Magento 2 Commerce vs Shopify Plus

Magento Commerce and Shopify Plus are almost unquestionably the two most mainstream mid-level eCommerce platforms in the world – this guide provides a detailed comparison across all aspects. This piece was last updated in September 2018.

My experience with Shopify Plus and Magento Commerce

Over the last ~10 years, I’ve worked on over 50 Magento replatforming projects in various capacities, ranging from advising on smaller consumer brand projects to acting as a solutions consultant on hugely complex multi-brand builds. In addition to this, I have both Magento solutions certifications. Examples of. Magento brands I’ve worked with include O’Neills, Agent Provocateur, Waterford, Royal Doulton, The V&A and lots of others.

Over the last two years, I’ve also been very hands-on with Shopify Plus, working in a solutions role on three replatforming projects and supporting pre-discovery on another ~five builds. Examples of Shopify Plus retailers I’ve worked with include Bulletproof, Trotters, Oco, Current Body, ESC and various others.

This experience with both platforms has consisted of me scoping out requirements, managing data migrations, handling the initial setup, using Shopify Flow, working with Shopify scripts, testing and configuring various modules, managing integrations, setting up product catalogs, creating new channels (e.g. wholesale store), managing customisations, managing things like shipping and tax, creating business logic for merchandising purposes, managing UAT etc.

Introduction

Despite the dominance of these two systems, there are a huge range of eCommerce platforms to choose from, with varying benefits and functionality. At the mid-level end of the market, the pot does get much smaller, however there have been a lot of new entrants and platforms that have grown into the space recently (such as BigCommerce, Shopware, Workarea etc) – however, this in piece I’m focusing on two of the primary options (and the two that I work with most) in the mid-level eCommerce marketplace, Magento Enterprise Edition (now called Magento Commerce) and Shopify Plus, to see how they compare against one another. There are other options (such as Blubolt, Parispar, Salesforce Commerce Cloud etc), but these are generally the most mainstream ones and also the ones that I tend to work with most.

I’ll be focusing on Magento 2 Commerce (formerly Enterprise Edition) and Magento 2 Commerce Cloud, both of which were fairly new when I first published this post, but have become a lot more mainstream and proven at various levels now. Magento 2 is designed to be more scalable than the previous version, Magento 1.x, however merchants who acted as early adopted generally faced a lot of issues with stability, a lack of available modules / extensions (vs Magento 1.x) and general bugs with core functionality (as well as project delays and increased costs).

Magento 2.2 onwards has improved considerably – I work with one of the first Enterprise Edition / Commerce retailers to launch in the UK and they really struggled to operate when they launched on 2.0, but are in a much, much better place now. Magento 2.2 has definitely been a big step forward, with nearly 500 bug fixes, including a number of important ones that were impacting a number of my clients. That said, there are still bugs – however, these are a lot more manageable.

Magento Cloud has historically be questioned a lot, after it’s release around 18 months ago. Early retailers faced a lot of pain with deployments and core development principles, however, again, it’s in a much better place now. I’ve spoken with a lot of the larger retailers who are live with Magento Cloud Edition recently and they’ve been really positive about where they are now, in comparison to where they were 6 months ago. Websites currently live on Magento Commerce Cloud Edition include Helly Hansen, Osprey London, Oliver Sweeney and Soak & Sleep (all of these were early launches). Relatively recent launches on the on-premise version of Magento 2 Commerce include Paul Smith, END Clothing, O’Neills and Tom Dixon.

Magento Commerce vs Shopify Plus Introductory Overview

In terms of market share, Magento is ‘probably’ the world’s biggest eCommerce platform (they have less live instances than WooCommerce and Shopify, but they have a much bigger share in the mid-level market and a lead in terms of GMV), with over 250,000 live stores from all over the world. Magento is also the leader in terms of the number of the top IR1000 merchants, which is impressive. However, most of the really well-known stores are still on Magento 1.x, which is a very different platform and a different level of maturity. Examples of large brands using Magento (all versions) include Paul Smith, Nike (AU), Nobel Biocare, Agent Provocateur, Hermes, Harvey Nichols, Fred Perry, Missguided and lots more. There are said to be around 10 brands using Magento that are turning over more than $1bn online, which again is very impressive.

In comparison, Shopify Plus’s market share is smaller, however, they’re gaining momentum really quickly. Shopify Plus have a very different proposition to Magento Commerce and I generally recommend them for very different reasons – with Shopify Plus providing a fully-hosted, fully-supported (24/7 store support, inc minor development work), versionless platform with various supporting products, including a POS system, an automation suite (Shopify Flow), various solutions for multi-channel retail etc.

Shopify Plus have only been really pushing growth for the last 18-24 months and they now boast brands such as Gymshark, Rebecca Minkoff, Finisterre, Kylie Cosmetics, Pavers, Dr Axe, MVMT Watches, The New York Times, Tesla, Matalan Direct, LA Lakers, Shore Watches, Herschel, Vanity Planet and many more. Shopify Plus has really taken off over the last 12 months and, even in the UK, has taken a lot of brands away from Magento, and far more so in the US (such as Rebecca Minkoff and The New York Times). Other recent launches on Shopify Plus include Trotters Childrenswear and Victoria Beckham.

