Given that you’ve stumbled upon this article, it’s safe to assume that you’re about to start your own ecommerce journey and the first stop is choosing an ecommerce platform. As you’ve discovered, there is certainly no lack of options. WordPress, Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, BigCommerce: the list goes on and on. Each of these platforms have their advantages and disadvantages, so your task is to browse through all of them and pick the one that best fits your business model, industry, needs and wants.
In today’s article, we’re going to focus on one of the most popular choices and pioneers in the ecommerce world- Magento. In this extensive Magento review, you’ll learn everything about the platform from its background to key features, pros and cons and even get a brief guide on how to get started with it.
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Magento ecommerce platform overview
In essence, Magento is an open-source ecommerce platform that uses PHP framework. Magento was developed by a US private company called Varien Inc and entered the market in March, 2008. In 2011, Varien’s former CEO Roy Rubin sold his shares to eBay, which eventually ended up becoming the full owner of Magneto. Then it was sold to Permira and finally, in 2018, Magento was acquired by Adobe for $1.68 billion with the vision of integrating it with Adobe Experience Cloud. Magento currently remains owned by Adobe.
As of now, Magento is home to over 100,000 online stores with over $155 billion worth of sales. Impressive, right? Magento prides itself in a number of world-renown clients in various industries such as:
- Cars - Ford, Landrover, Jaguar, etc.
- Sports and sportswear - Liverpool, Nike, Helly Hansen, Björn Borg, etc.
- Technology - Olympus, Vizio, etc.
- Beverages - Ahmad Tea, Nestle Nespresso, Monin, etc.
- Fashion - Christian Louboutin, Barbour, etc.
All these brands use Magento to host their ecommerce websites. Of course, this is not to say that Magento will instantly contribute to the promotion of your business and you’ll become the next Nike or Jaguar. You’ll need to put in some work into that. But it does demonstrate that Magento is a reliable partner trusted by ecommerce giants and a robust ecommerce platform that should be in the list of your considerations.
What does Magento offer?
Magento ecommerce platform is developed on open source technology using PHP framework, which allows online store owners to control how their websites work, how they look and create a flexible shopping cart system. Magento also provides marketing, search engine optimization, and catalog-management tools. It comes with a variety of themes and templates, thousands of extensions and customizations. Magento can support up to 500,000 products on a single e-commerce website and can receive/process up to 100,000 orders in an hour.
Magento offers two versions to its customers:
- Magento Open Source (formerly known as Magento Community Edition) - this is Magento’s free version that can be downloaded, customized, and self-hosted,
- Magento Commerce (formerly known as Magento Enterprise Edition) - this is a paid version that has a license fee that starts at $24,000 per year.
One of the key differences between the two versions (besides money) is hosting. Magento Commerce offers cloud hosting as part of its subscription fee whereas with Magento Open Source you have to opt for third-party hosting. Some tested third-party hosting options for Magento Open Source are:
It will take some additional research for you to figure out which version of Magento is best suited for you. In the chart below, you can see the differences in features, and you can read more here or here.
How much coding does Magento require?
There are developers whose specialization is Magento, so you’ll have no problem in finding technical support.
Magento 1 vs. Magento 2
When reading about Magento, you will (if you haven’t already) come across Magento 1 and Magento 2. So, let’s clear all misunderstandings and possible confusions upfront. Magento 1 was today’y Magento’s (aka Magento 2) predecessor. When Magento 1 entered the world of ecommerce it was far from being perfect, so Magento 2 came out to address some of these bugs and issues.
For some time the two coexisted together but on one beautiful spring afternoon in 2017 Magento announced that it will no longer support Magento 1 and it’ll come to an end on November 1, 2018. Magento users were not thrilled about the news, so Magento 1 ended up being supported until June 30, 2020. Magento 1 still runs but it no longer gets updates and security patches, which means that websites using Magento 1 are at risk of fines for lack of PCI compliance, a loss of reputation, and of course, security concerns.
