With over 250,000 merchants on board, Magento is one of the eCommerce industry’s most popular self-hosted platforms, and it isn’t hard to see why. Magento’s expansive feature set and complete customizability make it an excellent platform for merchants who have the resources to best implement advanced technology.
Magento was founded by Roy Rubin and Yoav Kutner in 2007. Over the next four years, Magento caught the eye of big name players in eCommerce, and in 2011, eBay/X.commerce purchased the platform.
Currently, Magento comes in two versions: Magento Open Source (formerly Magento Community Edition), Magento Commerce (which is intended for enterprise level businesses with developers on hand). In this review, we’ll be covering the features of Magento Open Source.
Magento is a robust platform with powerful capabilities. However, you should note that this cart is not for beginners; Magento can pose a serious challenge to merchants with little to no tech experience. In fact, Magento does not recommend that smaller businesses and newer merchants use their software. Instead, they direct these people to their partner Zoey Commerce, a fully hosted solution that was built with Magento at its core.
Despite shortcomings in the ease of use category, there is no doubt that Magento is an excellent tool. In fact, more top internet retailers use Magento than any other platform. In the past three years, Magento has won three notable awards to prove it: #1 Platform Internet Retailer Top 1000 (2015), #1 Platform Internet Retailer B2B 300 (2015), and #1 Platform Internet Retailer Europe 500 (2016).
Magento is trusted by high volume merchants worldwide, including Zumiez and Burger King, and facilitates over $50 billion in transactions annually.
Keep reading to find out if your business could benefit by joining the Magento community.
Table of Contents
Although Magento is free to download and use, it is not free to implement. You can expect to pay for web hosting, domain names, add-ons, an SSL certificate, and payment processing.
Remember, Magento is far from simple. If you don’t have experience coding (especially with PHP), you’re going to need a developer. And you can anticipate hiring a theme designer as well.
Web-Hosted or Licensed
Licensed. You can download Magento from Magento’s website. You’ll then be responsible for finding your own web hosting.
If that’s beyond your ability, take a look at Zoey. While Zoey is not the same as Magento, it was built with Magento coding and includes a lot of the features that you find on Magento.
Specific Size of Business
Magento works best for mid-size to large businesses, mostly because it takes so much time, money, and energy to get your site up and keep it running. It’s important that a store using this platform has the resources to hire a developer to do the heavy lifting.
Hardware and Software Requirements
Like I mentioned above, you’ll have to find your own web hosting when you begin with Magento. To run Magento 2.0 you’ll also need to check to see if you meet these specifications. Or, if you’re using version 1.9 or below, take a look at these system requirements.
Ease of Use
As a free, self-hosted software, Magento does not feign user friendliness. Magento’s admin and daily operations are fairly simple, but the actual set-up and customization process is not.
If you don’t have any experience in web development, I’d recommend hiring a developer to help you create and implement your store.
While I’ve tested and reviewed many eCommerce platforms, I have very little (read: zero) experience with web development; I quickly discovered that downloading and setting up Magento was beyond my ability (plus, I didn’t have access to a web server on which to install the platform). You can take a look at Magento’s installation guide. If you’re like me, you’ll scroll up and down the page for a while, hoping to see a few words that make sense before realizing you’re really going to need help in order to make this thing work.
Fortunately, Magento now provides a slightly easier alternative to test out the Magento platform. You can download Magento’s DevBox Beta to try the platform without installing it on an actual server. Unfortunately, setting up that DevBox took me about two hours and required a lot of Googling. You’ll have to know how to use a command-line interface to do it. You’ll also need a good chunk of time for the actual installation of Magento.
Or, instead of beating your head against the wall, you can sign up for a demo of Magento 2.0. You won’t be able to test the platform yourself, but you will get to see a few basic operations.
Magento is certainly a pain to set up, but once you’ve done it, it isn’t all that difficult to operate. The dashboard is clean and intuitive, and it’s easy to find the features you need.
Of course, because Magento comes with so many features, there’s more to sift through (so it isn’t as simple as, say, Shopify) but after a slight learning curve, you shouldn’t have too many problems navigating the admin.
Adding products with Magento is just as easy as adding products on other shopping carts. You can specify tax and shipping settings using the sidebar and tweak your metadata for better SEO rankings.
All of the products you add will be listed in your master catalog, which you can use to quickly create specific discounts and flash sales.
In order to make radical changes to your storefront, you’re going to have to get waist deep in source code (or hire someone else to do so). However, you can use the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor in the admin in order to update the content on your pages.
Overall, I’d say that Magento is difficult to set-up and customize without any experience in web development. However, the business operations are fairly straightforward. So, if you have extra resources with which to hire someone to take care of the techy stuff for you, you should be able to use the platform without too much trouble.
Magento has one of the most impressive features lists I’ve ever seen. If you’re seriously considering Magento for your online store, I recommend taking a look at the full list for yourself. Pay attention to the section titles. The end of the list contains features that are exclusive to Magento’s enterprise options.
Otherwise, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite features, so you can get a general idea of Magento’s capabilities.
- Coupons: Create flexible coupon codes and make those codes available for offline distribution.
- Customer groups: Group your customers based on location and demographics. Market to them accordingly.
- Display recently viewed and compared products: Let your customers know that others are shopping with them.
- Show related products, up-sells, and cross-sells: Inspire more purchases.
- Persistent shopping cart: Your customers’ shopping carts save when they leave your site.
- Send wish lists by email: Allow your customers to share what they’d like from your store.
- Google Site Map
- Friendly URLs
- Meta-information: Write meta-data for products, categories, and content pages.
- Multi-site capabilities: Manage multiple sites from one admin.
- Manage permissions: Allow different users to access different aspects of the admin.
