In this second post on our Build Your Online Shop series, we compare Magento and Shopify to decide the better option of the two for the perfect growth hacker to start an online shop. I’ve spent the last 7 days trying out both of these platforms. My considerable amount of time spent on both of them has led me to the following comparisons and conclusions:

1. Pricing

Magento is currently free and offers two packages, the Magento for Enterprise Edition and the Magento for Community Edition. Magento is an open-source project depending on thousands of developers. A community of users who propose new features to the system and it’s totally free to use. Initially, Magento was offering a subscription plan called Magento Go. Which was scrapped following the announcement in July 2014 that the subscription would be non-existent by February 1st, 2015.

On the other hand, Shopify is not free but offers a 14-day trial for new customers. Plans are offered in three packages labeled Basic, Professional and Unlimited. The Basic plan goes for $29 per month. The professional plan for $179 per month and the Unlimited plan for $179 per month. For a starting business, the $29 per month basic package would be ideal considering that. It comes with 1 GB worth of file storage space, a discounted code engine, unlimited product uploads and 24/7 support.

On this basis, choosing between Magento and Shopify will depend on your preference. Do you prefer free stuff or you want to spend some money on a premium product? However, as we continue to compare these two platforms, something will obviously give and the pricing won’t be the choosing point anymore. Neither of the products has an edge over the other here. One is an open-source project free for use by all. The other one is a premium platform for people who are willing to spend.

2. Support

For any business, getting the support you need for running your business is the key to avoiding frustrations that may result in your online shop failing. Ideally, Magento as said earlier, is a free open-source web-based application. You don’t get guaranteed support when you don’t pay for it. Magento can be compared to the WordPress CMS. They are both free for use, but the said companies do not guarantee support. In case of any technical hitch on Magento, you would have to hire a professional developer or Magento expert to help you get around the problem. The other solution would be to post the problem to the Magento developer and customer forums to get people who are actively using Magento to help you out. As you can tell, that is pretty much uphill.

Shopify offers 24/7 customer support and that’s because you are paying for it since they have no free plans. Getting in touch with customer support is very easy and the company has a plethora of professionals including designers, developers, marketers and photographers who perform various support tasks. For example, if you had a problem tweaking your template’s design the designers will help you out. If you don’t have quality photos for your online shop the photographers will come into play and if you are struggling with developing your online shop the developers will swing in to help you out with customizing everything you need including custom apps to get your business up and running. You can also easily find a Shopify starter plan online to help you get started.

Shopify gets one over Magento here.

3. Setting up

The best thing about starting an online shop on a tight budget is getting tools and software that work without forcing you to spend too much on external services. For a startup online shop, avoiding expenses like hosting, hiring maintenance guys for your online shop and having to pay for expensive SSL certificates is the definition of growth hacking. Magento doesn’t offer that. While Magento provides a lot of flexibility due to its thousands of extensions, Shopify simplifies things without the need for most of these extensions. Magento requires you to set up your business by purchasing a domain name and hosting, and you will probably get stuck somewhere in the course of setting up because of the many features available and lack of customer support. That will put you into a position where you have to hire an IT person to help you out. Not free after all huh?!

All you need to set up your Shopify online business is a domain, to which you will direct the DNS servers on Shopify and that’s it. Shopify’s editions are hosted on their own servers and no matter how high your traffic gets, you will never need to get your own hosting solution outside of the platform. Therefore, while Shopify doesn’t give you 100% control over your online store it provides a lot of cost-effectivenesses because you only need to think of the $29 per month unless you have subscribed to other in-app services offered by either Shopify or other third-party services.

Setting up on Shopify is therefore a whole lot easier despite the price point which actually cancels out when you think of the hustle you would undergo while using Magento.

4. Theme Templates

Both Magento and Shopify offer thousands of themes to choose from for your online shop. However, and I shall be very honest on this one, Shopify’s themes just look a whole lot classier to me. Both the free ones and the premium ones are somewhat a notch higher than what Magento has to offer. However, not that Magento’s themes are bad, they are actually good and I found a few premium ones for around $45 and they can do the job, but if you have a taste for the finer things in life Shopify is better. Shopify’s premium themes are more expensive with some costing upwards of $150. With the quality, I wouldn’t complain.

It’s again a matter of preference here. I would give it to Shopify because the themes just feel better.

5. User-friendliness

Both platforms have some level of user-friendliness but again, for the very reason that Shopify has to work hard to keep their clients who are basically paying for the service, the Canadian startup has to impress here as well. While Magento provides a gazillion of apps and extensions, their platform feels cluttered and requires more prowess to manage as compared to their counterparts. Shopify feels cleaned up, organized, and everything nice. For a first time user, Magento will give you a lot of headaches. Letting your team manage the platform will always give you shivers because you keep thinking that someone could mess up and take down your ecommerce business. There is something about it that makes you feel insecure.

Shopify is the kind of platform you can use on your first day and feel like you have been using it for a week or two. It’s simpler, things are easier to find, updates to extensions are easier to install and always compatible with the platform. Shopify gives you the security that even when one of your team members is using the platform, nothing will go wrong and for that reason, it’s the superior one on this front.


The whole idea of creating a platform that is supposed to handle online businesses is good. In fact, there are hundreds of other providers out there who do what Shopify and Magento do. For our series, I chose these two because they are renowned in the industry and have a huge client base. Even better, they are on different ends of the spectrum in terms of pricing, customer support, user-friendliness, themes and cost-effectiveness.

Magento provides high flexibility but that is something that would fit huge companies with a budget that includes hiring Magento developers and experts to do the back-end work and get things going. For such companies, most of that flexibility is what they need. However, our post is based on the Lean Startup and growth hacking frameworks where the target market is for small businesses and startups.

Extensions on Magento

For small businesses, the complication that Magento brings onto the table is not something I would recommend. The plethora of extensions on Magento feels like several problems rather than solutions. Why? Because it is difficult to figure out all these things.

The iPhone is the device that showed us that operating systems don’t have to be complicated to work. While the geeks of the world may prefer Android as an operating system especially on Samsung mobile phones, there are people who are not interested in all those fancy features, they just need something that does what it was meant to do. Magento would be the Samsung phone with bloated software and apps that you don’t know what they do, or you do but will never use. The iPhone with iOS would be Shopify. It has a price to pay for, it has a bargain for everything but yet it works so seamlessly fulfilling what it was meant to do. I’m selecting Shopify for the next part of the series where we shall look at how to drive traffic to your online shop.

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