What ecommerce platform do you plan on using for your online store? Volusion? Shopify? Maybe BigCommerce? What about choosing the most popular ecommerce solution in the world? That’s right, none of the platforms mentioned above are the most used in the industry. According to an Alexa study, Magento is used on 20% of all ecommerce sites online. That's pretty impressive! One of the reasons for this is because of Magento's flexibility and expandability. You can add just about any type of feature to your site–and that's why so many large and fast-growing businesses opt for Magento. In this Magento review, we'll outline the platform's best features, along with things like pricing and customer support.
The fact that Magento is so popular may come as no shock to some of you. I have a feeling that others are shrugging their shoulders as to what Magento even provides. Ecommerce solutions usually come in one of three forms: Built for people with no programming experience, some experience, or lots of experience.
Magento falls in the category for people with professional web development experience, and although intermediate level developers can most definitely handle Magento, it’s generally implemented by medium to large ecommerce sites with some cash to spend on a web person or department. That said, keep reading our Magento review to see what it can offer you.
Magento Review: The Features
Magento has one of the most extensive feature lists you will ever find in terms of ecommerce software. It’s the exact reason why the rates are so high and why all the Magento customers are large corporations.
Everything from marketing to customer segmentation is included. Standard features come along with the open source Magento, so you can work on search engine optimization with tools for Google sitemaps, Google Content APIs and search engine friendly URLs.
Marketing and conversion tools include coupon codes, customer groups, product bundles, and newsletter management. The list is truly endless when it comes to features, but here’s an overarching breakdown of the most important areas:
- Marketing, promotions, and conversions
- Site management
- Catalog management
- Catalog browsing
- Product browsing
- Checkout, payment, and shipping
- Order management
- Customer service
- Mobile commerce
- Persistent shopping
- Private sales
- Gift registries
- Store credits
Magento Review: Ease of Use
Magento is not easy to use at all if you’re a beginner. Honestly, if you have no experience with development and plan on working on the site yourself, skip Magento entirely. It’s only for businesses that are not on shoestring budgets.
Developers find the Magento interface quite reasonable, because it has a quick and easy self-hosting setup, and everything is consolidated on the navigational menu such as customers, products, promotions, sales, and reports.
The Magento system is a local installation, requiring FTP; but that shouldn’t bother developers. As we'll cover in the pricing section, Magento Commerce is a cloud platform where you would pay a very high price tag for basically a more advanced Shopify.
It's a little tricky to try and understand if you're going to find the interface friendly, and much of this has to do with the fact that they're starting to market both Magento versions to smaller business owners.
We're here to say that you should probably stay away from all Magento products unless you have development experience yourself, or the funds to pay for someone to come in and handle the site development for you. For the majority of this review, we'll be talking about the Magento Open Source product, but we'll also sprinkle in some thoughts about Magento Commerce.
Magento Review: Pricing
Magento provides a few versions for you to choose from. The first is called Magento Open Source (formerly the Community Edition). It's the open source offering that is available for free. Therefore, anyone can go to the Magento website and get a copy of the software.
You also have a chance to sign up for a free demo of the Magento Commerce plan, but that requires you to send in a message with all of your contact information.
The Magento Commerce package is a powerful system for large and fast-growing businesses. It’s not even fair to compare it to an option like Volusion or Shopify, because the possibilities with Magento are endless. That being said, it is nice that Magento is now offering a cloud ecommerce platform, since that's what everyone is getting used to now. Keep in mind that the Magento Commerce pricing is typically customized for each business and can end up getting very expensive.
Since Magento requires some advanced technical knowledge to configure for larger companies, Magento asks that you call or email them to request a quote. To me, this means that each client receives a different quote depending on the size of the business, but the folks at Shero Designs let us know that $18,000 per year is not an unreasonable expectation.
It’s pricey indeed!
Overall, it may feel like you're missing out on the most powerful ecommerce platform in the world if you don't go with Magento. Here's my recommendation: If you run a rapidly growing business with excellent cash flow, think about switching to Magento. It's one of the best solutions for scaling up your business online.
If you're running a small business with lower or uncertain cash flow, think about using the Magento Open Source version–but only if you or someone on your current team is a developer. If you don't have access to an affordable developer, skip Magento altogether. You're better off trying something like Shopify, Bigcommerce, or Volusion.
Even if you go with Magento Open Source, that doesn't mean you'll be able to implement and manage your site for free. This is an open source platform, so you'll have to find your own hosting, theme, and add-ons. There are also some other expenses to consider, such as a domain name and SSL certificate. A payment processing partner is also required.
