We talk a lot about content management systems, as choosing the right CMS platform can be critical to your online success (read our review of Sitefinity or WordPress).
In this article, we are going to review Magento - a dedicated e-commerce platform that’s heavy on features and good design - and help you find the right solution for your website.
Magento is a great tool for building online stores for everyone from bloggers with a small e-commerce side hustle to corporate giants like Coca-Cola.
Read on to find out: Is Magento right for me?
What is Magento?
Magento is an open-source e-commerce platform written in PHP. So what makes Magento special? Magento is geared exclusively towards e-commerce. Ita has a user-base of 260,000 merchants, who use the site to build their online stores, as well as to organize their shipping logistics, target key customers, manage orders, and gather business analytics.
Developed by Varien Inc. (and later partially sold to eBay, the e-commerce king), Magento bills itself as the ‘world’s most flexible platform’ for retailers, with a team of more than 200,000 developer ‘partners’ working with clients to customize the product around the clock.
Magento boasts some high-profile clients and impressive success metrics: Coca-Cola, Burger King, and Christian Louboutin all use Magento for their online retail. In 2016 alone, the company supported $101 billion worth of e-commerce transactions. And, where the bottom line is concerned, Magento claims that merchants who use their platform can expect to see 30% faster sales growth than merchants on other platforms.
On the technical side, Magento is open source (which means that anyone can take the original source code and modify it). It uses the MySQL relational database management system, and its written in PHP — a similar setup to WordPress.
The fact that Magento is open source is a major selling point in some ways: it gives you access to an established collection of plugins, add-ons, widgets, and apps to up your website game and gain functionality that may not be available out-of-the-box.
So, with all the essential groundwork covered, let’s get down to business: is Magento right for me? Here are six questions to ask yourself.
1. Is e-commerce my main focus?
Hopefully, by now, it’s clear that if e-commerce isn’t your business need, you’re not going to be using Magento. Bloggers, if you’ve made it this far, you probably don’t need to read on.
That’s not to say your website needs to be exclusively geared towards e-commerce to find a good fit with Magento. For example, if you run a blog that has a small e-commerce shop connected to it, Magento could be a good fit: it's full of features and functionality, however, as we'll cover later, the startup costs can be high. Therefore, a simpler and cheaper platform might be able to fulfill your e-commerce needs if e-commerce isn't your main focus.
2. What do I need my website to do, and what’s my product?
Once you’ve established that you’re after a top of the line e-commerce platform, it’s time to think through exactly what product you need. Taking stock of what you want your website to do, what your goals are, and what product you’re selling will help you narrow things down.
Magento is packed with many features and add-ons. Key features include:
- Business analytics
- API integrations
- Multiple themes
- Integrated social commerce add-ons and easy integration with Facebook and other social media platforms
- Customer segmentation to support personalization add-ons
- Out-of-the-box access and account registration with shipping partners like UPS and FedEx
- Ability to integrate with MailChimp, PayPal, Salesforce, and various other third parties
- Automated order fulfillment and logistics add-ons
Try to think about these features in relation to your needs: do they meet your needs? Exceed them? Is anything missing? Answering these questions will help you decide whether Magento is the right solution for you, or whether it offers too little (or too much) functionality for your specific needs.
All of these features also mean that Magento can suit a huge range of e-commerce pursuits. That being said, Magento has a few areas of core competencies within e-commerce. These include:
- B2B Commerce
- Fashion Industry
- Automotive Industry
- Food and Beverage Industry
- Health and Beauty Industry
If your business falls into any of these categories, Magento will be a particularly good fit.
3. How much do I want to spend on my website?
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: open source does not mean free.
This is certainly true for Magento, which can come with a hefty price tag. Magento has two basic tiers of the product, each with different price points:
1.Magento Community (CE): Free to download and use
- Open-source software that is well-suited to small-medium sized businesses and developers
- Does not provide access to technical support or built-in security
2. Magento Enterprise (EE): Licensing fees start from $22,000 per year
- Enterprise-class software that’s well-suited to large businesses
- Provides technical support and built-in security, along with a slew of extra features like advanced customer segmentation and targeting, gifting options, and reward point systems
It’s important to keep in mind that these are basic starting prices. They don’t reflect the total cost of ownership most merchants pay. Add-ons, extensions, customization, and actual site building costs all need to be factored in, and they can inflate the price dramatically. One report estimates that the costs of setting up a Magento e-commerce site range from $1,000 to $150,000.
Let’s start with the costs of Magento Community, the most popular option: free to download, free to use, but potentially costly to get up and running at a level you’re happy with. Here’s why:
- First, it doesn’t come with support, so any customization you want will have to be done by a developer, an agency, or your staff.
