Magento Commerce (now Adobe Commerce) and Shopify Plus are almost unquestionably the two most mainstream mid-market eCommerce platforms in the world – with both offering very different feature-sets and propositions to brands and retailers. This guide provides a detailed comparison across all aspects of the two platforms, including native feature-sets, true cost of ownership, extensibility, infrastructure, SEO, agency & technology eco-system, international, B2B and lots of other areas. This piece was last updated in November 2021 (having been originally publish in ~2017).
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 builds for household names. In addition to this, I have both of the Magento solutions certifications. Examples of Magento brands I’ve worked with include The Conran Shop, Heal’s, PMT, Sunspel, Agent Provocateur, Waterford, The V&A, Dr Martens, and lots of others.
Over the last ~4 years, I’ve also been very hands-on with Shopify Plus, working in a solutions role on lots of replatforming projects and supporting requirements gathering, validation exercises and general consultancy on lots more. Examples of Shopify Plus projects I’ve worked on include Bulletproof, Pangaia, The Science Museum, David Austin Roses, Toteme, Lights4Fun, Current Body, This Works and various others. Vervaunt (my consultancy) are also one of the world’s only Shopify Plus consulting partners.
This experience with both platforms has consisted of me scoping out requirements, architecting catalog setup, generally creating solutions, managing data migrations, handling platform 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.
In summary of this very long article – Shopify Plus has improved drastically over the last 18 months, with new features including native price books for currencies, sections everywhere (content management), lots of improvements to APIs, improvements to metafields, performance improvements, lots of native connectors (e.g. ERPs, social networks etc) and lots more. The community and eco-system has also been growing significantly. There’s likely to be compromise with Shopify Plus for a lot of larger stores, but the pros are really starting to outweigh cons in a lot of cases. Further international improvements are the thing that people are keeping an eye on with Shopify, as this will instill more confidence for the really big brands looking at the platform.
Magento / Adobe Commerce has a lot of question markets around it currently, but it’s still a powerful, feature-rich platform with a big presence. There are a lot of great agencies working with the platform also. I think the relevance to smaller businesses and brands is reducing – but it definitely still has a place for larger, more complex businesses. The main things I want to see from Magento is more clarity around where the platform is going and more improvements in certain places (with a goal of standardising more of the platform and making things more agile and management for its users).
Despite the dominance of these two platforms, there are a huge range of eCommerce platforms to choose from, with varying benefits and functionality. In the mid-market, the list previously got much smaller, however there have been a lot of new entrants and platforms that have grown into the space recently, with other options including BigCommerce, CommerceTools, Saleor, Fabric, Swell, CommerceLayer, Centra etc – however, in this piece I’m focusing on two of the primary options in the mid-market eCommerce marketplace, Adobe Commerce (previously called Magento Enterprise and Magento Commerce) and Shopify Plus, to see how they compare against one another.
I’ll be focusing on Adobe Commerce on-premise and cloud editions – when I first wrote this post around 5 years ago I talked a bit about Magento 1.x and also the Open Source version, but these aren’t as relevant today. The Open Source edition is still a very powerful platform, but I worry about it’s future and all (I think) of the brands we work with that go with Magento are on the commerce version.
Magento 2.x had a very tough start to life, but stabilised after Magento ~2.2. Currently, Adobe Commerce 2.4.x is in a really good place from a stability perspective and there are far less core bugs than in the past. Some of the more recent changes to the Magento product (although I’ll talk about the issues with the platform not improving fast enough later on) include a new search offering, native integration with Adobe Sensei for product recommendations, various integrations with other Adobe products, MSI (multi-source inventory) and improvements to existing modules, such as Page Builder.
Magento Cloud has previously been questioned a lot, following it’s release in 2016. Early retailers faced a huge amount of pain with deployments, stability of non-production environments, core development principles and support – however, again, this is in a much better place now. We’ve got a number of clients using the Cloud Edition that are happy with the product and support and we’re not actively recommending against Cloud as we have done up until now.
Shopify Plus has developed at in insane rate over the last few years and, to be honest, I find it very hard to argue against it now when talking to brands in particular – although there are still limitations that prevent it being relevant to some retailers. The eco-system is incredible and new partners are being introduced every day – this is one of the biggest pros for Shopify and I’ll do into a lot more detail on this later on.
