Big, tough Magento. Its reputation precedes it as the powerful platform that rewards merchants with a ton of technical knowledge, and harshly punishes merchants without it. And, for now, Magento can seemingly afford to be selective about the kind of merchants they cater to. According to Builtwith, of the top 100,000 eCommerce sites on the web, 25% of them are run on Magento. Their next closest competitor comes in at around half of that. Magento’s largest merchants are said to do about 1 billion dollars in sales online in a year.
Magento has always been somewhat opaque to eCommerce business owners not trained in the coding arts. Now, with Magento 2 having hit the scene somewhat recently, even some experienced developers are narrowing their eyes. I usually recommend Magento sparingly, but when you need it, you really need it. If a potential client were to come to me asking if Magento 2 is the right move, I’d look out for the following aspects of businesses that need Magento.
Important Note: Magento comes in three editions. Magento Community Edition, which is free, Magento Enterprise Edition, and Magento Enterprise Cloud Edition. I’ve written this review focusing on Magento 2 Enterprise Edition, because that’s the one I’m most familiar with. Everytime I say Magento, assume that’s what I’m referring to, unless otherwise stated.
You Need Very Specific Customization or Functionality
This is the biggest reason for recommending Magento. Some merchants just have a set of unique requirements that no hosted platform, like BigCommerce or Shopify Plus, will be able to meet. Magento is self hosted. You host it, you secure it. They just provide you the CMS. As a self hosted solution Magento gives you, and your team, direct access to its infrastructure. You can do things on open source that hosted platforms can’t, because hosted platforms just can’t give that level of access.
Often, the need for something like this comes up in relation to a very specific product, or method of ordering, which is outside the norm for most eCommerce stores, but it can apply to almost any client requirement. If you want to build the fastest site in your industry, you can build a site that scores 100 on every speed test. If you want a detailed product customizer, your customer can visualize their bespoke order down to the tiniest accessory. If you can dream it, you can do it on a self hosted platform. With the right development resources, of course.
There are other options for self hosted if your requirements aren’t compatible with a hosted solution. Opencart is one many people use, but if you’re already going to spring for champagne, you might as well get the good stuff. If you need open source, because of functionality requirements, you should be looking at Magento.
You Have Development Resources on Staff
The flip side of that endless customization, is the fact that Magento is not easy to make updates and changes too. While the hosted platforms sacrifice some level of customizability for greater accessibility, Magento does the opposite. That means you’ll be responsible for things like load testing your servers, making sure your security patches are up to date, and almost any changes you make to the site will need to be made through code. If you don’t have a developer on staff, and you’re not technical, Magento will be outside of your wheelhouse.
Of course, you can hire a digital agency to be your support and maintenance partners. They can take care of the pre-planned stuff, like scheduled updates and layout changes. But this is still only a stop-gap solution. What if something breaks over the weekend? In the end it’s better to have a Magento developer on staff if you’re going with Magento.
You Can Afford to Pay More for More Features
Magento has one of the most extensive lists of features of any eCommerce platform on the market. To try to go through them all would be too much. Magento shines in customer segmentation, attribute management and sales promotions, just to name a few. Suffice it to say that this features list is the reason Magento’s rates are high, and why most of their customers are large companies. Magento’s license, which ranges between 22K and 75K, is a one time fee each year. To find out where your company will fall in that range you’ll have to contact Magento. Broken down, the cheapest license is in line with the rates for Shopify Plus and BigCommerce Enterprise month to month, but anything beyond that certainly puts Magento in a more expensive category. Not only that, but there are hosting fees and the aforementioned developer’s salary to think about as well.
If the feature you need isn’t on that features list already, chances are good someone has built a plugin. Magento has an incredibly wide array of modules and plugins available from the Magento marketplace. Because Magento is an open source system, it’s much easier for developers to create even the most niche plugins. This open source ecosystem means it’s very likely the Magento Marketplace will have an integration available for the 3rd party system you happen to use. That saves you time and money on developing something custom.
You Have a Vision for Custom Design
Magento does not offer any templates for Magento 2, which isn’t as big a deal as it sounds. After all, if you’re going to shell out the money to build and maintain a Magento site, you probably have the budget to get something custom designed as well. The custom design tools on Magento are incredibly flexible, if you know how to use them. If you need Magento purely for the functionality, and don’t care how your site looks, just know that Magento itself isn’t going to offer you a cheap option when it comes to design. However, there are plenty of third party companies, like Theme Forest, which offer templates compatible with Magento 2.
Magento is not for the faint of heart (or the shoestring of budget). But if you’ve recognized your company in any of the above sections, it may be well-worth the investment. A move to Magento is a serious conversation that you should have with an eCommerce professional, however there are a few ways to dip your toe in the water. As I said in the beginning of this review, Magento Community is free to use. Why not start by building a small store there to see if the platform works well with your eCommerce team? You can always move onto Enterprise later. Much more info can be found on the Magento community forums. If you’re an established business, with unique requirements, and a good base of technical knowledge on your team, you should have Magento 2 on your short list.