Today we’re going to look at two of the most popular E-Commerce backend platforms behind some of your favorite online shops. WooCommerce and Magento.
Since there is a ton of functionality packed into each platform, this comparison won’t be all-inclusive. Instead, I’ll touch on a few key points that would push you in the right direction.
Some of the key areas I will look at include:
Make sure to stick around until the end, as we will provide you with a pretty good idea of what you should use for your business.
So what exactly are the differences between WooCommerce and Magento? When we get right down into it, looking at what they are used for, there isn’t a massive difference between the two.
While each has their own ways of doing the same thing, these platforms’ concept is relatively straightforward. You can set up an eCommerce store on any hosted website you own, add products, create details, up-sell customers, generate email campaigns from a product catalog, etc.
So these are the similarities, so why is there a comparison? Well, because each platform is actually created for an entirely different use case, which we’ll explore below.
Right away, I’ll just let you know that WooCommerce is free(mium). What do I mean? Well, I mean that you can download it for FREE, install it for FREE, and use its basic functionality for FREE. But to really take advantage of WooCommerce and it’s capabilities for online commerce, you will most likely need to purchase the many third-part (and first-party) plugins/add-ons available on the WooCommerce MarketPlace.
This is what we call freemium, where the basic functionality of a product is free but developed in a way that encourages premium add-ons at an extra cost. This isn’t a bad thing, though, as it does expand WooCommerce’s functionality ten-fold while still being relatively cheap.
In my experience setting up WordPress installations with WooCommerce as the backend commerce platform, I could get a client up and running for under $200, excluding any agency costs. If we look at other options, there really isn’t anything available that provides as much as WooCommerce does, except Magento Commerce.
I think here is where I will lose most of you considering Magento Commerce as a viable alternative to WooCommerce. The pricing is very different and quite confusing without knowing why.
So let’s first get this out of the way, Magento Commerce is NOT meant for online shops just starting out without some form of the previous customer base. Meaning that if you don’t already have high volume traffic with guaranteed online sales, please understand WooCommerce isn’t for you. But Why?
Well, baseline costs for getting a Magento Commerce website up and running will cost you around $20,000 per year minimum! Yes, that is right, $20,000, with the enterprise editions costing well over $100,000.
Why so expensive? Well, because, as I mentioned earlier, it really isn’t meant for new businesses. It’s a platform that has to be developed and designed from scratch and implemented for either an established business or projected to run well very quickly.
I should also mention that while Magento Commerce is an expensive option, Magento does have a fork of its commerce platform called Magento Open-Source. This version of the platform offers most of the functionality, minus any support, of course.
In addition to the lack of support, there is also no support for integrating the platform for your business. This means you’ll need a Magento certified developer to get the platform working for you. As of 2020, that ranges from $85-$165 per hour. So unless you’re in that position to make that investment, or are willing to learn web programming for Magento, then you might just be better off sticking with WooCommerce.
Complexity / Flexibility
So with this comparative topic in mind, I could do something similar, break down each platform, and we’ll see the differences. That wouldn’t make too much sense, seeing how both WooCommerce and Magento are both written in the programming language PHP and can be customized to fit your specific needs through the PHP language.
The clear difference between these platforms and their PHP customization has to come down to their code base’s complexity and how much the platform actually lets you customize. Yes, both offer, in theory, unlimited customization. Still, between the two, Magento is far superior in that it doesn’t make these customizations any more complicated than its implementation.
WooCommerce, on the other hand, closes off a lot of its functionality, and you really need to be experienced in PHP and the WooCommerce platform to not break anything. Essentially, they both offer the ability to be tailored to your needs. Still, Magento opens its codebase while WooCommerce takes another route and provides paid add-ons to accomplish this. **you can customize WooCommerce without these add-ons; it just isn’t as straightforward in my experience with both platforms.
Things to note…
You may have zero plans to edit these platforms yourself and instead will hire a developer. In that case, I would lean towards going with WooCommerce. This sounds confusing if you read just above this, as I mention that WooCommerce is MORE challenging to customize.
The reason I recommend WooCommerce for custom development really comes down to cost. Because of the large community around WooCommerce, there is also a great community of developers for it, and the cost of hiring a WooCommerce developer vs. a Magento developer will most likely be very different. Markets are subject to change, but as of 2020, this holds true.
Something often overlooked is how support is handled and what priority you as a customer receive in exchange for supporting these platforms. Using our topic of comparisons, let’s look at how support is handled differently for WooCommerce and Magento.
Direct from WooCommerce’s support policy page reads, “Our Support Service includes assistance with Product installations, configuration, and use. If you need help setting up or configuring your plugin, please first check the documentation and FAQs of the extension. “
What this means to you and me is that we can expect very basic support for our WooCommerce installation. If you continue reading the page, you’ll eventually find their caveats in which they say that they do NOT support and third-party add-ons, customizations, or alterations. This means that unless you’re sticking to a vanilla install of WooCommerce, you’re pretty much on your own.
If we remember easier, though, WooCommerce has a HUGE community behind it, filled with users that rely on it for their businesses. So you may not have generous support from the developers, but you do have access to the forums where thousands of users are willing to help you with any issue you have. I have personally used the forums dozens of times and have always had thoughtful individuals guide me to resolution.
If we’re talking about Magento Open-Source, the deal is similar to WooCommerce. You likely won’t receive any support from the developers, but it is open-source means there is a great active community behind it, that from my experience, is more than willing to help with any issues you come across.
If we are looking at the paid options of Magento, like Commerce or Enterprise, then you can expect full support. Reading their support pages, we can see just how much they are offering in terms of installation, maintenance, and customization. But if we’re honest, at $20,000+ they should be.
Business to business support is an extremely lucrative business in of itself, and the owners of Magento (Adobe) are going to capitalize on it. If we look at companies that offer similar types of support for their product like Red Hat, IBM, Microsoft, we see that the software price is negligible; support costs are where the real money is made.
This was a long read, but it’s also indicative of how difficult it can be to find which platform is right for your business. In the end, you will have to ultimately decide which platform better suits your needs and what resources you have available to integrate either one.
I still hold strong to my belief that Magento is the most powerful E-Commerce platform available but is meant for established brands or new ones that have adequate initial funding. If you are just starting out then, WooCommerce is definitely something you should check out!
Wait! What about ____?
I knew this was coming! So we discussed Magento and WooCommerce, but about the dozens of other platforms? Well, there is a lot of them, and I can’t write forever. These platforms I chose are also ones I would suggest any business to get into, simply because of their ability to scale reasonably well. If we look at one of the most popular recommended platforms, Shopify, it’s hard to deny its value.
But with experience working in Shopify, I have found that too often, I am limited in terms of customization and functionality because of its closed off-platform, developed solely by the Shopify development team. It does have a similar marketplace of add-ons like WooCommerce. Still, as I mentioned, the ability to really customize is fairly limited. I like that I can dive deep into WooCommerce’s or Magento’s core codebase and edit areas I feel need to be changed.
Additionally, most of these other platforms take in processing fees, or monthly subscriptions to their platforms, on top of the already high transaction fees collected by Stripe, PayPal, Sezzle, QuadPay, etc. Maybe one day I will take a closer look into Shopify and do a review on it, as I do believe it has its own use case, but until then, have a great day!