Your first instinct when looking for new software is usually to look at the industry leader and start from there. If you need to do photo editing, you look at Photoshop. If you’re a full time graphic designer or you run a studio, Photoshop is definitely worth the investment, but the licenses don’t come cheap.
So if you’re a hobbyist or a small business owner, you go for the free alternative, GIMP. GIMP is about as good as Photoshop, but it doesn’t cost a dime. The same goes for e-commerce platforms, and an industry leader in the field right now is Magento.
So, if you’re considering Magento, what do you need to know? Is it right for your industry, is it right for the scale of your business, or do you need something designed for smaller brands? Is it intuitive, easy to use, does it have good support, is it affordable?
You know that a lot of brands like Samsung use the platform, and it works for them, but the real question is whether it will work for you. You’re not Samsung, you have your own brand, your own products and services, and you need something that meets your needs, not someone elses.
So, does Magento fit the bill?
Here’s what you need to know about Magento E-Commerce
How Magento E-Commerce Works
It’s Free To Start Using
A great thing about Magento is that, if you just want to take it for a spin, it’s free to use. The basic user model is available to anyone who wants to give it a test drive, or, if you run a small brand, the basic model might be all you ever need. So if you’re still trying out different platforms, then it might be worth using Magento yourself once you’re done reading this so that you can see for yourself whether it does what you need it to do.
But It Can Get Expensive
The basic version is totally free. The Enterprise version, on the other hand… Well, it gets a little pricey. We can’t tell you exactly what it costs, because it’s priced on a case by case basis. If you want to know what it’s going to cost you, you’ll have to fill out a form on the company’s website. The price they quote for you may be considerably more affordable than this, but we’ve heard numbers ranging all the way up to fifty thousand dollars a year.
That’s a fair price for a national retailer like Wal Mart or a global brand like Samsung, but for small business owners and most medium sized brands, that’s a massive barrier to entry. Many small brands, even thriving small brands, don’t even make fifty thousand dollars a year in profit. The basic version is definitely worth trying, but if it doesn’t meet your needs then the enterprise level pricing might put you off of the platform entirely. If you can afford to weigh the pros and cons of that price tag, then first of all, congratulations on your thriving business, and secondly: Those who can afford it generally do give the platform high marks. It’s like an Italian sports car. It’s more than most people need, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it for those who can afford it.
It’s Available In Open Source
There’s Magento Commerce, which is the service-based platform, and Magento Open Source, which is just the platform itself. Open source means that anyone can customize and modify the platform. If you know how to code in PHP, you can bend and shape Magento however you like. You might not know how to code and you might not have any interest in that, but the great thing about it being open source means that, wherever it comes up lacking for you, it’s a safe bet that someone out there has created a plug-in to get Magento to do exactly what you want it to do.
Another great thing about it being open source is all the themes and window dressing people have released for the platform. Magento doesn’t offer a lot of options on that front, so if you want to get a specific look for your e-commerce platform, you’ll need to hunt down some third parties who do some eye-catching themes. Luckily they’re not that hard to find. There’s a lot of great visual revamps of the platform out there to play with.
Of course the real advantage of a platform being open source is the simple fact that it will remain in a state of constant, dynamic evolution. The developers work to keep updates coming so that the platform is always better today than it was yesterday, but the independent and third party developers out there are really working overtime to improve Magento. If you try the basic version out and it’s not quite what you’re looking for, try adding some plug-ins and themes to the platform and see if it suits your needs a little better.
Magento Open Source is not a service. It’s just the software. But, that might be all you need. Massive brands, big national chains and international corporations need an e-commerce platform that comes with a subscription based services. Many small businesses and medium sized brands, on the other hand, are just looking for a convenient way to sell their goods online.
For reference, the open source, basic and enterprise levels are referred to as: Magento Open Source (previously known as “Community Edition”), Magento Commerce, and Magento Commerce On-Premises (still referred to in some places as Magento Enterprise).
So What Does Enterprise Come With?
We’ve been speaking of Magento as a service based platform.
