E-commerce CMS Comparison
When it comes to selling products online, the heart and soul of your business is your website. It acts as your storefront, customer service hub, advertising medium, point-of-sale location, order processing tool, and more. There is no aspect of your online business that will be relied upon more heavily than your website, so it is important to make sure you consider not only the best e-commerce platforms available, but more specifically you choose the best e-commerce platform for you. Comparing various CMS platforms can help determine which is best for your business.
As with everything on the internet, there is a myriad of options to consider for the structure of your website. The first step when planning any e-commerce website development is to choose your platform so that you are aware of your website’s capabilities and know what to expect in terms of cost and timeframe.
In the following article, we’ll highlight some of the best e-commerce platforms available, outline their pros and cons, and then compare them to help you decide which option is best for your business.
Note: We are focusing on non-hosted platforms. An example of a hosted platform would be Shopify where you are paying a subscription fee and the site is mainly built from an existing feature-set and hosted by the subscription provider. With almost all hosted e-commerce platforms, you would not own the code and would not be able to take it anywhere else.
Starting off with the most widely used e-commerce platform in the world, WooCommerce powers more than 25% of all online stores on the internet. However, you may be surprised to hear that it is in fact not its own e-commerce platform, but instead an extension (referred to as a “plugin”) for WordPress, the most popular content management system in the world. When installed, this plugin adds e-commerce functionality to what is essentially a blogging platform, transforming it into an incredibly effective and versatile online store. With just a single plugin, your store is closer to having a cart, checkout, and product management support that can be managed in the site’s backend. This makes it incredibly user-friendly and one of the top options for semi-inexperienced owners to manage after development.
Free to Use but Incredibly Powerful– WordPress and WooCommerce are entirely free to use. With the lowest start-up cost of many platforms, this makes it an incredibly beneficial choice for low-budget and smaller businesses. But don’t let the cost trick you – WooCommerce still boasts a built-in analytics system and product management system while WordPress makes your store incredibly search engine friendly, making it comparable to even subscription platforms.
Incredibly Customizable – Through the WordPress plugin marketplace and 3rd party themes and plugins, WordPress and WooCommerce offer incredible customization. By adding these extensions to WordPress, you can build your site with only the tools you need, saving your website from slowing due to unnecessary plugins. Plugins can be used to add almost any functionality you could ever need, including Quickbooks integration, UPS/Fedex/USPS integration, sales tax calculation, and inventory management many of which are free in their basic form. WordPress is inherently search engine friendly (if setup correctly).
Incredibly Popular with Huge Community Support – Due to the sheer user base of WordPress and WooCommerce, you will find no lack of help online when it comes to managing your store. Forums, guides, and developers are plentiful online, making it much easier to achieve the look and functionality you want for your site without the limitations of all-in-one platforms. If you run into a problem, chances are that someone else has already and found a solution. There may be plenty of developers wanting to help you but not all are well versed in WooCommerce or more advanced WordPress features.
WooCommerce is NOT:
Update Friendly – Due to WordPress websites being the result of a collection of different tools and plugins, compatibility issues are incredibly common. When WordPress updates, it may become incompatible with WooCommerce and other plugins that may result in the site temporarily breaking until an update to the plugin occurs. Our "Maintenance and Care" plan addresses this by providing monthly updates and daily backups. It's the best way (and most affordable) way to avoid major disruptions and mitigate risk!
Easy to Customize for Beginners – While WordPress development offers several tools to make your WooCommerce store look great, making it look how you want it to can be difficult for users without coding knowledge. WordPress runs on PHP and many visual aspects of the site are in HTML and CSS, so familiarity with those languages is important to ensure you can attain the look you’re seeking. This means you will likely require a developer to set up the site and go over the basics before you are able to effectively manage it. Once set up, the content management area is pretty straightforward if you have any experience with Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or Apple's Pages.
A Robust E-commerce Solution Out of the Box – As compared to platforms built specifically for e-commerce, WordPress and WooCommerce do not come with many of the necessary tools an e-commerce website need. Your website requires its own hosting, requires plugins for security, doesn’t include payment gateways, requires a WooCommerce-friendly theme, and more. This makes it require some time for development before it can work effectively, and potentially longer to meet all your needs. It can also have problems scaling for larger businesses as opposed to inclusive solutions built for scale or a custom e-commerce platform.
WooCommerce is a solution that works best for smaller businesses due to the low cost of development as well as its extensive support and top-tier customization that is available. However, it lacks some of the higher-end functions (without using 3rd party plugins) that e-commerce-specific platforms offer and can run into scaling issues depending on your hosting plan, plugins, product list, and business process requirements.
The second e-commerce platform is Magento, a flexible and open source solution that focuses more on out-of-box functionality than some of its competitors. A single download of Magento Community Edition equips your website with the ability to handle products, process orders, and more. It utilizes themes for customization as well as allows for integration with 3rd party plugins for enhanced functionality. With more than 250,000 merchants using Magneto, it definitely has a following.
