Pros and Cons of Magento 2 – A Detailed, Post-Adobe View

Magento is one of the most mature eCommerce platforms in the world, and it has, for quite some time, been seen as the market leader in the mid-market eCommerce platforms space, globally. With such a broad range of customers and its strong native offering, it would seem on first glance that Magento should be the front-runner for pretty much every eCommerce replatforming project, from multinational enterprise clients using Commerce (or Commerce Cloud), to the smallest of SMEs using Magento Open Source.

However, over the last few years, Magento, has seen a lot of change and a lot more competition in various different markets, as well as issues coming from the introduction to Magento 2 and the cloud edition of the platform, which have definitely taken their toll on the reputation of the platform. New SaaS platforms, such as BigCommerce and Shopify Plus have also put pressure on Magento, with their fast implementation times and lower TCOs. These days, retailers considering a new eCommerce platform need to run an RfP or detailed discovery process to build up a real understanding of the fit of each platform and almost justify the expense of a platform like Magento (at the lower end).

In addition to the Magento 2 transition, Magento’s acquisition by Adobe has also had a big impact on how the platform is positioned in the market – with pricing increases and a much bigger focus on the enterprise market, which is where other Adobe products tend to sit. There are now bundled versions of the platform with other Adobe products (such as Adobe Experience Manager, Adobe Analytics, Adobe Target etc) and a brand-new Adobe Commerce Cloud product, which is provided almost as a SaaS and supported by Adobe. This is likely to be the product that competes in the top end of the enterprise bracket.

It’s worth noting that my view is that Magento remains a hugely powerful eCommerce platform that is ideally suited to lots and lots of retailers – it just doesn’t have the same value to smaller retailers that it did in the past. I’ve seen all costs around the platform increase and a much bigger focus on enterprise-orientated features, which has led to Shopify Plus and BigCommerce, in particular, being a better option for smaller and simpler eCommerce businesses. Magento’s ‘market fit’ for me is loosely: complex B2C retailers, high volume B2C retailers, multi-brand B2C retailers, heavily international B2C retailers and B2B retailers.

In this article, we’ll look at the pros and cons of Magento 2, across both on-premise versions and the Commerce Cloud version, as well as the newer offerings.

The Pros of Magento 2

Whilst Magento may be facing stiffer competition in recent times, it got to its market share comes as a result of its hugely powerful native offering and its unrivalled extensibility, and those reasons by and large still stand firm as clear advantages.

Depth of Functionality

Few would dispute that Magento has one of the broadest and most comprehensive native functionality offerings of any eCommerce platform – sitting alongside Salesforce Commerce Cloud, perhaps (in terms of mainstream options). Following Magento 2’s extensive admin makeover, the platform is now also much easier to grasp and to use on a daily operational basis.

Few would dispute that Magento has one of the broadest and most comprehensive native functionality offerings of any eCommerce platform – sitting alongside Salesforce Commerce Cloud, perhaps (in terms of mainstream options). Following Magento 2’s extensive admin makeover, the platform is now also much easier to grasp and to use on a daily operational basis.

Whether it’s things like multi-location inventory, multi-currency, multi-store functionality or complex product catalog setup spanning hundreds of thousands of products, all with complex attribute sets, pricing rules and merchandising requirements, Magento has the built-in functionality to handle it. For those moving from Magento with things like multiple stores and complex product catalog requirements, it can be a shock to find much less core functionality in other platforms, for example, Shopify Plus, which doesn’t have multi-store functionality (for managing different data points at different levels) and doesn’t have the concept of product attributes (operating with a flat tagging structure) natively within the platform. That being said, these achievements can still be met, but it’s not a native part of the platform and there are often workarounds and compromise required.

In addition to these features, Magento Commerce also offers the following as part of its native offering:

  • A market-leading B2B suite, offering support for quotation management, customer-specific catalogs, complex price list setup, customer roles and responsibilities and much more.
  • A wide set of native product types (offering much better handling of things like configurable products, product bundling and grouped products than most other platforms).
  • A new platform-wide content management offering (Page Builder) – which provides modular content management features and is integrated with other core areas of the platform. This isn’t an enterprise CMS (which is something that more and more retailers are coupling with an eCommerce platform), but it’s a step in the right direction.
  • Content Scheduling
  • Gift card and gift certificate functionality
  • A fairly feature-rich gift registry offering
  • Native multi-store setup allowing for global and local management of data and config aspects across multiple channels, brands, currencies, languages etc
  • Strong SEO management capabilities (which wasn’t always the case)
  • Comprehensive discounting and promotions capabilities
  • Complimentary access to Magento BI (BI platform capable of providing far more detail into performance, customers, product etc)
  • Wide range of built-in merchandising features (such as visual merchandising, comprehensive product attribute management offering, ability to add-on custom options, badging, rule-based product recommendations etc)

These are just a few examples of features that Magento has natively that a number of competitor platforms don’t have or would require a third party for. In addition to this, this functionality can be extended and improved, which is a big thing for larger, enterprise customers with complex requirements around things like product types, gift cards or gift registry for example.

