Paul Rogers

eCommerce, Digital & Magento Consultant

January 14th

Magento vs Shopify Plus: An interview with Jordan Knapp of Shopify

Last month, I put together a Shopify Plus vs Magento 2 Enterprise comparison piece, with the intention of providing a bit more detail around the features and functionality offered by the two platforms. After I published the piece, I got talking to Shopify Plus General Manager, Loren Padelford, who kindly introduced me to Jordan Knapp, their Head of Plus Solutions for Shopify Plus. Jordan is a bit of a veteran in the enterprise eCommerce software space.  Jordan previously built Magento’s Solutions Engineering team and spent 7 years at ATG in senior consulting roles. After speaking to Jordan about both platforms and the common misconceptions, I asked if he’d be interested in doing an interview on my blog, which he kindly agreed to 🙂

Like the comparison piece I wrote, this interview-style piece is mostly focused on specific capabilities and features, along with some other areas around the key selling points of the two systems.

QUESTION – to set the scene, why do you think there are so many Magento vs Shopify discussions happening with merchants at the moment?

The launch of Magento 2 represents a line in the sand. Over the next one to two years, tens of thousands of Magento 1.x clients will be faced with a tough decision: absorb the costs of re-platforming to Magento 2, or evaluate other options in the market.  

At Shopify Plus we see enterprise-level brands making the switch from legacy solutions including Magento, Demandware and ATG. Looking for reliable information online is a challenge. Many of the platform comparisons that exist online are wildly inaccurate and simply outdated.

There is no doubt that Magento is the king of on-premise eCommerce. Built specifically for developers, it offers tremendous flexibility and extensibility, but SaaS is changing the software world, and eCommerce is no exception. Many retailers are looking for a simpler way to manage complex customer experiences.

Shopify Plus allows retailers to refocus their budgets and human capital away from costly infrastructure and development, and onto more important matters like strategy, customer engagement, social influence, and data-guided marketing.   

QUESTION – what are your views on scalability and reliability of the two platforms? One of the common viewpoints is that Magento is a more scalable system.

Shopify Plus offers a fully hosted SaaS solution built to handle any level of volume allowing high-volume merchants to focus on their business, not their IT.  Shopify Plus is built on the same infrastructure that supports over 350,000 Shopify merchants, ensuring that flash sales, Black Friday, or heavy daily volume can be handled with ease.

Existing clients are encountering flash sale peaks in the thousands of concurrent checkouts. Offloading concerns around scalability and performance allows the merchant to re-focus their time on value-added pursuits such as marketing and user experience.  

Magento Enterprise and Community have many examples of clients that operate at super high scale. In fact, Magento 2.0 is designed with scalability in mind but this scalability comes at a cost. On-premise deployments require that you architect your solution to accommodate the single highest peak in traffic. This means building out and managing an infrastructure that you may actually only use for a single day every year.  Any time you roll out a change to production you risk impacting the scalability of the overall architecture.

QUESTION – Arguably Magento’s biggest selling point is their community, what is your view on this?

One of Magento’s biggest strengths has always been its ecosystem. There are hundreds of Magento systems integrators and hundreds of certified developers. With almost 280,000 Magento community sites, the number of developers and architects that have worked with Magento 1.x is staggering.

But Magento 2 changes the equation a bit. The radical changes to architecture and deep technical competencies have had an impact on the community. Regardless, there is no arguing that Magento’s massive ecosystem has had a significant impact on the ecommerce landscape.  

Shopify now has over 350,000 merchants on its platform, and a community of thousands of Shopify Experts have grown up around the platform. To ensure that Shopify Plus can accommodate the entire needs of large retailers, Shopify Plus has created the Shopify Plus Partner program, and each partner is thoroughly vetted and represents the top agencies within their given competencies.  

QUESTION – what is your view on the extendability of the two platforms, via pre-existing extensions and integrations?

Magento maintains a large marketplace for extensions known as the Magento Marketplace. There you will find the extensions that make your store function like a custom online store should. But Magento extensions rarely feature turnkey operation. The majority take a little bit (or a lot) of coding to get up and running. As a result, Magento extensions put added dependence on your development team.  They can also conflict with your individual customizations, requiring heavy tweaks to ensure stability.  Extensions should be tested with each deployment by development and QA resources.

Shopify maintains a huge library of third-party applications, all of which are designed to minimize dependency on developers. The Shopify App Store offers a wide array of solutions from marketing, sales, social media, shipping, inventory and even supply chain management. Shopify’s third-party apps are available to help streamline all of your enterprise needs — without the dependency on developers and integrators.  

This architecture also serves as huge opportunity for app developers and agencies and allows them to build once and deploy to mass customers at scale.

QUESTION – One of the biggest selling points of Shopify is around the support, how do you feel this compares to the Magento proposition?