- Second, since it’s a basic version of the software, Magento Community doesn’t come with the features and the design quality that you might be after. Luckily though, Magento has a ‘marketplace’ that provides users with an enormous catalogue of customized extensions and design themes that can be used to add features to stores. Of course, these aren’t free. Extensions tend to run around $300 each, while themes can cost anywhere from $30 to $500.
Next, there’s Magento Enterprise, the significantly more expensive option. Magento Enterprise is stacked with features, it has improved site performance, and it comes with support. There are two versions of the Enterprise system: Gold Support, which costs upwards of $22,000 per year, and Platinum Support, which costs about 20% more and charges commission based on traffic.
Many merchants who use Magento also end up hiring a full-time developer or contracting out to a freelancer to build their store, which also adds significantly to the price of the final product.
If you are cost-sensitive and prefer lower upfront costs then it might be worth looking into other e-commerce platform options that require less initial investment.
4. How much tech support do I need?
Since Magento is an open source platform, the tech support is a little unorthodox, especially when it comes to the basic Community edition. With the Enterprise Edition, users get full support from the Magento team by phone and email.
But for Community Edition users, Magento has developed a ‘Partnership’ program that includes ‘Solution Partners’ and ‘Technology Partners’ who provide various services (for a fee).
Solution Partners are companies that have experience implementing and customizing Magento websites. They provide support for users who need assistance with modifying or building their site. Some Solution Partners provide full website development. Some provide 24/7 support. Others provide advice on specific topics, such as security.
Technology Partners can help users improve their sites out of the box. They provide solutions and extensions, as well as tech support.
If you rely heavily on tech support but are budget-conscious, it’s possible that this model won’t be right for you.
5. How flexible and customizable do I need my site to be?
One of Magento’s big selling points is its flexibility (it claims to be “100% Flexible”). It prides itself on being easy to change, and adaptable to your shifting needs.
Plus, it’s open source, so it’s inherently customizable and provides access to a robust inventory of add-ons and plugins that can help you customize your site.
All of this flexibility and customization comes, as usual, with a price. Magento’s add-ons don’t come cheap, and flexibility obviously requires work. But if you want a site that can be altered ad nauseam, Magento provides one of the most adaptable products on the market.
Keep in mind, though, that this could change. While Magento is open source now, Adobe announced in May 2018 that it would be acquiring Magento, with the ultimate goal of integrating it into the company’s enterprise CMS, Adobe Experience Cloud. No word yet on how the product will change, but it’s probably a good idea to have this on your radar.
6. How important is security for my business?
If the last few years of high-profile retail data breaches have shown us anything, it’s that prioritizing security in e-commerce should be a top priority. Any system that deals with sensitive financial information obviously needs to have a top-notch security system in place.
This is one area where Magento could potentially be weak, especially if you’re using the cheaper Community Edition, which doesn’t come with built-in security. You’ll need to upgrade your security if you get the Community Edition, which can add some significant costs.
Magento has also run into some issues with security in the past. In 2015 and 2017, there were reports that thousands of web stores running on Magento were found to be vulnerable to cross-site scripting attacks and remote code execution attacks, which would allow attackers to skim sites for credit card information to steal.
It’s unlikely that you’d run into major security issues using Magento, but it’s something that it doesn’t hurt to be mindful of when you’re weighing your options.
6-point evaluation summary: is Magento right for me?
Here’s a quick 6-point checklist of things to consider when you’re evaluating whether Magento is the e-commerce platform for you.
- Magento is great if e-commerce is your main focus; if e-commerce is a secondary pursuit for your business or a nice-to-have feature, there are cheaper and simpler options out there.
- Magento is packed with features, so before signing onto using the product, acquaint yourself with these to see if they fit with your specific needs. Magento has some core competencies, and if your business is in one of those areas, the Magento software might suit you particularly well.
- Although the basic version lets you download and use Magento for free, there are hefty upfront costs involved in setting up an online store with Magento, especially if you want to take advantage of all the features and add-ons available. If you don’t want to make a large up-front investment, another e-commerce platform might suit your needs better.
- Tech support with Magento is a bit unorthodox, and a lot of it requires connecting with external partners. If you want a streamlined and straightforward support system (but you can’t pay the $22,000 to go with Magento’s deluxe package), you might struggle with this aspect of the Magento system.
- Flexibility and customizability are key selling points for Magento. If you are after something that can be changed quickly and painlessly and adapted to your ever-shifting needs, Magento will hold a lot of appeal.
- Security might make you take pause when considering Magento, particularly the basic version, which does not come with built-in security. You'll have to beef up (and spend some money on) security if you go this route because top-notch security is essential for an e-commerce site.
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