I’ve now referred several businesses to Shopify Plus, because I believe it’s a very, very good solution for smaller or leaner B2C eCommerce teams who are looking to focus their attention on marketing / product (reducing time being spent on platform maintenance etc). Several of my clients use Shopify Plus now and I’m becoming a real advocate of it.

Magento Commerce and Shopify Plus both have price tags that all but prohibit their use for smaller retailers. Magento Commerce licensing starts from around $22k per year and increases based on the merchant’s turnover (and various other aspects), whereas Shopify Plus is a flat $2,000 per month (Up to ~$800k per month GMV) and increases from there. The hosted Magento Commerce Cloud edition of Magento has an additional cost for the cloud architecture, which will vary dependant on the merchant – this also covers various other costs (such as a Magento BI license, Fastly CDN etc) and is generally very cost effective. The relatively new Cloud Starter package is a very similar package to Shopify Plus, costing $2k per month with a very similar offering – this is only offered to merchants turning over less than $5m online and it doesn’t include all of the features offered within the full Cloud option.

On the face of it, these costs don’t seem hugely different. However, Shopify Plus is a fully hosted, cloud-based platform, whereas Magento EE (non-cloud version) is a self-hosted platform that requires a robust and resilient server setup with plenty of processing power to handle Magento’s resource-hungry core, which adds significantly to Magento’s operating costs. Generally, I’d say that a mid-level merchant will pay hosting fees of anywhere from $4,000 per year to $40,000 per year, however, Magento Commerce Cloud will work out slightly more than this. In addition to this, you also have the maintenance costs associated with Magento (no matter which version you’re using).

Both the self-hosted approach (standard Magento Open Source / Commerce) and the fully-hosted approach (Magento Commerce Cloud and Shopify Plus) could be seen as either a positive or a negative. Since Shopify Plus is fully hosted, on Level 1 PCI DSS compliant servers, PCI compliance is more or less taken care of for the retailer, whereas a merchant using Magento Commerce (non-cloud) has to personally ensure that their own server configuration meets all PCI compliance regulations – this can be really valuable for retailers.

Likewise, a normal Magento Commerce client is responsible for all server security, as well as the application of patches to the Magento core codebase, whilst this is all taken care of for Shopify Plus clients. All areas of a Shopify Plus store are fully encrypted using SSL, not just the checkout pages. Whilst Magento Commerce Cloud offers a lot of the benefits that Shopify Plus has on this side, I’d say (in my experience of dealing with clients who use it) it’s nowhere near as polished and finished as Shopify Plus and my general recommendation, if you do go with Magento, would still be to use the standard Commerce option at this point.

Total cost of ownership / Pricing in more detail

The costs associated with Magento Commerce / Enterprise will generally be higher than Shopify Plus – the license fee starts from $22k per year, but there are a number of large B2C stores and B2B businesses who go well into the millions of dollars for licensing, which is based on a number of factors, but primarily GMV. Magento use GMV brackets but they tend to price licensing on a case by case basis and this differs for Cloud Edition also.

There are standard tiers for Magento licensing costs, but these are constantly changing and moved towards a GMV-based model, in a similar way to Demandware / Salesforce Commerce Cloud. The tiers themselves are based on GMV, but examples of other things that are factored into consideration across the different versions include number of employees, size of company, number of stores and even traffic with Cloud.

The pricing also varies a lot with the different versions – if you have any questions on this, feel free to email me and I can talk you through what some of my previous clients have paid (as they’re generally pretty flexible / negotiable on costs).

In addition to these costs, you also have the integration partner costs, which is where the high CAPEX costs tend to come in. A Magento 2 Commerce build is likely to start at $100k and the highest cost build I’ve heard of was supposedly around $6m, which was for a large multi-brand, high volume retail group. Build costs vary massively depending on the agencies / partners you look at and the level of complexity around features, integrations etc.

You then have the costs of the maintaining a Magento Commerce store beyond this, which can be very high – this would generally be split into:

  • Support / maintenance retainer – depending on the Magento partner, this would include things like applying patches, version upgrades, maintaining environments, installing and maintaining modules etc. A support retainer, in my experience, averages at around $3k – $7k, but I’ve also seen this go up to $40k for very large and complex Magento stores.
  • BAU development and material projects – in my experience, a BAU development retainer for a standard Magento Commerce store could be anywhere from $2.5k per month to $50k per month, depending on your backlog, the costings of the agency partner and the work you want to do.

In addition to these costs, you also have the hosting fees (non-Cloud), consultancy / BA fees (depending on how you work with your agency partner) and various other additional fees. It’s worth noting that this isn’t the only way to work as lots of Magento integration partners offer things like large blocks of time paid upfront or even dedicated developers / development teams, where the economies of scale would generally change a lot.

