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.
Pros and Cons of Magento
All website building tools, from WooCommerce to Shopify, come with their pros and cons to consider. Magento is no exception. On the one hand, you’re getting a free to download and flexible solution that’s packed full of amazing features.
Magento is one of the most scalable site building tools around, and it benefits from a great community. However, it also demands a lot of developer skills, and some significant investment. Let’s evaluate the pros and cons.
- Free to download thanks to the open source design
- User friendly – great for people who are willing to learn
- Expansive backend user interface with lots of features available
- Impressive feature set, with the option to extend and customize however you choose
- Highly scalable – great for growing companies
- Global community of dedicated users
- Huge number of payment gateway integration options
- Lots of opportunities to adjust your theme and template designs
- Steep learning curve, you’ll need at least some coding knowledge to get started
- Limited support unless you’re paying for the expensive enterprise package
- Hosting, security, and backups are almost entirely up to you
- Missing some integrated features, which means you need developer support
- Getting help with broken elements isn’t easy
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
The best way to get a full insight into what’s possible with Magento, is to split the feature lists according to segment. For instance:
- Coupons: flexible codes and offline options
- Customer groups: Segment via demographics, location, and more
- Recently viewed/compared products: For targeted recommendations
- Related products/ cross sells and upsells: To inspire more purchases
- Wish list sharing: Customers can send wishlists via email
- Social button sharing: Showcase what customers bought on social media
- Persistent cart: preserve carts when customers leave the site
- Google site mapping for online ranking
- Customizable URLs: rewrite and tweak for user-friendly SEO
- Meta information: Include data for each page of your ecommerce business
- Multi-store support: Manage multiple websites from one account
- Printing: For packing slips, invoices, labels, etc.
- Create and edit orders: Use your admin panel as a virtual terminal
- Bulk export/import: Use CSV files to make migration simple
- Manage permissions: All access to different features for users
Catalog/ Inventory management:
- Multiple product type support: Virtual, grouped, bundled, personalized, etc.
- Unlimited attributes: Add all attributes to your product page
- Predefined attributes: Streamline attribute management
- Product sorting: Reduce the learning curve of finding products
- Pricing rules: Give discounts on products ordered in bundles
- Product images: Display multiple images per post
Shipping, Checkout and Analytics:
- Integration with Google analytics
- Built-in reporting for sales, tax, and abandoned carts
- Mobile responsive: Base design compatible with responsive themes
- One-page checkout: Make buying quick and simple
- Custom checkout: Create a checkout to suit your version of magento or web design
- Guest checkout: Attract customers that don’t want to sign up for e-commerce websites
- Order tracking: Track verified orders on your site
- Tax and shipping estimates: Be clear about pricing from day one
As the Magento community often laments, there are some things missing from the Magento ecommerce open source experience. There’s no in-built rewards program, for instance, or abandoned cart recovery. Those are features that come as standard with the Magento Commerce service. If you do decide to use open-source functionality, you can work with a developer to create a Magento extension for missing features.
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.
The good news is that purchasing a theme or template from a third-party will usually give you access to advanced extensions too. Once you’ve found a theme that you want to use, you’ll find that customizing your storefront design with Magento isn’t as simple as it could be.
Unfortunately, an open source editor like this can be a little tricky for beginners without much coding knowledge. There are simpler drag-and-drop solutions out there from companies that have their own built-in theme editor.
Really, your design options from Magento boil down to:
- Purchasing an extension or plugin that offers access to new customization tools for your website and payment gateways.
- Purchasing a third-party theme generator or theme tool and using the inbuilt dashboard on that theme to customize according to your needs. This may require some coding.
- Create a custom theme from scratch, using a frontend developer for expertise.
Some companies will use a combination of these methods. Unfortunately, all of the options available do mean that you’re going to have extra expenses to deal with.
Magento recently improved the design and customization elements of the builder with the new Page Builder extension. This drag-and-drop solution makes it easy to adjust your content types on a page. For end users, this reduces the demand for coding, and it gives you live previews of the storefront.
However, you’re going to need to download an extra extension to use this service – which might be problematic for some customers.
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.
You do need to integrate with a third-party payment gateway (suitable for Magento) before you get started. The good news is that this shouldn’t restrict your ecommerce store too much. A quick search for integrations on Magento Open Source 2 pulls up more than 300 results.
Do keep in mind that different payment gateway integrations may come with a price attached to them. When you’re building your Magento store with Adobe, you’ll need to keep pricing in mind. Some solutions are free, but many of the extensions, themes, and plugins from Magento come with an extra cost.
Credit card and debit card processing from any provider isn’t free either. You’ll need to check out the payment providers that integrate with Magento to see which one can give you the lowest prices. Some of the common choices for Magento include:
- Amazon Pay
- Sage Pay
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.
