In this day and age, it’s more important than ever for both pure-play and multi-channel retailers to step up their game when it comes to site performance. When competing for the attention and spend of modern online shoppers, ecommerce sites not only have to be attractive, fast, and intuitive, but they should also be able to offer an excellent shopping experience from the moment users land on the site to the time they check out (and even after that).
Choosing the right ecommerce platform is an integral part of this, to ensure that you’re able to deliver on all of the above. Magento gives both B2C and B2B merchants a variety of tools and freedom to build ecommerce sites for their exact needs and specifications. Magento is often selected by merchants because of its flexibility (far more agile than most in the enterprise bracket and the more SME-lead hosted platforms) and scalability (existing integrations and modules help Magento power some of the world’s biggest stores, as well as low budget startups), powering some of the world’s top retailers, including Nike, Paul Smith, Rebecca Minkoff, Zumiez and more.
Merchants considering Magento often struggle with choosing between two editions of the software: Magento Enterprise Edition (EE) and the Community Edition (CE). In this post, I’ll provide insight into the features and offerings of each solution, as well as the factors you should consider when choosing between the two.
How to decide between Magento EE and CE
The main difference between Magento CE and EE is that latter is more scalable and has more enterprise-level features built in. While both platforms are self-hosted and come with all the features that you’d expect from an ecommerce solution (i.e. catalog management, different product config types, marketing tools, checkout and payment features), Magento EE does have some more advanced capabilities such as merchandising, better search OOTB, full page caching, customer loyalty options, among other things. I’ll go into more detail on these features and others below.
Of course, all those capabilities also make Magento EE more expensive. While the Community Edition is free for you to download and install, Magento Enterprise comes with a $15,000 licensing fee. You also pay an additional cost (around $12,000) per each additional server – which can add a significant overhead if you’re using lots of servers to deal with peaks. I worked with a merchant a while back who opted to use Community Edition purely because they used AWS to scale up and down, which sometimes meant they’d being using 8 servers concurrently. Some of the larger merchants use over 10 servers, which puts Magento Enterprise in the same bracket as some of the other enterprise-level platforms that are generally regarded as significantly more expensive (in terms of licensing costs).
So the main question is, should you fork up that extra fifteen grand for the Enterprise Edition (assuming you’re able to operate with a single production and database server)? That depends on several considerations including the size of your business, the amount of traffic that you’re getting and the shopping experience you want to provide.
Here are some of the main considerations when choosing between the two platforms.
Performance and scalability
If you’re running a high-traffic ecommerce site, then Magento Enterprise could be a better option. A popular feature of EE is Full Page Caching, which lets you serve up cached versions of your category, product and CMS pages. This enables you to provide a much faster shopping experience that doesn’t slow down even if you have plenty of users browsing at the same time. Magento is widely known for being slow OOTB, so caching is something you’re going to need to look into either way. Magento Enterprise has full page caching out of the box, whereas with Magento Community you’ll need to find another solution.
Magento Enterprise also offers optimized indexing, a capability that lets you add and update products while ensuring that important elements of your website (i.e. URLs, navigation, search tools) are up-to-date. This feature also automates most indexing tasks, thus reducing the need to perform a full re-index.
That said, if you choose to go with Magento Community, it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to optimise performance, it’s just that you’ll need to implement caching and various other performance fixes yourself – there are a host of popular modules that enable CE merchants to implement full page caching on their sites.
Despite including the FPC module, Magento Enterprise often still has performance issues as Magento as a platform (although this is improved in Magento 2) is very resource-intensive. I wrote this piece on Magento performance (with a developer I was working with), which covers a few routes for making Magento faster, including server setup / specs, using a CDN, front-end optimisation techniques and Magento config.
Whether you use Magento Enterprise or Community, you’re still going to need to ensure that you have a robust server and that it’s setup correctly. Magento is a very bulky platform and realistically any Magento store should be on high-spec dedicated server, ideally with Varnish (using an existing extension), Redis for back-end caching etc.
If you’re running a fairly big store, you’re probably going to want to look at using multiple servers, which (as mentioned earlier), will impact the cost of Magento Enterprise as it’s based on the number of licenses (although there are rumours that this will change at some point).