The transition from Magento 1 to 2 entails the following improvements in favor of Magento 2:
- Better tech stack and architecture;
- Improved performance and loading speed;
- More mobile-friendly;
- Easy-to-use admin panel;
- More payment gateways are supported (e.g., PayPal, Braintree, and Authorize.net.);
- Simplified checkout;
- Strong security;
If you’re contemplating between Magento 1 and Magento 2 then let us make it easier for you - go with Magento 2. Yes, the costs are more but so are the benefits plus increased security. If you’re currently a Magento 1 user then migrate as soon as possible.
How to get started with Magento ecommerce platform?
The very first thing you need to do is choose between Magento Open Source and Magento Commerce. As already explained both versions share core features and functionalities and have access to Magento Connect (Magento’s extension marketplace). Here is a chart from Elogic Ecommerce Blog that sums up the key differences between Magento Open Source (Community) and Commerce (Enterprise) versions.
Given that the interface of both versions are the same, for the purposes of the Magento review, we will walk you through the Open Source version. It’s worth reiterating that Magento requires coding knowledge, so installing and maintaining Magento can get quite technical.
So, let’s get started:
The first thing you need is to acquire a web hosting plan. We’ve listed a couple of different options earlier in the article, so go back to it if you don’t have a solution in mind. Next you need to download the Magento Open Source software.
- Go to the Magento Open Source page, scroll a little and click on the Download Open Source button, which comes right after the Open Source & Commerce comparison chart.
- You’ll be directed to a page where you’ll see a number of different sub-options of Magento Open Source. Read the advantages of each sub-option and choose the one that fits your needs. We recommend using the Archive version, it’s the simplest of all and well suited for beginners.
Once it’s downloaded, the software will run on your computer (aka local server), so you can upload it to the remote server via your hosting.
Next, you need to create a database of your own. The actual process behind this step depends on your hosting provider. It should be a fairly easy process.
When the database is ready, go ahead and upload Magento to the server that is linked to your hosting account. Again, the details depend on your hosting provider but generally, it’s done through a File Manager section. Once uploaded, you need to unpack Magento in the File Manager by clicking Extract.
To complete this step, we need to move the browser. Type your domain into the browser, which will lead you to the installer application. Click the Agree and Setup Magento button and you’ll be presented with 5 steps to complete for the installation to be over:
- Readiness check
- Add a database
- Web configuration
- Customize your store
- Create admin account
When you’re done with all the steps, you should see an Install Now button, click on it and wait for the installation to be finished.
- Once the installation is complete, click Launch Magento Admin at the bottom of this and that’s it, you’re ready to run your Magento store.
Now that you know how to install Magento Open Source, let’s briefly go over its admin panel and review some core elements.
To go to the admin page, add /admin to your store URL and reload the page. Log in by entering your username and password (these are set up during installation). You’ll be directed to your admin panel that looks like this:
The tab bar on the left is fairly intuitive, so take some time to familiarize yourself with it.
The admin panel allows you to both follow the activity on your store and configure your storefront. SALES, CATALOG, CUSTOMERS, REPORTS, STORES sections will give you insights on the performance of your store. The MARKETING and CONTENT sections are geared towards design and promotion. For example, if you click on CONTENT, you’ll be directed to the Design Configuration page that will allow you to change the theme of your storefront. You can learn more about applying and configuring themes here. The last two sections in the tab are for extensions, which you can buy and access from Magento Marketplace.
Magento constantly adds new updates and upgrades to the platform and executing them depends on which version and subversion of Magento you’re using. For details visit Magento upgrade overview.
If you’re interested in the Commerce version, you can book a demo with Magento and get a sense of how it will work for you.
Now that you have some general information on Magento and how it works, let’s dig deeper and learn more about its key characteristics and elements.
Functions and features
In the market of ecommerce platforms, Magento is known to be rather complex in terms of installation and management but it’s also known to be one of the most flexible ones. In fact, the unique selling point of Magento can be considered its flexibility. However, it comes at a cost, which is complexity (aka required coding).