Built for E-Commerce – Magento was built to have all the functionalities and tools a business could want. It includes a robust product management system, helpful tools like currency and language support, incredible analytic capabilities, and more. From intuitive administrative panels to advanced marketing data, it allows you to create an entirely customized online store, not just a website with e-commerce capabilities.
Incredibly Powerful and Offers Seamless Scalability – Magento can support incredibly large catalogs of products on a single site as well as a high number of pages, as it has been structured for harnessing maximum server processing power. In addition to this, it is built to be easily scalable based on the needs of the business and with the proper hosting behind it, it can be one of the fastest e-commerce platforms available.
Able to Integrate 3rd Party Integrations – Every business is different, meaning that each business has different needs for its website. This means that it is nearly impossible for Magento to include everything out of the box, which is where the ability to integrate 3rd party applications comes in. Combining the e-commerce capabilities of Magento with the custom applications created by the huge community means that almost any functionality can be attained.
Magento is NOT:
Easy to Develop For – Although Magento is robust and incredibly flexible, this makes it complex to optimize and use to its highest potential, increasing the learning curve. Whereas some solutions may allow you to make changes in a few clicks yourself, it will likely take a Magento expert to make drastic changes without affecting the rest of the site.
Server-Efficient – While Magento can be incredibly fast, its speed is usually incredibly dependent on the hosting used for the website. It is recommended that you dedicate an entire server just to Magento, making it expensive to run a small website. Without this, your customers are likely to run into frustrating load times and leave before the page loads.
As Cheap as it Seems – While the Community edition of Magento is free, it is simply not the best version of Magento available. The Community Edition is comparable to other platforms available, but the Enterprise Edition is where it separates itself. If you would like to take advantage of the increased functionalities, speeds, security, and other premium options that Magento Enterprise offers, it is going to cost you over $15,000 a year. In addition to this, plugins that may add additional functionalities to your website can be costly as well because of the learning curve associated with the platform.
Magento is an e-commerce platform for medium and large companies, depending on the version used. The Community edition offers enough functionality to create a high-quality website (if you have the server power!), but for those with larger catalogs, additional performance requirements, and a larger budget, Enterprise is your best bet.
Drupal Commerce is an open source e-commerce solution that is integrated with Drupal, an incredibly popular and robust content management system (CMS), to build highly customized websites. It is both incredibly flexible and scalable, making it well suited for larger sites as well as smaller ones. Many governmental agencies and many universities use Drupal for its security and scalability.
Drupal Commerce is built to be more of a framework than an application, meaning that from the ground up it can be built with your requirements in mind without any additional extensions. Drupal can be extended by integrating modules within the Drupal framework and allows for additional functionality than you would find with a standard installation.
Drupal Commerce is:
Free – Perhaps one of the most important benefits of an e-commerce platform, Drupal Commerce is free and open source and powerful in combination with the often free or low-cost add-ons. As almost all e-commerce platforms, free doesn't mean there won't be development costs.
Highly Customizable Due to Modularity - Developers can freely extend existing functionality to meet any requirement.
Drupal 8 has integrated Composer (a dependency manager for PHP) into the Drupal ecosystem allowing developers to easily maintain and organize dependencies within their projects. Composer improves updating Drupal core, applying patches and integrating contributed modules more quickly.
Drupal 8’s Configuration API has vastly improved syncing configurations from one environment to another.
Secure and SEO Friendly – Because Drupal Commerce utilizes separate modules to create the functionality of the website, it offers individual level security for each module that helps protect it from malicious intrusion attempts. Drupal’s security team is on top of current vulnerabilities and its team releases core updates as required.
Drupal Commerce connects content with products. It is the only ecommerce platform built upon an existing enterprise CMS.
There are also several incredibly useful SEO modules such as being able to configure metadata, configuring structured data and improving image optimization. These modules allow administrators to configure SEO for content and products at the node level.
Drupal Commerce is NOT:
Newbie Friendly – Drupal Commerce is a platform that requires technical knowledge to be used effectively. It can utilize many modules that need to be configured to work properly through its backend. This makes day-to-day operations more difficult and anything aside from small changes will likely require the expertise of a Drupal developer.
Good for Integrating with Older Software- Drupal Commerce is newer software that has compatibility issues with earlier software which makes it difficult to implement on an existing site. Site migrations are usually done by recreation from scratch if the previous system is incompatible. In more recent times, Drupal 8’s Migration API has made this process easier.
Easy to Get Help With – Just like the other platforms, there are many options for finding Drupal developers but the key is to find one that is capable of developing what you need and not a drag and drop specialist.
Drupal Commerce is great for small to large businesses that are looking for a low start-up cost and have a web developer on hand to allow them to take advantage of the creative tools it offers. Its primary shortfall is the difficulty in installation and management for inexperienced users, but with an expert developer, the creative possibilities are endless.
Not all e-commerce solutions a created equal. Each one has its own strengths and weaknesses. If you can’t find a platform that fits most of your needs without an extreme amount of customization then you may want to consider having one built. This allows you to create a platform that has the functionality you need and allows you to attain the perfect system for your business. This means that the positives of a custom solution are endless, limited only by your imagination and your budget. In many businesses, the ability to sell your products and services in the way your customer base requires can generate a massive return on investment and more than cover the cost of a custom application.