Shopify Plus is committed to partnering with retailers. It offers an expert team of launch managers, technical designers, merchant success managers, and dedicated support members to ensure that your transition is smooth, fast and painless. Dedicated Launch Managers are assigned to every deployment and serve as a technical point-of-contact for migration and development coordination. Merchant Success Managers are assigned to every Shopify Plus account post launch and exist to help you navigate the wealth of resources at your disposal. From billing to development, themes to channels, they are with you every step of the way.

Magento offers technical support, but like many on-premise solutions, you are largely on your own once you sign up for licensing.  A third-partner agency or integrator is required for any ongoing expertise on the platform and your deployment.  

QUESTION – From speaking to merchants, one thing I’ve found they’re unsure of is how Shopify Plus works from an internationalisation perspective – how would a large multi-currency, multi-lingual store be managed by the merchant?

Shopify Plus has many merchants that are deployed across multiple regions, languages and currencies.  The platform is capable of supporting merchants in over 100 countries.  Shopify Plus also gives customers access to additional clone shops to built out their internationalization stores.  

Individual storefronts are currently managed independently or through the merchants PIM or ERP system. This fits the needs of most of our merchants that have disparate UX or pricing requirements across regions.

QUESTION – One benefit, as far as I can see, for Shopify Plus is reduced development costs from systems integrators, is this something that you’ve seen / agree with?

Absolutely.  Not having to worry about load testing, infrastructure, application development, and complex component models for page development, means less there is less technical overhead on a Shopify Plus implementation.  This ensures merchants can put a greater focus on their business requirements and customer experience.  

Our belief is that this represents an opportunity for partners and digital agencies.  As opposed to removing spend, organizations are choosing to reinvest in competencies that have a greater return on investment such as brand strategy, paid search, email marketing, etc.

QUESTION – Another mis-conception around the Shopify Plus platform is around integrability, what are some of the common integrations you’ve seen for some of the stores?

Large Shopify Plus clients nearly all integrate with legacy ERPs, Order Management Solutions or CRM tools just as they would with on premise. Shopify Plus provides robust APIs that allow 3rd party solutions to complete nearly any action remotely or make available all eCommerce data that downstream systems may require.

There is a new generation of SAAS based enterprise tools, many of which have turn key integrations.  As with On Premise we also see integrations to legacy solutions such as SAP, JDE, Oracle, etc.

NetSuite is a popular ERP solution for many cloud focused merchants, the most common integration is via our solutions partner, nChannel.  It’s remarkably turnkey.

QUESTION – What is your view on Magento 2? What have you seen from your side?

The need for custom application development isn’t going away. The need is diminishing however. Fewer and fewer retailers have needs that cannot be accommodated by a SAAS solution.  Many of us were naive to think that eCommerce wouldn’t see the same evolution as CRM (Salesforce) and ERP (Netsuite), but it’s happening.

The vast majority of Magento 1.x customers do not need custom application development. They aren’t interested in making a commitment to the cost and time required to manage their own infrastructure and one off customizations. The benefits just aren’t there.

This will be an interesting year for the Magento 1.x community.  We’re expecting a very small subset of Community customers to actually make the migration to Magento 2.

QUESTION – can you run us through what you feel are some of the core differentiators between the two platforms?

Hosting & Deployment

Hosting and managed services are specialized competencies that require a great deal of care and attention. As a licensed, on-premise solution, Magento has not historically provided either hosting or managed services with its licensing. Magento now offers a Cloud Edition but it essentially is a Managed Services offering that does not remove concerns around performance and scalability.  Most Magento clients are required to pay a reliable hosting provider to host an architecture that can accommodate peak traffic. Beyond the additional cost, the focus on “keeping the lights on” can take your eye off your core business.  

Magento also requires installation, setup and configuration. This is challenging across a distributed architecture. A significant portion of every Magento deployment is dedicated to ensuring performance and scalability rather than focusing on your core requirements.  

Shopify Plus clients benefit from Shopify’s massive architecture. Shopify Plus gives high growth, high volume merchants the scalability, reliability, and flexibility they need, without all the hassles, long timelines, and expense of an on-premise solution. Many Shopify Plus clients are coming to the platform just accommodate the massive loads associated with flash sales. These flash sales often see thousands of concurrent checkouts at peak. Migrating to Shopify Plus means never having to worry about infrastructure, hosting, networking or load testing ever again.  

Security

Strong brands require a relationship built on trust. Clients must feel safe and secure when transacting with your brand. For this reason, security is fundamental to ecommerce. PCI Compliance is our industry’s way of verifying security standards for organizations that handle any online payments. PCI Compliance goes well beyond the software itself; it creates dependencies on how the software is managed, deployed and hosted.

While Magento provides the ability to deploy PCI Compliant storefronts, you as the vendor are responsible for ensuring that your site is safe and secure. Ensuring PCI Compliance is costly and time-consuming. Since the burden of securing the data on the server is entirely the merchants, it creates headaches that distract them from growing their business.  

As an open source solution, Magento is also prone to malware. Security breaches to the software itself are a regular concern. Magento is forced to play defence and regularly releases security patches throughout the year. As an example, over 10,000 Magento sites were victim to the Guruncsite malware in 2015. Google was forced to blacklist over 8,000 storefronts in the first 90 days of the breach alone. Magento has been responsive by releasing security patches when threats are identified —10 of which have been released since January 2015. However, every security patch takes time and resources to deploy and test.  

