Every ecommerce store is unique. Merchants have a lot of choices to make before their store even goes live; choices including site design, customer base, and product curation. Yet underlying these choices is another, potentially more important one: which ecommerce CMS is right for delivering on those decisions?
In 2019, ecommerce sales will account for 13.7% of retail sales worldwide. By 2021, that number is expected to increase to 17.5%. Improved access, data-driven strategies, and mobile implementations are only a few of the reasons for this rapid growth. The continued development of ecommerce CMSs to match merchant and consumer expectations is another.
From Magento to WooCommerce, and beyond, the right CMS allows merchants to create a storefront that optimizes the buyer’s journey and increases sales.
This article takes a look at seven of the most popular ecommerce CMS available to merchants. It breaks down the pros and cons of each and looks at which merchants should be using which. If you’re looking to set up a new ecommerce store, or are interested in exploring other possibilities, keep reading.
The Ecommerce CMS Comparison
Magento 2 is one of the ecommerce world’s most functional platforms. Capable of creating and managing more complex buyer journeys, the application is used by some big names, including Coca Cola, Warby Parker, and Nike.
Currently over 19% of the top 1 million websites use Magento, positioning it as the most popular ecommerce CMS for larger ecommerce stores. Part of the reason for this is its community. At the heart of Magento, vendors, developers, and merchants have come together to create an ecosystem that few other platforms can rival.
Magento is used by some big names, including Coca Cola, Warby Parker, and Nike.
That ecosystem has continued to grow following Magento’s acquisition by Adobe. Integrations with Adobe technologies have continued to be expanded and improved, with many finding Magento 2 to be the “complete ecommerce package”.
Yet Magento isn’t right for all merchants. Development of the type of user experiences and buyer journeys offered by bigger brands requires a bigger investment. For this reason alone, Magento may simply not be the right choice for smaller merchants. Store management is also a more complicated process than with something like WooCommerce.
In addition to this, to truly take advantage of the Magento platform it’s important to find the right hosting provider. This is because Magento is a resource heavy application. If you choose Magento, look for Magento optimized hosting.
We recommend Magento 2 for merchants looking to create cutting edge online experiences that improve the bottom line. But it’s important to remember that this kind of development means a steep price tag.
Incredible functionality and capabilities
Great community that is constantly working to develop even better ecommerce solutions
Open source version is free
Often requires a developer for first time store owners
At this point, sites running on Magento 1 are generally ones that moved to the platform before the Magento 2 release. While Magento 1 is still a very capable ecommerce CMS, it doesn’t have some of the features and support you’ll find with the second version of the application. This is despite still having strong community support.
One of the main differences between Magento 1 and 2 comes in the form of security. Magento 2 supports improved security protocols, including a strengthened hashing algorithm for passwords and improved user management for admins.
To make this worse, the upcoming June 2020 End of Life means that the M1 platform will no longer continue to receive official support. This means many will have to replatform to either Magento 2 or another ecommerce application.
For new merchants interested in Magento, we recommend moving straight to Magento 2.
A history of success with a huge contingent of merchants
A supportive community that will continue to support the platform after its End of Life
Will be deprecated in June 2020
Doesn’t have a lot of the functionality and support you’ll find with Magento 2
Shopify is an easy to use SaaS ecommerce tool. Over the years it has grown from a small, simple application into a capable ecommerce storefront. In doing so, it has solidified its position as one of the more popular options available to merchants.
However, while great for beginners, as soon as merchants begin to see significant purchasing volume, Shopify’s problem starts to make itself known. Unlike alternatives such as Magento, Shopify’s custom functionality is still rudimentary. As a result, it does not allow for the same level of curation regarding the buyer’s journey. Over time, this can limit further merchant growth.
Despite this, Shopify has great support and security thanks to being a closed-source SaaS product. Many of the application’s optimizations all come as standard and are managed by Shopify themselves. This can be both a positive – as you know there is a team of experts behind your store – and a negative – in that you’ll have to wait for unique and cutting edge performance enhancements.
Shopify offers merchants a capable ecommerce storefront.
Still, Shopify is host to just over 10% of the top 1 million websites worldwide and the application is only growing in popularity for small and medium businesses.
If you’re looking for a simple, easy to use ecommerce cms, then Shopify may just be the right choice. If, however, you’re looking to expand your online ecommerce experience and create something distinct, we recommend looking towards Magento.
Shopify takes a cut of all transactions on your site
Not as versatile as Magento
Sylius is a new addition to the ecommerce scene, and one that has managed to consecutively score wins against competitors in terms of functionality and design. Currently the application of choice for a small number of sites, that number has grown rapidly; especially considering that the platform has only been around for a few years.
Perhaps one of the main barriers to entry for merchants looking to move to the Sylius platform is that it requires a developer to create a fully capable storefront. This is a double-edged sword for most merchants. It means that their storefront will likely be an unforgettable one with a curated user experience, but it can also cost a lot to implement properly.