Shopify Plus starts from a flat $2k per month license fee (for retailers turning over < $9.6m per year), which covers all licensing and support costs. This is a real benefit of Shopify Plus as it’s both affordable and covers a lot of the core areas where additional costs would come in (such as hosting, managing scale, account management, support, upgrades etc). The costs around developing the store itself are also likely to be lower – I’ve generally found the hourly rates to be lower than the top tier of Magento agencies, more in-line with $100 an hour, although this would vary and the top agencies are more like $200 per hour (which is still lower than a lot of Magento agencies, particularly in the US market).

One big thing that sets these two platforms apart is the pricing – both in terms of licensing costs and on-going development. Shopify’s flat fee (until you hit the GMV limits, where it’s still really cost effective in comparison to most other platforms at that level) is really appealing as you get a level of support included within this – this covers very minor development work, using the platform and things like conversion marketing / growing the store etc, which is a real benefit. I recently did a total cost of ownership analysis piece for a small, high-end fashion brand for Magento Open Source, Commerce and Shopify Plus and Shopify Plus came out as the lowest cost option over a three-year period by quite a way. This was largely due to no hosting fees, lower maintenance costs, no version upgrades, costs associated with integrations / modules and the agency rates. The fact that Shopify Plus Account Managers and Launch Managers offer support is also a differentiator for smaller retailers. I’ve worked on these projects for larger retailers too and Plus still generally comes out a lot lower cost, but at that level it’s often about more than cost of ownership with the platform and there’s lots of cost considerations around aspects you’re taking out of the main platform (such as presonalisation, loyalty, search, merchandising, PIM etc).

Paying Magento’s license cost is the only real time you’ll deal directly with them, unless you want to use the Enterprise Consulting Group, which is very expensive (but they’re also very good). Obviously, you’ll deal with the Platform.sh / support teams if you use Cloud edition, but that’s more of a support relationship. The real cost of using Magento 2 Enterprise Edition / Commerce for the average project lies with the systems integrator, who generally charge higher fees, compared to Shopify Plus. The average rate for a Magento agency for merchants can expect to pay the top tier of agencies is anywhere from $100 – $250 per hour.

From experience, a Shopify Plus project is likely to cost considerably less because of the amount of work that Shopify take on (systems integrator / agency cost) and there is generally less complexity across each aspect (plus the costs for the agency are lower etc). I’ve seen some really nice Shopify Plus stores developed for ~$50k – $100k, which is around the same level as a basic Magento Open Source / Community store. There are also lots of larger projects that have been over $200k for the initial build, but generally these have been delivered by one of the top integration partners or they’ll have a lot of customisation.

Based on my last few mid-level projects (relatively simple catalog, single channel, £4m – £20m online turnover, single currency etc), this is what I would suggest that the total cost of ownership looks like for Magento Commerce / Enterprise vs Shopify Plus.

Shopify Plus Pricing Overview

  • Average website build cost for Shopify Plus (in my experience) – $60,000 – $200,000
  • Annual licensing cost – $24,000 (until you get to the $800k per month cut off)
  • BAU development costs (in my experience) – $36,000 – $60,000
  • App costs (average) – $3,000 ($250 per month)
  • First Year Shopify Plus Cost: $123,000 – $287,000
  • Three Year Shopify Plus Cost of Ownership: $249,000 – $461,000

Magento Commerce Pricing Overview

  • Average Magento Commerce / Enterprise build cost (in my experience) – $100,000 – $250,000
  • Average annual hosting fees for Magento store (in my experience) – $24,000 – $48,000
  • Average annual Magento maintenance retainer (in my experience) – $24,000 – $72,000
  • Average annual licensing cost (Cloud Edition) – $80,000
  • BAU development costs – $36,000 – $120,000
  • First Year Magento Commerce Cloud Cost: $264,000 – $570,000
  • Three Year Magento Cost of Ownership: $592,000 – $1,210,000

These are very much finger in the air estimates – but overall I’d say that Shopify Plus is a considerably lower cost option than Magento Commerce. It’s worth pointing out though that Magento Commerce is also more scalable in a lot of cases (depending on growth aspirations and complexity of the store). That said though, for straightforward stores (and stores willing to compromise in areas for the benefits Shopify Plus offers), I’ve found myself recommending Shopify Plus a lot recently and I’ve also got some very happy clients operating on Shopify Plus.

It’s also worth noting that merchants can build and maintain both Shopify Plus and Magento Commerce stores for less than these numbers, but this is based on the retailers I’ve dealt with recently and averages. I’ve not factored in Magento Open Source / Community Edition here either.

Shopify Plus vs Magento – Native & Core Functionality

Anyone logging into both Magento Commerce Edition and Shopify Plus will see instantly that Magento has a richer core functionality than Shopify Plus. Whilst Shopify Plus has a comprehensive feature-list that will satisfy lots of mid-level retailers, Magento Commerce Edition excels in areas such as:

Promotions / discounts

Magento has a built-in promotions engine, which is often criticised by users and extended either via a customisation or via a module / extension (such as the Amasty module). The promotions engine is fairly comprehensive (in comparison to most platforms) and supports a lot of base discounts / promotions. You can also use promotions / discounts as part of other core Magento features, such as scheduled updates and customer segmentation. Magento allows for two types in this area, which are catalog price rules (broader rule applied based on a criteria across the catalog) and cart price rules (condition-based, action applied in the checkout).