In their words Magento offers “comprehensive feature set that boosts sales, business agility, performance, and more.” The Commerce version of Magento does indeed offer a wide array of opportunities that can help you grow your business. Here are some of the key features and functionalities of Magento’s ecosystem that make it stand out:
Customer segmentation and targeting
Magento allows online merchants to provide personalized shopping experiences for their clients. Users of Magento can show specific content, promotions, and pricing to individual customers based on data such as their location, gender, order history, lifetime purchase value, wish list items, and more.
Magento has an Instant Purchase checkout option, which will certainly make shopping easier for your returning clients and ultimately, boost your sales. Let your customers use previously-stored payment credentials and shipping information to skip checkout steps and make the shopping experience faster and simpler.
Advanced analytics and reporting
You need to learn from your mistakes and duplicate successes, so advanced analytics is important for any ecommerce platform. Magento allows you to collect actionable insights with 100 predefined reports across sales, marketing, customers, and more.
Multiple stores, one backend
Magento ecommerce platform allows its users to create multiple stores only in the single configuration. So all stores created via Magento will either share the same domain, be set up as subdomains or have entirely different domains but have the same backend for easier management.
Whatever function is not offered by default in Magento, you can obtain via its marketplace. You can get extensions of all categories from customer support to accounting, shipping and site optimization. The extensions are added through special keys that you can access in the marketplace by using your Magento username and password.
Order and inventory management
Besides manual order management, Magento also has a special product called Magento Order Management, which allows online merchants to keep track of all their inventory across multiple channels. So, businesses that have multiple brands, sites, stores, warehouses can have seamless cross-channel experiences. If you don’t want to opt for this product, you can use Magento’s default order management system that allows:
- View, edit, create, and fulfill orders and/or invoices from the Admin panel;
- Create multiple invoices, shipments and credit memos per order to allow for split fulfillment;
- Print Invoices,packing slips,and shipping labels;
- Use return management authorization (RMA) to process returns;
- Issue store credits or refund orders for store credit, etc.
These are few of Magento’s features and functionalities. You can find the full list here.
Themes and designs
As an online merchant, you want your website to be not only responsive but also good-looking. Magento offers its customers a wide range of built-in themes. There are also available extensions for more designs and themes that you can choose from. If you wish, you can also create and install custom storefront themes but this requires coding.
Generally speaking, you can make minor design/layout changes (like changing colors) to the site using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) but for more advanced styling, you’ll need to know how to use LESS (Leaner Style Sheets) and XML (Extensible Markup Language). To make structural modifications and to change some images, you’ll need PHP and HTML skills. Like we’ve already said, Magneto is more of a coding-oriented ecommerce platform.
Magento’s built-in responsive design reference themes adapt and adjust to fit desktop, laptop, tablet, and mobile device screens. Themes are touch-friendly, easily customized, and offer SEO advantages.
Magento prices and payments
Magento Open Source is free to use and Magento Commerce is estimated to start at $1988 per month. There is no specific pricing, depending on your business and your needs, Magento will offer you a pricing package. To receive a quote, contact their sales team.
In terms of payments, Magento is integrated with a number of multiple payment gateways such as PayPal, Braintree, Authorize.net, CyberSource and WorldPay. You can also get additional payment extensions through the Magento Marketplace. With Magento, you can accept checks and cash on delivery, and receive all the payments on your account.
SEO and marketing
Another big pain point of many online merchants is search engine optimization and marketing. With Magento, SEO is automatically configured and you have marketing tools available to you. For one thing, you’ll have access to rich data, which will allow you to design more targeted marketing campaigns. Moreover, the built-in tools and marketplace extensions will allow you to increase conversions by running promotions, implementing email marketing, creating landing pages, etc.
In terms of security, Magento has spared no effort to ensure that the platform is safe and secure both for merchants and their customers. Magento has a security center and offers SQL injection vulnerabilities. It is built on a modern tech stack that uses popular frameworks and supports industry standards. Magento uses strong data encryption: for all the tech savvies out there, it uses encryption based on AES-256 and hashing based on SHA-256. Magento constantly runs scannings, external penetration testing and bug bounty programs that promote core platform security.