Magento Commerce vs Shopify Plus Introductory Overview
In terms of mid-market GMV and market share, Magento has been the world’s biggest eCommerce platform for a long time – but this much be getting very close now with some of the high volume brands and retailers that are using Shopify. Examples of large brands using Magento / Adobe Commerce (all versions) include Paul Smith, Screwfix, Bulk.com, Fraser Hart, Nobel Biocare, Agent Provocateur, Fred Perry and lots more (although a lot of large retailers have moved away to either some of the newer, best-of-breed platforms or the SaaS platforms.
Despite having a smaller market share in the enterprise space and perhaps still a lower average customer size, Shopify Plus’s mid-market and enterprise market share is growing really quickly – with recent launches including Staples Canada, JB Hifi, Missoma, APC, Color Pop and brands like Fashion Nova and Kylie Cosmetics frequently being cited as stores turning over in excess of $1bn per year online. The Magento 1 EOL has really helped Shopify Plus to grow, with lots of mid-market B2C brands choosing to move to the SaaS platform. There’s also a big trend around brands moving from Magento 2.x to Shopify Plus currently.
Shopify Plus have a very different proposition to Adobe / Magento Commerce and I generally recommend them for very different reasons – with Shopify Plus providing a fully-hosted SaaS platform with a huge global eco-system and unrivalled agility when it comes to adding net new functionality. Shopify Plus’s proposition to brands is pretty incomparable, with low upfront and operational costs, a huge eco-system of both agency partners and technology partners, a general merchant-first approach and a product that’s designed to have very little maintenance and technical overhead. The lack of maintenance and technical overheads allows these brands to really hone in on brand experience, trading the site, marketing etc – which provides a material benefit to the business. I honestly find it hard to recommend Magento / Adobe at all anymore – I don’t really believe in where their product is and haven’t seen enough positive direction from Adobe since they acquired the platform. I find the majority of our clients that use Magento / Adobe are just to tied back and they’re really restricted when it comes to improving the overall CX and introducing new features.
Shopify Plus have only been around in the mid-market and enterprise space for the last few years but they’ve really grown with larger customers over the last ~24 months. In addition to taking a lot of business from Magento Commerce, they’ve also acquired a lot of customers from the likes of Oracle, SAP and Salesforce Commerce Cloud – which is really impressive. The most impressive thing in my view is the advocacy that these retailers have towards Shopify – I’ve moved around 40-50 clients to Shopify Plus and none of them have regretted it.
In recent times, the headless Shopify trend has really pushed Shopify Plus forward with more complex projects – with examples including Victoria Beckham Beauty, Staples, JB Hifi, Seedlip, Strivectin and Verishop. Going down the headless route with Shopify has pros and cons (more cons for the wrong type of brand), but it does give you more control around front-end development, freedom around URL structure, better page load speeds and also allows for integrating complex third parties (e.g. Fredhopper or Bloomreach) and introducing additional channels. I’ll talk more about this later on. Various changes over the last ~12 months and the new releases around hydrogen are also making this more interesting.
I’ve referred a wide range of businesses to Shopify Plus, because I believe it’s a very, very good solution for B2C eCommerce teams who are looking to focus their attention on marketing / product (reducing time being spent on platform maintenance, security, infrastructure etc). Lots of > £20m turnover brands at Vervaunt (my consultancy) use Shopify Plus now and I’m a real advocate of it.
Magento Commerce and Shopify Plus both have price tags that all but prohibit their use for really small brands, although Shopify have lower plans and Magento have their open source product still (which I firmly believe is irrelevant to small businesses). Magento Commerce licensing starts from around $30k per year and increases based on the merchant’s turnover (and various other aspects) against tiers (e.g. < $10m, $10m – $25m etc), whereas Shopify Plus is a flat $2,000 per month (up to ~$800k per month GMV) and increases from there. Magento / Adobe Commerce Cloud edition is now the de-facto and on-premise would cost roughly the same, making it more expensive when you factor in hosting fees and other infrastructure costs. Magento Cloud pricing also covers various other third-party costs (such as a Magento BI license, Fastly CDN etc) but costs have increased dramatically since the Adobe acquisition. I’ve seen Magento / Adobe contracts go well into the hundreds of thousands and I think this, as well as other costs, make it a really, really sell.
