Magento Open Source is a free, open-source software, and the most popular ecommerce solution on the planet. It’s a powerful, feature-rich piece of kit with huge potential, and it’s used by around 20% of the world’s ecommerce businesses.
‘Great, sign me up!’, we hear you thinking. Well hold on a second.
If you’ve only got a little store, using Magento will be like buying a chainsaw to prune a rosebush; messy, expensive, unnecessary, and basically just way too much effort.
Small businesses and side hustlers, turn back now – this is not the solution for you. Instead, take a look at platforms like Shopify, BigCommerce, or even Wix (if you’re going to have under 10 products).
Scaling-up-fast kinda stores, hundreds-of-products kinda stores, going global kinda stores, outgrown-our-current-ecommerce-solution kinda stores – stick with us. Magento could be exactly what you’re looking for.
‘What is Magento’ is an excellent question to kick us off, and doesn’t have as simple an answer as you might think. That’s because Magento has two very different versions:
- Magento Open Source – a free, downloadable open-source software available to anyone
- Magento Enterprise – a pricey (easily $10,000+/year) hosted version of Magento, designed for enterprise-level businesses in need of some serious power and development help
We’ll be focusing on Magento Open Source for this review, because that’s the most popular version.
- Super scalable – All the features and inventory management you need to keep your store looking tight and running smoothly as your product catalog grows from hundreds to thousands. Unlimited attributes mean endless ways for you and your customers to filter and segment
- Feature-rich – Simply put, it’s unlikely that Magento won’t be able to do what you need it to, especially when compared to other ecommerce solutions. Just watch out for what costs extra, and how much extra
- Expensive – ‘Expensive? But it’s free!’, we hear you cry. Magento is a free software, but there are a whole load of costs – some optional, some absolutely necessary – that will go into getting your Magento site live
- Not beginner-friendly – Installing Magento, and getting it to look how you want it to look, will be near impossible without some dev work. Setting up shop with no coding knowledge is possible, but it will be one hell of a steep learning curve
Ease of use is Magento’s weakest area, scoring just 2.5/5 in testing. This is the main reason we don’t recommend it for beginners, or small stores.
Once you’ve installed it, the backend is pretty standard, and fairly user-friendly – the key thing to note being ‘once you’ve installed it’.
Installing Magento without any real technical experience is hard. Not hard as in impossible hard, but hard as in ‘we had to write a whole other article about how to install Magento’ kind of hard.
When you compare that with the simple, two minute signup of ecommerce platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce, you can see why Magento scores so poorly. Even WooCommerce, another open-source platform, makes life a lot easier, with a lot more hand-holding through the initial stages.
To make installing Magento easier, keep our guide to hand (we’ve made this super simple to follow, and tried to demystify some of the developer language Magento uses). You can also pick a hosting provider that offers pre-configured installation – not many do, but Siteground does, and is our top choice for Magento hosting.
Once you’re over the setup hurdle, though, Magento is fairly intuitive. Built to serve stores with 10 or 10,000 products, smaller businesses will of course find some things unnecessarily complicated. If you have a large inventory, though, Magento is designed to make everything super simple to input, find, and manage.
Adding products is a simple, no-frills process:
You can also bulk import products using a spreadsheet – a big time saver for adding multiple products.
But it’s searching for products where Magento really proves itself as a scalable platform that makes shoppers’ lives easier. For you, as the store owner, searching for a product in the backend can be done a number of ways:
You can also give your products unlimited attributes, which makes organising thousands of products a whole lot simpler. Add attributes based on size, color, style… anything that makes sense for your brand.
To get started with a Magento theme, you need to bring one in from the Magento Marketplace. There’s around 15 which are compatible with Magento 2.
Only one of these themes is free – the rest will cost anywhere between $17 and $399. Or of course, you can pick one up on a third-party site, like ThemeForest. Magento powers around 20% of the world’s online stores, so there’s no shortage of people churning out new themes.
It’s easy to find a nice looking theme. But what then? Customization beyond the superficial stuff is going to require rooting around in your theme’s CSS – not something we feel confident in, and definitely not something we’d recommend for a beginner.
Again, due to its popularity, there’s no shortage of web developers who know their stuff when it comes to Magento, and you can expect to pay $400-$600 to customize a theme to your liking. Or, you can always get one built from scratch, but expect to pay anything up to $25,000 for the privilege.
Magento is technically free, but there are costs involved in a lot of both the ‘necessary’ and the ‘nice to have’ elements of actually getting your site online. You will not be able to launch a Magento online store without spending any money, period. It scored 3.5/5 in our research for pricing, putting it behind WooCommerce.
But just how much does it cost? Here’s an overview of the costs associated with Magento:
A word on hosting…
Hosting is the cost of purchasing the server space needed to get your website up and running, and to keep it that way. For Magento stores, we recommend Siteground for this. It’s one of our top-rated hosting providers, and comes with a bunch of handy features to help with installation and setup.
Magento supports payment via these five methods:
- Check/money order
- Cash on delivery
- Bank transfer
- Purchase order
- Zero subtotal checkout (e.g. when an offer code takes the price to zero, but tax still needs to be calculated)
Magento comes ready to take payments using the following payment gateways:
To activate both, you’ll need to add your personal data.
Of course, you can add many more payment gateways as extensions. These range from free to a few hundred dollars (one off payments) – but remember that you’ll incur different fees depending on the payment processor. Magento itself doesn’t take any commission or sales fees.
Here are just some of the payment gateways you can add as extensions:
- Amazon Pay
- Sage Pay
There are hundreds of payment extensions, but Apple Pay is a pretty major one which isn’t currently supported with a Magento extension.
