The Pros and Cons of Shopify vs Magento: A Developer's Perspective

The Pros and Cons of Shopify vs Magento: A Developer's Perspective

The headline says it all: I'm not going to tackle this comparison from an online store owner's perspective (unless, of course, we consider those cases when a store owner is its own store's developer, as well). Instead, I'm going to refer strictly to those particular features which would make a web developer, like me, prefer one of the 2 e-commerce platforms over the other. In short: I'll be analyzing the pros and cons of Shopify vs Magento from a developer's perspective only.

So, keep on reading if you're interested in finding out:

  • which one of the two platforms would bring you more satisfaction with your own work as a developer 
  • which one's better equipped with capabilities aimed to streamline your development workflow(s)
  • which are the downfalls and challenges to expect when developing on one platform or another.
     

Shopify vs Magento: An Overview of The 2 Popular E-commerce Solutions

No worries: I'm not going to get into many details (I'll dig into them later); I'm just briefly introducing you the 2 “culprits”:
 

Shopify
 

  • a user-friendly, all-in-one, plug-and-play e-commerce solution
     
  • built mostly to suit the needs of those store owners having low/close to zero programming skills (and which are not interested in hiring a developer)
     
  • … who aren't that much into site tweaking either and who would rather focus on aspects such as marketing, branding and other details that would help their stores stand out  
     
  • from a developer's perspective, Shopify is both a platform giving you moments of hair-pulling frustration (due to its hard to customize out-of-the-box architecture) and a challenge, since it comes with its own proprietary code language: Liquid.
     
  • … a new language that you need to learn in order to be able to tweak various aspects of a Shopify store, to add new functionality
     

Magento 
 

  • an open source e-commerce platform built for developers who love “getting their hands dirty” in code and who crave for “freedom” to tweak any aspect of a website
     
  • it favors and encourages customization initiatives: a great tool for delivering custom-built digital user experiences
     
  • and speaking of customization: it comes packed with a wide collection of customizable plugins
     
  • it's powerful (if it's robust back-end features that you're looking for) and scalable
     
  • it provides you with a heavy load of IT resources to streamline your development operations with
     
  • it's backed up (and implicitly so are you, as a developer “in need” of answers) by a global-sized community of Magento developers constantly adding new extensions and addressing reported issues
     

The Pros and Cons of Shopify vs Magento: 5 Criteria Used to Evaluate Them
 

1. Extensibility 

SHOPIFY

When in need, dig into the Shopify App Store!” This is how I could resume this platform's capabilities in terms of extensibility.

Some of the apps that you'll find there are free, others come at a cost. Yet, as a developer, the price is not your concern. 

As for these add-ons' installation, the process is ridiculously straightforward: just a “click the button” one. So, no big challenge there for you, that could boost your self-esteem as a web developer. 

MAGENTO

Magento's own “load” of extensions is both an impressive “go to” and one to tackle with caution!

Although there are more apps available there (as compared to Shopify), some of them are not “trustworthy”; so you might find add-ons that don't work properly.

Also, when it comes to installing these extensions the process is not a “click and go” one, like when using Shopify (where you don't even need to leave your dashboard): first you need to download your selected app and then to upload it to your Magento store.
 

2. Technical Challenge 

SHOPIFY

Don't expect to have your programming skills and your experience as a web developer put to major tests when working with Shopify! 

It's designed primarily as a “full-feathered”, plug-and-go solution:

  • no need to look for a hosting company 
  • no need to get yourself tangled up in customization (unless the store owner really wants to); a Shopify store can still look more than decent running on a free theme 
  • no need for complex operations to be carried out while setting it up: it's a pick-your-theme-fill-in-the-content-sections and a get-it-up-and-running-in-no-time type of shopping cart solution!
     

So, when it comes to the pros and cons of Shopify vs Magento, this aspect here is at the same time:

  1. an advantage for the e-commerce business owner
  2. a con for you, since you don't get to “show off” your skills as a developer... at all.
     

MAGENTO

But if you never say never to a bit of challenge, Magento sure makes a great dare to grapple with, especially when you're new to it.

You should also prepare for and adapt to working in teams: this is, by far, the most effective way to “tackle” this platform's complexities.

