Shopify vs Magento

by Giovanni "Gio" Thermot on October 29, 2019

shopify vs magento

Pick your vice - convenience or flexibility- as this is really what the choice between Magento and Shopify boils down to. For millions of eCommerce brands, the first engagement with their prospective customers is their online store. According to CloudWays, roughly 20% of the global eCommerce market is powered by Magento and Shopify. Chances are, if you are starting or recently launched an eCommerce brand, you’ve likely considered one or the other. Below, we highlight the major differences and provide some fodder to inform decision-making.

Shopify and Magento (Magento also offers an on-premise offering) are a collection of cloud-based suite of tools- product and inventory management, payment, and shipping solutions- that help eCommerce brands maintain and grow their business. Their core offering- storefront technology - is extended by a vibrant ecosystem of apps (app stores) to amplify brands’ ability to effectively manage, engage, and service their customers and prospects. With that, ends the similarities.

While they both serve the eCommerce constituency, Shopify and Magento differ in some significant ways. Magento is built on an open-source language. Open source software’s ethos entails “building on the shoulders of others”. As such, anyone can download the source code and customize it to one’s own whims. That flexibility extends itself to the fact that Magento is Self-hosted. Such that, should one choose to leverage it, one would have to sort out one’s own hosting service. While this can be time consuming, it affords the flexibility of decoupling web hosting from the eCommerce storefront technology. If ever the need arose to switch platform, one’s store address need not change. One could say that Magento is built with flexibility in mind.

Shopify is different. It is tailored towards the non-technical, but with that, a loss of control is engineered in the process. One can get started selling with Shopify in minutes without ever writing or understanding a line of code. It offers a set of standard templates to choose from. With Magento, the time to value is longer, as a certain amount of customization is required. With that shortened time to value, a certain amount of control and flexibility is lost. Indeed, convenience vs. flexibility.

Decisions decisions decision - What to do? It boils down to two important questions:

How much customization is needed?

In the age of personalization and branding, there is a premium placed on offering a curated experience. Both platforms offer enough flexibility to go about servicing customers effectively. Still, as it is colloquially said, “there are levels to this.” The extent to which one goes about delivering a unique / custom experience will determine which platform to use. With Magento, the world is literally one’s oyster: if it can be coded, it can be done. While Shopify, natively and through third-party vendors, offers hundreds of templates that can be customized, there are some limitations. Convenience requires limits on flexibility.

What is the cost?

Whether technical or otherwise, flexibility can come at a premium - time or money. And in some instances- both. If one is technically inclined, it can mean investing one’s own time to customize and maintain the storefront. If not, one may find it useful to have an engineer on retainer. Shopify offers a three-tiered plan that offers with a number of embedded benefits, beyond these, the fee structures are limited to payment processing which can be avoided if ones relies on Shopify’s native payment processing offering. Conversely, Magento starts free, but as one customizes and manipulates the experience, added costs can add up especially if one isn’t technical.


Shopify and Magento are two of the leading eCommerce storefront platforms in the world with ~20% of the global eCommerce spend flowing through them. Deciding between the former and the latter is an important decision for millions of brands. Up until now, that decision has been one pitting convenience vs. flexibility. When we look closely, though, both platforms are adequately suited for any eCommerce brand to grow and manage their business. Shopify offers standard templates that empower anyone to start operating an eCommerce store in a matter of minutes. Magento on the other hand embraces flexibility: a store owner can curate a completely unique experience. But, it's going to cost you. As such, the question really is one of how much is a unique store experience worth to a given brand? If cost is no objection, Magento might very well be the right solution. On the other hand, if there are cost restrictions or if expediency matters more, Shopify should do.