Magento vs Shopify vs BigCommerce: Which Ecommerce Platform is Right for You?
Get The Print Version
Tired of scrolling? Download a PDF version for easier offline reading and sharing with coworkers.
A link to download the PDF will arrive in your inbox shortly.
Whether your business is small and looking to grow fast or a huge enterprise brand exploring new options, choosing the right ecommerce platform for your ecommerce store is not a decision to be taken lightly.
To help make this important decision, it makes sense to do side-by-side comparisons of these three major players in the game because they not only make up a large percent of the market share, but some are also showing some interesting innovations as they adapt to a changing industry.
Read on to see what distinguishes each option and which may be the best ecommerce platform for your business needs.
Magento began as an open source platform. It has traditionally been used by larger businesses because the degree of development required to harness its real functionality involves a big budget.
Magento offers on-premise and cloud-hosted options, but many businesses are now also looking toward SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) models because they provide continuous updates, including security patches.
It is worth noting that some updates to Magento require merchants to migrate their stores, such is what it currently occurring with Magento 1 stores moving to Magento 2 (or another ecommerce option).
Shopify and BigCommerce are leaders in the SaaS ecommerce space. Both are feature-rich, easy to use, and help businesses get up and running quickly. Businesses that are totally new to ecommerce may choose to start with Shopify stores, but more established businesses and businesses looking to grow often choose BigCommerce for its extensibility and flexibility.
Ease of Use
On-site, Third-party, Cloud-based
Depends on your standards
Some native features, third party apps
Small and large shops that want a streamlined ecommerce experience
Small shops wanting to go online
Huge teams, with lots of resources
Your budget for an ecommerce platform may help narrow down your possibilities, as some options are much pricier than others. When trying to decide, make sure to factor in not just the initial costs to set up the system, but the ongoing maintenance, security, and hosting costs into your total cost of ownership.
The cost to license Magento software varies based on what product you use. Magento Open Source (formerly Community Edition) is technically free to download from Magento’s website; however, you will have to cover all hosting, security, development, and design fees. Additionally, this option doesn’t come with any support. Magento Enterprise Edition, which does have a support package, is significantly more expensive. Your quote will vary depending on the size and complexity of your business, but annual pricing ranges from $22,000 to $125,000.
Magento also offers the cloud-hosted Magento Cloud Edition. It has a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) model, which has some but not all of the advantages of a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) platform. (For more information on the difference between PaaS and SaaS, check out this resource.) The Cloud Edition is more expensive still, with sources saying it can range from $40,000 to $125,000 annually.
Shopify also has a number of pricing models depending on business complexity. A Basic Shopify Plan starts at $39 per month and has the fewest features. More advanced plans range from $105-$399 a month. Shopify Plus, designed for larger enterprises, starts at around $2,000 a month. Shopify’s lack of some basic native features can drive up your total cost of ownership. Make sure to consider added features you will need and factor those into the total cost of ownership of the platform.
BigCommerce is another affordable ecommerce solution to consider, with a number of different options for different price points. The most basic plan, BigCommerce Essentials, starts at $39 per month, with more advanced plans at $105 and $399. Enterprise plans with extensive native features are available with competitive prices dependent on business size and complexity.
Another important factor is how easy the platform is for your teams to use. You and your team need to be able to quickly ramp up, understand how to exercise the system’s features, and make full use of the platform. Depending on your business size and structure, you likely want a system that is both easy to use on the backend and easy for marketing teams to make changes on the frontend.
Magento does not come with training wheels. Magento does not provide on-site developers for you to help with building your site. You will need either a developer or a team of developers to build your site, find a hosting partner that can host your site, AND get someone to integrate your tech stack.
Once you’re set up, Magento still has a steep learning curve. Magento’s flexibility can also be a liability for newer users who aren’t able to navigate its complexity without considerable difficulty.
Shopify was built to satisfy the needs of those wanting a user-friendly way to create online shops without having a background in development. Shopify has drag and drop areas, making it fairly easy to build a site. Shopify works well for businesses that are new to website building. Simple steps can be completed to get your website up and running quickly. For more advanced features, you will need to add additional apps or employ custom coding.
BigCommerce has a clean user experience that makes it easy to build beautiful websites even if you have never done it before. Once you’re all set up, BigCommerce is also easy to run through a simple shop page for adding products and managing orders.
Another potential advantage of BigCommerce from a backend user standpoint is its headless offerings. BigCommerce has several pre-built plug-ins to frontend CMS and DXP systems like WordPress, Bloomreach, Drupal, and more. This means if you’re already using one of these options to run your website, you can connect BigCommerce on the backend and continue using the system you already know well on the frontend.
After budget and ease-of-use concerns, one of the first things many businesses worry about is how their site will look. The first impression many customers have of your online store is the visual elements, and to compete for their attention, you want your store to be a clean, functional, memorable extension of your brand. To this end, choosing the right template or theme for your site is vital to creating the look and feel you want.