On the face of it, these costs don’t seem hugely different. However, Shopify Plus is a SaaS platform, whereas Magento commerce is either a self-hosted platform (on-premise) or a PaaS platform (cloud) that still requires a lot of technical resource, upgrades, security patches etc – Magento’s operating costs for support can also add up very quickly. Generally, I’d say that a mid-market merchant will pay hosting fees of anywhere from $15,000 per year to $100,000 per year, however, Magento Commerce Cloud will work out lower overall. In addition to this, you also have maintenance costs associated with Magento (no matter which version you’re using).
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. 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. There are also very commonly contentious issues with agency vs Magento – which can be very frustrating for the merchant.
The TCO and agility of SaaS platforms is really driving people towards Shopify Plus (and BigCommerce) at the moment – Magento / Adobe can’t really compete here in my opinion, this isn’t where the benefit would come in for sure. Magento can argue this when competing against certain other enterprise platforms, but certainly not the likes of Shopify Plus.
Total cost of ownership / Pricing in more detail
As already mentioned, the costs associated with Magento / Adobe Commerce have increased a lot and will be higher than Shopify Plus – the license fee starts from ~$30k 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 brackets. Magento use brackets but they tend to adapt licensing costs 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 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 tends to vary a lot – 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 $150k and the highest cost build I’ve heard of was supposedly around $10m, 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 $5k – $25k, but I’ve also seen this go up to $50k 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 $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 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 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 not exceeding $800k in a single calendar month), which covers all licensing and application maintenance 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, support, upgrades etc). The costs around developing the store itself are also likely to be lower, although the industry is getting more mature and the costs are going up. 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 operational costs. Shopify’s flat fee (until you hit the $800k in a month, where it’s still really cost effective at 0.25% of revenue 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 tasks, using the platform and things like conversion marketing / growing the store etc, which can be beneficial. 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 minor differentiator for smaller retailers. I’ve worked on these projects for larger retailers too and Plus still generally comes out a lot lower than open source, 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 personalisation, loyalty, search, merchandising, PIM etc).
The additional costs with Shopify Plus generally come from the following:
- Apps / third parties – there are monthly costs associated with these areas, which isn’t always the case with Magento Commerce. These costs aren’t generally too high – but they can add up. Our average cost would spend maybe $1k per month on apps and $3-5k on third parties (e.g. Shogun for content, NOSTO for personalisation, Klevu for search etc).
- Apps for international stores – Shopify charge for apps on a per-store basis, which can increase these costs a lot. Most of the app companies do negotiate though, which people often don’t realise.
- Transaction fees – if you’re not using Shopify Payments (through choice or eligibility), you’re going to need to pay an additional 0.15% per transaction.
You may also find yourself paying for things like custom apps, which may sit outside of build costs and standard operational costs.
In our average project, a merchant would use apps for at least the following:
- Customer fields for customer in accounts
- Excelify / Matrixify to support data migration
- Elevar or LittleData app to support GA / GTM setup
- Transportr for redirects
- DataFeedWatch for data feeds
- One of the metafields editing apps for managing metafields
- BoostCommerce for improved filtering (without replacing the Shopify product grid pre filter)
- Loyalty Lion, Smile or Yotpo for loyalty
- A third party search solution (usually Klevu)
- Product recommendations (often NOSTO)
- ShipperHQ for shipping management
- Wishlist (either iWishlist or Wishlist+)
- Gorgias for CS / live chat
- Automatic account invites and bulk account inviter for account activation
- Avalara for tax
- Yotpo or other for reviews / UGC
This is just on average – there are lots more that could be needed for specific areas and also most of our clients use an integration platform like HighCohesion, Integrator.io / Celigo or Patchworks. You may also find yourself developing custom apps to fill gaps or meet very specific requirements. The bigger third parties would also generally be factored into our Magento projects – e.g. Klevu, Nosto, ShipperHQ etc.
Paying Magento’s license cost is the only time you’ll deal directly with them, unless you want to use the their Enterprise Consulting Group, which is very expensive. 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 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 approach to custom development, thje standardised nature of the platform / apps (reduced development needed, reduced support etc), the app eco-system generally and the reduced need for constant updates. 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 store (the higher of those numbers). There are also lots of larger projects that have been over $350k 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, small scale international, £5m – £25m online turnover etc), this is what I would suggest that the total cost of ownership looks like for Magento Commerce vs Shopify Plus.