So what does that mean? What are the services?
Well, you really do get some impressive, heavy-duty support with the full package. These include the Magento Expert Consulting Group, and the Magento Partners, including Solution and Technology partners. This is, to put it bluntly, a bit more than you’ll get from a phone based help desk somewhere in India.
What you get with these services is, not quite a partnership, but built-in consultation experts. They come with the platform. Partners and consultants can help with web design, security, shipping and tax concerns and so on. They can build a website for you from scratch, and they offer help around the clock. Essentially this is like doubling your staff for the cost of one employee.
Is that worth the fifty thousand dollar price tag? Perhaps if you can afford it. It’s a bit more than some of us need, but if you do need it, it’s nice to have the option.
Is It Safe?
There was some minor controversy back in 2015 surrounding Magento’s security capabilities. It was reported that many online stores using the Magento platform were vulnerable to cross-site scripting attacks. If you were running an outdated version of the platform or you weren’t getting all the newest patches, hackers could easily skim your data to get credit card information on all of your users. This affected more than four thousand websites. Then, again, in 2017, it was shown that Magento CE stores were vulnerable to Remote Code Execution attacks, and this affected up to a quarter million Magento shops.
So nobody can blame you for asking if Magento is a secure, safe platform. The truth is that if you keep your site updated with the latest security patches, then you should be fine. But, this is one area where Magento perhaps needs some improvement. Part of what makes Magento a bit risky is simply the fact that it’s an industry leader. Magento is the platform that hackers will be trying to crack, because it’s the platform everyone is using. So even with the best security available, Magento will still be a high-value target for information thieves and cyber-criminals. This might not be reason enough to completely turn you off of the platform, as in both instances, Magento offered a timely response to the attacks. But it might be something to keep in mind when making your decision.
What If I Want To Customize My Platform?
We mentioned that Magento is one of the most customizable platforms out there for e-commerce. PHP coding will get you a long way with Magento, and Magento DevBox makes the process even easier and more manageable. The DevBox virtual environment is still in beta, but shows a lot of promise. Other resources for users and for developers include the Data Migration Tool, which will allow you to move your data onto the newest Magento platform with ease.
Hands-On Performance Report
Okay so we’ve laid out what Magento E-Commerce has to offer as a service, as a platform, and the security concerns to keep in mind.
But how does it actually perform? If it’s not user-friendly, if it’s missing a lot of the features you need, then what’s the point, right? If it’s just a pain to use in the first place, then all the support in the world won’t make the process any less painless. So, what are the features and how does it perform?
A simple bullet list of all the top features might look something like this:
- Product bundles
- Customer groups
- Built-in SEO features
- Mobile optimization
- Web service API
- Coupon management options
- Inventory and stock management and updates
- Order processing
- Gift cards
- Customer service
- Management options for newsletters and email marketing
- Marketing campaign management
And this is just the stuff that comes with the program, not counting all of the plug-ins and themes available (recent estimates suggest over five thousand third party add-ons). So it’s pretty much got everything you want from an e-commerce platform, plus customizability, so you can tweak it to your needs in particular.
Now, on to user-friendliness: It’s pretty easy to get the hang of the platform. There are some deep-end features and options that can take a little time to get the hang of, but if you start with the basic package and learn as you go, you’ll be fine. You don’t need to spend a week attending an intensive online course just to figure out how to get up and running with the platform. You’re going to have it installed and ready to go by the end of the day.
The biggest downside to the platform really has to be the price. You get a lot for what you spend, but it’s just too much for a lot of smaller businesses, so it may be best to stick to the basic model if you’re not exactly raking in the cash. For larger businesses, the extra features you get in the full package are great, but even many successful medium sized businesses can’t afford to spend twenty, thirty thousand dollars or more on their e-commerce platform. But, since the basic model is free, we can wholeheartedly recommend Magento for just about any business owner.
Give it a try, see if it works for you, and if you ever find yourself in the position to spend five figures on your e-commerce platform, then who knows, Magento Enterprise might be just what you’re looking for.