Magento Review 2021
A powerful and flexible CMS that’s hard to master.
A powerful and flexible CMS that’s hard to master
Recently acquired by Adobe, Magento has become a major player in the ecommerce world since its original release in 2007, powering startups and huge retailers alike. As open-source software offered as a free self-hosted package or a paid cloud-hosted enterprise edition, it allows for massive customisation and helps businesses build their own paths.
Despite being highly regarded for its overall utility, Magento is also considered a fairly user-friendly option, with an intuitive interface and a level of scalability that makes it possible to take your site from a tiny startup to an industry leader without changing platform.
In 2018, there are over 430,000 online stores running on Magento, giving it a share of around 4% of all ecommerce sites in the world. As a result, there’s no shortage of Magento developers out there, and it isn’t too challenging to find some community advice when you’re having a problem with something.
But how does Magento compare to the other leading ecommerce CMS platforms? Let’s cover all the big pros and cons and see how Magento stacks up as an option today.
Something talked about at length on the Magento website is ‘the Magento Advantage’, which is how the Magento team package up everything that sets their platform apart. They boast of industry-leading flexibility, excellent profit margins, and a compelling ecosystem.
Essentially, they contend that Magento is the best ecommerce CMS available, as you’d expect them to— and with the platform hosting transactions summing to $155 billion in gross merchandise volume each year, they’re clearly doing something right.
Let’s get a little more granular and look at the top 3 pros and cons of Magento:
While Magento offers various different pieces of software as a company, Magento the ecommerce CMS comes in three flavors. One is free, and the other two are not. Let’s take a closer look at them:
Magento Open Source
Magento Commerce Starter
Magento Commerce Pro
Startups with the time and expertise to self-host.
Small businesses that haven’t been around for very long.
Large businesses with enterprise-level needs.
Starts at $2,000 p/m
Starts at $3,417 p/m
If you don’t want to pay anything at all, there are a lot of great things to be said about Magento Open Source— but be mindful of the many drawbacks. Not only do you not get any hosting or support, but you also get a platform that isn’t nearly as fleshed out as the enterprise-calibre offerings. The money you save on the software may need to be spent on development or extensions from the Magento Marketplace if you ever want to scale.
Magento Commerce Starter can be considered a direct rival to Shopify plus, as the pricing is nearly identical, with the Commerce Pro package being more expensive still but offering superior analytics and infrastructure befitting the demands of a high-level operation.
When compared to other CMS options, both paid tiers are intimidatingly expensive, especially given the relatively-weak customer support. That said, you get top-notch hardware and functionality for your money, so if you’re willing to work with Magento’s complexity, you might find that it has what you’re looking for.
If you’re a free user with no willingness to spend hundreds of dollars in the Magento Marketplace, you might find Magento Open Source somewhat limited. This is because a lot of features important for long-term performance are only provided through the paid tiers.
Without purchasing extensions (or developing them yourself) you cannot implement store credits or loyalty points, carry out advanced segmented marketing, generate B2B quotes, or do any of a wide range of useful things.
When you step up to the Magento Commerce Starter plan, all of those features become available to you, fully establishing an ecommerce platform that rivals any other in its field. The selection of high-quality extensions combined with the freedom to implement custom extensions makes Magento Commerce a very tempting proposition for businesses with the budgets to commit a lot of money to development.
Ultimately, Magento’s options cover the lower and upper ends of the ecommerce market. Open Source is a decent choice for beginners who don’t want to spend a penny, while Commerce is powerful for businesses ready to take meaningful steps towards the big time.
However, if you’re growing a business but are concerned about spending too much on your CMS in the long run, then Magento might not be the best option for you.
Ecommerce Comparison Features
Free to Install
Free to Install
Ease Of Use
By default, you access Magento’s admin dashboard at /magento/admin (starting from your domain), though it’s recommended that you create a custom URL for security purposes. It will work adequately on mobile devices, but there is no official mobile app for admins— you’ll need to rely on a third-party app for that.
However you reach it, and regardless of which tier you’re using, the Magento dashboard has a clean spaced-out aesthetic with a category menu spanning the left-hand side. The configuration may get a little tricky when you try to implement more advanced features, but the basic ecommerce functionality is perfectly user-friendly, as you can see below:
The language can be set through the ‘Locale’ option, with various translation packs available through the Magento Marketplace (some are free, but not all). You can add further users (and set admin permissions) through the System category.