User experience of the platform
Now, this is when our Magento review gets a bit tricky. If we’re talking about Magento in general as an ecommerce platform, we can’t say that it’s easy to use given that it requires decent coding knowledge. But for those who do have that knowledge, Magento is fairly intuitive and user friendly. It’s admin panel has a very simple design with no hidden buttons and tabs.
Magento has a technical support team that is available 24x7. These teams are comprised of experts who will address all your queries in a timely manner. Plus, they assign account managers to each business, who will guide you, help you find resources and use all key functionality of Magento to your benefit. In terms of customer support, Magento definitely scores a point in its favor.
Magento advantages that stand out
What makes Magento so special? Why is an industry giant? Aren’t online merchants looking for easy-to-use and no-coding-required platforms? All good questions. While Magento does have high maintenance, it also has advantages that make it stand out in today’s saturated market. For example,
- It’s a very powerful platform - Magento can support over 500,000 products, process a large number of orders simultaneously and handle a large inventory.
- It’s mobile friendly - more and more customers are turning to their phones to shop online and if your store isn’t mobile friendly, say goodbye to conversions. Magento is responsive and has a mobile friendly checkout experience.
- Marketplace integrations - Magento 2 can be integrated with some of the most popular marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay. So, online merchants can make the best of an omnichannel experience and reach a much wider audience.
- Limitless customization - Yes, coding does bring forward some inconveniences but it also opens doors to new opportunities like limitless customization.
Other benefits of Magento include and are not limited to:
- Smart search options;
- Customizable security features;
- Advanced SEO features and marketing tools;
- Supportive online community;
- Personalized customer experience.
These are the ones that we’ve highlighted. You’ll have to try and find out which functions and features of Magento stand out the most to you.
What are Magento’s alternatives?
If you think that Magento is just not cut out for you then you’ve got other alternatives to go over. Some of the biggest competitors of Magento ecommerce platform are:
- Woocommerce - customizable, open-source ecommerce platform built on WordPress.
- BigCommerce - a SaaS ecommerce platform
- OpenCart - open source online store management program that can manage multiple online stores from a single back-end.
- Shopify - an ecommerce platform that allows merchants to set up an online store and sell their products.
Given that Shopify is the biggest name among ecommerce platforms, let’s talk about the two separately.
Shopify vs Magento 2
To make your research simpler, we have identified 5 reasons why you should choose Magento over Shopify and 5 reasons why Shopify is a better fit for you instead of Magento.
Magento over Shopify
- If laws of the industry you’re in constantly change, go for Magento as it is open source and much more flexible unlike Shopify.
- If you’re going to work in the B2B market then Magento will help you handle the complexities associated with this business model.
- Magento has more flexibility and scalability than Shopify.
- With Magento, you can have multiple stores integrated with the same backend on one installation.
- Magento offers more innovations both in terms of functionality and user experience.
Shopify over Magento
- Shopify doesn’t require heavy dependence on developers and technical advisers.
- It’s much simpler to add new functionalities on Shopify than it is with Magento. Non-technical users can install functionalities on their own, whereas with Magento, you’ll have to bring in the developers.
- Shopify doesn’t require extensive maintenance and costs associated with it.
- Simple user experience for the merchants.
- Shopify is cheaper than Magento both in terms of direct costs and ongoing maintenance.
There you have it 5 key reasons why you should choose one over the other. Review them in the context of your business and you’ll make an informed decision.
Magento review conclusion
Magento is a powerful ecommerce platform that offers flexibility, which is hard to find or achieve with other platforms. Backed by Adobe, it has proven to be an industry giant that improves constantly and consistently. But with power and flexibility comes complexity. If your background is not in technology nor do you have a team of developers, it might be hard for you to make use of Magento. You can, however, start from Magento Open Source and make your way to Magento Commerce.
There are a number of resources that you can use to learn more about Magento. We recommend starting from their website particularly tech resources. You can also join Magento Forums to get acquainted with other Magento store owners, learn from their experience and exchange tips.