Custom solutions can also become the intellectual property and create additional value in a business at the time of sale. If there aren’t any great solutions available, custom software can also become a barrier of entry for the potential competition.
Now that you’re familiar with each system and how they work, you are ready to start choosing the best e-commerce solution for you. Below we will be comparing the platforms mentioned above and describing how they can be used best to aid your choice.
WooCommerce vs Drupal Commerce
WooCommerce and Drupal Commerce are quite similar. They are both extensions of a popular CMS (WordPress and Drupal respectively) and they both focus on customization heavily. WooCommerce uses plugins to add onto the WordPress application whereas Drupal Commerce builds modules onto the framework Drupal Commerce provides, allowing for a custom design from the ground up.
The largest difference between WooCommerce vs Drupal Commerce would be the ease-of-use. WordPress is thought to be one of the easiest CMS to use for those without technical experience due to its very user-friendly backend. Drupal Commerce usually requires technical knowledge, particularly programming knowledge or familiarity with Drupal before it can be utilized to its maximum potential.
Another difference is in the cost of operation, as WooCommerce usually requires subscriptions to plugins for enhanced functionality while Drupal has a variety of advanced modules for free. This difference is selective though, as both are free to download and can be used without premium additions or themes, it simply comes down to the technical requirements of the site. Drupal Commerce also handles larger sites better due to improved scalability, so consider the size of your catalog before deciding.
Overall, you would use WooCommerce if you do not have a web developer on hand to help with changes, plan to do a little customization, or do not have many products. It can be very user-friendly, low cost, and still look great. If you’re looking to build something from simply a framework and have the technical expertise to manage the site yourself, Drupal Commerce is a great option to make a truly unique website capable of handling any workload.
WooCommerce vs Magento
WooCommerce and Magento are two of the most popular e-commerce plugins, and many find themselves choosing between the two. The primary difference between the two platforms is their usability. Magento is geared more towards developers or those with programming knowledge than WooCommerce, making the learning curve higher. This may be an explanation for the overwhelming difference in users between Magento and WooCommerce. WordPress is easy to pick up for many, making WooCommerce more familiar and less intimidating.
When comparing WooCommerce vs Magento Community edition, you will find that they are both free but require their own hosting. The enterprise edition, however, comes with hosting included (and a price tag of over $15,000 per year!). Out of the box, Magento has more features than WooCommerce, especially when it comes to their analytics tracking, language support, and currency support. This is likely because Magento was built with e-commerce in mind.
In addition to this, both forms of Magento are more powerful and offer better scalability than WooCommerce, but they require dedicated servers to be efficient and configuring WooCommerce correctly can lead to comparable load times in smaller websites.
For smaller stores, WooCommerce is likely the better choice due to its ease of use, a wide array of extensions available, and lower system requirements. However, if you can afford the Enterprise edition of Magento, it is an incredible option for larger businesses due to its improved performance, security, functionality, and more.
Drupal Commerce vs Magento
Drupal Commerce and Magento are both e-commerce platforms that are ideal for medium to larger businesses that can take advantage of the robust feature sets. They both require advanced technical knowledge to use, so they work best when you have a web developer on staff or can dedicate a team member to learning the systems.
While they are both incredibly customizable, Magento Enterprise has more options for customization due to just how intricate the system is. It requires a mastery of the platform but once you can crack the code, anything is possible.
Drupal Commerce, on the other hand, is limited by the modules available and its lesser tools, although in many cases comparable results are possible.
While the Community Edition of Magento is free, add-ons and increased functionality from the Enterprise edition can become expensive. Drupal Commerce contains a myriad of free modules to implement on your site, allowing for an incredibly low-cost website (excluding developer costs).
In summary, Drupal Commerce vs Magneto is relatively similar platforms. They both have a steep learning curve, but they reward you once you master them. If you’re looking to spend more, the Enterprise Edition of Magento is an incredible option, but the cost and time required may outweigh the benefits for all but the largest companies. If you are looking for something for a medium to large business without requiring hundreds of thousands of products or spending thousands, Drupal Commerce may be the choice for you.
Custom vs Others
To put it simply, developing a custom solution for your business will allow you to address any functionality or design requirements you have. You are paying more for increased flexibility. In many cases, this custom solution will be a better option than WooCommerce, Magento, or Drupal Commerce because you are not tailoring an existing solution to your business, you are building one from the ground up. However, depending on your requirements, it is possible that one of the best e-commerce platforms mentioned in this article would offer a similar experience at a fraction of the time or cost. Be sure to only work with an expert development firm though, as proper coding practices can be the difference between a high-functioning site capable of meeting your needs and a standard website.
Now that you know what each of the most popular e-commerce platforms can offer and how they stack up against each other, you’re ready to choose a solution for your e-commerce web development. For smaller shops, WooCommerce is a great and low-cost option that many users can manage themselves. Drupal Commerce is a free option that has a learning curve but offers great customization and allows for a truly unique site. Magento is best for large-scale businesses with tons of products or websites, and finally a custom e-commerce platform will address all your requirements effectively if you have the time and budget for it!