Shopify Plus Pricing Overview
- Average website build cost for Shopify Plus (in my experience) – $100,000 – $250,000
- Annual licensing cost – $24,000 (until you get to the $800k per month cut off, where you pay an additional 0.25% of overage revenue)
- BAU development costs (in my experience) – $36,000 – $80,000
- App costs (average) – $10,000
- First Year Shopify Plus Cost: $169,000 – $287,000
- Three Year Shopify Plus Cost of Ownership: $296,000 – $534,000
Magento Commerce Pricing Overview
- Average Magento Commerce build cost (in my experience) – $100,000 – $500,000 (can also be a lot higher)
- 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 – $820,000
- Three Year Magento Cost of Ownership: $592,000 – $1,460,000
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 / Adobe. I previously wrote here that there’s an argument that Magento is more scalable for larger stores, but this is increasingly not the case with Shopify and I find that Shopify Plus is far more of a catalyst for growth than Magento / Adobe.
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.
Shopify Plus vs Magento – Native & Core Functionality
Anyone logging into the admin / back end of Magento and Shopify Plus will instantly see that Magento has richer native functionality than Shopify Plus. Whilst Shopify Plus still has a relatively comprehensive feature-list that represents a good starting point for mid-market 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 this Amasty module). The promotions engine is still 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 customer groups, content scheduling and customer segmentation. Magento allows for two types of promotions 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). This can also be extended – which a number of our clients have been done.
Shopify Plus does support promotions natively, but it’s not as advanced. A lot of merchants rely on scripts to achieve anything non-standard, which is generally fine. I’ve worked on two projects where we used scripts extensively and we were able to achieve some really advanced requirements around tiered pricing, advanced ‘free gift’ promotions, customer-specific promotions and advanced shipping fee logic. The only issues will come with scale for bigger retailers as the promotions don’t stack and there’s a good chance you’ll need to customise / add to the scripts in the future, which can get messy for really complex retailers or retailers with lots of requirements in this area.
This is an area where Magento is stronger and more extensible, but Shopify Plus is better than a lot of people that don’t use the platform regularly assume.
Merchandising and production
Larger and more complex retailers with bigger catalogs and more complicated catalog setups will likely have more positive initial views on Magento, as things like bundled products, grouped products and certain use cases for product attributes require customisation or re-thinking completely to replicate in Shopify, depending on how you want to use them. This is a mindset thing though – Shopify is far more scalable in this area than people think and you can push the basic style tags and metafields really far, especially with the addition of a PIM (which we often bring into projects we do).
Shopify Plus doesn’t natively have the concept of product attributes and product attribute sets for storing data, instead using tags (allowing for tagging of items) and metafields (managing additional custom data points), which are now thankfully becoming a core part of the platform (with the ability to manage these and the scope within the settings section). This still has a way to go to impress merchants as much as other platforms – but it is manageable in most cases. The tags and metafields 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.
Magento Commerce has 7 native, standard product types, which are:
- Simple products
- Configurable products
- Bundled products
- Downloadable products
- Virtual products
- Grouped products
- Gift cards
Shopify only has one type of product, which which can then used with variants to replicate how configurable products work. Variants are widely supported throughout Shopify and via apps and they natively allow for different SKUs and various other options. I’ve also worked with a retailer who has created a parent <> child relationship with standard products to allow for very custom shipping and availability requirements, but this wouldn’t be my recommended approach.
Shopify also supports gift cards natively and they have an API available to allow for broad usage (although quite basic natively, there are apps that can really push this – such as Govalo or Rise.ai). Magento also allows for gift cards to be extended and if you have really complex requirements around gift cards (e.g. custom redemption needs, multi-channel gift cards etc), Magento may well be better. I have seen people extend Shopify quite nicely in this area though. Your approach on both platforms will differ depending on how you want these gift cards to work and whether you want physical gift cards or gift certificates.
Shopify, however, is easier to use when it comes to managing a product catalog and it’s often cited as being perfect for simple product catalogs selling simple products, like fashion retailers for example.