Shopify Plus doesn’t have the same advanced promotions / discounts capabilities and most commonly relies on scripts to achieve anything non-standard, which is fine. I recently worked on a project where we used this extensively and we were able to achieve most requirements – the only issues will come with scale as the promotions don’t stack and you’ll need to customise scripts in the future.

Merchandising and production

Larger and more complex retailers with bigger catalogs and more complicated product setups will likely lean towards Magento, as things like bundled products, grouped products and downloadable products require a lot of customisation to replicate in Shopify, depending on how you want to use them. This does depend on setup though as something like bundled products can be achieved pretty easily, but the complexity comes from the setup of the SKUs that make up the bundle and how you want to handle pricing, discounting etc. This also needs to be considered with your ERP or retail system integration if you’re using Shopify / Shopify scripts to build the bundles. Magento natively supports bundles and allows for more customisation around the handling of the simple products.

Shopify Plus also doesn’t have the concept of product attributes and product attribute sets for storing data, instead using tags (allowing for tagging / grouping different items) and meta fields (managing additional custom data points), which work in a very different way. These can be really useful and flexible, but they’re not as structured as Magento, which is actually very impressive when it comes to managing data. Although this isn’t always a limitation with Shopify Plus, it can make things harder for more complex retailers who use attribute sets to improve manageability or restrict certain data points to certain product types etc.

Magento Commerce / Enterprise Edition has 7 core, standard product types, which are simple products, configurable products, bundled products, downloadable products, virtual products, grouped products and the 7th (enterprise only) is gift cards. Shopify only has two native types of products, which are simple and configurable (referred to as parent) products. They do also support gift cards, but they’re treated differently. Magento has a lot more freedom for complexity in this area and is far more suited to retailers with complex requirements around product management.

Shopify, however, is easier to use on this front and is perfect for standard product catalogs selling simple products, like fashion retailers for example. That said, there are third-party extensions and scripting options to extend the types of products and the functionality for Shopify, but Magento is stronger out of the box. I would say that’s a theme – Magento generally has a stronger native feature-set (which also causes some of the unquestionable complexity with Magento), but most of the functionality can be achieved with Shopify Plus too, just with development work or use of a third party solution.

One aspect of product management that Shopify is arguably stronger with is the CSV import, which, for an average merchant with a relatively straightforward catalog, is much easier to get right. I’ve used this function a couple of times on Shopify and I’ve not had any issues, whereas with Magento it’s always been a big headache. Most Magento merchants either steer clear or import / export or use a third party solution (such as a PIM or something like Magmi). Shopify has a very good plugin called Excelify that I tend to use – this is a really valuable app that makes this process a lot quicker and cleaner, whilst also reducing the room for error.

Things like order management and inventory management are comparable, but again Magento has more of a robust, customisable solution. This is also an area where most merchants would look at using an order management system (OMS) or their ERP system for this anyway, rather than using the standard feature-set.

Multi-brand / multi-store management

Multi-store is one of Magento’s key selling points, allowing merchants to manage multiple brands, regional stores and B2B / B2C stores from one Magento interface. The main benefit here is that the product catalog can be shared across different websites, stores and store views,the with freedom to make changes to the different entities. The scope of product attributes can also be set to be managed at a global or storeview level, allowing merchants to assign attributes like ‘product name’ at a global level, but define the price attribute at an individual storeview level.

This feature is one of Magento’s biggest selling points and there are plenty of merchants that I’ve come across who are managing large product catalogs across over 100 storeviews (be it international stores or different brands etc). A few examples of stores doing this include Warner Music (multi-brand), Nestle (multi-brand), Helly Hansen (international) and lots of others. This is really flexible and there are some really impressive implementations.

Shopify Plus does allow for multiple stores and there are examples of multi-brand and international stores that are live, however there’s no proper multi-store architecture. This is by far the biggest reason I’ve seen stores opt against Shopify Plus, but that’s not to said a solution can’t be achieved, particularly if you’re using a back office system or a PIM. There are workarounds currently (that aren’t as seemless as Magento’s solution), but more importantly, it’s said that Shopify are working on this now and will be releasing it at some point next year – which will be a real game changer. With the ability to manage data effectively across multiple stores, Shopify Plus is likely to become even more of a serious contender.

Internationalisation (multi-currency, multi-warehouse etc)

Magento has a lot of great features around internationalisation, as detailed above, and their global multi-store architecture is a huge reason why lots of merchants tend to use the platform. Shopify Plus can achieve a good solution, however there’d be a lot more manual work and I’d personally say it wouldn’t be as solid for larger stores. This is a really big weakness for them and it’s something that’s likely to be addressed really soon.

Magento’s ability to allow the user to manage all components of individual stores  (such as specific attributes, stock, the catalog etc) at a global level is a huge advantage, whereas Shopify Plus would have separate stores (clone stores) which would need to then be updated / managed individually.