Now, these expenses aren't much different from that of WordPress, but you must consider them. If you're looking at the $0 price tag and saying “This is awesome, of course I'm going with a free ecommerce platform,” remember that it's not completely free and that you still need a developer to make your site look good.
Magento Review: Templates and Design
The Magento company doesn’t sell or give away any templates, but the custom design tools are remarkable if you know what you’re doing.
For locating a pre-built template to customize later on, check out the Magento Marketplace, which highlights nicely designed options from other design companies. Some of the themes on this page are given away for free, but I would expect to pay for the best.
Another place to find templates is at ThemeForest. At the time of my search, I found almost 500 Magento themes. Not to mention, ThemeForest is ideal for seeing ratings and comments to guide your decisions. Prices start around $60 and go up to $100.
Remember, finding a theme for Magento isn't suddenly going to make your website exactly the way you want it. It requires experience with PHP and some other programming languages. Sure, a theme is a great starting point for a developer, but someone without any experience will be very confused on how to implement the theme and customize it to its fullest potential.
Magento Review: Inventory
Magento inventory management allows for various modifications to keep up with which items are coming in and going out of your store. For example, you can check up on backordered items and change the numbers for minimum and maximum quantities.
Sell downloadable products in your store, assign unlimited product attributes, and even moderate product tags and reviews to maintain full control over your own website.
You can also link to a wide variety of sales channels like eBay and Amazon. What's great about the Magento integration is that all of your inventory is synced with the website. Therefore, your customers won't be buying items that are out of stock and getting their hopes up.
Another thing I like about Magento inventory is the automation. Algorithms are used for making shipping and tax calculations. You can also give your customers some unique purchasing options such as an inventory site search and an instant purchase button. Global selling gives you quite the advantage as well, since you can support things like multiple currencies and languages.
Magento Review: SEO and Marketing
The cool thing about Magento is that you don’t really have to use other marketing tools to get everything you want, from email marketing to ads on the site. SEO is automatically configured, unless you want to go in and change things yourself.
Marketing benefits include the ability to upsell products, offer promotional pricing and give out coupons. I particularly enjoy the email marketing platform and multi-tier pricing for quantity discounts, pushing people to buy a little more to reach those discounts.
Some of the more advanced marketing features are still only reserved for those using Magento Commerce. A prime example of this would be the built-in customer loyalty tools. So, if you're only working with Magento Open Source you'll have to find an add-on or developer to build your own loyalty program.
Finally, mobile optimization and the standard SEO tools are included in both versions of Magento. So, you can rest easy knowing that the search engines are finding your site and everything is showing up nicely on smaller devices.
Magento Review: Payments
Magento provides one-click payments, guest checkouts, and shipping to other addresses, if needed. You can even set up a “bill me later” program to help out your customers and finance the purchases.
Integration with PayPal and Authorize.net makes things easy, and the entire shopping cart is built to work with and display tax and shipping calculations.
In short, shipping, payments, and an integrated checkout come built into each Magento version. There's no need to upgrade to Magento Commerce to get the best payment processing support.
Magento Review: Security
If something happens to your site, Magento offers services to resolve the problem. They actually have an entire Security Center dedicated to that task. For example, Magento charges from $1,000 to $5,000 for SQL injection vulnerabilities.
That’s a pricey, but solid service. But what about preventing these types of problems before they happen? Well, the system is just about the best you can get in terms of protecting your company and customer information. Feel free to add an SSL certificate, and execute a two-step authentication process for keeping people out of the backend of your site. All Magento sites are expected to be PCI compliant, so customer information is not stored or passed around without their knowledge.
Magento Review: Customer Support
Along with an informational blog, Magento has a knowledge base, forums for chatting with other users and all the resources you need to complete your own research.
As for dedicated support, you shouldn't expect much from Magento. It's an open source solution, meaning you typically don't get anything in terms of live chat, phone, or email support. You can contact Magento over the phone or email, but it's only supposed to be for sales questions. Most of the people you get on the phone are going to be salespeople who are trained to get you signed up for Magento Commerce–not to help you out with a downed website.
This is one of the easier reviews I’ve ever done, because Magento has never tried to pretend they are something different than an enterprise level software. The company knows its main market, so I would encourage those intermediate developers to download the free Magento version to try and build a site. As for the rest, take a look at the other platforms I recommend for non-technical people: Shopify review, Volusion review & Bigcommerce review.
As of late, Magento has gotten a little less transparent with who the Magento Commerce product is for. They're trying to find a market with smaller businesses, but as of right now I would recommend avoiding this if you're a small business owner.
Also, you might want to read an in-depth comparison between Shopify and Magento.
Let us know in the comments section if you have any questions about this Magento review.