If you need to offer rich shopping experiences (i.e. you hold flash sales regularly, provide gift registries, honor store credit, etc.) then you may want to opt for Magento Enterprise Edition.
Magento EE has several customer-centric features that allow for a more sophisticated ecommerce experience. It has built-in store credit features, gift registries, as well as private and flash sale capabilities. Magento Enterprise can also provide rewards points and allow shoppers to create multiple wish lists and purchase gift cards. Again, these features can all be achieved via various different third party services and modules, however using the native EE functionality is always going to be easier (and lots of merchants are reluctant to use too many modules).
On the other hand, if your customer service, sales and inventory needs are fairly straightforward and you don’t need a lot of bells whistles (and you’re happy finding and using alternative solutions should your requirements change), then you might be better off with Magento Community’s solid, no-frills solution.
Magento Enterprise also allows for customer segmentation, which is a valuable feature for more enterprise-level retailers. This allows you to create specific promotions and marketing efforts for specific people or groups of people.
Magento Enterprise also added Visual Merchandiser into the core last year, which isn’t available on Magento Community. This is a module that was built by On Tap and it’s still available to be purchased for Magento Community Edition. This is a good addition though as it makes it easier for merchants to merchandise product listing pages and also gives them more control.
There are many features that aid customer experience that are available in both enterprise and community as well, such as related products, up-sells and cross-sells, coupon codes, tiered product pricing, bundled products, customer wishlists, persistent cart etc. Magento also has built-in review functionality, which is the same in both versions.
Site and store management
If you have multiple people working the backend of your store or if you need more advanced management capabilities, then Magento EE could be a better option, as it offers more advanced management tools.
For instance, there’s Magento EE’s return management authorization (RMA) tool for efficiently processing returns, refunds and exchanges. There’s also more version control with Magento EE, including staging, merging, and rollback of content, which gives you a staging site to test new content or site features and before deploying to the live site.
In addition, Magento EE supports advanced permissions, so you can create multiple admin roles and enable or restrict users from viewing certain aspects of your site. You can also log administrator actions and easily track all backend activities, thus increasing accountability within your team.
Such capabilities are harder to implement with Magento CE, so if these features are must-haves for you, then Magento EE would be the way to go.
Magento CE only offers community-based support, so when technical issues come up, you’ll either have to do your own research and problem solving, or use your own developer / agency. This is generally only a big issue if you have core issues that require the knowledge of a Magento specialist. One of my clients had issues with rewrites that ended up requiring a new patch to be created and they were able to get support around this from Magento. That said, most good agencies would be able to support you in this scenario anyway, it’s just good for peace of mind.
Magento EE on the other hand, offers 24/7 expert tech support and dedicated account management so you can quickly fix and issues and make the most of the platform. I’d say this is valuable to have, but it’s not critical if you’re using a good SI / agency.
I’d say that the decision massively depends on your requirements and where you are as a retailer – if you’re turning over £10m online, I’d strongly suggest using Enterprise (just because things like FPC and the support are going to deliver a return against a single license). However, if you’re turning over £500k online and aren’t planning on scaling massively, then CE is likely to be sufficient. I know lots of retailers at that level who have used Community and just gradually implemented the various different features as and when they’re needed – doing this over a few years means that you’re likely to save a lot of budget against the licensing fees.
If you’re still on the fence, you need to think about what features or capabilities you need in your ecommerce store, and how badly do you need them? Make a list of these things, then do your research on how Magento EE and CE can meet those needs.
If you opt for the Community Edition, you can usually find modules to fill in any feature gaps in the program. The question is, will modules or third-party solutions do the trick or are you better off with features that are built-in? Also, there are other disadvantages to using lots of third party modules and code – so this is something to consider as well. If the time and effort getting modules and workarounds up and running is too much (say more than $15,000) then you should probably just go with Enterprise.
These are just some of the questions and considerations that you should mull over when trying to decide between Magento Enterprise and Community. If you’re still unsure, feel free to drop me an email with any questions (email@example.com) or use the contact form.
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