That said, there are various routes for extending product functionality for Shopify, such as:
- Using separate products to avoid variant limits (you can also sometimes get these lifted)
- Using a PIM to manage product complexity outside of Shopify (we have a number of clients that successfully do this by using Akeneo)
- Using products in place of variants to allow for more custom data points
- Using tags to trigger custom logic from outside the platform or from custom apps
- Metafields are also useful for storing different types of data
It’s worth noting that are quite a lot of Shopify Plus stores that have over 1 million products and also achieve things like mixed baskets, live availability lookups, product customisation, highly configurable products etc on the platform.
Magento is no doubt stronger out of the box in this area and is more suited to more bespoke requirements. There are lots of examples of hugely complex product setups with Magento and that’s why Magento is arguably the leader for complex catalogs and very custom builds (alongside SAP).
I would say there is a theme when comparing the two platforms – Magento generally has a stronger native offering and is also designed for customisation and generally very extensible, but that is also where issues do come from. With Shopify, you’re using custom apps, scripts and creating custom logic in the theme to customise, so you’re not actually customising the platform itself. We’re generally advocates of trying to simplify things in this area where possible and avoid unnecessary customisation.
One aspect of product management that Shopify is stronger with is CSV import / export, which is native within the platform. I’ve used this function a lot with Shopify and I’ve not had any issues, whereas with Magento it’s always been a headache and I’ve only really seen it work well when using a third party like Magmi or URapidFlow. Most Magento merchants either steer clear or import / export or use a third party solution (or a PIM). The vast majority of our clients use an app called Excelify – this is a really valuable app that makes importing and exporting a lot quicker and cleaner, allows for broader data to be used (e.g. metafields or images) and also allows for scheduling.
Things like order management and inventory management are comparable, but again Magento has more of a robust, customisable solution. Most of our clients would use an OMS or an ERP here anyway, rather than using the standard feature-set. If you did want to use the platform across this area, Magento is likely to be a lot stronger. I’ve worked with a couple of very complex retailers who have kept things like inventory management and order management within Magento, but this isn’t the best route.
Visual merchandising is very basic in both platforms and both simply allow for manual drag and drag and base ordering (e.g. best sellers). Most clients would use a third party here to make things easier for their teams.
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 with the freedom to make changes at different levels. The scope of attributes can be set to be managed at a global or local level, allowing merchants to assign attributes like ‘product name’ at a global level, but define the price or long description attribute at a local level. This is applied at all levels and is a big pro for Magento for international, multi-brand and B2B2C retailers.
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 websites (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 (you’re allowed up to 10 clone stores with the Plus license) and there are lots of examples of multi-brand and international stores that are live, however, there’s still no ‘proper’ multi-store architecture. This is by far the biggest reason I’ve seen retailers opt against Shopify Plus, but that’s not to say a solution can’t be achieved, particularly if you’re using a back office system or a PIM. Examples of Shopify Plus stores that are using multiple stores in this way include:
- Current Body
- David Austin Roses
Shopify recently released Shopify Markets in Beta, which is the first working iteration of this kind of functionality – this essentially allows you to create new ‘markets’ to service specific countries or territories – initially allowing for different currencies, domains, languages etc. Shopify Markets is very new but is a big step in the right direction and there are going to be lots of new features gradually introduced that will gradually bring Shopify Plus in-line with competitors in this area (for international), these include:
- Ability to localise content
- Ability to trade the site / VM etc for different territories
- Ability to add seperate warehouses / stock locations for different markets
- Ability to payout in different currencies (non base currency)
- Ability to control how apps work across different markets
These are just a few of the top-line things that will help merchants. It’s important to remember that Markets is still very new and not all third parties are compatible currently. It’s also worth noting that you may end up with a combination of stores and markets currently.
We have a number of customers who are managing complex stores with multiple stores, with workarounds including:
- Using a PIM to manage product data independently of the platform (and just pushing data into the different stores)
- Workflows for managing theme changes across the different stores
- Sync’ing of data across the different stores
- Broader order and customer management via other systems (ERP, CRM etc)
- Use apps that are able to support multi-store setups (e.g. Shogun, NOSTO etc)
I’ll talk more about this in the context of international in the next section.
Dependent on requirements, this is an area where Magento can win RfPs and offer a lot more – but it depends on setup and what a retailer prioritises.