An Unrivalled Ecosystem

Magento’s biggest selling point is its ecosystem and the community around the platform – which comes as a result of:

  • The length of time that Magento has been around
  • The fact that there has always been a free, open-source edition of the platform
  • The number of Magento developers there are around the world
  • Magento’s heavy investment in building community and partnerships
  • Magento’s openness to (and understanding of the value around) working with third parties (e.g. solutions like hosting provides, ESPs, payments companies, search companies, personalisation solutions, shipping partners, tax companies etc)
  • The low barrier to entry to start working with the platform and content available (in terms of blog content, online and offline training, documentation etc)

From free or low-cost extensions (such as those available from companies like Mirasvit, Aheadworks and MageWorx) and peer support from the community, to sophisticated third-party SaaS solutions (such as ShipperHQ, NOSTO, Akeneo, Klevu etc) targeted more towards enterprise Magento clients, there is a whole world of additional functionality and support available for the Magento platform. Although all of these premium technology companies have now broadened to other platforms, they’re still very focused on Magento.

Magento’s mature status as an eCommerce platform and its position as the leading platform for online retail also means that its eco-system includes plenty of established Magento specialists, from developers and consultants to design agencies – from all over the world. In some ways, Magento’s popularity is something of a double-edged sword here, since it means that whilst there are far more experienced and accredited experts available for Magento, competition for the best talent is high and fees are accordingly high. There are also lots of less qualified development providers offering lower rates, which can often cause issues with stability and scalability – this again comes from the mainstream status of the platform and the money surrounding the platform.

This said, there’s no other platform that has the eco-system Magento does and, as I mentioned, Magento’s focus on community-driven initiatives and even core contributions is a big part of this. Magento’s partner program is also now a lot more focused on quality (as opposed to it being solely based on license sales, as it was in the past) and the new certifications are designed to help merchants validate a developer or agency’s Magento 2 experience / knowledge.

Limitless Customisation

The natural consequence of having an open-source platform (that’s also most commonly used as an on-premise solution) with a well-developed ecosystem supporting it is that Magento offers virtually limitless customisation. If an element of functionality is not already present natively, there’s a very good chance that a third-party developer has already built an extension to deliver that functionality. If the functionality cannot be sourced via an existing extension, it’s a relatively straightforward task to build your own extension or to tweak existing modules / functionality. This, again, is a double-edged sword.

Magento’s extensibility is seen as both a pro and a con – whilst this opens Magento up as a solution to more complex businesses, there are thousands of Magento sites out there that struggle with scalability, stability, stability or performance, as a result of unnecessary customisation that has impacted other areas of the platform. This is a common problem with Magento and it’s one of the main drivers behind merchants moving to SaaS alternatives, that don’t allow for back-end customisation. I’ve seen loads of examples of unstable Magento stores that have ended up this way through editing of core modules, building of bad quality modules and general development practices that aren’t best practice. The other problem with this is that merchants are susceptible to this and aren’t able to validate the quality of the code or the approach – which is where a platform like Salesforce Commerce Cloud tends to win deals, by providing more assurance about changes being made to the platform.

That said, if you look at this from the other side, Magento is able to achieve more complex requirements such as things like mixed basket with custom product types (e.g. ticketing via third party booking engine or memberships), complex subscriptions, custom product types, heavy product customisation / personalisation, marketplaces, complex customer management, native PWA etc. As long as you stick to best practices, customising Magento is ok – it’s just likely to impact things like upgrades and the general costs of maintaining the platform at some level.

There are also lots of examples of headless Magento stores or Magento only being used as the checkout – which can often actually make things cleaner through separating core parts of the platform to reduce complexity in Magento. Other examples of systems that support this approach include PIMs, better usage of ERPs (for order management, base product info etc) and subscription management platforms.

Chances are, whatever you’re looking to do – whether it’s building a marketplace, integrating with a complex bespoke ERP or integrating with multiple booking engines, chances are it’s been done. This isn’t always a good thing and there’s every change that the approach could be sub-optimal – but it’s far easier to find references with Magento than most other platforms (this applies to the enterprise end of the market too).

A Truly Global Platform

Magento is a global platform that is widely adopted worldwide – I personally see this a huge pro against a number of other platforms. If you’re looking to do multi-language for example, the admin is more than likely able to be translated into your local language and there are language packs available to support translating front-end labelling etc on international storefronts. This is an area where Magento really does lead the pack. International generally is a big selling point for Magento, which most payment gateways and methods having pre-built integrations and a good level of support. There are also systems integration partners all over the world that can support efforts if needed.

