- Free to download
- Impressive feature set
- Highly customizable
- Highly scalable
- An active global user community
- Developer skills required
- Steep learning curve
- No customer support
With over 260,000 merchants on board, Magento is one of the eCommerce industry’s most popular store-building 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. After a series of acquisitions, Magento was bought by Adobe in the summer of 2018. There’s lots of speculation regarding how this most recent Adobe acquisition may eventually impact the Magento line of products. For now, Magento eCommerce software still comes in two forms:
- Magento Open Source: Formerly called the Magento Community Edition. The software is free to download and install.
- Magento Commerce: Formerly called the Magento Enterprise Edition. Originally intended for enterprise-level businesses with developers on hand, it comes with a high price tag.
In this review, we’ll be covering the features of Magento Open Source (visit our Magento Enterprise review if you are a large, enterprise-level online seller). Magento Open Source is a robust platform with powerful capabilities, but it’s not for beginners. Magento can pose a serious challenge to merchants with little to no tech experience. Despite shortcomings in the ease-of-use category, there is no doubt that Magento is an excellent tool. Magento is trusted by high-volume merchants worldwide and facilitates well over $100 billion in gross merchandise volume annually.
Keep reading to find out if your business could benefit from joining the Magento community.
Table of Contents
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.
If you’re just starting up, Magento probably isn’t the best option. Instead, try looking into Shopify or BigCommerce, both of which specialize in ease of use.
Although Magento Open Source is free to download and use, it is not free to implement. 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. You can anticipate hiring a theme designer as well.
Cloud-Based Or Locally-Installed
You can download Magento Open Source from Magento’s website. You’ll then be responsible for installation and finding web hosting.
Hardware & Software Requirements
Like I mentioned above, you’ll have to find your own web hosting when you begin with Magento. Keep in mind that Magento is a powerful eCommerce platform, requiring a similarly powerful web host.
There are several other technology “stack” requirements to install and run Magento. The exact specification depends on the release number of the software (we’re on version 2.3 at the time of this review). You’ll have to check the installation guide for the version of Magento you’re using, but these are the types of technologies involved:
- Operating System: Various Linux distributions
- Memory: Check the amount of RAM required for the current release
- Web Server: Apache, Nginx
- Database: MySQL
- Scripting Language: PHP
- Composer: Package manager for PHP, for developing Magento extensions or contributing to the Magento codebase
- SSL Certificate: A valid, non-self-signed certificate is required to enable secure HTTPs protocols in your store URLs
You’ll also need an up-to-date web browser (e.g., Chrome, Edge, Safari) to accommodate the storefront and admin.
Lastly, you should note that software support and security patches for all versions of Magento 1 will end in June 2020.
Ease Of Use
As free, self-hosted software, Magento Open Source does not feign user-friendliness. Magento’s admin and daily operations are fairly simple, but the actual setup 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. As I suspected, downloading and setting up Magento was beyond my ability (not to mention my distinct lack of a web server on which to install the platform).
You can sign up for a demo of Magento Commerce 2 through the website, but you won’t be able to test the open-source platform yourself. I’ve found the best way to play around in the software without downloading it is to visit a partnered website that offers a working demo. Google “Magento demo,” and you’ll find a few — just double-check which software version the demo is running. I happened to locate some demos at a Magento extension marketplace called Mageplaza:
Magento is a bit of 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. (This particular demo happened to use Euros as the currency):
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.
Magento also provides a detailed user guide to assist merchants in learning the basic functions of the admin:
Adding products with Magento is just about as easy as adding products to other shopping carts. You begin by adding basic information:
Further down this New Product panel, you can expand additional menus to manage detailed aspects of each product, such as tweaking metadata for better SEO.
Describing all the advanced functionality that’s possible when simply adding and configuring products in your Magento catalog would be overkill for this review. Instead, I’ll give you a basic idea with a couple of quick examples.
First of all, Magento is already set up to handle lots of different product types, including bundled products, virtual products (such as intangible services and subscriptions), and downloadable products
Another very powerful feature is the ability to create and manage unlimited product attributes and configurations (think size, color, material, etc., plus all their resulting combinations). You can even create special attribute “sets” to be assigned over and over again to certain products:
Maximizing all these features to their full extent will take some patience, trial and error, and a lot of referring back to the user guide. I know we keep saying that accomplishing the basics shouldn’t be too difficult after your initial learning investment, but in case the advanced features become too overwhelming or time-consuming, there are lots of third-party Magento implementation experts out there who’d be happy to lend a hand for the right price.