Internationalisation (multi-currency, multi-language 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 this is going to be one of the bigger compromise areas that still remain with Shopify Plus. This being said, Shopify have improved things considerably with the introduction of price books and multi-currency additions etc, amongst other things (such as duties calculation, multi-language improvements etc).
There are various routes for achieving a good multi-store setup (for relatively straightforward retailers) for Shopify Plus retailers (with some compromise), which I’ve written about here. Here are some of the options:
- Use a sync’ing solution – there are a number of existing sync’ing apps available and some of the larger agencies also have proprietery solutions too.
- Use a PIM – if you have the budget available, a PIM can help to reduce the overhead around managing product data considerably.
- Use your ERP to support more areas – using your ERP to manage base product information and setup products etc can help to make things a lot easier here.
- Create workflows around imports / exports – using a solution like Excelify will help to speed up the management processes for products and a number of other areas. There’ll still be manual work required, but the overhead will be lower.
These are just a few examples of options and they’re primarily focused on managing product data – I’d suggest reading this guide which covers more considerations such as managing apps, promotions, shipping, merchandising logic etc.
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.
Managing multiple languages and content generally is quite straight forward – if you’re managing stock across multiple stores you’ll probably want to look at using either a custom solution or an iPaaS to handle this. Managing currencies (e.g. separate price lists) and payments is another issue, but I’ll come onto this later on.
Headless and PWA
Building stores as a PWA (progressive web app) is a huge trend / buzzword and is becoming an increasingly common approach with both platforms, although Magento are definitely pushing this more (via their PWA Studio framework and their developer eco-system generally). PWAStudio was seen as a big potential win for Magento, but it’s not really progressed and there are very few people using it and developing on it, which is a shame. There are also lots of other third-party frameworks (such as VueStorefront and Deity) that were at least initially built specifically for Magento – now most of these are agnostic. Lots of Magento agencies have also build out their own proprietary frameworks.
Currently Magento is relatively open for headless builds (moreso than Shopify), but they don’t have full API coverage like a lot of their competitors, such as CommerceTools. The arguments against using Magento in a headless manner generally come from loss of functionality, with certain areas of the platform not yet having APIs available. Some examples of headless Magento sites include:
- Oliver Bonas
- Topps Tiles
- Zadig & Voltaire (some of the European sites)
Shopify have released introduced Hydrogen, which is their own framework for building out headless sites / custom storefronts. There’s been a huge shift in headless Shopify sites over the last two years and some massive brands / stores have gone down this route (pre hydrogen), including:
- Victoria Beckham Beauty
- Staples Canada
- JB Hifi
- Lick Paint
There are hundreds more examples and I’d say, despite not being as open, Shopify has more established brand headless stores than Magento. There are quite a few headless third parties that also exist in the Shopify eco-system, with Nacelle and Shogun being the two biggest examples – these essentially make the process easier – Nacelle building more of a dataLayer and Shogun offering an end-to-end headless front-end solution.
Overall I am an advocate of headless as an approach for relevant businesses and teams (often as part of a broader push to invest in best-in-class technology etc) – however headless can be bad for businesses / teams. There’s a huge amount of hype around headless and the number of headless implementations increases every day, across the majority of mainstream eCommerce platforms, bespoke platforms and the various API-first, headless-only platforms. In addition to this, lots of the world’s biggest brands are going down the headless route and have really impressive brand experiences and use a very modern set of front-end tools. However, whilst there are some huge pros for headless for these businesses, smaller businesses and businesses with less technical teams should be really careful when adopting this approach.
I’ve spoken to a lot of brands who have gone down this route and regretted it – as most changes will cost more and take longer. Again, this is more applicable to smaller brands / businesses where their team isn’t as suited and where small changes are more important.
One thing I would add is that going headless with Magento doesn’t fix all the issues with the platform and the same frustrations around maintenance and technical issues that need to be solved still exist.
Eco-system – Third Party Integrations, Extensions and Apps
Both Magento 2 Commerce Edition and Shopify Plus have well-established eco-systems when it comes to existing integrations and marketplaces for third-party extensions and apps.. Shopify’s app store and technology partner eco-system is its biggest strengths – with thousands of pre-vetted apps in existence and, more importantly, lots of Shopify-focused specialist app companies driving key the platform forward. Taking subscriptions as an example (where you have lots of mainstream providers – including Smartrr, SKIO, Recharge and various others), you could have an advanced setup within hours, as opposed to spending thousands and it taking weeks with Magento. This is a real pro for Shopify. Magento modules are very common for third parties, but there’s not the same level of companies building companies around the platform – this has been a big loss for Magento as this was previously a big pro for the platform also.