Overall, the Magento dashboard compares very favorably to those of its competitors. There isn’t anything exceptional about it, but you shouldn’t have many issues using it, and that’s the most important thing.
You can see the full details on each package by visiting the official WPML website.
The look of a store is very important, and you need to stand out from the crowd, which is why ecommerce builders today tend to offer various themes that users can then customize at their leisure.
Magento isn’t ideal for this, though— out of the box, it offers just two theme options, and one is simply a blank container for the user to build in.
All of the custom themes for Magento can be found in the Magento Marketplace. There are various free or paid themes for free users to consider, and more expensive options for paid users to invest in (though paid users are more likely to build their own themes through in-house or outsourced development).
Since developing a custom theme is quite complex (there’s no simple theme-building system on hand) and the default options are limited, Magento isn’t a good choice if you plan on changing up the visual style of your store on a semi-regular basis. If you’re happy with getting a theme and sticking with it, though, it should be fine for your needs.
The procedure to add and manage products is fairly standard. To add a product, you go to the Products section and choose from a set of defined product categories (e.g. Simple Product, Configurable Product, Grouped Product), then provide all the required information. To edit a product, you visit the category and choose from the product list.
Paid versions of Magento also feature a Visual Merchandiser allowing you to sort and reconfigure your product categories using a clean visual-focused interface. For the Open Source edition, you just get a basic text-based list.
Adding to that difference, Magento Commerce provides a WYSIWYG editor with drag-and-drop functionality for creating new pages, while the free version does not. Magento Open Source provides a simple editor with a small range of layouts to be filled with preset content block types. In either version, you can go directly to the HTML source, so your layout options are open if you’re willing to take that route.
For uploading, deleting or editing media, there’s a classic tile-based file system display. Media resources are stored on the main server by default, but you can choose to store them in an external database should that make more sense for you. There are no optimization options provided, so you’ll need to review relevant extensions if you want to make tweaks without leaving the CMS.
If you want your store to have a blog, well, Magento isn’t provided with any blogging options— you’ll either need to install a blogging extension (fortunately, there are numerous free options) or create your blog in a different CMS entirely.
Plugins & Extensions
The Magento Marketplace has a lot to offer. No matter what kind of extension you’re looking for, there’s a decent chance you’ll find it there, whether for free or at cost. The selection of free extensions may not come close to what Wordpress has, but it’s still formidable.
The general level of quality is hard to judge, however. Since high-end Magento stores can afford to build their own proprietary features, you don’t see the trickle-down feature distribution that is common on Wordpress and similar platforms.
The most sensible way to approach an extension in the Magento Marketplace is to consider not only the reviews but also the credentials of the creator. If they clearly know how to code for Magento, that’s a good sign that their work will be reliable.
It just takes a few clicks followed by an admin login to install a Magento extension, so the implementation is as straightforward as on any comparable platform (though getting support with problems could be tricky).
Every version of Magento features a one-page checkout option from the offset, containing the checkout process to a single page with a clear breadcrumb at the top. This is in keeping with current standards. The following payment types are supported without extensions:
Check / Money Order
PayPal Express Checkout
Cash On Delivery
PayPal All-In-One Payment Solutions
PayPal Payment Gateways
Zero Subtotal Checkout
All credit and debit card types can be configured through PayPal or Braintree. More payment gateways and various POS systems can be added at cost through purchased extensions.
There is no native payment processor, even at the Pro tier, so your payments will be subject to the fees of the payment gateway you end up using. This also means you’re on your own for verification, tax obligations, and any anti-fraud protections you want in place.
You can create your own payment gateway within Magento to handle payments yourself, but you’ll need a paid version for that since Magento Open Source is not PCI compliant.
Tax rules for your selected locale can be entered manually or imported as tax rate tables from the Admin dashboard. Following that, there are various display options: you can show or hide tax summaries, display different prices and totals with or without taxes included, etc.
By default, refunds are issued through the Credit Memo option in the Orders view, and can be provided online or offline depending on the payment method used. There is also an option to refund payments as store credit.
