Comparing Ecommerce Platforms: Shopify vs Adobe Commerce (Magento)
Which platform will best suit your needs? We build in both, here’s our take.
Adobe and Shopify would probably hate for me to say this, but their ecommerce platforms share many similarities from a feature and functionality perspective. Most ecommerce sites out there could be built on either platform and have it meet their primary ecommerce needs.
But when you’re considering a new ecommerce platform for your business, you want the confidence in knowing that you’re choosing the platform that will best meet the needs of your business now — and ideally for years to come.
While platforms like Adobe Commerce (recently renamed from Magento Commerce) and Shopify do share some similarities from a features — and perhaps user experience perspective — the level of customization you require for your website will likely be a primary deciding factor.
Custom features require a developer regardless of platform.
Anything custom is going to require a developer on either Adobe Commerce or Shopify. Adobe Commerce has an advantage for highly-custom websites because they give full access to the code, server, and database, as well as the ability to write extensions that get included in the code base.
Shopify comes in with a great set of features, but the platform isn’t as easily extended to match highly-specific business use cases. You code via their API and an app platform – there is no access to the platform code or database (for example, the basic Shopify checkout flow code is untouchable, which is why all Shopify checkouts look the same).
With that in mind, we’ll jump into a more detailed breakdown of each platform.
Adobe Commerce (Magento 2.4)
Adobe Commerce, powered by Magento, is a widely-used ecommerce platform and a great option for mid- and large-sized companies. It is 13 years old, and was purchased by Adobe for $1.68 billion in late 2018. Currently just under 200,000 web stores are running on Magento.
It is a strong option for merchants who want a custom branded store and have unique operations and business practices that require some customization.
Adobe Commerce’s wide community of coders ensure a clean, up-to-date experience for merchants and customers alike. It is backed by Adobe, has a large internal development team, and a community of technology and solution providers who are growing the platform (including Bear Group, who built the Amazon Pay Magento connector that is now part of the core platform). There is also a marketplace of extension developers who have created specific enhancements to the platform via extensions.
Adobe Commerce is a licensed Platform as a Service (PaaS) product that comes with a complete managed server environment (built over Platform.sh/AWS). It allows your developers full access to the core code and git repository to extend and build upon the foundational code. It is a great choice for businesses doing B2B-type features or B2C needing extensive customization.
Magento Open Source is the non-licensed, free version of the platform. It uses the same API and core code base, but some of the key features that are useful for enterprise clients are missing. For example B2B accounts/customer management, page builder (their advanced CMS), multi-source inventory, and other features aren’t found in Magento Open Source.
Adobe Commerce's user interface makes handling the complexity of a custom website much easier with a straightforward and intuitive admin panel (the Adobe team has produced many tutorials and other resources).
Where Adobe Commerce is strong:
- Adobe Commerce is the most extensible solution with a big out-of-the-box feature set and ability to be adapted to fit your business needs. If flexibility is a requirement, the right development team can bend Adobe Commerce to do anything you need it to do.
- It is very strong if you need a custom import/export, ERP integration or other backend system integration. We’ve done dozens of these with all the major ERP systems and several homegrown systems.
- It’s easy to extend to include business-specific customizations, such as product customizers, subscription systems, complex navigation, or category layouts are all buildable.
- It comes with a solid default theme, it is fully responsive, and can be extended quickly.
- It’s an attribute-based system, meaning you can have as many attributes and attribute sets as needed for various types of products. This is very convenient for complex catalogs.
- It uses AWS Elasticsearch for domain search.
- There are many third-party solutions for payment gateways, tax, and fraud screening.
- It boasts highly-evolved B2B features and functionalities.
- The CMS page builder is great for quickly building custom layouts without coding.
- It has Multi-Source Inventory (MSI) for distributed inventory management.
- After more than a decade, it’s been thoroughly road tested.
- It’s part of Adobe’s core offering of products (AEM, Marketo, etc) in the Adobe Experience Cloud, so that can be a plus if you’re wanting to bundle.
Adobe Commerce Total Cost of Ownership
The total cost of ownership with Adobe Commerce can be fairly high based on the level of customizations needed during initial development (nearly all clients opt for some form of customizations). In addition to up-front development costs, it also requires quarterly system upgrades.
Typical costs may include:
- Initial build: Development costs for the initial build can vary widely depending on customization, design, integrations, etc: $60-175,000
- Post-launch support: Typically heavy support post-launch (2 weeks per month at first) then at least quarterly platform upgrades: $25-40,000 per year.
- Future phases: The platform can be extended to meet any future business needs as they arise.
- Extensions: You may run into various extension fees (usually one-time costs) of ~$1,500 depending on what is needed.