Merchandising

Magento 2 Enterprise / Commerce does have a visual merchandising solution, which is based on the previous OnTap Visual Merchandiser extension (which they acquired a few years ago and build into the M2 core), allowing merchants to visually sort products in specific categories. This solution is stronger than what is offered by Shopify Plus, but it’s not great still and is lightyears behind Demandware / Salesforce Commerce Cloud’s Einstein solution (which allows for complex rule-based merchandising and is built around machine learning).

Shopify Plus does allow you to choose the sorting order of your products, be it manually or in a set order, which can be defined at a category level, but this isn’t a great solution. This is another area that I’d imagine will be addressed at some point – as mentioned throughout this article, Shopify Plus are great with releasing improvements regularly.

Lots of larger merchants would want to use a third party solution (such as Attraqt or Bloomreach) in this area anyway.

Other aspects of merchandising, such as search (which is equally weak natively on both platforms), product labels etc are comparisble.

Mobile

Both Shopify Plus and Magento 2 Enterprise Edition have fully responsive themes and all available themes would be fully responsive, as are the admin interfaces. Shopify is the stronger of the two as they have an app for merchants to use for reporting and order processing and they also have their own SDK for mobile applications. That said, both can be extended very easily.

Third Party Integrations, Extensions and Apps

Both Magento 2 Commerce Edition and Shopify Plus have well-established marketplaces for third-party extensions and apps. Magento’s extension marketplace is relatively new, but the old Magento Connect marketplace (the legacy module marketplace which had very little vetting and quality control around extensions) was more extensive, but Shopify enforces tighter quality controls on its third-party apps than Magento Connect did (which has now been brought into Marketplace).

The new Magento marketplace follows the likes of Demandware and Shopify in vetting the extensions that are listed, which is something that lots of integrators and merchants had been asking for. Some of the low quality modules available via Magento Connect was previously a bit of a threat to Magento.

Following on from third-party extensions, there is the issue of the codebase to consider. Magento is open source and often self-hosted, which means that clients are free to extend or customise any element of the code as they see fit (which definitely has it’s disadvances). Shopify Plus’s code is proprietary, and clients do not have access to the main codebase or the database (again, coming with plenty of benefits). Shopify Plus does enable client customisations via the admin panel, using its own coding language which is called Liquid.

Two of the biggest benefits of the two platforms is the existing integrations available with other systems, some of which falls under the extensions and others comes under middleware and APIs. Because they’re two of the more mainstream platforms on the market, they’ve been integrated with the majority of the popular third-party systems, like ERPs, fulfillment services, payment gateways etc.

Both systems are pretty good on this side and most integrations can be achieved with both systems.

B2B / Wholesale Capabilities

One key selling point for Magento is that it provides native support for B2B merchants, plus they’ve recently released a new B2B product for Magento 2, with a view to improving this offering. Customer groups, tiered pricing and customer based pricing and promotions are all standard features of Magento 1 and 2 (both Open Source and Commerce. It’s also easy to set up payment methods such as purchase orders, and to put in place a deferred approval process for order confirmation.

B2B is a huge focus for Magento currently and the new module comes with a lot of strong features, such as the ability to manage quotes, create customer-specific catalogs, manage various settings against customers, assign roles to users, assign budgets to users and companies etc. This is a big strength of Magento over Shopify Plus.

Magento’s new B2B suite is very impressive and has helped to move them into the enterprise bracket, competing against solutions like SAP Hybris, Spryker, Intershop etc. New features released with this include customer roles, user management within accounts, ordering restrictions, budget management, quote management, credit management and lots more.

With Shopify Plus, options are nowhere near as comprehensive as the new Magento B2B suite. The different options are:

  • Shopify Plus Wholesale Channel – a dedicated wholesale channel based on the main store’s catalog. Products are pulled through based on price lists, which use the main price and the wholesale price assigned to a tagged group of customers to calculate the discount, which is displayed on the front-end. This means that the sale is essentially going through as a normal order with a discount applied (which needs to be considered for things like discounting reporting etc). There are various limitations here such as not being able to edit the theme, not being able to set different shipping rules (although this can be achieved via heavy usage of scripts, tags and a complex third party). The store is super easy to setup and manage though and features like customer-specific pricing and product visibility, tiered pricing and draft orders are very useful.
  • Separate store – as you’d imagine, a separate clone store for wholesale, which allows for lots of freedom with setup and management.
  • Using the main store with customer tagging, template variables and scripts – this can be effective for very simple wholesale programs.

You can read more about the different options and how Shopify retailers use these options here.

Platform Support

Both Shopify Plus and Magento Enterprise Edition offer application-level support, however at different levels. For Shopify Plus clients, this is via phone, email or live chat, whereas for Magento Enterprise clients, it is purely developer support and it doesn’t have the best reputation – although, for an additional cost, an Enterprise Edition client can purchase the services of a Magento Technical Account Manager (TAM), a dedicated expert who is available for a specified amount of time each week, including one week per month spent at the client site. You could also choose to work with the Magento Enterprise Consulting Group (ECG), however, this comes with a big price tag.

One of the key selling points for Shopify Plus is definitely the support they provide, which also reduces on-going support costs with your agency. As per of the $2k per month license fee, merchants get access to a dedicated 24/7 account management function, who are able to help handle technical issues, general platform-related questions, fix bugs, provide guidance around marketing and conversion rate optimisation and pretty much anything else.