The cons of Magento

Inevitably, the features that are considered to be advantages for the Magento platform can also lead to disadvantages, or they can themselves be seen as disadvantages.

Time to Launch

Despite this generally being an area that has improved – there is no getting away from the fact that Magento will not win any prizes when it comes to average time to launch a project when competing against the SaaS platforms. Things like catalog setup, server configuration (and optimisation for on-premise implementations), data imports and the complexity in building a Magento theme means that projects tend to take longer to launch, than for example, on Shopify Plus or BigCommerce. Custom modules and integrations also often require more development, which also adds to this – although that said, Magento builds do generally have more complexity.

Of course, this may or may not be an issue for each individual retailer, but given that longer launch times generally translate to higher costs and increased chances of encountering problems, it’s worth listing as a potential disadvantage. In a world where time to market can make the difference between profit and loss for that trading period, a platform that takes a long time to implement, a long time to test and a long time to train staff on is at a distinct disadvantage.

Total Cost of Ownership

All of the native functionality and customisation potential that Magento has to offer does come at a cost, of course, and for most implementations, the TCO for Magento will likely cost significantly more than for a number of the other platforms we’ve mentioned. If your eCommerce needs are fairly standard and limited (in terms of things like custom functionality, separate stores, international requirements and catalog), the cost advantages of choosing one of the SaaS platforms soon become apparent.

As well as the baseline licensing costs (which have increased considerably over the last couple of years), there are additional costs involved to cover third-party extensions and applications. Whilst Magento’s functionality is rich and well-developed, there are plenty of areas where clients prefer to source an external app to provide the required functionality. Klevu for site search, NOSTO for product recommendations, ShipperHQ for shipping, Akeneo for PIM, Avalara for tax and Yotpo for UGC (reviews, Q&A, Instagram content etc) are all examples of more enterprise functionality that is often sourced outside of Magento, and each of these solutions come with their own licensing costs, which need to be factored into the overall TCO.

The general trend with Magento at the moment is that all associated costs are increasing, in my experience of working with Magento 2, builds and on-going development costs are roughly 30-50% more expensive (in terms of the time it takes to do things with Magento). I would say that Magento builds pretty much start from ~£75k / $100k nowadays, even with Open Source (which doesn’t actually really impact build price). This is at the lower end, with larger Magento 2 builds going up into the millions, especially with the more enterprise systems integrators now working with Magento.

In addition to these types of development costs, you also have significant maintenance costs, coming from things like bugs, security patches etc and then upgrades as well – these have also all been driven up since Magento 2. Maintenance retainers tend to start at around £1,500 per month and can go well into double figures and upgrades have become a lot more frequent with Magento 2, which can add a lot of unknown costs. This is also where additional complexity tends to add a multiplier to support and maintenance costs.

As the trend to go fully headless gathers pace, this is an area which definitely deserves attention, when evaluating prospective platform solutions as it can actually reduce front-end build costs and can reduce on-going costs and complexity on the front-end. This said, it’s still a very new approach and most of the commonly looked at frameworks are still immature and don’t have too many production stores operating at scale.

QA & UAT Requirements

Because of the complex nature of Magento, and its supporting ecosystem, it’s inevitable that comprehensive quality assurance and testing stages have to be built into Magento development projects (as with any enterprise platform). Compare Magento to Shopify Plus, for example, where the core product is essentially locked down and controlled by Shopify, and it’s easy to see that the open nature of the Magento platform brings with it certain time-consuming and costly responsibilities. However, when you look at some of the monolithic platforms such as Oracle ATG, IBM Websphere or SAP Hybris, Magento is still a lot more straightforward. One thing I would say that the additional QA testing does come as a consequence of Magento moving up the food chain and allowing for more complexity – this is natural progression.

Factor in Magento’s recent history of releasing security patches and new upgrade versions, and you soon realise that QA cannot be taken lightly or hurried with Magento. All of this additional time translates into costs – both in terms of time costs for staff and lost opportunity costs brought about by delayed launches and version upgrades.

This said, the SaaS platforms do still require a lot of QA, it’s just that there’s inherently more moving parts with a more complex, on-premise platform and arguably less platform-specific knowledge needed.

Conclusion

Deciding which eCommerce platform to choose is a complex and often difficult thing to do, and it’s a process that has to take into account the strengths and weaknesses of each platform in isolation, as well as in relation to all the other platform choices.

Will Magento continue to meet functional needs? In all likelihood, yes it will. Will you be able to find, and retain, a good team who can deliver on time and to budget? Almost certainly, yes. Will Magento be able to compete with other challengers in terms of cost of ownership and time-to-market for new features – probably not.

I’m still a huge advocate of Magento, but I do think the market is changing and Magento is now best suited to specific use cases and types of retailers, as opposed to merchants of all shapes and sizes as it has been previously.

Paul Rogers

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

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

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