So far, we’ve focused on operating the back end of your store. To make radical changes to your storefront, you’re going to have to delve waist-deep into source code or hire someone else to do so. There are a few WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editors available to update the content for your pages, blog, and products, but real design changes will require coding.
Magento has one of the most impressive feature lists I’ve ever seen — even the open-source version is jam-packed. Here’s a quick feature comparison Magento throws at you right before you go to download the open-source version:
Clearly, this checklist isn’t placing Magento Open Source in the most favorable light. That makes sense if you think about it — Magento would rather have you pay for a Magento Commerce subscription if possible. But I promise that even the open-source version does more than just seven things! Below, I’ve compiled a more expanded list of my favorite features to give you 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.
- Products: Magento lets you know which products have recently been viewed and compared so you can enhance and target the shopping experience. You can also set up related products to inspire customers to spend more. You can also have multiple product types like virtual, digital/downloadable, grouped, bundled, configurable, and personalized products that can all be offered with Magento out-of-the-box. Unlimited product attributes are also available. You can add product images as well to better market your online goods.
- Persistent Shopping Cart: Your customers’ shopping carts are saved when they leave your site.
- Send Wish Lists By Email: Allow your customers to share what they’d like from your store.
- Share On Social Buttons: Let your customers share your products to Facebook, Twitter, etc.
- SEO Tools: Magento includes SEO tools like Google Site Map, customizable URLs, and customizable meta-information so you can optimize your store and its products for SEO.
- Multi-Store Capabilities: Manage multiple stores and websites 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.
- Create & Edit Orders: Use your admin panel as a virtual terminal to create and fulfill orders.
- Printing: Print your invoices, packing slips, and shipping labels from the admin panel.
- Advanced Pricing Rules: Give discounts on products ordered in bulk. Offer special prices, including customer group prices (wholesale, retail, etc.) and tiered pricing.
- One-Page Checkout: Make checkout quick and painless.
- Guest Checkout: Customers can check out as guests or create an account.
- Split Orders: One order can be shipped in multiple directions and split among multiple invoices.
- Tax & Shipping Estimates In Shopping Cart: You won’t surprise customers with extra expenses at checkout.
- Order Tracking: Allow customers to track their orders on your site.
- Analytics & Reporting: Magento integrates with Google Analytics and also offers built-in reporting so you can view things like sales, taxes, abandoned shopping carts, and more.
- Mobile-Responsive Design Compatible: Use a base design reference theme to create a site optimized for any device quickly.
A few features Magento Open Source is missing out-of-the-box include abandoned cart recovery, store credits/gift cards, and a reward points program. These are the types of features that come standard with Magento Commerce (the cloud-based, SaaS version of Magento). That said, you can always add on missing features with integrations or work with a developer.
Features-wise, Magento Open Source is still one of the best platforms out there.
Magento does not come with any premade themes. They’re all available from third-party developers. A couple of them are free, while some cost up to $500 for the starter package. The good news is that a lot of the more expensive themes come with their own sets of advanced extensions.
As of the date of this article, Magento only promotes 14 themes in its marketplace that are compatible with Magento 2. This number is deceptively low, however, since several themes include multiple style variations that are refreshingly distinct from one another. I’ve also seen hundreds of Magento-compatible templates advertised on third-party websites that aren’t specifically listed in the Magento marketplace, so you’re welcome to check out those options as well.
We touched on this in our Ease Of Use section, but customizing your storefront design with Magento Open Source is much more complicated than with SaaS platforms that typically come with a built-in theme editor. Here’s a summary of your design options with Magento Open Source:
- Create a theme from scratch with the help of a front-end developer/designer
- Purchase a third-party theme or theme generator, and utilize the theme’s in-dashboard customization tools (which may or may not involve coding)
- Purchase a Magento extension that provides additional user-friendly customization tools
In reality, you may end up using a combination of these methods. Do also note that Magento is in the process of releasing its own flexible drag-and-drop editor called Page Builder. This tool should provide a good deal of design flexibility without coding/technical knowledge. Page Builder will come standard with the latest versions of Magento Commerce 2 and will hopefully be available as an extension purchase with Magento Open Source 2.
Magento Integrations & 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. Over 2,500 extensions are now compatible with Magento 2, but it can take a while for each extension to catch up with the specific latest release (i.e., 2.3.x and beyond).