Although you’ll still need developers to implement complex changes and for front-end work, the support would cover what a merchant would usually pay for from a development support / SLA perspective. Although it’s advised that you still have a development retainer, you wouldn’t have the overhead around a support retainer that you would with Magento.

Control / flexibility

We’ve already mentioned the fact that Shopify Plus users do not have access to the codebase or the database behind their store. Whilst this means they do not have to worry about security patches etc, and they can rely on Shopify to keep the code up to date, it does mean that they have less control over the platform, although I’d personally say that the pros outweigh the cons on this front. At the enterprise level, for some organisations with strong in-house development teams, the thought of not having absolute control of the platform could rule out Shopify Plus as an option, the same applies to Magento 2 Enterprise Cloud to some extent, but that’s very much circumstantial. As already touched on, more and more retailers are looking for a hosted, SaaS eCommerce platform and there are definitely big time and cost savings from this approach in my experience.

In terms of systems integrators, I would say that Shopify Plus users would be far less reliant on the third party, making it much easier to switch providers. If a Magento merchant had a store built by an integrator, there would be an overhead around getting the code checked, understanding any custom extensions / integrations and ultimately handing everything over. This wouldn’t be the same for Shopify Plus because it’s essentially a platform-as-a-service. That said though, both platforms are right at the top of the list for not having vendor-lock in as there are so many options for the merchants.

One of the biggest selling points for Magento, in my opinion, is the community, as there are thousands and thousands of very smart developers that are obsessed with extending and improving the platform. I would say that Shopify has less of this, however, this comes down to the fact that there’s less complex development work required with Shopify and Shopify Plus generally, which again, does have it’s benefits.

In addition to the good developers with Magento, there are also lots of not-so-good ones that have started offering services due to the demand around the platform, but this can be a real issue as you need to be at a certain level to successfully work with Magento 2 in my experience and there are a lot of rescue projects out there as a result of companies selected a lesser experience, non-partner Magento agency. This, again, isn’t as much of a risk with Shopify as you can generally judge an agency’s work on the front-end as Shopify are supporting the application and agencies aren’t able to access the core.

Shopify Plus also have some excellent partners and this list of Plus partners is growing all the time – examples of really good Shopify Plus partners that I’ve either worked with or that appear to be doing great work include:

These are just a few examples – there are lots of others too, such as Eastside Co, BV Accel (US), Lucid Fusion (US) and there are also a lot of high profile Magento partners that have really grown in the Shopify Plus space – such as Corra, Demac Media, MediaSpa and One Rockwell. There are also some of the bigger, platform-agnostic integration partners that have started working on Shopify Plus builds, which represents progress in an area where Magento was definitely stronger historically.

Payments

Both Magento 1 and Magento 2 Enterprise have a host of options when it comes to accepting payment options, including existing integrations with PayPal and most of the mainstream payment gateways. In addition to this, there are a wide range of pre-integrated payment options within the core, reducing the overhead with the integration.

One advantage of Shopify Plus (if you choose to use it) is that Shopify also offer Shopify Payments (which is basically white-labelled Stripe) as an option, which is owned and managed by Shopify and it’s very competitive in terms of fees. Shopify Payments has a number of benefits to the merchant, but it’s not a good fit for all (some other payment gateways are stronger for subscriptions and Stripe doesn’t support 3D secure yet).

Shopify do also work with most third-party payment gateways too, but they charge an additional processing fee if the retailer is using a third party gateway. Other examples of retailers with a Shopify integration include Stripe, Braintree, Adyen, PayPal, Sagepay, Klarna and Worldpay – these are just a few examples.

One big limitation for Shopify Plus retailers is if you’re not using Shopify Payments and are looking to still use ‘3d secure’ to help prevent fraud – the only methods I’ve seen of doing this result in a very poor checkout user experience. Shopify Plus have recently introduced Shopify Fraud Protect, which covers liability for fraudulent payments (for a small charge on each order), but this is only available for Shopify Payments. If you’re selling products that are susceptible to not being accepted by payment gateways (e.g. supplements, alcohol, adult products etc), this can be a very frustrating issue with Shopify. That said, I have clients in this category and they’ve worked around it either by using a third party fraud solution or creating verfication rules using Flow.

SEO

Although there’s a lot of work that needs to be done from the out-of-the-box setup, Magento provides a lot more flexibility from an SEO perspective because the system is more open. Due to the hosted nature of Shopify, it’s not possible to make changes to things like the URL structure and hierarchy or implement certain technical SEO components easily. The lack of multi-store can also make things like hreflang logic harder to create, but it can certainly be done (and has been by lots of merchants).

I’d say that Shopify Plus is probably stronger out-of-the-box from a technical SEO perspective than Magento, which requires work to prevent some issues (e.g. indexation of dynamic pages etc).

Reporting

One of the biggest weaknesses of both Magento 1 and Magento 2 is the native reporting, including when using third-party modules (as there’s not really a good one in existence). The out of the box Shopify reporting is much, much better! Although it doesn’t cover everything, Shopify has a much nicer and cleaner reporting interface and covers all of the core metrics, as well as having a real good API to support this.

