Whether you are starting out on your Ecommerce journey, or are already walking down that path, you have undoubtedly uncovered many options available today to build, host and deploy your online store. Turnkey providers like Shopify, Square, Amazon, Etsy or Google can get you a basic templated store up and running in a matter of hours. On the other end of the spectrum, when a custom experience and integration store is needed for your business, the alternative is a custom-built online store on top of exclusive platforms like Commerce Cloud or NetSuite, using best of breed components with sometimes millions of dollars in costs once you’re all set up. Though this is not for everyone, its still an option for many.
When looking at a happy medium, we can find a plethora of providers and options, requiring in-depth Ecommerce knowledge to assess and select the right one for your business. A simple Google Search for Ecommerce Platforms returns a long list of providers which have large marketing budgets and SEO tricks to come up on the top page. You will find everything from WooCommerce, BigCommerce, Shopify, WIX and many others, but today I’ll focus on Shopify Plus and Magento.
Lets first clear up one thing – Shopify and Shopify Plus are 2 significantly different products. Think of them in the context of cell phones as a CDMA flip phone and a fully unlocked smartphone. We have all had that CDMA flip phone, and even in today’s day and age, it’s a suitable self-starter device for many who just need to pick it up on their own without much help, and use it for its primary function. However, just like your flip phone, there will be a time when more is desired, and just like the smartphone, one needs to upgrade, expand, and keep up with the times. If that’s you and your business, that next step can be a confusing one, so let’s consider a few options and look at some assistance from the Ecommerce pros.
When it comes to the mid-range providers, lets look at Shopify Plus and Magento; platforms which could be setup easily by retailers, but should be customized by professionals. Magento is often described as the best or leading platform for online retailers, and has been around for 16+ years. Though Shopify was introduced around the same time, the Shopify Plus product was launched only 6 years ago, and by comparison is trailing Magento in adoption.
There are lots of comparison tables to help contrast these 2 platforms with themselves and others, but I wanted to focus on a few considerations here which recently came up: multi-store management, hosting and specialty controversial online businesses.
Shopify Plus is designed out of the box to host a single online store for each business. Magento however can be setup with subsidiaries, spin-offs or just simply unrelated online stores centrally managed by the same account. For a single category online business, this may not be a consideration, but for a business looking to diversify and evolve, this can be a serious limitation which must not be skimmed past lightly. A real-world example which I have recently observed was an online food box provider spinning off a desert mail order delivery service focusing on organic and healthy deserts. The company would need to effectively pay double with Shopify Plus to run the new business line. Though this is not a consideration for everyone, those who had to pivot during COVID can attest – sometimes you can’t foresee what you’ll need to do to stay in business. This is one of the areas where Magento shines bright, enabling seamless multi-store setup, with different domains, locals (language, currencies, etc.), all centrally organized and managed.
When it comes to hosting, in my humble opinion, Shopify Plus has the upper hand as it’s a turnkey solution. Shopify Plus is fully hosted, redundantly maintained and manages all the needed IT basics to ensure your site stays up without disruption. For most businesses hosting providers and uptime resilience is just one less headache to manage. As with any bundled solution, you do pay the rate the provider bundles in, without much flexibility or control. There are people who believe that micro-management of each solution component is key, and there is some basic truth to that, but in my 20-year career, I’ve seldom seen businesses go through the disruption of a provider migration without a larger change driver. I view it analogous to your cell phone provider; you may have jumped around in the beginning to find the right one, but as you mature, you tend to stay with the provider as long as it suits your needs. This is a commonly debated topic with firm points of view on both sides – very much like party-line politics. There is not a right or wrong answer for everyone, you just have to consider what is best and important for you and your business.
Ability to Deploy Specialty Controversial Online Businesses
Though this is less of a consideration and more of a fact, specialty or controversial online businesses do exist and found a way to continue to operate online. For clarification, when referring to specialty or controversial business, I am talking about businesses which are inconsistently regulated, scrutinized, or need to walk a fine line due to legal or social constraints. A few common examples which come to mind are the recreational marijuana, alcohol and tabaco retailers, and businesses in the firearms space. Such businesses are heavily, and often inconsistently regulated by various jurisdictions, and by their very nature, they operate an online Ecommerce business service locale governed by various regulations. Coupled with the recent regulation changes pertaining to platform host responsibilities, many Ecommerce platforms forbid the use of their systems for such business categories. This is where Magento becomes the defacto solution, as it shifts the onus from the platform onto the business, enabling you to select the hosting provider, payment processes, delivery service and marketing platforms for your controversial business. Generally speaking, many of the previously mentioned Ecommerce Platforms do not allow what are often deemed as controversial businesses under their Terms of Service.
I hope this post sparked some thoughts and shed newly mentioned considerations beyond the typical selection criteria such as cost, scalability, popularity, etc. These considerations certainly curtail in your decision-making process; however, they should not be the only considerations when selecting a platform. I often hear that “hindsight is 20/20” and I fully agree with that notion. Nonetheless, we should use advice and learnings from others to ensure a positive retrospective review whenever possible.
If you have any questions or would like to chat about your Ecommerce idea, please reach out to us at Sphere.