Today, eCommerce is a booming field, as an increasing number of businesses move into the online retail space to reach a wider audience and unlock the potential to maximise their profits. This means the tools required to set up and run an online store are in high demand, and storeowners are often spoilt for choice.
One solution is to opt for a hosted version, such as Shopify, one of the best cloud-hosted options available. (In fact, we’ve recently published a comparison between WooCommerce and Shopify here.) With Shopify, you can control all aspects of your store at the click of a button, and your hosting, security and SSL certificates are taken care of for you. The problem is that you’re hugely restricted in terms of customisation options, as you don’t have access to the backend code.
If you really want to unlock the potential of your online store and have complete control over its appearance and functionality, you need to look at a self-hosted solution. Two of the best options out there are WooCommerce and Magento. But how do you choose which is right for your business? Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you decide.
WooCommerce is a relative newcomer to the eCommerce world, appearing in 2011. It’s a plugin, created by WooThemes, which turns your WordPress site into a fully functioning store. One of WordPress’s most popular plugins, it’s renowned for its flexibility and customisation options, bespoke features, intuitive interface, and virtually non-existent transaction fees. It’s well loved by WordPress users and supported by the WordPress community.
Like WordPress, Magento is an open source project, but it’s a complete content management system designed specifically for eCommerce, rather than an eCommerce framework that fits onto a WordPress site. It’s comes in two versions: Community, which is free to download, and Enterprise, which is a premium paid version. Since it was acquired by eBay, a huge community has grown around it, and Magento Connect functions as a central point for extensions and themes.
Design & Features
WooCommerce is a well-developed, popular plugin that’s excellent for small and medium-sized enterprises. It’s intuitive to use and easy to set up. If you’re already a WordPress user, adding eCommerce functionality to your site is as simple as launching the plugin, and the framework will create the basic pages you need. Even if you don’t currently work with WordPress, learning how to use WooCommerce is simple enough.
The default design is clean and sleek, and there is a range of customisation options, with several free themes, plus a number of premium paid themes ranging from $79 to $139. It can also be integrated into virtually any WordPress theme.
WordPress is renowned for the number and variety of plugins and extensions to enhance the appearance and functionality of its sites, and this is also true of WooCommerce. The basic WooCommerce plugin comes with limited features, so you will require additional plugins and possibly custom development to unlock its full potential. The major advantage is the number of WordPress developers out there who have the skills and knowledge to work with you to achieve your goals.
Once set up, using the interface to manage your shop and run reports is a cinch, and even if you have no background knowledge of WordPress, you can comfortably manage your own store within a couple of hours.
Magento is a complete online shopping solution, aimed at larger eCommerce retailers that require lots of customisation and functionality. It’s easily the most in-depth option of the available eCommerce solutions. It has the power to handle unlimited products, and can work with different currencies, payment options, and multiple languages. You can also run multiple storefronts via one dashboard, which is fantastic if you manage a number of websites or have local variations of your stores.
Like WordPress, the initial installation is easy enough, with online videos and tutorials to help you out, and the initial product is very powerful straight out of the box, with many features that require additional plugins on WooCommerce included as standard. However there are fewer templates and extensions available via Magento Connect.
The difficulty with Magento is that adding these extensions and customising the store is much more difficult, and it’s a steep learning curve for those new to eCommerce or with no coding experience. If you’re not familiar with the system, you need to hire a Magento developer to help set your store up, and due to the complexities of the platform they don’t come cheaply. So while it’s rich in features, flexible, powerful and very scalable, this comes at a cost. Which brings us on to pricing.
WooCommerce is a free plugin, though its basic options are fairly limited so you need to make use of the available plugins and extensions to take full advantage of its potential. While many options are free, others cost between $5 and $500 annually. As an example, the basic version of WooCommerce only allows for payments via PayPal and bank transfers, and you need to buy extensions if you want a full range of payment options.
The Community version of Magento is free initially, and has more features included as standard. However, you will need to add some extensions to customise and run your store as your business grows and develops, and this is where your costs start to mount up. Some of Magento’s extensions can be as much as $1,000 to purchase and, as previously mentioned, you’ll probably need a specialist Magento developer to add and customise them. And these are more difficult to track down than WooCommerce developers, which is reflected in their cost.
For very large eCommerce enterprises there is an Enterprise option offering enhanced content management, a higher level of support, and improved search functionality, amongst other things, but this comes at an annual cost of $14,000.
In terms of hosting, WooCommerce is a small, efficient plugin that uses little disk space and is light on your server space. It can run quickly and smoothly on virtually any server, unless your products run into their thousands when the functionality of your site can start to feel a little clunky.
Magento is a more complicated platform, and its complexity means that even modest-sized stores eat up several GBs of disk space, whereas the more complex operations put a strain on your server loads. So you really need dedicated servers or a cloud plan of your own, otherwise your website will run slowly and you risk losing customers. It all adds to your secondary expenditure, but it pays to do your homework and be prepared to spend a little extra on a high-performance host with large amounts of disk space.
For an eCommerce store to be truly successful, you need to have a blog to help sell your products and keep your SEO rankings high. Indeed, many sites may only have an eCommerce component, with the rest of the site dedicated to advertising and selling that product. When it comes to true integration, there’s only one winner: WooCommerce. It integrates seamlessly with WordPress so you can easily set up and manage other pages and run a blog, taking advantage of the numerous plugins to get your website exactly as you want it.
While Magento has substantial eCommerce capabilities, its CMS is a lot more challenging to set up and use, and you require an extension to even be able to publish a blog.
WooCommerce v. Magento?
Online retailers are a lucrative venture in the digital age, and users of both WooCommerce and Magento run hugely successful stores. Both have minimal set-up costs, and with both you can upload unlimited products and manage them effectively. Both have their advantages and disadvantages and, like many things, much depends on your business needs, and the time, money and skills you have available.
WooCommerce tends to be a better option for small and medium-sized enterprises, and those with little coding experience. It’s a great solution if you already run a WordPress site and are familiar with its interface, and it does a fantastic job of selling your products, with a number of plugins and extensions available to provide a better customer experience as your business grows and develops. It’s also a better option if your site has an additional focus other than purely eCommerce.
Magento tends to be more popular with large eCommerce retailers, or those using agencies to set up and manage their stores. It comes with a greater range of basic features and, although it has fewer extensions, it’s generally more powerful than WooCommerce. It’s very scalable, so if you’re a small business with big plans and you have a decent budget to set things up, this is a great option. It also offers you the ability to run multiple stores through a single dashboard, which is great for those with more complex needs.