Magento works with a solid selection of manually-selected shipping methods and carriers, natively supporting the following:
You will need to configure each service you use with your account details, but once you’ve completed the setup, the shipping rates will be picked up automatically. You also have the option of generating and printing shipping labels— again, some configuration is required, but the option is there for the main carriers.
If you want to make use of other carriers, you can turn to the Magento Marketplace. You can find extensions for specific carriers (e.g. Royal Mail, R+L Carriers, etc.) or install an extension providing generic carrier listings that you can then customize to support the carriers of your choice.
Note: As of June 2018, any Magento user can request early access to Magento Shipping, a multi-carrier shipping and fulfilment solution that integrates with the main Admin dashboard and is automatically updated with new carriers and features when they become available. Until it is made a standard option, however, it’s inadvisable to rely on it.
Magento provides the following product types without extension:
- Simple Product
- The most basic option: a physical product with a unique SKU. With added variables, you can sell variations of a given product. You can also gather multiple simple products in order to sell them together.
- Configurable Product
- Most common for products with different material, color or technological options, a configurative product lets you attach multiple distinct simple products to just one overarching product listing.
- Grouped Product
- A grouped product is just as the name suggests. You can group products for the long term or for a limited-time promotion, and allow users to decide how many they want to buy of each (if any).
- Virtual Product
- Whenever you’re putting a price to something that isn’t a physical item (e.g. a membership, a product key, a subscription, etc.), you need a virtual product to represent it.
- Bundle Product
- If you want to sell a bundle of items with various possible configurations, you need this product type. When the customer selects it, they are presented with the options you’ve allowed them, and the final order contains their choices.
- Downloadable Product
- Linking to a file on your store’s server or through a provided URL, this type of product is right for ebooks, PDFs, podcasts, videos, presentations, templates— anything that can be downloaded.
You can create and assign any product attributes you wish, though the default system attributes (price, weight, etc.) cannot be altered. You can then order your on-page products list by any given field.
There are no identified product or configuration limits, even if you use Magento cloud hosting, so you can fill your store with as many options as you want to. Stock level management can be enabled for specific products so you can more easily keep track.
Product lists can be imported or exported through CSVs using the Data Transfer function. Upon import, you can define parameters and validate the data to be added, and upon export you can define a filter to narrow down the data you want to be included. Magento keeps a record of data imports carried out, along with the files used to run them.
As with mostly any ecommerce CMS, you can use dropshipping on a limited scale by matching and fulfilling orders manually, but if you want to lean heavily on dropshipping then you’ll need to invest in an extension that can do the work for you.
You can integrate your Magento back-end with marketplaces such as Amazon or eBay through free or cheap extensions through the Magento Marketplace. Magento has announced native Amazon integration for the system, but it is isn’t on wide release yet— it’s expected to come out towards the end of 2018.
Customer profiles are managed in much the same way as a products, with default categories (General, Not Logged In, and Wholesale) and attributes (Phone, Country, Email, etc.) and the option to add more at your leisure.
The paid versions of Magento also provide customer segmentation tools, allowing you to get granular with information including previous purchase and cart properties, create views, and use them for marketing or reporting. This may be preferable to segmenting data in your automation software because it allows you to easily switch email platforms at any time.
If your intention is to get through a minimal setup and focus on marketing your new store, Magento shouldn’t currently be anywhere near the top of your list of possibilities. There’s just far too much you’d need to add to have the ingredients of a comprehensive digital marketing strategy, including blogging options, promotional emailing, and multi-channel support.
That said, there isn’t really anything you can’t do in Magento with enough time, effort and investment. If you have a fair budget and you’re willing to rely on a large array of extensions to get the features you need, you could make a Magento store into a marketing powerhouse.
Abandoned cart emails can be configured, but only through the included Dotmailer options (for the paid versions) or an integrated email solution (for the free version).
On-site promotional options are basic, with all versions able to generate and configure batches of coupon codes, establish minimum purchase discounts, and create buy-one-get-one-free offers. You can also associate products with each other to create up-sells or cross-sells, ensuring that a higher-end version of a product is displayed alongside a lower-end version, for instance.