Note: Also, make sure you think twice and pick once when it comes to its modules. Read their reviews carefully, for not all of them are high quality!
 

3. Hosting

SHOPIFY

If you're used to installing files on your server or to connecting your hosting Cpanel for putting your new sites on... you'll need to break this habit.

Shopify is a turn-key, self-hosted platform. So, once a store owner signs up for one of their plans, his/her e-commerce website gets automatically installed on their machine!

And here we're talking about the whole plethora of features that you get by default:

  • automatic backups
  • level 1 PCI compliance
  • even an out-of-the-box domain 
     

Sorry, not much for you to do here! Setting up hosting in Shopify doesn't require outstanding programming skills.

MAGENTO

From a “plug and play” solution we get to a whole setup-configure-build-and-run process!

Magento does require you to seek out a hosting company and to carry out the “standard” installation process: you get the framework downloaded and set up on your own server infrastructure.

And this turns into a big pro for you, the developer (whereas for a non-techie store owner it can be a big con), from a pros and cons of Shopify vs Magento perspective.

You get to complete the installation process that you're familiar with and you gain easy access to all the files stored on the server. And accessibility is key for any developer, otherwise you get the feeling that you have your hands tied up (I know I do). 

In short: Magento does call for more technical know-how for properly setting up a website running on it. But this is a huge drive for you, isn't it?

And there are more aspects to Magento which sets it “miles apart” from Shopify's way of handling hosting and security aspects:

  • you need to buy your domain 
  • it comes with built-in SSL security support (for both the front-end and the back-end)
  • it's PCI certified 
     

4. Customization 

SHOPIFY

Bad news: you won't get many chances to show off your “tweaking” skills as a developer when working with Shopify!

Its out-of-the-box architecture is frustratingly rigid and doesn't allow you to implement many changes. So, if you're “drawn” to bespoke projects, where you get to enhance the websites' pre-built functionality, this closed platform might discourage you.

Note: yet, there is a “glimpse of hope” for you, if you're really into tweaking things about the sites you build: Liquid! It's Shopify's proprietary code language. Delve into its documentation and you'll get your chance to customize at least some aspects of the online store.

Take it as a half-pro (or as a "half" con, considering that you still need to learn a brand new language, after all?), when it comes to the pros and cons of Shopify vs Magento. 

MAGENTO

It offers you the “scene” to perform on as a web developer, getting your skills and expertise into the spotlight!

In other words, the platform allows you to fine-tune the digital experiences that you create to the slightest detail and to configure any aspect of your site (with the only requirement that you know what you're doing, of course).

So the sky is the limit when it comes to the level of customization that you can reach with Magento! And this is a huge pro in any possible pros and cons of Shopify vs Magento analysis (from a developer's perspective).

And the more upgraded the Magento edition (e.g. the enterprise edition) that the store owner chooses, the more customization capabilities you get to leverage! From custom admin control to full control over store credit, to configuring the unique way that the online store will display content to its users etc.

No limitations here, when it comes to tailoring your Magento storefront to your (or the store owner's) unique vision. Or to building out that scalable, custom-fit infrastructure meant to perfectly incorporate all specific operations.
 

5. Theming

SHOPIFY

From a pros and cons of using Shopify vs Magento perspective, theming is the aspect that Shopify excels at!!

And since it's an analysis from a developer's standpoint that I'm running, I cannot but point out that Shopify's themes:

  • come in various shapes and sizes wearing various price tags or not price tag at all; yet even the free ones all sleek and powerful
  • and they do allow customization; that's right, you can access their source code and tweak things in there (using Liquid, of course)
     

In other words: Shopify does make theming impressively easy!

MAGENTO 

From a developer's perspective there's nothing I could reproach Magento when it comes to its themes:
 

  • it's more than true that they're not as visually-arresting and as user-friendly as Shopify's themes, but rather the classic type instead; in this respect, they are, indeed, heavier, yet they provide you with more robust navigation and menu bars
     
  • they're customizable: developer know-how is needed for tweaking them, so there's your chance to use your expertise as a web developer
     

Note: although Magento's collection of themes is impressively rich, do keep in mind that not all of them are of high quality!

And this is my list of pros and cons of Shopify vs Magento from my perspective as a developer challenged, now and then, to choose one over the other. Which one do you prefer?