- Hosting for Open Source: If you’re using Magento Open Source, you will need to pay for hosting your website at ~$2,200 per year (hosting costs are included with Adobe Commerce).
- Adobe Commerce License Fees: Adobe Commerce is a cloud-hosted enterprise product so there are additional license costs (contact the Adobe team for pricing).
Shopify is a Software as a Service (SaaS) commerce platform, so it includes all hosting and system upgrades. It is a hosted shopping experience with multiple themes and requires very little programming experience to create a basic store quickly.
Shopify was originally built in 2004, but grew steadily throughout the 2010s thanks to their ever-expanding features and ease of use — a goldmine in the small business space. What they did was not entirely new. Volusion, Yahoo Stores, and even Magento Go all came before Shopify with their own SaaS commerce products. These platforms may have set the stage for Shopify, but they lacked some of the flexibility brands and developers required, and never solidified their market position.
Shopify went public in 2015, and as of mid-January 2021, Shopify has a $138 billion market cap, is trading at $1,230/share, is the second largest market cap for a public company in Canada – though had its first profitable year in 2020 helping many companies quickly jump into ecommerce during the pandemic. There are just over 1.4 million web stores running on Shopify in the United States. Many of these are small, however we have seen an uptick in commercial and enterprise tiers using the platform.
One of the drawbacks of Shopify is you don’t have access to servers, code, or really anything that Shopify controls — this is also a key benefit that lowers your TCO, because it allows Shopify to push updates and manage the core platform for you. That said, custom development is best to keep minimal, and is not as easy to accomplish as with Adobe Commerce.
Shopify comes in a few price tiers for the standard edition with various features at each level. We recommend using the Shopify payment gateway since it has better transaction pricing. Pricing plans are outlined here: www.shopify.com/pricing.
Where Shopify is strong:
- Shopify offers a great set of features that are easy to manage.
- Its technology stack is more modern than the other solutions and boasts a robust API. We’ve built inventory create/update solutions to integrate with custom inventory processes.
- The front-end theme can come together quickly. We prefer to find a similar theme to the current site and Shopify provides enough access to CSS to match the front ends. The Liquid language can be used for any sophisticated front-end needs.
- There is a large App store, containing common integrations and pre-built solutions.
- The built-in predictive search capabilities are fantastic.
- It has pre-built solutions for destination-based taxes, fraud screening, and payments.
- Custom apps can be built and deployed for a single merchant. They can be installed on a single Shopify store. These don’t go through Shopify’s app approval process. They use a “bridge” to appear as an embedded app in the Shopify admin. Note: there is no access to modify data tables, so many apps need to have data hosted by the app developer. This creates a dependency on the app developers' environments potentially (similar to many marketing technologies).
- The core Shopify app is built on Ruby and Ruby on Rails, however, that is not what is exposed for developers. When creating your own apps, there are several very modern technologies that are available which make this more approachable.
- Shopify has remained an independent ecommerce-focused platform. It isn’t trying to be part of a larger bundled offering like Adobe, Oracle, Microsoft, and Amazon are doing.
Total Cost of Ownership: Shopify
The total cost of ownership with Shopify is a little lower than what you’ll see with Adobe Commerce because you won’t see typical self-hosting, patching, and upgrade-related costs. As a result, many smaller sellers can come out slightly ahead with Shopify’s pricing model.
Typical costs (see our Shopify Total Cost of Ownership blog post for more information):
- Initial build: Development costs for the initial build can vary depending on customization, design, integrations, etc: $35-75,000.
- Post-launch support: Expect to need some ongoing external developer support (with the highest support needed soon after launch): $15-25,000 per year.
- Platform cost: Platform costs vary depending on your plan: $299-$2,000 per month.
- Apps: There will be monthly- and/or yearly- subscription model app fees: $100-300 per month.
- Transaction fees: Depending on your plan, you'll have transaction fees for all sales that pass through the site: Anywhere from 2.25-2.9% + $0.30 per transaction.
Adobe Commerce & Shopify Side-by-Side Comparison
A merchant on either platform needs to be aware of the total costs to run their store (spoiler: it’s not Shopify’s heavily marketed $29 per month for their basic plan).
First, we need to make sure we’re comparing similar versions:
- Shopify standard v. Magento Open Source (non-licensed versions)
- Shopify Plus v. Adobe Commerce (licensed versions)
Shopify Standard vs Magento Open Source
Shopify Plus vs Adobe Commerce
Adobe Commerce and Shopify each have compelling strengths.
While Adobe Commerce tends to have a slightly higher TCO, the websites built on it are often much more unique, and that uniqueness can be a real competitive differentiator in the market.
Look closely at Adobe Commerce if your product offering and business model rely on using your website to help you differentiate. Otherwise, Shopify might be the right solution if you’re needing a more standard, yet reliable, ecommerce channel.
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