If you want to do anything beyond that—create custom discounts, complex sales, etc.—then you’ll need to get extensions from the Marketplace.
Magento allows you to define a standard range of metadata items to help your pages rank well, including the following:
- Meta Title
- Meta Keywords
- Meta Description
- Canonical Meta Tag
It also adds structured microdata based on Schema.org standards to your product templates, which is a useful feature because that information helps search engines understand what your pages are for and makes them more likely to rank highly.
Through the dashboard, you can rewrite and redirect URLs, and set the refresh schedule of the automatically-generated XML sitemap. You can also add search terms for your internal search and point them towards particular pages.
Combine the inbuilt functionality with numerous SEO extensions through the Marketplace, and you have a really solid option for SEO that will allow you to get really granular.
If you’re looking to use pay-per-click (PPC) advertising for a Magento store, you won’t find too much native support. There’s a space in the dashboard to add conversion tags from Google AdWords, but any integration beyond that will need to come from extensions.
There are extensions that will enable support advertising and selling through Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and all other major platforms, though many must be purchased or require ongoing service fees.
Social sharing buttons, social login options, and social media metadata can all be configured through a variety of extensions, some free and some paid. There’s a free official extension called Magento Social that allows you to easily display your products on your Facebook page— you do need to pay for the service, but it’s a convenient option overall.
Product reviews are supported natively, with the user able to submit a review from the relevant product page and the admin able to moderate the reviews from the dashboard, though you can use a third-party review option if you prefer.
In general, Magento is a fine choice for building an audience through social media because of how customizable it is, but you need to lay the groundwork first. If you want to launch a store and build a buzz right away, it won’t be a good option.
While there is no inbuilt marketing platform capable of anything sophisticated, the Commerce editions do include integrated Dotmailer marketing, and there are free extensions available to connect the Open Source edition to paid accounts for not only Dotmailer but also Mailchimp, Moosend, and other such software.
Despite the relatively weak selection of features provided in the basic Magento package, it’s a strong option if you plan to do complex email marketing, because it can be extensively adapted to suit your needs and has the scalable architecture to handle huge amounts of traffic.
For a long time, Magento provided no hosting options of its own outside of forwarding users to its technology partners, but this changed in 2016 when it started providing cloud hosting for Magento Enterprise Cloud Edition, and it now offers cloud hosting for both of its Magento Commerce tiers.
All users of Magento Commerce who use its cloud hosting are granted use of a domain-level SSL certificate as part of their subscription. Free users, or paid users who want their own unique entity-specific SSL verification, can provide their own or request them at cost through submitting a support ticket.
Magento Open Source users must secure their own hosting, but can consult official Magento partners for guidance. Magento Commerce Starter provides continuous cloud integration for unlimited users and 4 active development environments, while Commerce Pro bumps the developer environments up to 4 and offers dedicated hardware to ensure top performance during busy periods.
Analytics tracking can easily be configured in the Google Tools section of the dashboard. Also in the dashboard, you can view reports on the following:
Products in Cart - Search Terms - Abandoned Carts - Newsletter Problem Reports
By Customers - By Products
Orders - Tax - Invoiced - Shipping - Refunds - Coupons - PayPal Settlement - Braintree Settlement
Order Total - Order Count - New
Views - Bestsellers - Low Stock - Ordered - Downloads
Importer Status - Automation Enrollment - Campaign Sends - Log Viewer - Abandoned Carts
If you want to view reports on traffic, conversion rates and other such performance metrics, you can do so through the Advanced Reporting feature in the Business Intelligence report category provided your website meets certain security criteria.
Advanced Reporting is a free cloud-based solution that you can use through any tier of Magento to filter, arrange and export your analytics data. It provides a visual report builder that makes it easy to find, highlight and compare specific metrics.
Add in the prospect of extensions and you have a platform that’s very strong for ecommerce analytics and reporting options.
Magento 2 was launched 2015 with a new API and revised standards, and the extensions and custom sites that preceded it work differently enough that being familiar with Magento 1 doesn’t mean you can develop for Magento 2.
Magento 2 has been received well enough in principle, bringing with it numerous improvements (many mobile-focused), but this version shift means that you can’t expect to find as many developers for Magento as you could for another ecommerce CMS with a smoother update history.
