the look and feel of your Shopify store is dead simple, not just because there are a ton of beautiful themes available that auto-install without hiring a “Magento Expert” from India to do a lackluster job for $1,200 (you know who you are…). No, Shopify also has the files laid out in easy-to-read HTML, which is augmented by their very own “Liquid” templating language. This is as close to natural language programming as you can get. Here’s an example. If I want to show the customer’s name when he is in the shopping cart, I simply add in the code “Hey, {{customer.name}}, here’s what’s in your cart!” The same process in Magento involves grabbing some PHP variable that is defined in one of about 1,000 PHP files, I have no clue where that file is, and frankly… ugh.

8. Ease of Install in Shopify vs. Magento

No need to configure databases. No need to make sure PHP5 is installed. No need for any of that. Sign up for an account and get rocking in as little as an hour. Heck, I’ll do it for you free, if you want. Wanna guess what we charge to build a Magento site?

9. Shopify’s fast and lightweight

Magento is a PHP-heavy hog. Configure your caches wrong and your site will move like Molasses in December. Shopify is nimble, quick, and efficient. Studies show that even a 500 millisecond delay can decrease sales dramatically – do you want to risk it?

So there you have it. My full-scale rant against Magento. If you’re running a store with hundreds of thousands of customers, then yeah, you probably want to go with Magento Enterprise. But when it comes to Community Edition Magento vs. Shopify, I recommend Shopify every time – and for good reason. If you need a site designed using Shopify, let us know, we’ll be much happier to work on Shopify vs. Magento disaster cleanup we do every day!