Following on from third-party extensions, there is the issue of maintaining the codebase to consider. Magento is a very open platform and it’s often self-hosted, which means that clients are free to extend or customise any element of the platform as they see fit (which definitely has negatives, as well as positives). Shopify Plus is a very rigid platform and clients do not have access to the codebase or the database (again, coming with plenty of pros and cons). Shopify Plus then allows for customisation via apps, which connect to the platform via API and via the theme – this is a really nice approach, as it ensures stability in the main platform and reduces issues considerably, however it does also create limitations in achieving certain things.
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, fulfilment 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 massive selling point for Magento / Adobe commerce is that it provides fairly advanced native support for B2B merchants, via their B2B suite (Magento 2). Even without the B2B suite, things like customer groups, tiered pricing, customer-based pricing and product availability, customer-specific promotions etc are all supported via standard features of the platform (both Open Source and Commerce), but the new B2B suite offers more.
B2B has been a big focus for Magento over the last few years and their B2B suite comes with a lot of 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, setup credit limits, various approval workflows etc. This is a big strength of Magento over Shopify Plus.
Shopify Plus completed the acquisition of Handshake a few years ago, a highly regarded B2B eCommerce platform. This is likely to push them forward with B2B and expectations are high when they finally start to release a solution. There’s also lots of rumours about how Shopify are building out this side via their internal teams. Currently with Shopify Plus, options are nowhere near as comprehensive as Magento. 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 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. This is a very basic solution but it can be good for proof of concepts and very basic wholesale needs.
- Separate store – as you’d imagine, a separate clone store for wholesale, which allows for lots of freedom with setup and management. Shopify Plus still doesn’t natively support a lot of the requirements you’d need though, so this would need to be scoped out properly.
- Using the main store with customer tagging, template variables and scripts – this can be effective for simple wholesale programs.
You can read more about the different options and how Shopify retailers use these options here.
Both Shopify Plus and Magento Commerce offer application-level support, however at different levels. For Shopify Plus clients, this is via phone, email or live chat, whereas for Magento Commerce clients, it is purely developer support and it doesn’t have the best reputation. 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 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. These CSMs are generally super technical, but they can add value.
Although you’ll still need developers to implement 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, extensibility & flexibility
Magento is commonly deployed as an on-premise eCommerce platform (although the cloud version is now in a good place) with a wide range of broad APIs across both the front-end and back-end of the platform, as well as the ability to customise most of the platform. The general extensibility of a platform like Magento is unquestionable, but this can be as much of an issue as a positive, as it can impact maintainability, upgradability and the costs of maintaining the platform. There has been a huge shift away from open platforms to SaaS, with businesses then extending via apps or micro-services.
We’ve already mentioned the fact that Shopify Plus users do not have access to the core 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 the pros often outweigh the cons on this front (for a lot of retailers).
In terms of systems integrators, I would say that Shopify Plus users would be far less reliant on developers, making it much easier to switch providers and also build an in-house development team. 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. You’d also then have more issues around agencies not really wanting to take full ownership of code. This wouldn’t be the same for Shopify Plus where agencies are only really (mostly) developing themes and some surrounding apps or scripts.
I personally don’t like the fact that with Magento every store is significantly different – this makes upgrades, the installation of modules and development changes generally take longer and more risky.
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 worked with include:
These are just a few examples – there are lots of others too, such as Eastside Co, Sweden Unlimited, Verbal & Visual, Diff, BV Accel, Zehner and there are also a lot of high profile Magento partners that have really grown in the Shopify Plus space – such as Corra, Bounteous, Something Digital 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. Magento partners we work with commonly include:
Magento is better suited to more complex sites and is regularly chosen as a solution against SaaS platforms in general, not just Shopify Plus. I’ve been involved in a host of very complex Magento sites, ranging from headless implementations to mixed basket sites (requiring complex integration with booking engines etc) – there are also lots of other examples of where Magento has been used to provide solutions for highly complex B2B sites and high volume sites. These stores wouldn’t be suited to the Shopify Plus platform.