There is a free Data Migration Tool available for moving from Magento 1 to Magento 2, and paid extensions for migrating to Magento from other platforms like Prestashop, Weebly, Shopify, etc. (though you could have a developer do it for you).
If you set up a Magento store, don’t expect a great deal of official support. The best you’ll get is 24/7 email support at the Magento Commerce level, and that may not be enough to meet your needs— other platforms have considerably better support packages, and the cost of the Pro plan in particularly makes the lack of a comparable live chat, phone or VOIP option all the more frustrating.
The documentation is another sticky issue. The version changes, general revisions and product renames have left even the official knowledge bases difficult to follow. Old and new terms are used interchangeably, even though Magento Open Source isn’t quite the same thing as Magento Community Edition was.
While the developer community is a big pro in favour of Magento, it’s difficult to be too positive about Magento support options. If you want to take advantage of Magento’s incredible power and potential to build an ambitious project, be fully aware of how much work you’ll need to put in when issues come up.
To get up to speed with Magento 2, whether as a merchant or an aspiring developer, here are some courses you should look into:
- Magento U, the official development training program
- Mastering Magento 2, a series of video tutorials
- Mastering Magento 2, an ebook
- Magento 2 Tutorial, a good selection of text guides from Magestore
- Magento Admin/Developer courses from MageTraining
You won’t find as many great training materials as for other platforms, unfortunately. Magento is strongly about self-led customization and experimentation.
If you’re looking for some expert assistance, or want to hire a developer to work on your Magento site, you should be careful to find an individual or company with the right experience and qualifications to do the job.
- Early on, it’s recommended that you consult official Magento partners
- For particular projects, consider getting a top freelancer from Upwork
- Hire through social media or job sites if necessary (go by recommendations)
Graduates of Magento U courses are ideal, but not necessary. There are plenty of great developers out there who learned through other courses or simply by experimenting with tutorials until they got there.
However you find an expert to consult or hire, be clear about expectations and review references, experience and certifications. The different types of Magento mean that hiring a Magento 1 expert to work on a Magento 2 website could be a disaster.
Given how complex and daunting Magento can be, it’s a good idea to find a community that can assist you if you decide to use it. Here are some support forums to get acquainted with:
Notable online stores that use BigCommerce as their ecommerce platform include:
Considering all of the different elements that go into making and running an ecommerce store, is Magento a good choice right now?
Here’s my answer: it’s complicated, it’s confusing, and it’s inconsistent— but it’s incredibly powerful when used properly, and with the acquisition by Adobe and the integrations already in the pipeline, it stands to offer a more streamlined experience in the coming years.
I wouldn’t recommend Magento for anyone who wants a simple or easy ecommerce experience, certainly, but if you have big, ambitious plans for your ecommerce store and you’re willing to put in the time to learn a new system and the money to buy extensions (or get them developed) then you’ll struggle to find a more comprehensive choice than Magento.
To see if Magento is right for you, why not try a 30-day trial of Magento Commerce? The hosting is included, so you don’t need to set anything up in advance; just start the trial, configure the basic theme, and see how you like the system.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Magento have a mobile app?
Mangento does not currently offer a mobile app. This is mainly due to the huge range of customization options and Magento being open source software which makes it hard to build a one size fits all Magento app.
Does Magento charge a transaction fee?
Magento does not charge any transaction fees.
Does Magento host?
No, you will need to find your own hosting provider to run a Magento store. We would recommend going for a specialist Magento hosting package.
Does Magento integrate with Amazon?
Magento is capable of integrating with Amazon however you will need to download an extension for your store to get this functionality.
Does Magento work with Wordpress?
Magento is an all-in-one ecommerce platform, and so it does not offer Wordpress integration. However, you are able to integrate your Wordpress blog into your Magento store. If you would like to use WordPress, WooCommerce is the best ecommerce CMS for you.
Does Magento integrate with QuickBooks?
Yes, Magento offers an app that allows QuickBooks to connect with your store. This is, however, a paid app and it isn't cheap.
Is Magento safe?
Magento offers top of the range security features to keep your ecommerce store safe. You can also implement various security extensions and add-ons to secure your site even further.