Magento however acquired RJMetrics a while ago now (now Magento BI), which is a very strong solution that adds a lot of value to the merchant. They offer a really nice product available from just $100 per month and it’s free for Commerce users, but it’s not part of the admin at this point. Magento BI gives you access to some really nice reports that aren’t readily available, such as customer lifetime value, purchase lead-time, category-level top purchasers, various product reports etc. Magento BI is essentially a data warehouse and you can also pull in data from other systems and sources, which is really powerful.

Examples of reports available from Magento BI include:

  • Time between orders
  • First time vs repeat orders
  • Customer lifetime value reports
  • Repeat order probability
  • Various reports around account creation etc
  • Various complex product sales reports focused on understanding product performance
  • Various top customer reports for identifying top spenders and aligning this with initial purchases

Thes are just a few quick examples of reports which can also include additional filters and variables. Magento BI is a really strong addition to Magento’s stack – you can read more about it here on Pinpoint’s article.

Shopify does have a number of very good reporting tools, but they’re not connecting to the database and going into the same detail around customer and order data like Magento BI. Two very strong reporting tools that I really like with Shopify are:

These are both GA-based but where they’re looking to go with predictive analytics and pro-active suggestions for growth are great, as are their integrations with Shopify.

Community

The almost undoubtedly biggest selling point of Magento is the community, as mentioned above – there are thousands of skilled, experienced Magento developers out there capable of helping you build and maintain Magento stores at all levels (as well as work with other Magento products, such as Order Management and BI). Other platforms just don’t have this – because of the community-led nature of the platform and the ability to do highly complex things with the platform. The Magento certifications and partner program (although I don’t fully agree with how the partner program is managed etc) also help to give merchants guidance in selecting the right service providers.

Shopify’s partner network is getting really strong too now – with the platform growing at a crazy rate! In the UK, there are lots of strong partners that have built several Plus stores and several long-term Magento agencies have started offering Shopify Plus build services, such as CTI, Meanbee and Screen Pages.

Magento 2’s improvement over the last ~12 months (and the fact they still exist after all of the issues they have around the launch of Magento 2) is in the most part down to the community and the number of developers that contribute to the growth of the platform. Magento are now accepting a huge amount of contributions from community developers and Creatuity’s Instant Purchasing solution is a good example of a feature that has now been built into the core of the platform.

Shopify Flow

One feature that can be hugely beneficial to Shopify Plus merchants is Flow, which is essentially an automation platform that can be really powerful and reduce the need for developers considerably.

Flow allows Shopify Plus merchants to create workflows to automate specific tasks, with the scope ranging from custom order notifications or order management logic to personalising the experience for specific groups of customers and creating customer-specific promotions.

Some examples of how I’ve used Shopify Flow with customers include:

  • Replace the add to cart function on specific SKUs based on inventory thresholds – on a project I worked on recently, we replaced the add to cart button with a pre-order button if the stock for a specific set of SKUs went below a certain number. The add to cart button would then be restored when the inventory increased above the threshold again. We had three levels of stock that we applied across different groups of products.
  • Order tagging – I’ve used Flow for tagging various types of orders, which can then dictate how orders are handled or the information that is passed into third party order management or ERP systems, for example. An example of this could be a wholesale order being tagged as “wholesale”, which would result in different order attributes being passed into the ERP.
  • Provide custom content in account section – Another workflow we created on a recent project was focused on providing access to specific downloadable items to specific customers based on them being assigned a tag. This tag was assigned based on them purchasing a specific item. This was super easy to setup and there was literally no management overhead.
  • Customer tagging – Again, I’ve used Flow to add various tags to customers, which can then be used for personalisation, order restrictions, promotions etc. Most of my use cases have been related to wholesale and assigning customers to specific price lists. I also used this with one retailer based on lifetime spend / loyalty to allow for specific promotions etc.
  • Custom order notifications – I’ve also used Shopify Flow to alert CS teams of large orders and draft orders, both of which would require checks and a different workflow.
  • Fraud checking – In one case, when a retailer I was working with moved to Shopify Payments (which doesn’t support 3d secure), we used Flow to create logic for fraud checks in the interim until we introduced a fraud checking tool.

These are just a few quick examples of how Shopify Flow can be used – these are also all very quick and easy-to-manage workflows that would likely require custom development with other platforms.

One other big new development with Shopify Flow is the introduction of third-party integrations, which opens up a whole new level of opportunity with the automation. A number of Shopify Plus technology partners have already integrated with Flow (such as Loyalty Lion) to allow support for native triggers. An example shown at Shopify Unite was pulling in customer groupings from Loyalty Lion and customising the on-site experience to encourage repeat purchase, for example.

Conclusion

As can be seen by this brief assessment, there are advantages and disadvantages on both sides. On the one hand, Shopify Plus offers a fast and easy to use platform that includes all key components of an enterprise level eCommerce solution, without the requirement for specialist development teams, complex server setup or lengthy learning processes for staff. I’ve had several clients who have moved to Shopify Plus and saved a huge amount of time that can now be spent on growing their store through developing their product range and marketing.