A Sylius storefront will likely be an unforgettable one with a curated user experience.
Despite this, if you’re a merchant looking for a more advanced platform that offers capabilities that rival even the most advanced ecommerce CMS, then Sylius is probably one of your best choices. If you’re looking for something simple that you can manage yourself, we recommend that you continue reading.
Offers complete control over functionality
A great open source community
Is still relatively new
Requires a developer to create your site
BigCommerce (for WordPress)
If you’re looking to take full advantage of the content marketing opportunities available to merchants, then BigCommerce may be one of your best options.
Released in 2018, the BigCommerce for WordPress plugin has quickly grown, now offering merchants access to a clear and easy-to-use ecosystem that offers both powerful ecommerce functionality and content management.
It’s able to do this due to being a headless implementation of BigCommerce. This means that product management is controlled by the BigCommerce back-end, while front-end design and navigation are managed by WordPress.
BigCommerce for WordPress is a headless implementation of BigCommerce.
BigCommerce does require merchants to pay an additional monthly fee. However, this means that you’ll have access to BigCommerce support (for help with the application) and potentially improved security.
Interested in learning more about the BigCommerce for WordPress plugin? Read Topher DeRosia’s guest post, currently BigCommerce for WordPress’ Developer Evangelist.
Allows merchants to use both the product management tools of BigCommerce and the content management tools of WordPress
Relatively easy to use with great functionality
An additional monthly fee
Prestashop has been on the ecommerce scene since 2007. During that time, it has gone through several iterations. Available in both self-hosted form and as a SaaS platform, it now offers some great options for beginners looking to get started with a small ecommerce store.
Firstly, Prestashop helps to simplify daily management tasks by offering an easy to use interface. This includes intuitive labels and the ability to expand functionality through downloadable modules. We took a look at Prestashop and compared it to Magento, and found that in terms of number of downloadable add-ons, the application is almost on par with Magento.
But that’s about where Prestashop’s advantages end. In terms of customization, there’s not a lot you can do. If you’re looking for an ecommerce platform that allows you to create unique, memorable buyer journeys, we recommend looking elsewhere. Prestashop’s customizations pretty much start and end at color schemes, basic UI elements, and modules.
To date, just 2 Prestashop sites have made it into the top 10,000 sites worldwide, out of over 270,000 total live sites. This trend seems to be in keeping with the purpose and audience the platform is primarily designed for.
Easy to use and get started with
Not as up-to-date as alternatives
The final entry on this list should need no introduction. WooCommerce is the most popular ecommerce CMS available, with over 3 million live sites.
Like BigCommerce for WordPress, WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin. It expands the natural content management functionality of WordPress to include advanced configurations for ecommerce.
Because of its nature, it not only manages to serve as a great choice for merchants interested in content marketing and SEO, it also provides a solid foundation for ecommerce and product management.
It’s especially good for small ecommerce stores that are either just starting up, or looking to manage most of their content and design in-house. Unlike most of the other CMS on this list, WooCommerce merchants have access to a huge range of pre-designed themes and customizations.
WooCommerce is a great choice for merchants interested in content marketing and SEO.
WooCommerce also provides merchants with the ability to expand functionality through extensions. These allow more control over payment processes, the buyer’s journey, and more.
Yet despite these capabilities, WooCommerce is still a simple ecommerce platform when compared with competitors like Magento and Sylius. Advanced customization still requires coding knowledge, and the WordPress platform limits what can be done.
If you’re a small business owner then we can’t recommend WooCommerce enough. However, if you’re already an established store, we recommend taking more control with another option on this list.
Free and open source
Easy to use and get started with
A huge range of different themes and extensions
Includes the great content management of WordPress
Not as functional as some of the alternatives on this list
Limited by the capabilities of WordPress
The Right Ecommerce CMS for You
Each application has its own advantages and disadvantages. Much like the products a merchant sells, choosing the right CMS requires merchants to analyze both the resources available to them and their own preferences.
For medium and larger stores, we recommend adopting Magento 2. Not only is it a versatile platform that continues to grow, it also has an incredible community that’s both helpful and knowledgeable.
If you’re looking to be on the cutting edge of ecommerce, we recommend making the move to Sylius. While a relatively new platform, it has already proved itself with merchants worldwide. Contact the Sylius team to learn more about what it can do for your storefront.
Ecommerce sales will account for 13.7% of retail sales worldwide in 2019.
For those interested in content marketing and taking advantage of its relatively “new” appearance on the ecommerce scene, BigCommerce is going to offer a lot of tools you won’t find elsewhere. At the same time, it’s also going to allow better management of products.
For smaller stores, we recommend WooCommerce. With an easy to use interface and even simpler product management, it’s better than a lot of other “easy to use” and manage CMS available. Not sure how to get started, follow our WooCommerce setup guide.