After working with clients to build and manage many Magento-powered shops over the years, we’re actually working more with Shopify than ever before. It’s been an interesting transition, but not without good reason.
There are plenty of issues with which an online merchant has to deal on a daily basis: inventory, orders, marketing, fulfillment and more. Unfortunately, many have to contend with technology quite often, but not in a “isn’t technology fun” way. More of a “what broke again today?” manner. The reason is that until the last year or so, if a merchant wanted a powerful, malleable e-commerce platform, Magento was quite possibly the best there was for SMB-sized merchants. It still remains a very viable technology for larger, enterprise clients because they’re the ones most likely to afford the higher development, hosting and administrative costs of the platform. However, for today’s SMB (small-to-medium business) sized merchants, hosted e-commerce platforms are becoming much more capable and productive alternatives.
The Maturity of Hosted Platforms
Shopify, BigCommerce and other hosted e-commerce platforms have been around for some time. They captured a lion’s share of the smaller merchant market by providing easy-to-use and easy-to-manage shop platforms. Not too many bells and whistles, but enough power and value to allow nascent stores to launch and grow.
In the past two years, however, Shopify and BigCommerce, particularly, have improved the level of features and customizations to begin encroaching on Magento’s market share of successful online vendors. While they still lack some of the freedoms afforded by a hosted, open source platform — like Magento — they do give merchants less to worry about in terms of hosting, security and performance.
The Challenge for Magento
Undoubtedly, Magento has noticed this competitive growth, as well. Last April, at the annual Magento Imagine conference, Magento announced the launch of a hosted solution for enterprise-level clients. Obstensively to remove the onus of managing one’s own hosting, the hosted Magento solution is aimed only at large, enterprise clients because it still requires a great deal of development and customization work — initially and ongoing — to deliver a highly productive solution.
Magento 2, its latest evolution, is a significant improvement over Magento 1, but it suffers, at present, from continued bugs. Fewer developers are certified for Magento 2, as well, but for any merchant wishing to remain up-to-date, secure and relevant, upgrading from Magento 1 to Magento 2 is almost a certainty for 2017. Magento 1 is only being patched for security reasons (and they continue to announce new patches); it lacks many of the improvements that make Magento 2 a much better version.
In addition, updating from Magento 1 to Magento 2 is not a “one-click” update. There is no easy upgrade path. While you can, in many cases, migrate products, orders and customers to Magento 2, you will have to purchase and install new extensions specifically made for Magento 2. Any data created by your Magento 1 add-ons might be lost or incompatible with the newer extension version (if one does exists). Your theme and designs will have to be recreated anew. And hosting requirements for Magento 2 are more demanding. All of this points to significant costs, usually comparable to what you spent developing your current Magento 1 store.
Moving to Shopify
Given the significant costs, complexities and ongoing challenges of operating an SMB-level store using Magento, it’s no surprise to us why we have already completed a number of Magento-to-Shopify migrations. We really don’t see this abating any time soon, either. For many of our growth-oriented clients, the lure of a platform that is hosted, updated, patched and evolved without hiring developers is a significant plus. Theme design, integrations and more are, in most cases, much easier (i.e., less expensive) to implement, as well.
But is cost-savings enough of a reason to change? If you’re currently on Magento 1 and contemplating the difference between migrating to Magento 2 or Shopify, let me give you some honest considerations.
While we’re talking about Shopify, let’s not forget BigCommerce. We do like BigCommerce as a platform. However, we have some reservations about its ability to scale with market requirements. Shopify — which is a publicly traded company — has a much greater market share than BigCommerce (by a reported factor of over 10X). It’s on fire in terms of growth, and we have seen a considerable uptick in technology and feature improvements.
If in your Magento 1 store, you have created customized product types, integrations, business rules, etc., it could be that a Shopify store simply can’t be reasonably configured to accommodate your needs within a reasonable budget. We’ve seen fewer and fewer of these cases than we did in the past, but the most important one to consider is whether or not you will be operating more than one store using the same products, inventory and/or customer base.
Magento is certainly a superior platform for multi-store configurations manageable within a single back-end, but even if you choose to operate multiple Shopify stores, there are back-end web-based applications that can manage inventory, customers and products across multiple Shopify stores.
The most challenging activity whenever an e-commerce store is transferred from one platform to another is the conversion of product and customer data. We have not seen any platform migration scenario that can handle orders, though. Orders are very complex data. There is no mechanism in Shopify to even import order histories, either.
Transferring product and customer information is doable, though. It can be complicated depending on your product types, but we’ve done over 50 Magento to Shopify data migrations. There are ways to do it, but the amount and complexity of the data can be a significant cost variant.
Change is sometimes difficult. If you learned how to administer a Magento store, you invested quite a bit of time learning how to navigate the labyrinth of menus, screens and panels. There has to be some satisfaction with having tamed the beast, so to speak.
Changing to a new platform will require a learning curve. However, given your experience as an online store operator, that curve will be quite small. Your real investment in training will come, perhaps, with learning other back-end tools you may decide to use to augment Shopify’s functionality.
Our experience has been that clients, once committed to the migration, find the experience of discovering a new platform quite invigorating. Particularly when they experience the improved usability of Shopify’s back-end interface.
To Change or Not to Change
The decision to migrate from Magento to Shopify does warrant careful consideration. As long-time Magento experts (see our books on Amazon), we certainly can’t be called Shopify fan-boys. However, we do feel from considerable experience with both platforms (we’ve migrated more than 50 stores from Magento to Shopify), that when faced with the decision to update to Magento 2 versus migrating to Shopify, careful consultation is warranted. There are good reasons to go either way, but going the wrong way could prove much more costly than you realize.