If you’re using Magento as an open source storefront, then you unfortunately can’t expect to have security thrown in too. This is something that many consumers note when they’re leaving product reviews for the service. You’re responsible for installing your own SSL certificate.
All Magento sites are expected to be PCI compliant, so customer information is not stored or passed around without their knowledge. However, you’ll need to make sure that you follow the rules to make your site compliant yourself.
It’s also worth acknowledging that older versions of Magento may not receive support from the company forever. This includes security patches. If you’re an early adopter of the software, then you’ll need to keep track of updates to make your website even more secure.
The good news is that there are some decent features included with Magento 2 to protect the customer shopping experience. For instance, two-factor authentication and Google reCAPTCHA are part of the standard Magento 2 experience.
You can also get extra assistance strengthening your security with the help of a Magento developer, or by checking out the tips and best practices on the Magento website.
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.
For people who are happy to take control of their own support strategy, Magento does provide plenty of resources.
However, there are limitations to how much this company will hold your hand through the store-building process. Like many open-source solutions, there’s no live chat available, phone number support, or email for merchants that use Magento Open Source. You only get customer service with certain Commerce Cloud packages.
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.
If you have a problem with any aspect of Magento, or how your website is running, you’re basically on your own. This isn’t the best ecommerce platform for beginners for that reason. You’ll need to make do with the resources you’ll find on the Magento website, and the guidance of your community. The tricky part here is figuring out which resources to use.
It’s not always simple to identify which guides are for Magento Commerce, Magento 1, or Magento 2, for instance. If you’re really confused, you could always consider signing up for the Magento U experience. This training solution gives you a behind-the-scenes introduction to various sales and website building strategies.
Keep in mind, while some Magento U lessons are free, many have a price attached.
Magento 1 End of Life: What Are Your Options?
If you’re thinking of using Magento as your eCommerce site builder, then you should also be aware that Adobe closed support for the original Magento 1 this year. Magento 1 is a 12-year-old solution that the company believes it has replaced with a more suitable system: Magento 2.
The easiest way to deal with Magento 1’s end-of-life process is just to migrate to Magento 2. If you’re familiar with how Magento works, then the experience will be very similar. Magento 2 also offers a variety of features that aren’t available in the original edition. You can work with a solution partner or developer to make the migration easier.
If you currently still have a store that’s running on Magento 1, then it’s important to make sure that you adapt accordingly. Now that Magento 1 is not supported by Adobe, the company will take no responsibility for maintaining your site’s security and PCI compliance. Here are your options for moving on from Magento 1:
Magento 2 is the next-generation version of Magento available for people who want to continue making the most of the customization and freedom options that this company has to offer. The features of Magento 2 are very similar to Magento 1, although the company is adding extra features all the time.
Magento 2 is faster than the initial iteration all around, with excellent front-end performance. Store pages load up to 50% faster, and they can handle up to 29% more orders too. Magento 2 can also handle up to 10 million page views in an hour.
Magento 2 is also significantly more friendly for mobile devices. The system also adds features that weren’t available at all with Magento 1. For instance, you can access Composer for dependency management in PHP, and Redis.
If you’d prefer to switch away from the Magento ecosystem entirely, you could consider Shopify. This one of the best all-around eCommerce platforms on the market today, offering excellent flexibility through things like an easy-to-use platform, hundreds of integrations, and brilliant customer service.
Shopify has some of the best ecommerce features on the market to offer. However, the difference between Shopify and Magento, is that Magento has all of its features built-in. With Shopify, you’re more likely to need to track down the tools you need through various plugins. There are also some transaction fees to consider unless you’re using Shopify Payments.
Shopify is a powerful and intuitive tool with a brilliant inventory system, and plenty of other amazing tools. You can also use Shopify to sell across multiple channels with ease.
👉 Read our full Shopify review.
If you’re looking for an alternative to Magento, but you’re not sure about Shopify, BigCommerce could be the perfect solution. This highly scalable product is popular among big brands, and it comes with tons of tools to help your business grow.
Unlike Shopify, everything you need comes as standard with BigCommerce, so you can jump straight into building a successful business. BigCommerce even has tools available for SEO to help with your rankings on Google. The user interface is a little tricky for some, thanks to huge amounts of jargon and technical wording, however.
Additionally, many people find that the features of BigCommerce take more getting used to than they do with Shopify and similar tools. However, if you don’t mind the learning curve, BigCommerce could be the right choice for your team. This is particularly true if you’re a growing brand.
👉 Read our full BigCommerce reviewBigCommerce review.
Magento Review: Conclusion
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.