Magento does not provide any themes as part of the native software. They also don’t offer a selection of themes for customers to choose. Instead, businesses must find and purchase their own from third-party sites like ThemeForest or pay a developer to build one.
Shopify offers themes that are either free or available for purchase. These Shopify themes are mobile-optimized and easily integrated into your shop regardless of what you choose.
BigCommerce also has hundreds of templates available that are fully customizable, whether they are free themes or premium themes. Stencil is BigCommerce’s theme platform, and it incorporates the latest best practices in technology, design, conversion, and SEO. With the help of developers, you can customize all parts of your site, down to the shopping cart.
One of the major differences that can distinguish these platforms from each other is how they are hosted. Will you be hosting the software on-premise or will it be hosted through the cloud?
As mentioned above in the cost section, there are different Magento products available, so Magento can be hosted on-premise, through a third-party, or in the cloud. Magento’s hosting abilities fully depend on how you use the platform, and because of that, you may be entirely responsible for finding a hosting service to use. Magento is a PaaS (platform-as-a-service), not a SaaS, so there isn’t a whole lot they will handle on your behalf.
Shopify is completely cloud-based and hosting is included with your subscription to them. That means you won’t have to hunt for third-party hosting and deal with the challenges of managing it.
BigCommerce also runs off of the cloud, and hosting and best-in-class performance are included with your subscription. You won’t have to deal with finding hosting or dealing with downtime because BigCommerce has an industry-leading 99.9% uptime.
Ecommerce sites cannot afford to be vulnerable to attacks that can compromise customer data and destroy faith in their brand. Ecommerce sites vary in how much of the burden of security you will be taking on. Based on the size of your team and your own familiarity with security best practices, you can make a decision of how much of the burden you are willing to shoulder.
How secure you make your Magento site is totally up to you. Magento is as secure as your developers can make it. Even for simple things like SSL, you will have to take care of certification and upkeep. Magento will create patches for known security risks (such as the SQL site injection vulnerability that left 300,000 Magento stores at risk in 2019); however, it is up to your team to keep your site up to date.
One of the advantages of a SaaS solution is that security is included. Shopify meets all six categories of PCI standards and includes SSL security on their hosted sites.
As a SaaS offering, BigCommerce also provides multiple layers of strong security for all sites they host. BigCommerce has sitewide SSL security, DDOS protection, 99.9% uptime, blazing-fast speed, and is level PCI-1 compliant. This allows business owners to focus less on security and performance, and more on innovation and growing their business.
All businesses will have different needs and priorities. If you’re a B2B seller, you might require options for different customer groups or, depending on your industry, you might need to offer multiple payment gateways or shipping options to keep up with competitors. We can’t go into a full list of all the available features for these platforms here, but here’s a quick rundown.
Magento has a wide selection of features, including its support for large product catalogs with lots of variants, native product bundles and groups, and cross-selling and upselling features. Users also have access to extensions and add-ons. When considering Magento, you can customize your ecommerce website with almost whatever you need, but you will need to find developers able to achieve and maintain it.
Shopify has some native features as well, and other functionality can be achieved through third-party apps through their app store. Be aware of which features you will require and add up the costs of the apps necessary to achieve what you need, so you can understand your total cost of ownership. Also, Shopify penalizes businesses by charging transaction fees for not using their payment gateway.
BigCommerce offers an extensive number of native features that can ultimately save businesses money by not relying on as many third-party apps. Helpful features on BigCommerce includes a channel manager to make omnichannel selling simpler, abandoned cart saver, and a wide selection of payment gateways.
There is no one-size-fits-all ecommerce platform, although some work for a larger number of use cases than others. The key is to find the platform that is the right fit for you now…and in the future. You don’t want to hitch your brand’s wagon to a platform that ends up limiting your growth — you need one that will grow with you as you continue to grow.
If you’re a well-established business that has a large budget to devote to ecommerce and a lot of developer resources to put toward site set-up and maintenance, then Magento might be the right choice for you. Magento can provide opportunities to customize your site to your exact specifications, provided you have a team of developers to work on the project. Keep in mind that there are a limited number of qualified Magento developers out there, so make sure you have some who have the bandwidth to complete your project.
New to ecommerce? Shopify offers great features for those that don’t have experience building online storefronts. It’s a good fit for businesses that just want to take their small business online and get it up and running.
BigCommerce is a great fit for businesses of all sizes, and particularly those who are looking to grow. BigCommerce offers impressive ecommerce features, best-in-class uptime, unbeatable customer support and robust security. BigCommerce can handle not only small stores, but large stores with many SKUs, so it can grow with your business. Additionally, because of the BigCommerce platform’s integrations and flexible APIs and webhooks, it can provide endless opportunities for customization while leveraging your existing tech stack.
There are no shortage of ecommerce platforms to choose from, but it’s no secret that Magento, Shopify, and BigCommerce are some of the biggest names in the business.
Hopefully this guide has helped you understand a few of their key differences and decide which might be the right fit for your business.