Shopify Plus is the most cost-effective platform for ensuring security. With Shopify Plus, your site will be hosted and protected as Shopify is Level 1 PCI DSS compliant. Shopify Plus also takes care of various compliance assessments and risk management, making sure your site is secure, without the need for you to manage a regular assessment of your site.  

Shopify Plus provides a free site-wide SSL certificate to all clients. Most eCommerce websites use SSL encryption technology to protect a shopper’s personal information during the checkout process, but Shopify covers the entire shopping experience. Once your certificate is activated, all traffic will be redirected from HTTP to encrypted HTTPS.

Implementation Times

Shopify Plus is focused on speed. Deployments typically are in the range of 2 to 4 months depending on the level of complexity. Shopify Plus deployments remove the need to have to worry about eCommerce architecture, hosting, and security. This allows you to put your customer needs first. The learning curve for internal resources with an on-premise solution is significantly steeper than with Shopify Plus, and the skillsets required with Shopify Plus are much closer to those of a traditional UX resource (HTML, Javascript, CSS). Shopify Plus also allows for private app development and scripting to accommodate unique or complex customizations.

Implementation times for a new Magento 2 deployment are commonly 6 to 8 months depending on the level of complexity. They also require an array of resources including, developers, architects, deployment specialists, QA resources, etc. The implementation of an on-premise eCommerce solution looks a lot like custom application development.  Building out customizations in Magento is also less efficient because you have no standard of code. It becomes your responsibility to manage and maintain changes to the core architecture. Load testing is mission critical for Magento customizations, so even if your customization is implemented and working just fine today, it may not perform well under peak performance.  With Shopify Plus, you do not need to worry about this.

Upgrades & Feature Releases

Magento has an aggressive development cycle for its 2.x roadmap, with plans to deploy multiple point releases and security patches in a given year. Like many on-premise solutions, new releases can pose a challenge when the platform has been extended or customized. With each release, the client must organize a true project to understand the impacts to the existing code base. Upgrades can take days or weeks depending upon the situation. In many instances, the client may need to rewrite existing customizations. QA and load testing are required for each individual release.  

Shopify Plus removes the need for upgrades, patches and point releases. The platform is designed to allow retailers to consume new features as they become available. Retailers can choose to consume new capabilities via the Shopify Admin as they become live. This saves the retailer from distracting software deployments and saves the time and money associated with upgrades and patches.  

Commerce Anywhere

It’s become increasingly more important to go to your customers and early adopters, instead of waiting for them to come to you. As a result, Shopify has deployed a suite of capabilities to ensure that we can enable ecommerce on any 3rd party marketing site, blog, social network or marketplace.  

Shopify’s Sales Channel SDK allows you to add commerce to any mobile app, marketplace, or website. You can connect your users to millions of products right where they are. Shopify handles the hard parts — like payments, shipping, taxes, inventory, analytics, and more.

Shopify customers can also deploy commerce capabilities to Facebook, Pinterest, and marketplace such as Amazon or Houzz immediately after starting their store.

Shopify’s Buy Button strategy allows retailers to add eCommerce to any website using only a snippet of code.  Embedded products, collections, and even an on-site shopping cart can be added in only a couple of minutes. The JavaScript Buy SDK is a lightweight library that allows you to retrieve products and collections from your shop, add products to a cart, and checkout.

As the number of channels expands, on-premise platforms such as Magento are going to have a hard time keeping up. Integrating with any one of these channels requires custom integration and development. In a world where retailers are increasingly leveraging more channels, managing all of these one-off integrations with Magento can become cost prohibitive.  

Designing responsive experiences on Magento 2 can be difficult given the complexity of page development. Magento includes a responsive theme for all merchants, but heavy page development and QA testing are required with each responsive or mobile deployment.  

QUESTION – Finally, what is holding merchants back from moving from Magento to Shopify?  

I remember in 2013 all of the ATG and Hybris merchants were nervous about making the leap to Magento. The message we kept hearing was that Magento only makes sense if you do less than $30 million online. The logic made no sense at all. Ironically, the eCommerce community can be very resistant to change.  

The community that’s skeptical of replatforming is even more skeptical of Magento 2.0.  Shopify Plus gives enterprise merchants the flexibility they need without all of the development and architectural overhead.  We’re expecting it to be an exciting year for Shopify Plus and the eCommerce community as a whole.

Thank you very much Jordan for taking the time to do this interview – I think it’s a very interesting time for Magento and a difficult decision for merchants. Shopify Plus is a very strong solution and it’ll be interesting to see the impact it has on the much-questioned Magento 2.

Paul is an experienced eCommerce Consultant, specialising in working with the Magento platform. Paul works with online retailers and product companies from all over the world and is focused mainly on helping merchants get more from the Magento platform and growing stores (customer acquisition, customer experience, strategy etc).

partners