- Bulk import/export: Use CSV files to make migration easier.
- Digital products: Let customers download purchases from their accounts.
- Unlimited product attributes: Product attributes help customers find what they’re looking for quickly and make creating specific coupons a little easier for you.
- Advanced pricing rules: Give discounts on products ordered in bulk.
- Customer sorting: Enable filtered/faceted search to help your customer find what they need.
- Clear product images: Display multiple images per product and enable zoom to give customers a good idea of what they’re purchasing.
- Share on Facebook button: Let your customers share your products on their Timelines.
Checkout and Shipping
- One-page checkout: Make checkout quick and painless.
- Guest checkout: Customers can check out as guests or create an account.
- Ship to multiple addresses: One order can be shipped in multiple directions.
- Tax and shipping estimates in shopping cart: You won’t surprise customers with extra expenses at checkout.
- Google Analytics Integration
- Built-in report features: For sales, tax, abandoned carts, and more.
- Mobile responsive design compatible: Magento supports HTML5 designs, so your store will look great on any screen.
In my opinion, the only feature that Magento is really missing is abandoned cart recovery. But, you can always add on missing features with integrations. And there really aren’t that many features that you’ll need on top of what Magento already offers.
Features-wise, Magento is one of the best platforms out there.
Magento does not come with any pre-made themes. They’re all available from third-party developers. A couple are free, some cost up to $500. To get an idea of what a few of those themes can do, take a look at Magento’s client list.
In November 2015, Magento released its 2.x version of Magento CE. Designers and developers are still catching up. As of the date of this article, Magento only has nine themes available in their marketplace that are compatible with Magento 2.x. I expect this number to improve, but for now, theme options are pretty slim with 2.x.
Before you decide on a theme, remember to make sure it’s fully mobile responsive. With so many customers shopping from their phones, mobile design is absolutely crucial for online stores.
Integrations and Add-Ons
Because Magento is open source, it’s easy for the Magento community of developers to create new applications and extensions for the platform. As a result, there are thousands of integrations available in the Magento Marketplace. Developers have finally caught up with the new version of Magento when it comes to integrations! Over a thousand extensions are now compatible with Magento 2.x.
Here are a few examples of what’s available.
- TaxJar: Automated tax calculator. Free.
- Bronto: Email marketing. Free.
- Avalara’s AvaTax: Automated tax calculator. Free.
- Instant Search +: Search bar and filtered search for customers. Free.
As you can see, plenty of Magento’s integrations are available free of charge (though you’ll still have to pay for the software). Others can cost up to several hundred dollars. Research before you buy.
Magento comes with the ability to accept purchase orders and money orders out-of-the-box, but you’re going to have to integrate with a payment gateway to accept payments from most customers.
Currently, there are 72 payment gateways available for Magento 2.0, including:
Payment gateways range in price from free to around $450. You can view the full list of compatible multilingual, multi-currency payment gateways on Magento’s website.
Customer Service and Technical Support
As is the case with most open-source solutions, customer service is essentially nonexistent with Magento.
Everyone else has to make do with the resources available on Magento’s site. Fortunately, because so many merchants use Magento, there’s a fairly active user community that can help you out on forums or through paid assistance.
Here are the support avenues that Magento provides.
You can also enroll in Magento’s training courses (this is an absolute must if you plan to become a Magento expert). These courses cost between $0 to $3500.
Negative Reviews and Complaints
Most Magento customers are happy with their platform; Magento earns consistently high marks across customer comment boards. As always, there are a few ways that Magento could improve. Here are a few of customers’ most common negative remarks:
- Slow: Magento can often run quite slowly, which isn’t exactly conducive to managing your admin effectively or achieving that top spot on a search results page.
- Expensive:. When you add up web developer costs, web hosting, and any additional integrations, your “free” platform can become quite costly.
- No Customer Support: You’re on your own, support-wise.
- Steep Learning Curve: It takes a while to get the hang of Magento, and coding skill is required. However, customers generally agree that there’s a high ROI once you get over that curve.
Other complaints mention:
- Poor built-in reports feature: Fortunately, you can integrate with Google Analytics.
- No abandoned cart feature built-in: That is a bummer, but there are integrations that can take care of that for you.
- Bugs: A few users report that Magento 2.x is still a bit buggy.
- Can’t use cheap hosting: Magento is a powerful eCommerce platform that requires a similarly powerful web host.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials
As I’ve said, in general customers love Magento. This is why:
- Features: Magento has almost everything you could ever want, fresh out of the box. If you somehow can’t find what you need, chances are good that you’ll come across it in the Magento Marketplace.
- Large User Community: There are lots of merchants out there working on the same problems you have. A user forum lets you tap into that knowledge pool.
- Scalable: Magento can grow with your business.
- Customizable: You can customize any aspect of your admin and storefront to fit your business’s specific needs.
Other comments include:
- Free: Magento is absolutely free to download. But, see “Expensive” above.
- Lots of apps: There are hundreds of ways you can extend your store’s capabilities.
Because Magento is a self-hosted option, you are responsible for establishing your site’s security. You’ll have to ensure that your site is PCI compliant, and you must monitor security yourself, always downloading new patches from Magento as security issues are resolved. Take a look at a few of those recent patches.
Check out Magento’s tips for security best practices for more information.
As far as open-source software goes, Magento is one of the best. Its rich feature set and ever-expanding pool of add-ons and integrations make Magento a reliable option for a store that’s hoping to expand. If you’re prepared to trudge up that steep learning curve, Magento could be the platform you’ve been looking for.
If you’re thinking Magento is the right approach for your business, I recommend signing up for a free demo. A Magento representative will guide you through the admin and storefront so you can get a good feel for the platform (without the trouble of downloading and installing).
Happy shopping and happier selling.