Now we’re at the good stuff. Features are what Magento does best; it scored 4.2/5 in this area, and only lost marks because some of the juicer stuff needs adding in via an extension – we’ll get to that a little later on.
But for now, let’s take a look at some of the features that are included with Magento – and there are a lot.
Ecommerce/ Store management
- Unlimited product attributes. Endless ways for you (and your customers) to segment and filter your products
- Onpage/ Guest checkout – Speedy checkout options to make on-the-go customers happy customers
- Multiple languages and currencies – Magento is very much geared up for helping you go global
- Multiple logins, multiple sites – Manage multiple sites in one place, and offer out multiple logins with adjustable permissions
- Sell multiple product types – including variable, simple, online bookings etc. This is included for free, whereas on WooCommerce you have to pay extra for some types
- Set related products and upsells. Make the most of every sale
- Recently viewed/similar products. Personalize each person’s shopping experience with their own browsing history
- Coupons! Go coupon crazy, with loads of scope to personalize
- Free Google Analytics integration. Track store performance in real detail
- Abandoned cart emails. Follow up with customers who leave your site without buying the items in their cart.
- Edit URLs and meta information. Make it as easy as possible for Google to find your products
- Sitemap. You’ll get an auto-generated sitemap for tracking all your content
We could talk for a long time about everything Magento includes – what we’ve listed above is truly the tip of the iceberg. Magento’s features are stronger than pretty much any ecommerce solution we’ve tested. What might be more useful at this stage is to give you a sense of what’s missing, or what’ll cost you extra:
1. Multichannel integration – You can sell across multiple channels from your Magento store (Facebook, Etsy, eBay etc.), but you need to enable this by adding extra extensions, which can be pricey (although some are free):
- Amazon – $0
- Facebook – $199+
- Instagram – $300+
- eBay – $499+
2. Coupon customization – Coupons and discounts can be customized to be really specific to a date, customer or product – but customizing them requires basic coding, which could be a sticking point.
Extensions are one of the real selling points of a software like Magento. They’re especially helpful for getting all your different processes and software synced up and ‘talking to each other’, cutting unnecessary admin time.
Extensions fall into six different categories:
- Customer support
- Payments and security
- Accounting and Finance
- Shipping and Fulfillment
- Site Optimization
Some quick fire facts on the number and cost of extensions:
- Magento’s extensions range from free to $9,000+ (one-off payments)
- Magento has 1,970 free extensions
- 10% of Magento extensions cost less than $30
31% of Magento extensions cost between $94 and $9,000
Strong security is important for any website, but when you’re an ecommerce website handling the card details of hundreds of customers, the stakes are a lot higher.
Security for your Magento website comes from two sides:
- The Magento software itself – built-in security features, and anything you can add with extensions
- Your hosting plan – again, here we’ve worked on the assumption that you’re using Siteground, because this is the hosting provider we’d most recommend for Magento sites
Inbuilt Magento security
Magento has great security. Remember – it’s designed for big businesses dealing with lots of payments, and it has security on a level to match this. Magento 2 is – as you’d hope – the most secure version of Magento yet, and now comes with two-factor authentication as standard, as well as being PCI compliant.
Magento regularly releases security ‘patches’, which are updates with the latest versions of all its inbuilt security measures. You have to take on the responsibility of installing these as soon as they come out in order to keep your site protected.
You can put your site through Magento’s own security scanner to flag any out-of-date software, or general problem areas.
Siteground brings some of its own great security features to the table as well:
- Free SSL certificate – handy, as this is something you’d definitely need to buy otherwise
- 24/7 server monitoring – Siteground keep eyes on your website all day and all night
Intrusion Prevention System – disables access for any IP address caught trying to bruteforce your passwords
The bad news: Help and support is basically not a thing with open-source software like Magento. There isn’t a team of people on hand to help you via live chat, email, phone etc. – instead, you’re reliant on guides on the Magento website, and posting in the community forum if you’re stuck.
The good news: Magento’s guides are pretty great (well, as good as you’re likely to come across with any open-source software), and there’s a community of people who really know their stuff and are happy to try and answer your questions. Again, this all comes back to Magento being so popular.
We love these video format resources, which make any step-by-step processes really easy to understand:
Magento is an excellent, powerful ecommerce platform. You’ll want for nothing if you use it. There are just some pretty sizeable hurdles that keep it from being the right choice for everyone:
- Ease of use – Magento is not very easy to set up or design, but fairly intuitive to use. Hand holding is not its thing, so prepare for a steep learning curve
- Cost – It’s free to install, but with all the necessary extras, costs will quickly rack up
- Time – Steep learning curve = a lot of time to get it right
So, you should use Magento if…
- You have a fast-growing brand that will outgrow – or already has outgrown – popular platforms like Shopify
- You’ll be selling in lots of different countries
- You’re happy to pay for dev work, or are able to do this in-house
- You have a very large catalog, with hundreds or thousands of products
You should not use Magento if…
- You’re just starting out (you can always switch to Magento a few years down the line if you need to)
- You don’t have any tech resource, or the budget to pay for it
- You need a quick or affordable solution
Magento was recently purchased by Adobe, the company behind popular design software like Photoshop and Illustrator. It’s unclear as yet how this will affect Magento, but you’d better believe it can only mean good things.
Magento uses the PHP programming language.
Magento 2 is the most up-to-date version of Magento (Magento 1 is now actually defunct). Magento 2 is – as you’d hope – an improvement on Magento 1, most notably in that it rolled out a lot of changes to make Magento sites more mobile responsive.
That’s a great question without an easy answer! Magento and Shopify are very different. Magento is more powerful, but harder to use and more expensive overall. Shopify is a great, self-hosted platform, and is the solution we’d be more likely to recommend to the average business.