Overall, Magento is more extensible than Shopify Plus and the broad range of APIs and ability to do more with the software does make it a better option for complex stores. I’d say that the key here is to assess your requirements (both long-term and short-term) and see if Shopify Plus is able to provide a solid (without too many workarounds) solution to achieve these. If not, Magento is likely a better option.
My only big question marks around Magento here are where the platform is headed and for how much longer the platform remains relevant for SMB / mid-market businesses. In addition, how the overall architecture will change over time.
Magento Commerce had a host of options when it comes to accepting payment options, including existing integrations with Braintree, Adyen, Stripe 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 pro and con 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 (starting at 1.6% but coming down if you can prove a loss based on an existing provider). Shopify Payments has a number of benefits to the merchant, but it can be very frustrating too, with merchants needing to have a registered business and local bank account for any country they want to use it with. You also can’t use Shopify Payments in regions (e.g. European store or ROW store) and they’re very strict with eligibility. They also don’t support a number of countries currently, such as France. But, if you can work with it – it’s very simple and easy to work with.
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 (clean integration within the Shopify checkout), Braintree, Adyen, PayPal, Sagepay (clean integration within the Shopify checkout), Klarna and Worldpay (clean integration within the Shopify checkout) – these are just a few examples.
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 locked down 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). The other major frustration for lots of people is that stores need to be on a local CCtld (e.g. store.fr) or a subdomain (fr.store.com).
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), but it’s very fixed (e.g. the URL structure).
Magento is actually very strong for SEO and you won’t ‘need’ to make big changes as part of the replatforming project – this is seen as a big plus for Magento over Shopify Plus.
One of the biggest weaknesses of Magento has historically been 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 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 really good API to support this. You can then use third party solutions like Glew or Daasity or build out your own data warehouse / bespoke reporting for broader business reporting.
A few years ago, Magento acquired RJMetrics (now Magento BI), which is a fairly strong solution that adds a lot of value to merchants. 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
These 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.
The almost undoubtedly biggest selling point of Magento historically has been its community, as mentioned above and there are still 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). This is declining though – with lots of these developers moving partly or entirely to new technologies or platforms – such as Shopify, Shopware, CommerceTools or just different technical approaches.
Magento has actually been pushed forward by this community – with lots of the core parts of the platform coming from community initiatives. Other platforms just don’t have this. The Magento certifications and partner program also help to give merchants guidance in selecting the right service providers. This being said, lots of the big Magento agencies now work with Shopify Plus, including Blue Acorn, Something Digital, Guidance, Inviqa etc.
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 Space48, Inviqa, GPMD and lots of others.
Shopify’s developer following and community is growing super quickly and things like Hydrogen will massively improve this – with that being an open source initiative. Shopify is opening up their platform and new APIs constantly, so this will also help them push this further.
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 has been improving quite a bit recently and there are some big updates coming.
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.
Shopify recently introduced native ERP connectors – this will likely be built into Flow over time and will help strengthen the proposition.
As can be seen by this brief assessment, there are advantages and disadvantages on both sides – but I must be honest that I’m far more positive about the future and offering of Shopify Plus for brands and B2C retailers. The trajectory of the platform and recent developments are so positive for Shopify and the eco-system is just not comparable to any other platform. I’ve become a real advocate of Shopify Plus and struggle to recommend Magento more and more.
For merchants who have more complex requirements (particularly in terms of large, complex catalogs and complex multi-store) the native flexibility and scalability of Magento may mean that Magento Commerce Edition is the safer choice, but I think that’ll change over time.
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 Commerce 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 all fees around the platform 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, B2B requirements or if I wanted to go with a on-premise platform, I would look at Magento Commerce.
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 is gradually being rolled out now and features are coming quickly.||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 metafields 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. Shopify now allows for metafields to be managed directly in the interface.||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, with 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 URL structures etc. Users are able to amend logic around things like canonical URLs, hreflang references, noindex tags etc. This will get better as over time.||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 this is getting better again – price books, duties calculations and various other features are helping to make this better. Improvements to markets over the next few months should help to reduce the gap here.||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’s Online Store 2.0 has helped to massively improve native content management – with the introduction of Sections Everywhere. This allows users to use sections across different page templates and also makes the general management of content more comfortable.||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 [email protected]