For merchants who have more complex requirements (particularly in terms of large, complex catalogs and multi-store requirements), however, the native flexibility and scalability of Magento may mean that Magento 2 Enterprise Edition is the safer choice, but I think that’ll change soon when Shopify release a solution for the weaker areas mentioned above.

The decision on which platform is the best choice should ultimately be a highly individual one, based on a clear and detailed assessment of the client’s specific functional requirements and in-house resources. It will undoubtedly be interesting to observe how, over the coming months or years, these two eCommerce giants fare against one another.

Magento 2 Enterprise is almost definitely going to cost you more than Shopify Plus, purely because you need to pay integrators more money (both in terms of higher rates and more hours required) and the fees are likely to be higher (particularly if you’re a high turnover merchant).

If I was running a relatively straightforward store and I didn’t have complex requirements, I’d personally be seriously looking at Shopify Plus – to be honest, this is becoming a bit of a no-brainer. If I was a store with some complex requirements, a need to scale quickly or if I wanted to go with a non-hosted platform, I would look at Magento 2 Enterprise.

The below table shows a top-level feature comparison, providing guidance around native capabilities and where customisations are required in key areas.

Feature Shopify Plus Magento Commerce
Native product types Shopify natively supports the equivalent of simple and configurable products, but can achieve the other forms of products that Magento offers via customisations or the use of third parties. You would need to consider how you want the product setup to work from a discounting and catalog management perspective (particularly with bundles). Simple products, configurable products, bundled products, virtual products, downloadable products, grouped products, gift cards
Multi-store support Shopify doesn’t currently provide native support for multi-store, however, this can be achieved at a basic level via customisations and Shopify are soon to be releasing a PIM-like solution to support international and multi-brand implementations. Native support for managing multiple storefronts – this is a real strength of Magento and the platform is built around managing data at different levels that allows for efficient management of multiple stores.
Product attribute management Shopify uses tags and meta fields instead of product attributes and this represents a bit of a different way of working. Shopify isn’t as advanced as Magento on product management in general, but there are usually workarounds to achieve core requirements. One thing I would say is that, although it’s not as scalable, working with Shopify’s tagging approach is really clean and user-friendly. Advanced product attribute management that allows for different types of data out of the box and allows for management of these attributes at different levels.
Customer management Shopify use customer tagging, which can replicate most of the functionality provided via Magento. Once customers are tagged you can use this to apply different pricing, product availability, front-end nuances, promotions etc. Magento’s customer groups is a very strong native capability that is built into the core of the platform – meaning you can use it alongside other areas of the platform, such as customer segmentation, pricing, promotions etc.
Visual merchandising Shopify Plus don’t have a visual merchandising interface, however, the platform has the same basic capabilities really, just without the drag and drop approach. Magento has a basic visual merchandising interface within categories, but don’t apply for complex sorting or global weightings etc.
SEO Shopify is very locked down around SEO, although it is relatively strong in places. Shopify doesn’t allow for editing of the robots.txt file, URLs etc. Users are able to amend logic around things like canonical URLs, hreflang references, noindex tags etc. Magento is far more flexible around SEO and allows for heavy customisation – I’ve seen retailers do pretty much everything with the platform and there are no real restrictions here.
International Shopify Plus’s international offering has been the most widely talked about limitations of the platform, however, they’re expected to release a PIM (for managing data across multiple stores) and the ability to show different pricing in different currencies and take payment in different currencies within the next few months. A lot of the larger integration partners have also built bespoke solutions for managing international multi-store setups or use a PIM, such as Akeneo. Once you do achieve the international setup on Plus though, you’re essentially working with multiple stores, rather than being able to properly use local and global logic etc. Magento has a very strong multi-store infrastructure, which allows for complex international requirements, such as local product management, local catalog visibility and selling restrictions, local payment methods, complex localised pricing, local shipping options and logic, sharing of global data at an attribute-level basis etc. Magento is a proven solution with international stores, which is one area where it really stands out, however, Shopify Plus are making big moves to change this.
Content management Shopify Plus is relatively basic when it comes to content management, however, they do allow for a modularised approach via sections. I would say that Shopify Plus is ‘ok’ in this area but it’s not a core strength, as with most mainstream platforms currently. Since acquiring the Bluefoot module from Gene a couple of years ago, Magento has been working on introducing a far more advanced and integrated CMS solution, but this still isn’t available presently. Rumours suggest that the new page builder module will be made available late this year as part of the 2.3 release. I’ve played around with page builder and it is very strong and allows for very clean management of content across the platform, not just on CMS pages and within static blocks. The ability to use things like static blocks in Magento is also a strength here.

If you have any questions about anything in this post, please feel free to email paul@vervaunt.com.

Paul Rogers

Paul is an experienced eCommerce Solutions Consultant, specialising in all aspects of replatforming, requirements gathering and platform selection projects.

Paul has worked with most mainstream eCommerce platforms and has supported complex replatforming projects with retailers from all over the world. Paul also works on functional customer experience projects and solutions work with various platforms - primarily Magento and Shopify Plus.