Note: this post has a more recent incarnation complete with our learning and new adventures with Magento vs. WooCommerce
Magento vs WooCommerce?
For many, the first important decision when building an e-commerce site is determining which platform to use. There are numerous platforms and services available, but from our experience (and we have a lot of that, Watermelon having been founded way back in 2002) the two best open-source solutions available today are Magento and WooCommerce. While both options are widely used and have large user and development communities, they are very different creatures. Your choice of platform at the outset will have a significant impact on your business, so we have broken down some key differences based on our experience with each in order to help you choose which platform best suits your needs.
Number of Products and Complexity of Site
WooCommerce, which is a popular and well-developed WordPress plugin, is a great solution for a small business with a limited number of products. It is very intuitive and easy to set up (it uses the same well-known administrative system as WordPress) and has all the basics you need to get started: products (with optional attributes and sale prices), categories, a persistent shopping cart, basic shipping methods and rates, and configurable tax rates and notification email addresses.
Once you get beyond the basic e-commerce functions, WooCommerce will require additional plugins and/or custom development will become necessary. For example, will you have separate customer levels with separate pricing levels? Do you want to run a Buy 2 get 1 Free special for a product? Do you want to use coupons? Do you have the need of a retail point-of-sale (POS) system? If so, each of these will require an additional plugin with some small additional cost ($50 or so). Like WordPress itself, there are numerous plugin developers out there, and not all plugins are created equal. We have worked with all of the most popular Woo plugins, and we are able to identify poorly-written vs. well-written plugins easily.
Magento, on the other hand, is very powerful “out of the box”. It has the aforementioned features not available to WooCommerce (with the exception of POS, which requires an extension) by default and many more. One powerful feature of Magento is its native ability to run multiple stores through one consolidated back end. For example, you can have an apparel store and a shoe store on different URLs and entirely different themes, yet all products, customers, and orders for both stores will appear on the same back end. Furthermore, Magento is very advanced in its ability to organize and filter products through attributes and stores. This feature is extremely useful when a store has hundreds or perhaps thousands of products with variations.
This complexity comes at a price, however. Compared to WooCommerce, Magento has a steeper learning curve and is more “quirky”. It typically takes substantially more time to understand the system and manage sites and products prior to launching the site. Furthermore, Magento extensions are generally more expensive than WooCommerce extensions, often running hundreds of dollars each. Magento’s complexity makes it challenging to customize and develop, incurring higher development costs compared to similar work in WooCommerce.
For many small business looking to simply sell something on the Internet without much hassle or expense, WooCommerce is a great solution. With that said, some businesses with more complex requirements begin with WooCommerce and grow out of it. In these situations, it is easier to begin with a more robust platform like Magento then to try to migrate from one platform to another after the site is active.
Magento vs. WooCommerce Hosting Requirements
As a small and efficient plugin in a very efficient Content Management System (CMS) platform, WooCommerce is very light on server loads and takes up little disk space. As such, it is possible to run a WooCommerce site on a “bare-bones” hosting platform.
Magento’s complexity requires significantly more server power and space. It is very common for even modest Magento sites to eat up several GB of disk space, and the complex operations tends to cause significant server loads. If you are considering using Magento, it pays to do your homework and choose a hosting provider who offers great performance and large amounts of disk space. We have seen Magento installations on “budget” hosting providers become maddeningly slow, so it pays to spend some extra on a high-performance hosting provider.
While both Magento and WooCommerce are free initially, the long-term costs vary considerably. WooCommerce allows for less expensive hosting, less expensive plugins, and generally lower development costs. Unless you stick to Magento’s out of the box functionality, costs can add up due to expensive extensions, higher development costs, and generally more expensive hosting requirements. The trade-off is that Magento is much better suited to handle the needs of medium and large business; running a shop with thousands of products and dozens of plugins to extend functionality on WooCommerce may prove to be a frustrating experience.
Integration with CMS and/or Blog
Another important consideration is whether or not the site is strictly an e-commerce site or a an informational site that also has an e-commerce component. For instance, you may be using the bulk of the site to “sell” a product with the opportunity for the site visitor to buy that product. A huge advantage of WooCommerce is its ability to leverage the tried-and-true powers of WordPress to create a content-rich site with minimal fuss. WooCommerce integrates seamlessly into WordPress, giving you the ability to use the intuitive menu structure, set up and publish blog posts, create content with its easy-to-use CMS, and take advantage of the almost limitless plugins available to make your site do practically anything.
For all of Magento’s substantial e-commerce strengths, its CMS is nowhere near as well developed as WordPress, and creating a custom menu structure is substantially more challenging than the well-loved WordPress drag and drop user interface. An extension is required to even establish a blog in Magento, whereas WordPress was literally created to publish blogs.
What is the Best Choice?
While WooCommerce and Magento each have their merits, it essentially comes down to your business model. If you are running a small business with a limited budget and simply want to be able to sell a limited range of products ASAP, WooCommerce is definitely the way to go. Medium-sized businesses with a large number of products and greater financial resources are better off using Magento, and in some cases (such as requiring multiple stores controlled through a single admin interface) requiring Magento. Small businesses that anticipate more complex needs for the future (an increasingly large product line, multiple storefronts, etc.) should consider Magento as well since it is far, far easier to stay with one platform than to migrate once you realize WooCommerce no longer meets your requirements.
While this post just scratches the surface, hopefully it is useful to you as a starting point. Questions? We can help you make the right decision for you business. Give us a call at 971-645-4352 or drop us a line. Thanks for reading.