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Building an E-Commerce website: Magento vs Shopify

It’s a pretty specific question to ask – “Should my business choose Shopify or Magento?” And if it’s something you’ve thought about before, here’s all you need to to know.

As two competing e-commerce platforms, both Shopify and Magento have their own set of advantages and flip-sides. Because of this, one needs to make a roadmap and fully understand the business needs and plan. Before taking a final call, it’s important to have a crystal clear understanding of the resources available to your business (time, capital, skilled labour), the current market conditions, the kind of brand you want to build, and your expectations for the future.

So what is the best possible option for e-commerce between Shopify and Magento? Simply put, this is akin to choosing between independence with responsibility and simplicity with restrictions. And it depends on your requirements.

Magento is an open-source platform. This means that any web developer who is familiar with or able to learn Magento can tweak it to suit very specific needs. In fact, there exist several organisations who develop extensions for Magento as a full-time occupation.

Magento offers two versions.

The first, the Community Edition is free both for download and use, in true open source spirit. However, also in the open source spirit, you will have to handle hosting, development and maintenance. As a result, most entrepreneurs who use this free edition are either experienced Web Developers in their own right (pretty uncommon) or have on call a full time experienced web developer as a consultant (more common).

There is a also a paid Enterprise Edition of Magento which offers inbuilt hosting facilities as well as customer support. This is often a good option for people with larger budgets, the need for customised extensions, but also a limitation on technical know-how.

Shopify, on the other hand, is a commercial proprietary software. It comes with a limited number of extensions to choose from. It offers cost effective complete solutions for hosting and operations. There is also a considerable variety in plans, so that the Software as a Service enterprise can attract startups and businesses from different tiers. It should be noted, of course, that as a non-open source platform, Shopify restricts its customers to extensions and themes that the company decides to provide or support. At the same time, there is already considerable variety in what is supported.

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As a comparative, there are over 15,000 Magento plugins and extensions. There are over 100 custom applications and plugins available via Shopify.

While most Shopify plans are reasonably priced, the Community Edition of Magento is absolutely free. On the other hand, the Enterprise Edition is quite expensive.

Magento SEO techniques are often touted as being more powerful than those offered by Shopify. Again, someone with technical know-how may be required on call to handle the extra freedom.

One very important distinction:

Magento is ideal for large-scale multi vendor ecommerce platforms- like Alibaba, and Amazon. Shopify generally tends to the single vendor portals, meeting requirements of small business owners running ecommerce stores.

To reiterate the simple analogy in a different form – Shopify is the e-commerce equivalent of a store bought suit. It’s not too expensive, easy to use, but doesn’t offer the freedom to customise. Magento is either like stitching your own suit, or getting it professionally tailored. For almost no cost, you can go your own way with the basic tools and build something powerful and robust if you have the skill. Alternatively, you could take professional help and have complete freedom to do whatever your creativity desires.

Clearly, the final call needs to be made with your specific business roadmap in mind.

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Mayank Gulati