Some popular integrations include QuickBooks, ShipStation, ShippingEasy, MailChimp, ZenDesk, and more.
Many Magento integrations are available free of charge, although the actual software you integrate with may have associated monthly costs. Other integrations cost several hundred dollars at the outset. Research carefully before you buy and always check for release compatibility.
Magento comes with the ability to accept purchase orders, checks, and money orders out-of-the-box. However, you must integrate with a payment gateway to accept card payments from most customers.
A quick search for payment integrations for Magento Open Source 2 in the extension marketplace pulls up 340+ results, so needless to say, you’ll have lots of options. Prices range from free to around $600.
While 158 results came up as free, don’t forget to research the pricing structure for each processor. Credit and debit card payment processing itself is decidedly not free. If you’re new to this topic, we’ve recommended several online payment processors to get you started.
It should be noted that Magento has also recently developed an in-house processor option through a partnership with PayPal/Braintree.
Once again, it may take developers of the existing payment integrations a while to completely catch up with the latest 2.3 release and beyond. Another option is to have a developer create an integration for you. Some of the prebuilt processor integrations available with Magento Open Source include Square, PayPal, Stripe, Braintree, and other popular payment processing solutions
Magento Customer Service & Technical Support
As is the case with most open-source solutions, customer service is essentially nonexistent with Magento. There is no live chat, email, or phone support for merchants using Magento Open Source.
Users have to make do with the resources available on Magento’s website. Fortunately, there’s an active user community that can help you out on forums and through paid assistance. The tricky part is focusing on the resources that are specific to the version of Magento you’re using — Magento Open Source vs. Magento Commerce, Magento 1 vs. Magento 2, etc.
Here are the support avenues Magento provides:
- User Guide
- Knowledgebase Articles
- Community Forums
- Developer Documentation
- User Guide For Magento Marketplace
- Resource Library: Webinars, tutorial videos, topical guides
- Sales Portal: Sign up for a demo of Magento Commerce
- Phone: For sales and general info, but not specific tech support questions
- Magento U: Training courses and certification, with costs ranging from free to several thousand dollars
Negative Reviews & Complaints
Most Magento customers are happy with the platform; Magento earns consistently high marks across customer comment boards. As always, there are still ways that Magento could improve. Here are a few of the most common negative remarks:
- 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.
- Expensive: When you add up web developer costs, web hosting, and any additional integrations, your “free” platform can become quite costly.
- 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.
- No Customer Support: You’re on your own with Magento Open Source, support-wise.
- Bugs: A few users report that the latest releases are still a bit buggy.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
As I’ve said, merchants and developers generally love Magento, and here’s why:
- Features: Magento has almost everything you could ever want, fresh out of the box.
- Lots Of Apps: If you somehow can’t find what you need, chances are good that you’ll come across a solution in the Magento Marketplace. There are hundreds of ways you can extend your store’s capabilities.
- Large User Community: There are lots of users out there working on the same problems you have. Community forums let 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 specific needs.
- Free: Magento is absolutely free to download but see “Expensive” above.
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 install an SSL certificate. You or your developer will monitor security, installing new patches from Magento as security issues are resolved.
Also, consider that at some point, older versions of Magento won’t be supported anymore by the company, and that includes security patches. This goes for all versions of Magento 1 as of June 2020, for example. If you’re a new adopter of the software and downloading the latest version, however, you should enjoy a nice long run of supported patches.
Happily, Google reCAPTCHA and two-factor authentication come standard with the latest Magento 2 release. Check out security tips and best practices on the Magento website for more information.
As far as open-source software goes, Magento Open Source (formerly Community Edition) is one of the best platforms out there. 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. I think any store offering a large number of detailed products with tons of options, variants, and customizations will be particularly pleased with Magento Open Source right out of the box.
Magento is difficult to set up and customize without any experience in web development. However, the basic business operations are fairly straightforward with a bit of practice. If you have extra resources with which to hire someone to take care of the “techy” stuff, you should be able to use the platform day-to-day without too much trouble. And, if you’re prepared to trudge up the rather steep initial learning curve, Magento could definitely be the robust software solution you’ve been looking for.
If you’re thinking Magento is the right approach for your business, there’s no harm in signing up for a free demo, keeping in mind that you’ll be looking at the more advanced (and extremely not free) Magento Commerce version. 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.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.